College students discuss America’s role in Iraq, Sudan and tsunami

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Put your left foot forward, Campus Progress is coming to town. In an effort to “counter the growing influence of right-wing groups on campus,” the Center for American Progress began its college speaker’s tour on Friday, February 11th, with a dynamic Washington, D.C., panel addressing what America’s role should be in Iraq, Sudan, and the Tsunami.

“Conservative groups spend $35 million annually pushing their agenda on campuses through speaking programs with celebrity right-wing speakers, funding for student publications, and leadership training, plus tens of millions more for academic programs and professorships,” said Keisha Senter, the Campus Speakers Bureau Coordinator for CAP about the Campus Progress agenda.

Senter said that Campus Progress plans to counter these acts through liberal publications, educational speakers, training, mentoring and conferences to boost debate among young progressives. “Campuses just aren’t the bastions of liberalism that they once were,” Ben Hubbard, the Campus Programs Director for CAP said about the need for a group like Campus Progress.

For their first event, a crowd of about 400 showed up to hear the three speakers debates about America’s role in Iraq, Sudan and the Tsunami.

“In Iraq, we have a war of choice, of which we’ve spent over $200 million …we’ve only given $2.3 million for Sudan, which is what we spend every thirty seconds in Iraq,” said Gayle Smith from CAP and former Special Assistant to President Clinton for National Security Affairs.

Dr. Susan Rice from the Brookings Institute and former Assistant Secretary of State made no qualms about her disappointment with the situation in Iraq, calling it a “mistake” and that she “didn’t see that Iraq ever posed an imminent threat.”

She said that the United States needs to take an aggressive and activist role and “needs to invest in democracy from the grass roots up, not a the barrel of a gun.” While an adamant supporter of President Bush, Ms. Helle Dale, Director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies for the Heritage Foundation too, “bought into the arguments about WMD.”

“Saddam Hussein did the stupidest of all things, which was to brag about weapons he didn’t have,” Dale said, “and we bought it.”

However, Dale said that now that the U.S. is in Iraq, it is doing the best thing for the Iraqi people and she doesn’t appreciate the nametag the U.S. has gotten of going in without any international support.

“If you look at the amount of international involvement in Iraq; you can’t say it’s a unilateral operation,” Dale said.

When brought upon the topic of the recent State of the Union Address, all three panelists agreed that Bush has a challenge to close the gap between his ideals and actions.

“It was borderline breathtaking in it’s hypocrisy,” Rice said. “We’re not putting our money where our mouth is.” As for the tsunami, Dale said that U.S. efforts there have “changed their view of what Americans are like,” and we have been “offered a disaster and an opportunity.”

Even so, Rice and Smith remained critical of the administrations unbalanced efforts to help out with the Tsunami rather than stop the genocide going on in Darfur, Sudan.

“I think when you’ve got genocide under way and the government is the perpetrator, there is a moral imperative to act,” Rice said. “Our application of freedom and democracy is selective,” Smith said. Dale, who was very pleased with U.S. efforts with the tsunami, did not put the same emphasis on Sudan.

“Sudan has no impact on United States national security,” Dale remarked.

Smith countered Dale’s remark saying that Sudan is a country that host’s terrorists who have previously attached U.S. interests and therefore should be of national security interest to the U.S.

“While there are only a certain number of hours in a day, we need to be more consistent,” Smith said.

Smith outlined the responsibilities she sees for America in this current triple threat as “to protect, to act and to promote international law and equity.”

After the presentation finished, Lauren Frese, a graduate student at GW said that she was “very pleased with the bipartisan views,” but questioned which policies will make it all work “in a globalized world where you are either on the train or not.”

Another graduate student, Ann Browning, who is helping with GW’s chapter of Students Against Genocide in Darfur (GWSTAND) also appreciated the discussion and shared her opinion about what to do in Sudan.

“Violence to gain peace is an acceptable route to some extent when sanctions and international pressure doesn’t work, the government should be made accountable for their actions,” Browning said. When asked what students and adults can do in their daily lives to take responsibility for these three situations, Browning and Hubbard both agreed that education is the best route to take on U.S. soil.

“Personally, I think it’s a matter of educating people about what’s going on,” Browning said about her responsibility to these global causes.

“Our contribution to this is bringing prominent speakers to students,” Hubbard said.

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