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Experts Discuss the Ethics of a Withdrawal From Iraq


Experts Discuss the Ethics of a Withdrawal From Iraq

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Ph.D., the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, discussed the ethics of U.S. involvement in Iraq, including building a new government, protecting Iraqis against insurgents and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.

Photo by Bruce Gilbert

A panel of experts convened at Fordham recently to examine the ethics and form moral criteria for a withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq. Panelists at the forum sponsored by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture agreed that U.S. policy in Iraq has been ineffective, but differed on when and under what circumstance coalition forces should leave.

“Democracy does not begin with ballot boxes; it begins with discussions in public,” said Kenneth Himes, O.F.M., professor and chair of the theology department at Boston College, during “The Ethics of Exit: The Morality of Withdrawal from Iraq,” on March 21 in the McNally Amphitheatre on the Lincoln Center campus. “Not being able to guarantee Iraqis’ safety is a key failure in the postwar situation, a moral failure.”

Himes argued that if the purpose of war was a humanitarian one, and regime change was the reason for the American-led invasion, then postwar reconstruction must follow in the interest of Iraqis.

On the other hand, Sohail Hashmi, Ph.D., associate professor of international relations at Mount Holyoke College, called for Muslims to take a more active role in the reconstruction.

“While the United States contemplates the best way to leave Iraq, Muslims must find the best way to enter,” said Hashmi, editor of Islamic Political Ethics: Civil Society, Pluralism, and Conflict (Princeton University Press, 2002). “Muslims should see themselves as Iraqis’ brothers and sisters and help in their time of need.”

Muslim troops from Morocco, Egypt and Pakistan should replace coalition forces in Iraq until the Iraqi army is trained, Hashmi suggested, because “the American presence is the oxygen that fuels the insurgent’s fire.” Attacks by insurgents will not completely desist because of the presence of a Muslim army, he warned, but will become less frequent and condemned by Arabs.

Hashmi criticized Muslim leaders for “decades of inaction (against Saddam Hussein) that made the United States presence all-to-easy and all-too-necessary.”

A Muslim coalition in Iraq seems unlikely, however, since Muslim law forbids them to fight under the command of foreign forces against fellow-Muslims. No Muslim states have committed troops to the occupation, and very few have assisted in postwar reconstruction.

Everyone agreed that before coalition forces withdraw, the country must first be safer for Iraqis.

“We need a solution that looks to the creation of a stable society and a legitimate government, and uses democracy to meet that end,” said Jean Blake Elshtain, Ph.D., Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

The lecture was co-sponsored by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and the Fourth Freedom Forum.

— John Blakeley

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