Centre professor still has reservations about war

December 15, 2003|HERB BROCK

Nayef Samhat is a member of the huge American chorus singing the praises of U.S. troops in their capture of Saddam Hussein. But the Centre College professor who is an expert on the Middle East still sings a different tune from the members of the chorus who are for the war in Iraq.

"My first reaction to the news of Saddam's capture is that it is good for the troops and for the Bush administration to have accomplished a major goal of theirs, and it is especially good for the Iraqi people whom he had brutalized for so long," Samhat, National Endowment for Humanities associate professor of government and international relations, said in an interview Sunday.

It will be even better for the American and coalition soldiers, the administration and the Iraqis if Saddam's capture would curb the continuing attacks on the soldiers, he said.

"With Saddam now in custody, we can see what effect, if any, his capture will have on the efforts to control violence during the occupation, on the constant attacks that have caused so many casualties since the president declared major hostilities had ended," said Samhat.


"And I believe we now will get a better handle on the nature of this resistance to American troops - if it is coming mainly from elements of Saddam's Baath Party or from militant Islamists from inside and outside Iraq, or from both."

Samhat's hunch is that, if the attacks continue, the major source of them likely are the militant Islamists rather than Saddam's Baathists.

"Given the fact that Saddam and his now-deceased two sons totally dominated the party, I would say most of its structure collapsed when he was toppled from power and they were killed," he said. "And given the haggard and disheveled looks of Saddam and the conditions of that hut and hole he was living in, I'd say he probably has not had much control over or communications with any of the Baathist loyalists who have been resisting. What resistance they have mounted now may be over.

"So my feeling is that if the attacks resume, most, if not all, of them likely will be coming from the militant Islamists, and, therefore, the administration will have to focus on them. It may well be more difficult to identify the Islamists than the Baathists because many of the Islamists are from outside of Iraq while all the Baathists are from the country and much better known by the people."

While the professor gives the administration a good grade for finally achieving its goal of nabbing Saddam, he continues to give it poor grades for the war.

"No doubt Saddam is a very bad person, but there is no shortage of bad people who are leaders of nations in this world," he said.

"What has occurred is that the U.S., without widespread world approval, has embarked on a deadly mission in a power keg region of the world without widespread world support, in terms of troops and finances."

The mission, Samhat said, is "based on several false premises," and they include weapons of mass destruction that have yet to be found, Saddam's yet-proven connection to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and his yet-proven connection with Osama Bin Laden and other radical Islamists.

"Not only was the operation done without producing proof of the premises put forth by the administration, it was done entirely outside the norms of international conduct," he said.

"This new model says that, if you're strong enough and don't like somebody, you can go in and overthrow that person and that government. That sets a bad standard for the world."

And that standard was developed long before Bush took office, said Samhat.

"This war is an entirely ideological operation from the neoconservative agenda that was well-articulated before 9-11 and before Bush became president," he said. "The agenda is being pursued by Bush because he has several neocons in his administration."

The "neocon agenda," said Samhat, was established in the mid-1990s and "revolves around the assertion of American power on a unilateral basis and the simultaneous shedding of international constraints on that power, such as international law and the United Nations."

He said that the agenda involves increasing defense spending, establishing pre-emption as a policy and targeting countries that neocons believe are the biggest threats to the U.S. - Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

"Bush declared those three countries as the 'Axis of Evil' in that famous speech to Congress, but they had been targets in the neocon agenda for years before that speech," said Samhat.

The professor said he believes the U.S. could achieve its goals by working with other nations.

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