Theories about the origins of the conflict between the United States and Iraq ran the spectrum last Wednesday, Oct. 23, with Temple professors both supporting and denigrating the hostilities between the two nations.
The event was sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta, the history department’s honors society.
Khalid Blankinship, the chair of the University’s religion department, drew a comparison from classical history.
“The United States is like the Roman Republic between 190-146 B.C.,” he said, “They had no [major] opposition in the world.”
Blankinship said that the Roman Empire used conflict to distract from domestic problems, and this is what Bush is doing.
“[There is] a fear that the corruption of U.S. capitalism could be exposed without an enemy [to distract us],” he said.
He added that another goal of the United States is “establishing an imperial hegemony over the entire earth.”
Many of the students agreed with Blankinship.
“The war on terror is a smokescreen,” said sophomore Tara Rasheed.
However, other students did not see it that way.
“Iraq is definitely harboring terrorists,” said political science and history major Michael Stanik, “[and democratizing] Iraq could make it a potential economic powerhouse” that would loosen the stranglehold on Saudi Arabia, which he suggested supports terrorism, has on the oil market.
Blankinship replied, “the idea that terrorism originates out of Saudi Arabia is a ridiculous lie.”
He said that Saudi Arabia would actually like to lower production but is forced to keep up with the world demand for petroleum.
He added that increased production from Iraq would allow Saudi Arabia to achieve this goal, but that U.S. backed sanctions were preventing Iraq from producing oil.
Some students prefaced their remarks by saying that they did not know much about the current situation.
One student said that Saddam Hussein said he was creating a new Persian Empire and that President Bush was finishing what his father started, just as Alexander the Great completed his the conquest of ancient Persia that his father, Phillip of Macedon, had started.
Peter Gran, a professor in the history department, spoke about the support that Saddam Hussein has in his country.
He said that no dictator can rule by force alone, but must also use persuasion and fear.
“I lived in Iraq during the eighties,” he said, “Saddam Hussein is a hero to many…he opened new schools and elevated [the status of] women.”
Associate professor of history David Watt asked students to respond to the statement: “The heart of the war against Iraq is about freedom and progress.”
“I don’t think [the United States] has ever enacted a policy solely for human rights,” said one student.
Another student said that bringing stability to the world is not the sole responsibility of the United States, but “should be a mission of humanity.”
The chair of the history department, Richard Immerman, said that U.S. foreign policy is designed to create a stable international environment, but that Sept. 11 gave the hawks in the Bush administration the moral authority that they needed to pursue a go it alone strategy.
“Cheney [and other administration hawks are now able] to pursue a program based almost exclusively on American unilateralism,” he said, “[they would] prefer to take action without allies or the United Nations.”
Brian White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org