Authoritarian Regime: Iraq and War

Sanda Kaufman

Professor of Planning and Public Administration at the Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: What are things that we should consider about the information that we get when formulating opinions about an authoritarian regime?

... A: Romania, where I was born, was at the time when I lived there a dictatorship that was very close to what I pictured and what I understood based on information coming out to be the case in Iraq. So I experienced a lot of frustration trying to explain to people who are born in freedom what it means to live in such a dictatorship and I kept trying because I thought that not understanding had diminished our understanding of what was happening in Iraq. At the same time I was very happy for people who couldn't understand. It's a happy situation when somebody can't understand such extreme situations. It's good for them....

A: Living in a dictatorship is unfathomable to people born in freedom who expected to hear things from Iraq or understand things about Iraq that were impossible through this freedom lens. So people expected to hear what Iraqis thought about it. And of course anybody who's lived in such a situation knows that it's at the peril of your life that you trust anybody but the closest family and tell anyone what you think or what you would like to see happen or any of these things that we take for granted that can be communicated in a free society.

As things happened and Americans were not received with flowers and so on, people I think mistakenly interpreted this to have been a sign that the Iraqis were not happy that war has happened in their country. But I have to wonder about it, through my experience.

Q: So you think if people who were in favor of more negotiations and a non-violent solution to the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq knew more what it was like to live under a dictatorship and under an authoritarian regime, that they might have reconsidered their position?

A: I don't know that they would reconsider because I find that these are very heartfelt ideas and people are attached to these ideas, so I don't know....

The other thing, though, that I find interesting, and I don't know if it's part of this question, is that people who advocated negotiation because war is wrong seem to me to have the underlying assumption that the opposite of war is peace, that if you don't have war then you have peace, which seemed to me to be the wrong reference point. If you did not have war, you had actually a pretty hellish life in Iraq. It was not peace. Not at least as experienced by those people, who were dying at an incredible rate per year. I heard a figure of something like 60,000 children a year dying, and you know, you can go back and forth on the numbers, but the point is the absence of war would not have meant peace. This does not address, of course, the concerns of what will happen next, which nobody knows, and this is yet another argument. But the people who were on principle against war because war is wrong under all circumstances, were wrong about what the alternative is that prevails, as well as wrong on how people in Iraq felt about it, I think.