Experts Debate War in Iraq, American Foreign Policy
By Brianda Reyes '14, Managing News Editor
Last Sunday, Nov. 14, the Amherst Political Union hosted a debate between Andrew Bacevich, the John J. McCloy ’16 Professor of American Institutions and International Diplomacy at the college, and Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations on post-9/11 U.S. national security policy.

Bacevich is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and author of New York Times bestseller “The Limits of Power: The end of American Exceptionalism.” Boot, on the other hand, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He regularly contributes to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and is the author of “War Made New: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History, 1500 to Today.”

The event started with some opening remarks by Khan Shoieb ’13, president of the American Political Union, who emphasized the importance of the subject of the debate. He expressed the need for the Amherst community to be exposed to different, informed views about important national issues.

“Tonight, we debate the direction in which our national security policy has and will go,” Shoieb said. “This is an issue that takes on special significance in the wake of the recent Republican takeover of the House. For if President Obama’s domestic agenda is stalled, he will look increasingly to foreign policy to make his mark in the end of his first term.”

Following Shoieb’s remarks, Bacevich gave an opening statement about his views on the foreign policy decisions that have been made since 9/11. He firmly affirmed his belief that American foreign policy is headed down the wrong path.

Bacevich presented what he believed to be the three main errors concerning the government’s action on the terrorist attacks on 9/11: misconstruction of the threat, wrong approach to dealing with the threat, and overlooking more pressing issues. These errors, he concluded, have led America down the wrong path and harmed the nation.

“Some say the world is a better place with Hussein gone, and it’s true,” Bacevich said. “But, the U.S. is not a better place.”

After Bacevich presented his statement, Boot opened his remarks by citing that one of the differences between himself and Bacevich is that while he is optimistic, Bacevich is pessimistic. He stated that he thinks the United States is ahead of where he thought it would be, and went on to directly rebut Bacevich’s closing statement.

“It’s not only a better place, but it’s also a safer place for everyone,” Boot said.

Boot continued with his statement by arguing the reasons why the government’s responses to the attacks on 9/11 were appropriate. He stated that Obama’s continuation of Bush’s tactics prove that the foreign policy decisions Bush made were wise.

“Can we afford to fight this battle? I’d ask you another question: Can we afford not to?” Boot said.

After Boot finished his remarks, the Political Union asked a series of questions which both men had the chance to answer. The men were asked to cite what they think the greatest threat to the country is, among other questions. In their rebuttals, the men asked each other multiple questions to clarify their ideas. Due to a time constraint, the moderator asked the debaters to limit their responses to two rebuttals per question.

Bacevich and Boot then began receiving questions from the audience which ranged on their thoughts on the efficacy of entering Iraq to their thoughts on nuclear weapons. At the end of the question-and-answer session, the men were given two minutes to give concluding statements. These concluding statements, however, ended in a small debate between them.

The debate was followed by a book signing by Bacevich and then a dinner.

Before the debate, the audience participated in a written poll that showed that 56 percent thought that foreign policy is headed down the wrong track, 10 percent disagreed with that statement and 34 percent was undecided. The same poll was conducted after the debate and the numbers showed that 58 percent thought that the policy was erroneous, 18 percent disagreed and 24 percent were undecided.

Shoieb said he was proud of the outcome of the debate, as it exceeded his expectations. The event was held at the end of Homecoming weekend, so he thought that everyone would be too tired to attend.

“The turnout clearly demonstrates that Amherst craves a forum for debate on campus where we talk about the issues that embroil the society outside of our walls,” Shoieb said. “The debate itself was vigorous and thought-provoking.”

The event was primarily sponsored by the Association of Amherst Students who gave the organization $7,500. The organization also received money from the President’s Office and the Students Activities Office.

The Amherst Political Union plans to hold such debates in the future on different topics. Shoieb said that he wants to make the future debates more interactive and include students and faculty more. The debate between Bacevich and Boot showed that Amherst needs and wants intellectual debates.

“The Amherst community approached a contentious topic with a degree of civility and sincerity that bodes well for the future policy debates that our generation will have to confront,” Shoieb said.

Issue 09, Submitted 2010-11-17 02:43:18