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  April 21, 2003

Panelists: Implications Of Iraqi War
May Take Years To Define

As long ago as the Civil War, photographers shared graphic pictures - many of them portraying America's dead - with the public. The pictures were troubling but real, and brought home the horrors of war.

That's not the case so far in the war on Iraq, says the head of UConn's journalism department. But it will change.

"Newspaper editors and television executives are now discussing how to handle the video and pictures of the dead," said Maureen Croteau, a panelist at an April 10 seminar discussing the impact of the war on America. "What is intrusive? What's thoughtless? What's important information for the American people, so they can decide if this war was justified?" she asked, noting that embedded photographers and cameramen will soon return from Iraq with reams of pictures and thousands of feet of video not yet seen in the sanitized reports from the front.

Jeff Hawks, a graduate student in political science and veteran of the first Gulf War, agreed.

"This war was very clean, and that gives a dangerously wrong perspective," he said. "It makes it seem as though we haven't lost a lot of soldiers, that the civilian deaths are not bad. It's much too clean. The reality that will come out when this ends is that the war was much more expensive" in human terms, than Americans have come to believe.

The panel, which also included Howard Reiter, a political science professor; Art Wright, an emeritus professor of economics; and Laura Dickinson, an associate professor of law, was the first in a series of seminars and lectures coordinated by the Campus Committee on the Iraq War.

Hawks, using the knowledge he gained as a soldier in the 1991 Gulf War, said using troops to oust Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.

"I've seen first hand what Hussein can do," said Hawks, who arrived in Kuwait in 1991, just as the liberation of that country was beginning. "When I went into Kuwait I was cynical, and thought the war was about oil. But then I saw a country that had been raped by its (Iraqi) attackers. I realized that the war was noble, that it had to be done."

Hawks also believes the war was necessary this time, but he expressed concern that many people who support the war are striking out against those who are calling for peace.

"An honest war requires true dissent," Hawks said. "I disagree with the dissenters, but I applaud their principles and their courage. I don't think this war will last long enough to be divisive, but I am concerned that the discourse will end after the war."

Dickinson also said there is much to be discussed, starting with questions regarding the lawfulness of the attack, and a debate about what, exactly, constitutes self-defense - one of the Bush administration's stated reasons for attacking Iraq.

Should the government have to show that imminent harm faces the nation, she questioned. "Is possession of weapons of mass destruction enough of a reason? It's a split decision, in an age when weapons of mass destruction can be spread to evil leaders. But what does the threat of attack do to the peace and security of the world?"

Leaders also must address questions regarding how to handle Iraqi leaders accused of crimes against humanity, how to define future resolutions in the United Nations, and whether a resolution passed more than a decade earlier - such as the one passed in the context of the first Gulf War that President Bush relied on - should be considered current. And, she said, there will be questions regarding the reconstruction of the war-torn country, particularly about which countries are involved in the effort.

"Will it be unilateral or multilateral? I'm concerned that the United States will be perceived as an imperial power" if post-war efforts are not shared among the nations of the world, she said.

One discussion that shouldn't be a concern, said Wright, the economist, is the cost of rebuilding Iraq.

"I know I may sound a little Clintonian," Wright joked, "but the economic impact of the war depends on the definition of what the war is. This phase, plus the rebuilding effort, may hit $100 billion, but that's not that big a deal.

"However, if the war is defined as Iraq, and then we take on Iran, and Syria, and North Korea - if that's the plan, it would have the economic impact of what I'd call World War III," he said.

"We need to remember that the United States is a big economy, and we can take a little war and not feel it very much," Wright added. "But if you throw in the adventuristic scenario, it could be bad."

Reiter, the political science professor, drew attention to some of the public policy decisions made since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

"Politically, little has changed since 9/11," he said. "It's all been predictable. But there have been big policy changes - the reorganization of government, the civil liberties policies have changed. The Patriot Act is an example of that, and now some congressmen are going to try to make that act permanent."

Referring to the first amendment right to free speech, Reiter noted that both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer struck out at Bill Maher when the comedian made his anti-war views clear during a television appearance.

"In today's democracy, it appears the first amendment refers only to the little things. Big items like war are decided by the big guys," he said.

Bigger questions regarding civil liberties also will have to be decided in Iraq. "We talk about a democratic Iraq, but the Iraqis are all over the political spectrum. The groups who may be elected are probably not going to be compatible with what Bush wants," Reiter said. "Then there's the question of what's more important, democracy or civil liberties?

Added Reiter: "We won't know if we won this war for another five years."