6 BYU professors foresaw Iraq war pitfalls

But editorial made little dent in public opinion

Published: Friday, Jan. 26 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

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PROVO — They told us so four years ago this week, and their expert predictions about the aftermath of an American invasion of Iraq now appear downright prophetic.

In hindsight, what may be most striking about a guest editorial written by six Brigham Young University political science professors and printed in the Deseret News on Jan. 23, 2003, is that their questions about going to war in Iraq made little or no dent in public opinion.

The same can be said for similar statements made before the war by hundreds of scholars with vast Middle East experience or international security expertise.

That their insight gained so little traction demonstrates how difficult it was to stop the momentum that built in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Bush administration's insistence that Iraq had something to do with the attacks, said Gordon Silverstein, an expert on constitutional war powers at UC-Berkeley.

"When the president says he knows there is something going on and people at universities say they don't think he's right, that's tough for the public," Silverstein told the Morning News. "They're put in a position of deciding whether to trust a guy with the latest top-secret information or to trust these experts who might be years behind because they don't have immediate access to that information. Congress is also in a tough position, for the same reasons."

Now polls show the majority of Americans are troubled by President Bush's handling of the war. And the six BYU professors remain frustrated that many dismissed their educated opinions as unpatriotic or politically motivated.

"People just said, 'Well, professors are liberal. Even BYU has liberal professors. They're just contrarians,"' said Eric Hyer, an expert in security studies and international relations theory and conflict.

The guest editorial welcomed the prospect of Saddam Hussein's removal but correctly warned that:

• The United States had time for more debate before launching the war;

• American forces in Iraq could become targets of terrorism for years to come;

• A new but weak Iraqi government would invite civil war and widespread human suffering;

• Many nations would judge a preventive attack by the United States as unjustified.

"What strikes us was that Congress was uncritical, even the New York Times was uncritical," Hyer said.

"So was the rest of the media and the populace," BYU Middle East expert Donna Lee Bowen said. "The 'anti' voices were silenced. International relations professors had to take out a full-page ad because nobody was printing their editorials."

The ad, published in the New York Times and signed by 33 experts from universities and colleges like Harvard, Columbia and MIT, avoided taking a political side, said Jack Levy, a specialist on the causes of war at Rutgers University.

"We shared a certain type of world view, a so-called realist view, in which we think of the world and foreign policy in terms of national security, with less emphasis on ideology and things like that," Levy said. "It was for U.S., self-interest, national security concerns that we were opposed to the war. It was not opposition based primarily on moral concerns.

"That charge (of liberalism) certainly didn't apply to our objections. No one could accuse anyone in that group of not having a fairly hard-headed view of the national interest."

The ad urged the United States to concentrate on al-Qaida and stated, in part, "Even if we win easily, we have no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society that the United States would have to occupy and police for many years to create a viable state."

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