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A military invasion of Iraq will be difficult and divisive enough, but U.S. policy-makers face far more daunting challenges after the shooting stops and Saddam Hussein is gone, a panel of experts warned an MIT audience on Monday.
"Pre-emptive war raises profound moral as well as practical problems," said John W. Dower, the Elting E. Morison Professor in political science, noting that the Bush administration is "now heading for war followed by chaos."
Dower, whose book "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II" won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2000, dismissed analogies by Bush administration supporters and others that liken a post-Saddam U.S. occupation of Iraq to the U.S. occupation of Japan nearly 60 years ago.
Among other differences, Dower said, the United States enjoyed strong global support for its Japan policies. American forces also faced virtually no internal Japanese opposition to its occupation - not one incident of terrorism occurred against U.S. occupation forces in Japan, Dower noted. These and other circumstances, including the fact that Japan had relatively intact bureaucracies with which U.S. forces could work, do not apply to Iraq today, he said. Dower added that the U.S. occupation of Japan required 100,000 American troops and lasted for seven years, or nearly twice as long as the war itself.
Joining Dower in discussing "A U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Iraq: Concerns and Scenarios" were Boston University professor emeritus Herman Eilts, whose 35-year foreign service focused on Middle East assignments, and Daniel Byman, a faculty member in the Securities Studies Program at Georgetown University.
The two-hour session in Wong Auditorium, where gray hair was as common as student backpacks among the audience of about 150, was the second of two discussions about Iraq sponsored by the Center for International Studies' Starr Forum. "This topic is on everyone's mind today," said CIS director Richard Samuels, who introduced the speakers. "Have we imagined the consequences or whether or not the consequences are imaginable?"
Byman, who is now a staff member for the joint congressional committee inquiring into the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, was research director for Middle Eastern public policy at the RAND Corp., where he co-authored "Confronting Iraq: U.S. Policy and the Use of Force Since the Gulf War." The United States, he said, is "venturing into unknown territory" and is "moving too quickly." The nation faces an "exceptionally difficult" challenge, said Byman, who received his Ph.D. in political science at MIT in 1997, but American action and post-war efforts in Iraq are "unavoidable. There simply isn't much choice."
Byman and other speakers noted that Americans tend to want things to resolve quickly, which will not be the case in post-war Iraq. "If the United States is going to invade, it should be prepared to go the distance," Byman said.
Eilts, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and has written extensively about Middle Eastern politics and security in English and Arabic, discussed a range of ethnic, cultural and other factors that complicate issues of governance in post-war Iraq.
Despite claims by some Bush policy-backers that a post-war Iraq could eventually become "a beacon of democracy" for other Arab states, "I am personally dubious of the possibility of developing a democratic structure in Iraq," said Eilts, noting the "competing ambitions" between and among individual groups such as the Kurds.
Resolving such tensions, Eilts said, "is individually hard, and collectively even harder."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 30, 2002.