Cultural clash noted as reason for war in Iraq

A conflict guru discusses the war and U.S. mistakes.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:40 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An expert in international conflict resolution says the current turmoil in Iraq is the result of a clash between two entirely different cultures. On one side, there is the Iraqi population that believes strongly in preserving its cultural identity and achieving self-determination. On the other side is the American occupation force that believes in the “you broke it, you own it” concept of imperialism.

This was the overarching theme of the lecture “Prospects and Problems in International Conflict Resolution,” presented by Ted Morse on Monday in Jesse Wrench Auditorium. The event was put on by the European Union Center and Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at MU.

Morse, a retired foreign service professional who joined the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1962, has worked on 14 emergency relief and post-conflict reconstruction situations, including Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. He most recently served as Coalition Provisional Authority Coordinator for Baghdad.

Morse debunked the assumptions of U.S. decision-makers who organized the intervention in Iraq on what he said were the wrong premises.

“We, as outsiders, brought it all down and expected to be welcomed as liberators and now own it, but have been caught unprepared for such complexity,” Morse said.


Morse said the American force had limited civilian experience and insufficient training for nation-building, an aspect which was largely overlooked.

“Fighting a conventional war guaranteed limited losses, but the use of advanced weapon technology was not matched by the use of theories in conflict resolution and social sciences,” Morse said. “The administration totally misjudged resistance and was caught unprepared for extensive insurgency.”

Morse said policies adopted by the coalition focused on responding to fire with fire instead of addressing the root causes of grievances. The population felt progressively disillusioned by a variety of flip-sides the force hadn’t considered, Morse said.

“It is not a way to make friends, just to disempower the Iraqi military, police and guards without listening to them,” Morse said. “It led to unemployment and insecurity ran wild.”

Those in attendance found value in Morse’s presentation.

“I appreciated his expertise and his commitment,” said Robin Remington, professor emeritus of political science at MU. “He’s trying to bring to the table a less far-fetched approach based on his previous experiences to concretely bring about a representative government and economical improvement in Iraq.”

Some in the crowd also offered perspective on the situation.

“The average Iraqi now just wants peace,” said Deborah Reed, who attended the event and recently returned from Al Kut, Iraq, where she was working with a non-profit organization helping to rebuild the country.

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