By Chantal Lapicola
Peter Galbraith, former ambassador to Croatia and current professor at the National War College in Washington, D.C., spoke on campus Thursday, Oct. 23 at a Human Rights Conference hosted by BYU”s Amnesty International chapter and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.
Galbraith gave a speech titled “The United States and Iraq: the Collision of Realpolitik and Human Rights.”
“We are victims of our past policy,” Galbraith said.
Former presidential administrations have disregarded human rights to protect the strategic relationships of the United States, he said.
“Reagan”s administration said fighting terrorism would replace human rights on the agenda,” Galbraith said.
In the late 1980s, the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran. Reagan felt Iran was hostile against the United States and it would be in the nation”s best interest to support Iraq, Galbraith said.
In 1987, Iraq went to war against the Kurds; burning villages, sending Kurds to concentration camps and committing mass executions, Galbraith said.
The United States felt Saddam Hussein was a strategic partner and did nothing to stop his genocide of the Kurdish people, he said.
When George H. W. Bush was president, he called on the citizens of Iraq to rebel against the government, but he did nothing to protect the citizens when the Iraqi officials put down the rebellion, Galbraith said.
“Bush felt that a broken Iraq would be against the United States strategic interest,” Galbraith said.
Kurdish refugees fled to Turkey and CNN went to the country and shot pictures of the refugees. When the United States saw the pictures, it could not ignore what was happening, Galbraith said.
The United States got rid of the Iraqi leaders in the north where the Kurds were and set up an independent Kurdish state. The United States did not help those being repressed in the south. During the second war in Iraq, the civilians in the south did not warmly welcome the United States, Galbraith said.
Galbraith said the weapons of mass destruction were a weak justification for a second war in Iraq. He said a better justification would have been an attack based on Husseins” human rights violations.
Galbraith also said the United States did not plan enough for the war.
When the United States occupied Iraq, it had a legal obligation to protect the people and secure things, and it has not done that. The Iraqis see the United States as incompetent, he said.
The conference also included a panel discussion about U.S. policy and human rights abuses. The panel included Galbraith, New York Times editorialist Bill Berkeley, and E. Michael Southwick, a former ambassador to Uganda, and scholar and author Donald W. Shriver Jr.