TCS Daily

Fear and Loathing at Harvard

By Nick Schulz - February 1, 2002 12:00 AM

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- President George W. Bush's decision to put on notice what he described in his State of the Union address as the "Axis of Evil" - the regimes of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea - has been met with everything from surprise to jubilation to mockery to hand-wringing worry.

All of these reactions were on display at Harvard University's Kennedy School this week, where a debate featured former Reagan arms control negotiator and TechCentralStation co-host Ken Adelman and former CIA director John Deutch. The question put before the two was "should Iraq be next?" in the war on terrorists. The discussion was particularly timely in the wake of the President's speech Tuesday.

And while the debate was supposed to be between Adelman and Deutch, moderated by the Kennedy School's Graham Allison, it didn't quite end up that way. Adelman and Deutch went back and forth arguing the finer points about the practical political realities of moving to topple Saddam's regime. Both men agreed, however, with the ultimate need to topple Saddam.

But the majority of the audience that packed the forum to witness the exchange was, to put it charitably, skeptical. The audience members greeted the idea of the U.S. forcibly toppling Saddam with a Bronx cheer.

"What if we hit Saddam and miss?" asked one student.

"Where does it end?" fretted another.

"Is international law of no concern?" barked another audience member. This question elicited a massive applause from the audience, a cathartic release reflecting the collective judgment that both men were completely off their rocker is assuming that it might be wise U.S. policy to consider toppling Saddam.

Still another student wondered if the U.S. moved against Saddam if such a measure wouldn't raise further questions around the world about the legitimacy of U.S. force. Offered in the spirit of Chalmers Johnson's notion of "blowback" - that aggressive U.S. foreign policy leads to further aggression against the U.S. by countries resentful of U.S. power - this question, too, elicited a strong emotional response from the audience.

To be sure, not every question was hostile. One Iraqi student thoughtfully asked how the debate participants felt about self-determination for the Iraqi people. But in the main, the audience was reflexively hostile to arguments in favor of U.S. military action as evidenced by not just the questions but by the curious tittering, chatter, audible groans and side comments emerging from the audience during the debate.

The students and faculty at the Kennedy school are among the brightest in the country, many the future leaders of global government bodies in the United States and at the UN, World Bank, and IMF. Many of them compose the next generation elite that will help shape global political realities. So the collective reaction was instructive.

There was evidence of an unwillingness to engage ideas that challenge certain typical academic prejudices (such as aversion to American power). The mood reflected a posture that the important questions are settled and that they preclude the use of force to promote freedom and democracy around the globe.

All of this was especially odd given the career of the man for whom the distinguished institution is named. As a member of a generation familiar the horror and nobility of war, John F. Kennedy understood the need for the United States to defend itself and its interests at home and abroad -- not as an end in itself, but as a means to peace and security. While there is much to quibble with some of the foreign policy decisions he made as president, he never questioned the imperative of defending American military might and was comfortable with the assertion of global power. As the horrors of September 11th recede from immediate memory, a Kennedy-esque understanding of the dangers of the world is needed - especially at the Harvard school that honors his name.

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