Campus & Community

Former CIA director calls for Iraq withdrawal

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MIT Professor Deutch delivers Phi Beta Kappa oration

Entering the
Graduates enter Sanders Theatre for the Phi Beta Kappa Literary Exercises, where Helen Vendler read the work of late poet Robert Creeley, who died in March at the age of 78. (Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)
John Deutch wants U.S. troops withdrawn ‘as soon as possible.’ (Staff photo Rose Lincoln/Harvard University News Office)

Former CIA Director John M. Deutch, institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said that the United States is not making progress toward key objectives in Iraq and called for American troops to pull out “as soon as possible” during a speech Tuesday (June 7) at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre.

Deutch, who delivered the Phi Beta Kappa oration at the honor society’s annual Literary Exercises, served as CIA director under President Bill Clinton from May 1995 until December 1996. In his 20-minute speech, he challenged the views of both Republicans and Democrats who say that the United States must stay the course to stabilize the country before disengaging.

That position, Deutch said, is based on the assumption that the United States will leave a stable nation behind. But it is also possible, he said, that the United States will fail in its Iraq objectives and lose international credibility by staying the course, even as its ability to deal with other crises, such as North Korea, Iran, and the fight against international terrorism, is compromised.

“I believe that we are not making progress on our key objectives in Iraq,” Deutch said. “There may be days when security seems somewhat improved and when the Iraqi government appears to be functioning better, but the underlying destabilizing forces of a robust insurgency and warring factions supported by outside governments is undiminished.”

Deutch, who has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1970, has served as chairman of MIT’s chemistry department, as the school’s dean of science, and as its provost. In addition to his academic positions, Deutch has held numerous high-level positions in the U.S. government, serving in the Energy Department and the Defense Department, including a stint from March 1994 to May 1995 as deputy secretary of defense.

PBK inductees in the
Students process past tents near the Science Center on their way to the Phi Beta Kappa Literary Exercises. (Staff photo Rose Lincoln/Harvard News Office)

Phi Beta Kappa’s annual Literary Exercises also featured a reading of unpublished poems by the late Robert Creeley, who died in March at the age of 78.

Creeley, a member of the Class of 1947 who never finished his studies, was one of the nation’s most prominent poets and had published more than 60 books of poetry.

Though Creeley died before being able to deliver his reading at the ceremony, A. Kingsley Porter University Professor Helen Vendler read four of six poems he wrote after visiting prehistoric caves in the south of France, collectively titled “The Caves.”

Annual teaching prizes were awarded to Peter E. Gordon, the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, and to Albert J. Weatherhead University Professor Samuel P. Huntington. Seven honorary memberships to Phi Beta Kappa were also awarded at the ceremony, which followed the induction of 88 new undergraduate members to the society Tuesday morning.

Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, founded in 1781, is the oldest continuously operating chapter of the national academic honor society in the nation. Originally held in Holden Chapel, the Phi Beta Kappa Exercises have taken place in Sanders Theatre since 1876.

The topic of “Iraq” may have been particularly appropriate as a subject for Deutch’s talk because the graduating Class of 2005 began their college careers with the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Deutch praised the students’ achievements in scholarship that led to their induction into Phi Beta Kappa and urged them to use their education to make a significant contribution to society.

Deutch’s talk reviewed the arguments surrounding the Iraq war’s start and he said he accepts the Bush administration’s contention that officials thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he also said that he believes there was a deeper reason behind the military action: the belief that intervention would result in “a near-spontaneous conversion of Iraq, and with luck, the entire Middle East, to a democratic society.”

The problem with that vision, Deutch said, is that it is beyond the power of our military forces to bring about such change.

The United States does have tools to foster change in other countries, including diplomacy and economic assistance and trade, but the military is suited to fighting wars, he said, not to providing police services and establishing a civil society.

“Our nation embarks on an especially perilous course when it proactively engages in some regions of the world with the intention of achieving a government based on our values,” Deutch said. “It is one matter to adopt a foreign policy that encourages democratic values and institutions in other parts of the world. It is quite another matter to believe it just or practical to achieve such results on the ground with U.S. military forces.”

Deutch supported the five steps to disengagement in Iraq outlined by U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in January, including letting Iraqis make their own political decisions, adopting a clear exit strategy and timetable, beginning the military withdrawal, establishing regional diplomacy to discourage external intervention in Iraq, and continued training of Iraqi forces.

“Such measures cannot guarantee a secure and democratic Iraq free of external domination,” Deutch said. “But they are first steps toward adopting a posture that will permit the United States to pursue successfully its long-term interests in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.”