The University of North Carolina at Pembroke
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Date: April 14, 2004
Contact: Amber Rach
Email: amber.rach@uncp.edu
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Fax: 910.521.6694

Middle East expert speaks on war and its aftermath in Iraq

By Scott Bigelow

Christopher AlexanderMiddle East expert Dr. Christopher Alexander said it is not time to pull the plug on nation building efforts in Iraq.

Dr. Alexander, who is the director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Center at Davidson College, spoke at an April 6 dinner at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke as part of the Gibson and Marianna Gray Lecture Series. He spoke April 7 to the University.

"No matter how you feel about the issue of going to war in the first place, we cannot leave now," Dr. Alexander said. "It would create a chaotic vacuum, an irresistible environment for (terrorist) organizations like Al Qaeda."

Dr. Alexander acknowledged that a democratic Iraq is a difficult proposition, and that the Bush administration was not prepared for the task. But, he said the three factions in Iraq - Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - must remain engaged in the ongoing constitutional process.

"Our job is to craft a political process that keeps the leadership of the three groups invested," Dr. Alexander said. "Over time, these groups must see that there is something of value to be gained without using violence."

To a question from UNCP political science Professor Frank Trapp about the tension between Islam and democracy, Dr. Alexander said the two are not mutually exclusive.

"I am not someone who believes that Islam is inherently antithetical to democracy," Dr. Alexander said. "There has to be a commitment on the part of Iraqis that politics is not about winner take all."

Dr. Alexander was critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war's aftermath. "The administration did not prepare adequately for the post-war period," he said.

The Bush administration used the wrong historic models for rebuilding a defeated nation. Models of rebuilding post-war Japan and Germany were applied to Iraq instead of more appropriate models like Yugoslavia.

Also troubling are the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the administration's misplaced belief that Iraq was a hotbed of global terrorism after it was evident that Al Qaeda was not a factor there.

"Of the 12,000 people we have in Iraqi prisons, no more than 50 are foreign," Dr. Alexander said.

The scholar is also critical of the U.S. failure to "sell the war in Iraq" to the international community.

"In retrospect, this was the high water mark of American unilateralism in foreign policy," he said. "This war is not good for the diplomatic interests of your country."

"It's hard to exaggerate how unpopular the U.S. is in Europe right now," Dr. Alexander said. "

Questions raised by the war in Iraq and its aftermath loom over the upcoming presidential election. Dr. Alexander said there is a growing anger over the Bush administration's perceived "incompetence" following the war and of its perceived "deceit" over the justification to invade Iraq, he said.

"People who supported the war are regretting this decision and stepping away publicly," Dr. Alexander said. "This election could be a rare example where foreign policy does have an influence on the outcome of an election."

"This president has a real problem," he said. "If John Kerry can convince the voters that America will be at least as secure under him, I think he's got a credible shot at winning the White House."

However, Dr. Alexander said a quick pullout in Iraq would be unfortunate for the international fight against terrorism and the long-term peace and stability in the Middle East.

"We must find a way to depoliticize the Iraq situation, to take it off the table," he said. "The greatest risk now is that we will lose our will in Iraq."

"How long will we be there?" he said. "A long time."

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The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Updated: Wednesday, April 14, 2004
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