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Ethicists Debate Morality of U.S. Troop Withdrawal

Contact: Janet Sassi

Panelists Gerard Powers, J.D., and Sohail Hashmi, Ph.D.
Photo by Leo Sorel
Four specialists in ethics and international affairs presented divergent views on America’s moral responsibility to Iraq and its people at “Exit or No Exit: Morality and Withdrawal from Iraq,” a forum held on Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus on Tuesday, Sept. 18.  They agreed, however, that withdrawing raised new and challenging moral questions, regardless of one’s views on how the war was originally launched and conducted.    

One panelist at the standing-room-only event at Pope Auditorium, Sohail Hashmi, Ph.D., an expert in Islam at Mount Holyoke College, urged swift U.S. withdrawal. Calling the U.S. government’s role in Iraq ‘folly,” Hashmi said that it had only succeeded in creating a higher risk of nuclear proliferation in the region.

“Quite frankly, this is a war we cannot win for the Iraqis,” he said. “We can only at best act on the basis of moral humility rather than the moral extravagance of the sort that we have seen in the past few years in attempting to rebuild Iraq.”

However, another panelist, Gerard F. Powers, J.D., director of policy studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at University of Notre Dame, cautioned against an immediate pullout of American troops.  Americans must distinguish between the “ethics of intervention and the ethics of exit,” Powers said. Whether the United States invasion was right or wrong, he said the nation assumed legal and moral responsibility when it acted.

“What the U.S. owes Iraqis is akin to what the U.S. owes its own citizens,” he said. “Our duties to the Iraqis are not all that different morally than our duties to help the people in New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina . . .. What we broke is still very much broken. The U.S. can no more walk away with a clear conscience than a father could abandon the mother of his illegitimate child.”

The event was sponsored by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, and was a sequel to a 2005 conference on the moral principles that should govern when and how the United States pulls out of the war-ravaged country.  The discussion was moderated by Trudy Rubin, foreign affairs columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the other panelists were Michael Walzer, Ph.D., professor emeritus of political philosophy at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University; and Jean Bethke Elshtain, Ph.D., Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to more than 15,600 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx, Manhattan and Tarrytown, and the Louis J. Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y.

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