Tempers flared in the Ho Lecture Room Wednesday evening during a debate on the “Ethics of Political and Humanitarian Intervention.”
The debate, hosted by Colgate’s Peace and Conflict Studies Department, featured two professors from other colleges: Professor Thomas Cushman of Wellesley College and Professor Robert Rubinstein of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.
Professor Cushman holds a Bachelor’s degree from St. Michael’s College, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D from the University of Virginia. His areas of study include human rights, genocide and the sociology of culture. He is the founding editor of both The Human Rights Review and The Journal of Human Rights.
Professor Rubinstein is a Professor of Anthropology, with a Ph.D from SUNY Binghamton. He has conducted a large amount of anthropological research in Egypt, Belize, Mexico and the US, has published more than 50 articles and is the author or editor of six books.
The debate began with Cushman laying out his viewpoint. A self described “hawkish liberal,” he identified himself with the pre-Vietnam era liberals who were not afraid to go to war in order to help others, contrasting himself with today’s liberals, whom he characterized as pacifistic.
Stating that his is a “minority position” both in academia and within the group ofconservatives waging the war, he defended President Bush’s War in Iraq.
“I believe in attempting to liberate an oppressed people,” he said. “I don’t believe in neutrality. For the most part, the Iraqi people support the war, so we should help them.”
Rubinstein, on the other hand, argued that the intervention lacks legitimacy.
“What multilateralism there was, was politically coerced, while the use of force was supported ardently by the U.S.,” he said.
Rubinstein also questioned in more general terms the wisdom of an interventionist foreign policy.
“I agree with the moral obligation to rebel against a tyrant, but we should reach in and support internal rebellion,” he said. “One of the dangers of coming in from the outside is the encouraging of a reactionary identity [in places we intervene].”
The debate ultimately came to rest on the legitimacy of the intervention, with Cushman asserting that we have a moral right and obligation to intervene where ver people are being oppressed, while Rubinstein insisted we should act through the United Nations and that intervention should be more carefully planned, structured and devoid of political motivation.
Things started to heat up once the floor was opened to questions. After he and Rubinstein fielded several questions, Cushman got into an intense debate with Colgate Professor of Peace Studies and Art & Art History Dan Monk.
Monk began by critizing the legitimacy of Cushman’s position.
“You claim to be surfing on the backs of the neocons, but in actuality it appears they are riding on you,” he said.
Monk also resented Cushman’s view of Cushman’s “hawkish” liberalism as being more authentic than that of most liberals today.
This led the two to get into an impassioned discussion for several minutes, pushing Rubinstein, the moderator and the rest of those in attendance at the lecture into the background. This sub-debate continued off and on until the end of the lecture and in private once the lecture was over.
The two seemed incapable of finding any common ground. During the lecture, some of Cushman’s responses included, “You invited me here to discuss this, I have no problem with debate so long as my views aren’t caricatured,” and “I can’t go on with this,” throwing his hands into the air in exasperation.
Cushman was asked afterwards if he was used to this kind of response to his self-proclaimed “minority viewpoint.”
“There’s a range of critiques depending on where I go, from well reasoned critique to personal attack,” he said. “There’s a lot of emotion around this issue, and with some people there’s nothing you can say to make them be civil. It’s not an easy position to maintain in the academic world, but I don’t mind that.”
“It wasn’t a personal attack,” Monk said, defending his position.
The audience wasn’t sure what to make of the debate.
Sophomore Laura Simocko said, “I was a little taken aback by the intensity of the exchange, but I suppose that’s what a debate is supposed to be like.”