Yale College Class of 1962

Intelligence Squared Debates
Intelligence Squared Debates



Mirror Selves Zucker on Elihu, Starr on Central Asia, Platt on nicer cities, and more.

Arresting Responses to the Normandy Anniversary Edition (Special Edition) Gorry evoked family memories of yesteryear, while Buck focused on current events.

Normandy Edition (Special Edition) Hovland and Wortman contribute early memories

America's Role in the World (Special Edition) Buck, Hughes and Starr weigh in on world events

WINTER '14 ISSUE Starr on New Orleans, Barnes on Watch Hill, Garvin on Atlanta, Burton on brain science, Saari on Austria, and more

JAN. '14 POST-HOLIDAY ISSUE Metz on biking, Kane on hockey, LeVine on Cuba, and more

SEPT. '13 SUMMER ISSUE Syria, Civil Rights, a Pre-Nup and campus sports

JULY '13 PATRIOTIC ISSUE Audette's retirement solution, aging concerns, cities...

Boston Marathon Bombing (Special Edition) Classmate responses

Bach Favorites (Special Edition) In honor of the great composer's birthday

MARCH '13 ISSUE Science, travel, public policies and a potpourri of other topics

For previous issues you can search by author's name and key content words here.

September 2014 Special Edition

September 2014


"Flexing America's Muscles in the Middle East Will Make Things Worse" is the proposition for our second Intelligence Squared debate. What could be closer to the news and so many people's concerns as we enter the final three months of 2014?

The transmission of the debate was live right here on our website September 30th and is now available as a replay.

As a preview, we asked classmate and veteran Middle East authority Steve Buck to share some of his current thinking about the United States' dilemma and identify several of the issues he thinks might be part of the debate. You can also comment on Steve's views before, during or after the September 30 debate (click below his article, which follows).

Our thanks go to our classmate Bob Rosenkranz, for permitting direct access. Bob is the developer and original supporter of the U.S. Intelligence Squared debates, and is hoping the debates will lead to intelligent opinion and discussion among the rest of us on our own website. There also are replays on many NPR stations around the nation. Combined, several million people follow this debate series.

Please follow our links on the site and let us know what you think about the Middle East debate and our participation. Thanks.

For the replay, click here.

      Chris Cory
      Corresponding Secretary

Proposition: Flexing America's Muscles in the Middle East Will Make Things Worse

Intelligence Squared

PREVIEW by Steve Buck

1. Context

Saddam's Iraq was a brutal dictatorship. It was based on the tenets of the "Ba'ath" (Arabic for Renaissance) party, founded by a Muslim and a Christian who agreed to a secular, highly nationalistic ideology. This produced the most nationalistic of the eight Arab countries I served in, as well as a highly professional and proud army and a large, technocratic middle class. In the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Iraq's Shi'a supplied the majority of the Iraqi army that defeated Iran. Saddam's Iraq was adamantly opposed to Islamist extremism and al-Qaeda. It was the worst place in the world for al-Qaeda.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent U.S. actions produced:
  • The destruction of a largely technocratic middle class
  • The destruction of Iraq's professional army
  • Ending a secular ideology and hyping religious affiliation
  • In a country where Sunni and Shi'a mixed and married, a mini-civil war pitting Sunni against Shi'a
  • A Prime Minister from a militantly Shi'a exile group, ad-Da'wa, who had spent decades as an exile in Tehran
  • Disillusioned Sunnis who had been promised participation in government during the U.S. surge but got nothing
  • A power vacuum in Iraq's Sunni areas, leaving the field open to the Islamic State (IS), formerly called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
2. Questions

-- The U.S. spent trillions and committed tens of thousands of soldiers and advisors over 11 years to build an Iraqi army. Elements of that army fled at the sight of the Islamic State (IS) in the Mosul region. How can reduced U.S. money and fewer trainers produce a better result?

-- Will using Iraq's Shi'a militia reinforce Sunni support for the Islamic State?

-- Will arming and relying on Kurdish militia perhaps lead to Kurdish land grabs and further fighting?

-- Bin Laden advocated challenging the U.S. to draw it into a losing struggle. Are IS beheadings doing just this?

-- Iraq's new Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, comes from the same Da'wa exile group as his predecessor and has more reason to hate Sunnis, as Saddam had two of his brothers killed. What reason is there to believe that he will make any real effort to court Sunnis for an inclusive government?

-- The U.S. is in effect declaring war. Except for World War II, the U.S. has not done very well in the wars it has waged since then. What are the reasons to believe that we will do better now, particularly after already spending trillions and losing 4,000 killed and tens of thousands wounded?

-- Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey and other senior military figures have indicated that there might be a need for boots on the ground. Will this and Congress's authorization for funding Syrian rebels and its implied approval of our military re-involvement in Iraq lead to further mission creep?

-- Senior U.S. officials put the number of foreigners fighting for IS in the thousands. Is U.S. involvement likely to add to recruits who see the intervention as a "crusade" against Islam and provide support for IS's call for a caliphate, which would potentially return the whole Islamic world to being controlled by presumed successors to the prophet? The last Caliphate was the Ottoman Empire, which was dissolved by Kemal Attaturk in 1923.

-- Syria: Bashar al-Assad may well be in office longer than Obama. In going after IS in Syria, we are in effect on the same side as Assad. How will/should this play out?

-- Alliances of convenience change rapidly in the Middle East. U. S. policy has often seemed to be in response to the moment, rather than long term. If the "coalition" of Middle East "partners" frays, will/should the U.S. "stay the course?"

-- The U.S. and Iran have similar interests in fighting IS. Is this a good thing? Bad thing? How should we handle this?

-- The Arab world is already unstable enough. Is it a good thing having Arab air forces joining in the bombing?

3. The Big Question

Americans love to have winners and losers. While talking about a large coalition, the discussion among the talking heads is about "our" "winning" a war. The focus is all about us, not about a little-understood "them." A majority of Americans now support the bombing of Syria but have no idea where it is located.

Nearly 30 years ago when I was Deputy Chief of Mission in Iraq, my Ambassador liked to say "In Iraq there are no good solutions, only least bad solutions." Could it be that there are unlikely to be any real winners as war continues in Iraq and Syria? Our invasion in 2003 led to tens of thousands dead, millions displaced, a country and society dismantled and destroyed.

The Intelligence Squared debate may produce a winner and strong opinions. Perhaps rather than a debate, don't we need a conversation?

Comments? You're invited to make them here.

The class comment section remains open after the debate, welcoming the discussion that Steve Buck calls for. - Chris Cory