Ambassador Bob Seiple on Iraq

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. And as you know, in World Watch we like to take a look at what’s happening around the world. And we are privileged to have with us today someone who has spent a good deal of their life trying to understand what’s happening around the world, Bob Seiple. He is the president and founder of The Institute for Global Engagement. He is an ambassador, global leader, educator. He has spent the last 30 years fashioning humanitarian solutions that are enduring. And many of you know him locally through his work with World Vision. He went on from then to the United Nations, is a very strategic world watcher and, as a follower of Jesus, someone who-who brings a commitment to faith to the-to the dynamic of-of the process that he’s involved in.
Q. Bob, thanks for joining us today.
A. Well, it’s great to be with you, and great to hear your voice again.
Q. Bob, you wrote a very, very interesting and provocative piece in the Christian
Science Monitor in which you open with a line that says, “Although this will disappoint many of my friends, I come down on the side of President Bush in the situation in Iraq.” Talk about both the reasons some people will be disappointed and what it is that leads you to write such a forthright piece on this subject.
A. Well, as you know, there was a great deal of controversy and hesitancy as the
events in the United Nations played out. And people came down on different sides. I have to say that in my own family we were not of one accord on this
Q. Hm.
A. ¢€œand we had people to the left of center, to the right of center, and with a great
deal of ambiguity around the center. So this is not something that was universally accepted. My point of view was basically this, and it’s fairly simple. The Middle East is a cauldron of activists that very much hate the United States, very much hate the West. There’s a great deal of terrorism that is spawned there and kept there, and right in the middle of this cauldron is this country Iraq, that also hates us and has the ability to create the kind of weapons that could really play havoc as a follow-on to the events of 9/11. So that was a piece of it. The other major piece is when I was in the State Department for two years as the Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, I read all the cables coming from in and around Iraq. And this guy, Saddam Hussein, did the most brutal things to the Shiite in the south. Of course we-we sanctioned Iraq because of that. But the guy is absolutely heartless and brutal, and probably the most brutal dictator that we have seen in the last 100 years. And that says a lot. So that-that’s another reason. And I’ll give you a third reason. People say we shouldn’t go to war. My goodness, we were already at war. And war was declared against the Shia, war was being fought against Muslims in Iraq by Sadam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction were already being used, the gassing of the Kurds, and it seemed to me that we can-can no longer turn our back on that part of the world and had to do something dramatic. So for me, the all-available means had disappeared, and diplomacy could not get the job done, and we simply had to make a stand. And-and that’s where we are today.
Q. Now, your assessment is-is-is logical, follow-able, supported obviously by a
lot of Americans, but there are very active spokespersons, within the faith and out, who-who are diametrically opposed to this action. And the United Nations, obviously the French in particular, tried to position themselves as taking a moral high ground. Today in the New York Times there was an article, “Egyptian Intellectual Speaks Out of the Arab’s World Despair,” saying that people in Egypt, many parts of the Arab world used to love America, and now they have a sense of being betrayed. Why is it that even people in that region of the world don’t seem to have the same kind of assessment of the risk posed by Iraq, as a country, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein?
A. Well, you mentioned three different groups. Let’s take the French first. I
think when this thing is all over the emperor many emperors will have lost their clothes and we will understand why Iraq was so important to the French when the files are pened and the contracts, and the oil contracts especially. But others are seen for what they are. And this may also apply to the Germans and the Russians as well. In terms of people in our own country, in terms of folks of the Christian faith, I-I respect a point of view that’s different from my own on this. I’ve been in war. I have¢â‚¬¦ I fought in the Vietnam War. I had a son who spent nine years in the Marines. I’ve got a nephew who’s-who’s in Nasiriyah today.
Q. Hm.
A. None of this is easy, but there comes a point in time where you say, Nothing
else has worked, will work, and you have to apply power.
Q. Uh-huh.
A. In terms of folks in-in the Middle East, I understand the concern. It’s been
there for awhile. I don’t quite buy into this apocalyptic sense that we have created 100 Osama Bin Ladens. Actually, if you look at what happened a year and a half after 9/11, when we went into Afghanistan and took care of the Taliban, we destroyed the ability to create some of these widespread terrorist acts because we destroyed a lot of the terrorists. And certainly that’s happening in Iraq. If we can bring a peaceful resolution quickly, with Iraqi’s doing their own business of governing, and quickly show the exit door to our own military, I think a lot of this will blow over. But in the meantime, there is a legitimate reason why people in the world don’t always like us. And I-I tried to point that out in the article.
Q. Yeah. You-you-you addressed two questions, and I want to get into those in
just a minute. I do want to mention to folks Bob Seiple is going to be in town this weekend, speaking Friday is it Friday night or Saturday night?
A. Friday night at 7:30, I’ll be on the University of Washington campus at Kane
Hall, and will be talking about Religious Freedom, The Missing Dimension of Security, which I hope is topical enough in this day and age.
Q. Yeah, very important. And then-and then on Saturday, April the 12th, you’re
at University Presbyterian Church. And what are you speaking on there? And at what time?
A. That starts in the morning with devotions at about 8:30, and that has a fee
attached to it because of lunch, a $20 fee. The event at U-Dub is free and everyone is welcome to both of those. We hope to have a very good crowd. On Saturday morning we’ll be speaking about getting the questions right in a complex world that’s a little bit more dangerous and out of control than when we were young. And then in the afternoon trying to get the answers right, looking at very specific case studies from difficult places like China, Pakistan, Laos. So it’ll be a good full day
Q. Wow.
A. ¢€œof interaction on this issue of global engagement.
Q. And what is the fee and-and how can people register for that?
A. Well, the fee again, for the Saturday program is $20. It’s free on Friday night.
And I would say by way of registering people should go to our web site, And the west refers to the Northwest.
Q. Ah.
A. That will give you all the information. But even if you don’t have the
information, come either Saturday night at U-Dub Kane Hall at 7:30
Q. Friday night.
A. Or 8:30 at UPC.
Q. Yeah, Friday night at Kane Hall and Saturday, during the day, at University
Presbyterian Church.
We’re going to be back in just a minute. As-as Bob already mentioned in
the Christian Science Monitor piece, he addressed two questions, why the world hates Americans, and how in the world could we have lost a public relations battle to a dictator with Saddam Hussein’s track record? Two very provocative questions. We’re going to come back and finish up with those, some comments on those. And again, we’ll give you the information about registration this weekend. Friday night is free at Kane Hall at the University of Washington, 7:30 PM. And Saturday, during the day, it starts at 8:30 in the morning and goes through lunch and into the afternoon. That’s at University Presbyterian Church, and we’ll tell you where you can register for that right after this. Don’t go away.
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We are so pleased to have with us ambassador Bob Seiple, Robert Seiple, who many of you know. He’s no stranger to you. He wrote a wonderful piece in the Christian Science Monitor, and I’d like to explore another couple of the questions in that piece.
Q. Here we are, watching the film footage. We’re seeing the loss of American
Life, although dramatically less than we might have expected, given the magnitude of the task at hand. Nevertheless, we’re seeing the loss of-of innocent civilian life, we’re seeing the loss of a lot of Iraqi military and civilians. War is-is-is-is a treacherous evil and as-as Augustine taught us there is such a thing as just war, but even a just war is entered into with a sense of regret and remorse. Having said that, we watch what’s happening and we view this as a situation in which we, as Americans essentially with the British and another bunch of countries but we really had to take the leadership position on this, we had to make this thing happen, we have taken on this dictatorship which, as Bob has said, is a barbaric and-and demonstrably evil one. And so we would expect that there would be some-some level of appreciation for what we have done. I mean, unlike in-in World War II where Hitler was able to-to move unrestrained for a period of time because good people did nothing, this is a situation where the United States has done something and we would expect that we would have, first of all, been able to make the case that this was important to do. And secondly, that there would be some sort of level of appreciation for what we’ve done. Instead, we have this sense that the world is increasingly, has an increasing level of animosity towards America, and we didn’t even really win the PR war on taking on Saddam Hussein. And you have these incredible editorials comparing George Bush to Hitler instead of Saddam Hussein. Bob, how in the world did this happen?
A. Well, we probably didn’t do a very good job in terms of articulating why we
should do this and why it was important. Now, the war is going well and the approval rating for the war, of course, is off the-off the charts for something like this. But there’s a superficial reason, but a real reason in terms of being the last remaining superpower. And whoever that last remaining superpower is going to be, there’s going to be a certain amount of animosity, a certain amount of jealousy, and a certain amount of caution in terms of how that superpower may react. But along with that we also have a problem that unfortunately we’ve created in this country where we have national values which speak to all of the good things that all of us could write long stories about in terms of our neighbors, in terms of the golden rule, in terms of religious principals and so on, and we feel strongly about those things and they’re deeply imbedded in our history. At the same time, we have national interests and they tend to be economic in nature, economic access to the rest of the world and a military presence that allows for that, and that insures that economic access is going to be there. And-and essentially we’ve never put the two together. And one speaks to power and the other, the national values speak to philosophical precepts and theological underpinnings and so on, that-that we feel all warm and good about. But this disjointure between the two and our inability to resolve the two, creates an inconsistency. And the Achilles heel of human rights is always inconsistency. I think, very briefly, why people hate America is that we have this-this large display of power that sometimes allows us to be inconsistent and get away with it.
Q. You know, obviously, this leads to the question about reconstruction of Iraq
because there’s already huge debate going on about the US providing the leadership role in that, US animosities towards the French, in particular, but German and Russia, as well, the power struggle that’s going on in that dynamic.
A. Yeah.
Q. What-what¢â‚¬¦ You’re really touching on something very important. Our
values say one thing, our interests indicate another. What are the implications for what you’re saying for this reconstruction?
A. Well, first of all, the reconstruction can’t happen unless there’s security. And
the only countries that can provide security are the countries that are fighting the war. I mean, you look at what the UN did in [Shrebanitza] or Rwanda. And by the way, Kofi Annan was the person in charge of that mission in both cases.
Q. Yes. Yeah.
A. And you say to yourself, is this the way we want to go? I think there’s a role
for the UN and I think there’s an opportunity to bring a larger coalition together. But the issue has to-the issue of security very much has to overlap with the issue of humanitarian aid and reconstruction.
Q. Yeah.
A. So there definitely will be a place where we will be the lead gun. Now, the
United Nations, if you look at its history, only really works when one country steps forward and gives it backbone.
Q. Yeah.
A. And when that country is not there, if the United States were not there, well,
you-you saw what happened in the diplomacy around the table
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œfor lo, those many weeks, they pass something unanimously and then they
virtually pull away from it and say, Yeah, but we didn’t really mean it when we signed it. Well, you know, that’s not the kind of thing that brings peace to the world and predictable responses to difficult situations in the world. So I think the world is far better off if we continue to provide the security.
Q. Yeah.
A. Again, use the opportunity to get out of there as quickly as possible, but not
prematurely. There’s too many¢â‚¬¦ Too much blood has been shed for this, and if we go out prematurely and things get chaotic, we’re going to regret it.
Q. And finally, the easy question.
A. Yeah.
Q. What about Israel? I mean, there’s a piece in today’s paper, “Israel Starts
Mass Expulsion of Palestinians,” while the world is focused on Iraq with Israel and the Palestinian situation is-is not going away.
A. I was thinking about Israel this afternoon, Dick, and-and if you were to judge
who the winners are in this conflict, you’d have to put Israel somewhere at the top of the list. They didn’t fire a shot, they didn’t pay a dime, and they used the-the war as cover to do what they felt they needed to do in the refugee camps, the Gaza Strip, and so on. This-this complicates things, and this is where we-we need a great deal more nuance. I think it’s great to have moral clarity when you’re fighting evil and a common enemy. But the Middle East and the Israeli Palestinian issue just cries out for nuance. And I-I ache for the Palestinians, I think that they have a very legitimate right and need to be economically viable. I ache for the Israelis, who have a very real need to be secure, but we’re not going to get to that point where we can begin to sit down and talk about these things until the fighting stops. And unfortunately, I think the Israelis have used this situation to their advantage.
Q. Yeah. Although there is an argument being made that-that the United States,
because of its sensitivity to the Arab world, will in fact bend over backwards and that will provide some leverage against Israel in the-in the resolution of this.
A. I don’t think so.
Q. Or at least some balance in it.
A. I don’t think so. I think the political die is cast, I think the-in terms of the
organization of-of that issue within the United States, and the feeling of that issue within certain evangelical groups, I don’t think we ever have to worry that we will flee and betray Israel. But I do think we have to be an honest broker in that part of the world if we are going to be relevant and have something to say, not only to our Israeli friends, but also to our Arab friends.
Q. Folks¢â‚¬¦
A. And I think that’s the way we want to play it.
You can spend more time with Bob Seiple, and who wouldn’t want to if
you want clarity and insight into this situation, Friday night at Kane Hall, 7:30 PM, a free lecture on Religious Freedom, The Missing Dimension of Security. And then Saturday, starting at 8:30, throughout lunch and then into the early afternoon, The Things that Make for Peace, A Theology that Touches the Ground. There is a $20 charge for that. You can get more¢â‚¬¦ You can either show up at 8:30 on Saturday morning at University Presbyterian Church or go to the web site and register,, and you can get the information on that. This is Dick Staub, you’re listening to Seattle’s Christian Talk. We’ll be right back.

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