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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 23:05 GMT
US students debate Iraq
Colin Powell at the UN Security Council
Colin Powell impressed the students - and their professors

As the Iraq crisis intensifies, thoughtful debate is taking place on America's college campuses about the future of US foreign policy.

Few university student bodies are more concerned with this issue than those at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, where many are training for careers as future diplomats.

The former dean of the school was Paul Wolfowitz, now the US deputy secretary of defence, who has played a key role in US policy towards Iraq.

The day after Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations, an overflow audience gathered at the school's Kenney Auditorium - in the heart of Washington's think-tank district - to hear three professors giving differing assessments of how the crisis should be resolved.

Inevitable war

Professor Eliot Cohen argued that war was now the only real option, and that the inspections and sanctions regime had failed in 1998 and could not be revived.

In contrast, Professor Scott Barrett argued that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could still be contained by using deterrence, and that the cost of war was currently too high.

And Professor Francis Fukuyama, the former head of policy planning at the State Department, said that not enough was being done to plan the peace.

Divided students

The questions and comments by the students reflected no clear consensus on US policy towards Iraq, but may reflect both the support that Mr Powell has generated, and questions about the broader direction of policy.

One student asked whether there could be an intermediate option between war and peace.

Another asked how much US policy was influenced by the fact that the world was dependent on Middle East oil.

But there was scepticism about the UN too, and mistrust of Europe.

One woman asked why we needed the UN at all, and said that France and Germany represented the least dynamic part of Europe.

And another said that for those who opposed the war, whatever the proof of weapons of mass destruction, it would not be enough to convince them to act.

Anti-war group

The discussion was polite and measured, both among students and teachers, with both sides recognising that there were as many questions as answers.

One group - calling themselves "Students Against Hasty Engagement with Iraq" -distributed a leaflet calling for "the threat of Saddam Hussein to be contained by other means".

Their spokesman, Brad Silvers, said to scattered applause that there was no clear trigger to war, and the US was neglecting other, more serious problems in places like Korea and the Middle East.

Senate questions

Such concerns also seemed much on the mind of US senators, who earlier had been questioning Colin Powell on Capitol Hill.

A number, including Presidential hopeful John Kerry, pressed the issue of North Korea's nuclear programme and the State Department's strategy, while Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee wanted to know whether the US was still committed to its plan for Middle East peace.

But as the war draws closer, perhaps the most poignant comment came from Professor Cohen, who was replying to a student worried about the number of possible civilian casualties.

He said that no one could be certain in war about how events would unfold, and warned that Iraq might again use weapons of mass destruction against its own people.

And, quoting Mr Wolfowitz, he said that most government decisions were close, made on a 51%-49% majority.

Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott
"You have to ask why they held this back all this time"

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See also:

05 Feb 03 | Middle East
04 Feb 03 | Middle East
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26 Jan 03 | Americas
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