Security Scholars Call for Change

NEWARK, Delaware – Over 650 foreign affairs specialists in the United States and allied countries have signed an open letter opposing the Bush administration’s foreign policy and calling urgently for a change of course.

The letter was released today by Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy, a nonpartisan group of experts in the field of national security and international politics.

The letter asserts that current U.S. foreign policy harms the struggle against Islamist terrorists, pointing to a series of "blunders" by the Bush team in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. "We’re advising the administration, which is already in a deep hole, to stop digging," said Professor Richard Samuels of M.I.T.

The scholars who signed the letter are from over 150 colleges and universities in 40 states, from California to Florida, Texas to Maine. They include many of the nation’s most prominent experts on world politics, including former staff members at the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council, as well as six of the last seven presidents of the American Political Science Association. "I think it is telling that so many specialists on international relations, who rarely agree on anything, are unified in their position on the high costs that the U.S. is incurring from this war," said Professor Robert Keohane of Duke University.

The letter reads as follows.

An Open Letter to the American People:

We, a nonpartisan group of foreign affairs specialists, have joined together to call urgently for a change of course in American foreign and national security policy. We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists. One result has been a great distortion in the terms of public debate on foreign and national security policy – an emphasis on speculation instead of facts, on mythology instead of calculation, and on misplaced moralizing over considerations of national interest. We write to challenge some of these distortions.

Although we applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaeda fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder. It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists.

Many of the justifications offered by the Bush Administration for the war in Iraq have been proven untrue by credible studies, including by U.S. government agencies. There is no evidence that Iraq assisted al-Qaeda, and its prewar involvement in international terrorism was negligible. Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons was negligible, and its nuclear weapons program virtually nonexistent. In comparative terms, Iran is and was much the greater sponsor of terrorism, and North Korea and Pakistan pose much the greater risk of nuclear proliferation to terrorists. Even on moral grounds, the case for war was dubious: the war itself has killed over a thousand Americans and unknown thousands of Iraqis, and if the threat of civil war becomes reality, ordinary Iraqis could be even worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein. The Administration knew most of these facts and risks before the war, and could have discovered the others, but instead it played down, concealed or misrepresented them.

Policy errors during the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq have created a situation in Iraq worse than it needed to be. Spurning the advice of Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki, the Administration committed an inadequate number of troops to the occupation, leading to the continuing failure to establish security in Iraq. Ignoring prewar planning by the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, it created a needless security vacuum by disbanding the Iraqi Army, and embarked on a poorly planned and ineffective reconstruction effort which to date has managed to spend only a fraction of the money earmarked for it. As a result, Iraqi popular dismay at the lack of security, jobs or reliable electric power fuels much of the violent opposition to the U.S. military presence, while the war itself has drawn in terrorists from outside Iraq.

The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests. While the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was desirable, the benefit to the U.S. was small as prewar inspections had already proven the extreme weakness of his WMD programs, and therefore the small size of the threat he posed. On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaeda to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case.

Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order. Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy. We call urgently for an open debate on how to achieve these ends, one informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaeda’s methods and strategies, and sober attention to American interests and values.

View list of signatures.

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