As the war in Iraq winds down, the Student Association sponsored a heated forum Monday afternoon in which pro- and anti-war advocates argued their positions and fielded questions from the audience.
The forum, moderated by Student-Wide Judiciary Chief Justice Trevor Torcello, featured Candace de Russy, a SUNY Trustee, and Michael Zarkin, director of Hillel of Buffalo, on the pro-war side. Luis Nieves, professor of African-American studies, and Paul Zarembka, professor of economics, offered anti-war viewpoints.
Before addressing the audience's questions, the speakers were allowed to give a brief opening statement of their positions, during which tempers began to flare.
De Russy, who said the war in Iraq was necessary to liberate the Iraqi people from an oppressive regime and eliminate a possible threat to American security in light of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, also said U.N. involvement in post-war Iraq should be limited to humanitarian aid because - citing massacres in Serbia and Somalia - the United Nations has a "poor record of empowering people."
"The U.N. has a terrible track record of standing up in the defense of innocent people," she said.
According to de Russy, the United States should take an active role in "reshaping" the Middle East. The war in Iraq, she said, would send a message to nations such as Iran, Syria and North Korea that the United States would not tolerate state-sponsored terror.
"We and the Iraqis are better off now than when Saddam was in power," de Russy said. "In short, this war is just."
Following de Russy's opening statement, Zarkin said he believes the war in Iraq was "optional" and was not entirely convinced that Iraq posed an immediate threat to the United States. However, he described pacifism as the "height of immorality."
"Pacifism requires standing still or resisting minimally when someone is trying to kill you," Zarkin said. "Pacifism is the act of deciding that your life is meaningless."
According to Zarkin, the United States has a moral obligation to liberate Iraq because "the Republic of Iraq, under the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein, has terrorized innocent people."
"The war is justified by a desire to end tyranny, free people from slavery ... personally, I do not need any further justification," he said.
Nieves said he disagreed with the "doctrine of a just war" and that the United States was responsible for the deaths of 15 million African slaves and 100 million indigenous peoples.
"The doctrine has justified support of (former president Ronald) Reagan, South Africa under apartheid, the stealing of land from the Palestinians, and you will see that there is a growing alliance between right-winged fundamentalists and the Jewish - particularly Zionist - lobby," said Nieves.
At that, Zarkin stood up and stormed out of the room, followed by several other students, for the remainder Nieves' opening speech.
"I urge you to walk out of this anti-Semitic slander!" Zarkin shouted. "You have just heard rank bigotry. Walk out now."
Nieves presented arguments against the war in Iraq, the first of which was that he said President George W. Bush fabricated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
According to Nieves, the United States is motivated by the desire to build an empire and control the oil trade. He said the corporations that will benefit from the war have contributed to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's campaigns.
"There is a history that domestic and foreign policy have not been based on justice," he said.
In Zarembka's opening statement, he demonstrated his disapproval for the war in Iraq by reading aloud a hypothetical dialogue between a man accused of murder and a judge in which the defendant was pleading self-defense in a case where the person he killed clearly posed no threat to the defendant.
During the question-and-answer session, one student asked the pro-war panel if any punitive action should be taken against France, given that country had trade dealings with Iraq that may have influenced France's leaders to oppose military actions against Iraq.
De Russy said that while she feels France's behavior "has been appalling" she does not believe the government was involved in providing Iraq with military support. However, she said, documents might turn up showing that French and German companies may have had such dealings with Iraq.
Nieves said action against France is unwarranted.
"The people of that country voted against war, and, accordingly, their leaders voted against war," Nieves said. "That is democracy."
Another student asked the pro-war panel if the United States is obligated to liberate other countries that are currently under the rule of dictatorships.
"If we are to regard ourselves as moral animals, then we must be obstinate to the fact that no tyranny has a right to exist, that dictatorships are fundamentally evil and ought to be ended by any means necessary as soon as possible," said Zarkin.
De Russy said in many cases, the United States could explore diplomatic means of liberating other countries suffering from oppressive regimes, but its primary concern should be its own people.
"I think it's very clear that our first responsibility is to the preservation of our lives and our children," said de Russy.
When asked to counter the pro-war stance, Nieves said, "Ninety percent of the Iraqi military has been destroyed. What threat do they pose? Iran, Jordan, no one fears Iraq, and they are right next to them."
One student asked the anti-war panel if they thought Iraq could prosper after post-war restoration.
"The roots of the suffering is that when the people rose up in democratic revolution, the United States handed over the weapons (to Hussein) and allowed a slaughter to develop," Nieves said. "These people should be tried for war crimes, and that is the root of the issue."
Zarembka said the United States has thus far been unsuccessful in preventing riots and looting throughout Iraq, but has not taken any action to clean pollution in the Tigris and Euphrates River caused by the war, leading to cases of dysentery and cholera throughout Iraq.
"Basra, as of today, does not have water ... because this wealthy nation cannot provide water," said Zarembka.
With regard to the establishment of a new government, one student asked the pro-war panel if they thought the United States would permit the Iraqis to establish a system that America has traditionally opposed, such as communism.
"If the entire purpose is to allow the people the freedom to make their choices that includes the choice of an economic system that does not work particularly well," Zarkin said, "the more fundamental question that you are not asking is: Can people consent to being enslaved? The United States, in 1865, answered that question. You cannot consent to being enslaved."
De Russy said she personally believes that "democracy in Islamic countries is really very possible."
"It is not a forgone conclusion that Iraq will become a democracy," de Russy said. "We cannot force a democracy on them. But I think that people want to be free, so I'm very confident about that."