"The ultimate fate of our democracy lies in our willingness to engage in debate, and this lecture series provides an opportunity for that," said UNC Pembroke Professor Tom Ross in introducing Middle East scholar Dr. Chris Alexander.
Dr. Alexander is director of the Dean Rusk School of International Studies at Davidson College. A specialist on North Africa, he spoke on the eve of the war in Iraq as part of the Gibson and Mariana Gray Lecture Series on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Dr. Gray, who retired as chair of the UNCP Political Science Department, remains involved in the intellectual life of the university through funding of the lecture series and other events. Dr. Gray was on campus recently with the advocacy group Common Cause to conduct a "town hall" meeting for students on the North Carolina state budget.
Dr. Alexander offered timely analysis of the U.S. foreign policy that led to war.
"I had no idea when Tom and I agreed on a date to come to Pembroke that we would be standing here on the eve of war," Dr. Alexander said.
Born in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack, U.S. foreign policy has taken different direction, the Middle East scholar said. The war in Iraq marks a new national security policy of "pre-emptive" strikes, replacing a policy of containment.
Although Iraqi President Saddam Hussein most likely possesses weapons of mass destruction, the Bush Administration so far has not presented convincing evidence that he will use them outside his own sphere of influence, he said.
"Saddam Hussein is not irrational," Dr. Alexander said. "What he cares about is staying in power, and he would not chose options that would invite an international coalition of forces that would force him out."
In the long term, peace in the Middle East depends on the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capitol in East Jerusalem.
"This issue accounts for most of the anti-American sentiment in the region," Dr. Alexander said. "The Palestine issue is not a place where the Bush Administration could make gains."
The Bush Administration has not had the Middle East high on its list of priorities. Until September 11th, "but terrorism provided a good starting point," Dr. Alexander said.
"How people feel about 9/11 seems to determine how they feel about the war in Iraq," he said.
Dr. Alexander noted that, when asked in Congress about the policy of continued isolation of Saddam, President Bush answered quickly: "That's not an option after 9/11. New threats will require new thinking."
The Middle East scholar was critical of the U.S. efforts to win world support for the war.
"We must engage in real global diplomatic leadership," he concluded. "We have the best message…we must use it."
Dr. Alexander delivered two lectures on campus as part of the Gibson Gray Lecture Series.