Even though most high school students can’t vote, about 200 Hickman high school students found a way to participate in the democratic process Wednesday.
They questioned four panelists, with differing viewpoints, about post-war Iraq during the “Speak Your Mind Forum” at Hickman High School.
“Everyone needs to be addressed for democracy to work,” said Kirsten Seaberg, a junior. “Everyone needs to be informed.”
“We can argue all night about the morality of international relations, but at the end of the day we still come down to the fact that the U.S. government basically exists to extend American interests,” said Shingai Samudzi, a senior.
“Rather than argue about whether those interests are right or wrong, could you address what the U.S. government should do now that we have thousands of troops in Iraq?” Samudzi asked the four panelists, setting the tone for the discussion.
The panelists offered sharply contrasting ideas about what post-war Iraq should look like.
Shakir Hamoodi, the outreach coordinator for the Islamic Center of Central Missouri and an Iraqi native, spoke from the perspective of the Iraqi people.
“I would like to see a change in the U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq to gain the trust of the Iraqi people,” Hamoodi said. “The U.S. needs to rebuild the infrastructure of the Iraqi people — education, health, business — to look at the American forces in a more positive way and guide them through this transition period until the country is able to stand on its own.”
Kurt Jefferson, associate professor of political science at Westminster College, took the Bush administration’s position in his responses.
“I think that clearly the administration is interested in trying to create an air of democracy,” Jefferson said. “But Iraq has never been a democracy, so it is difficult to form one out of the religious and ethnic groups that populate the country.”
Jerry Morelock, executive director of the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library at Westminster College, represented the U.S. military’s point of view, speaking from more than 30 years of military service. He served in the Pentagon under Generals Colin Powell and Wesley Clark.
“The American military is not interested in being an occupying power,” Morelock said. “The military is just going to do what it is asked to do.”
In contrast, Mark Haim, the director of the Columbia Peace Coalition, is an activist working to end what he calls “the American occupation of Iraq.”
“We need to turn over the administration of Iraq as quickly as possible to government by the international community and bring in blue helmets as quickly as possible,” Haim said, referring to U.N. peacekeeping troops.
A number of the Hickman students in attendance did not support in the war in Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government and killed the dictator’s two sons. But like Samudzi, they want to move on to build a new infrastructure in Iraq.
“Now that we’ve actually gone through with it, it’s important to actually stay and help them out,” said Todd Berchek, a junior.