By Nick Winnie

The debate over the war in Iraq is steaming up in Washington, fueled by the release of a number of controversial reports. The New York Times recently published an estimate made by U.S. and Iraqi public health researchers that puts the Iraqi civilian death toll at over 600,000 as a result of the war. That figure represents the highest estimate for the current war in Iraq, and has intensified the terms of the argument over the war.On Thursday, Oct. 12, that debate came to UC Santa Cruz.The structured debate over the war, the first of four debates arranged by the College Nine and Ten Co-Curricular office, included a panel of speakers including journalists, academics, and military personnel who presented differing viewpoints on the conflict to a capacity audience of UCSC students. Although the mood of the event remained civil throughout its entirety, the debate gradually turned into a bitter, polarized discussion about the direction of U.S. foreign policy. "To stay the course would only lead to more deaths of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians, and eventually to civil war in Iraq," independent journalist Reese Ehrlich said. The evening’s final and most debated topic of discussion was the question of exit strategy for the U.S. military, and was characterized by a particularly intense argument between two panel speakers-Reese and Major John Krenson. Ehrlich, author of Target Iraq: What the Media Didn’t Tell You, outlined three possibilities open to the U.S. military in Iraq in the near future: The military can either continue to "stay the course" as Bush has proposed in recent speeches, set a timetable for eventual withdrawal as Nixon did in Vietnam, or immediately withdraw U.S. forces from the region.
Major Krenson, an officer who served in Afghanistan, dismissed what he called, "this nonsense talk about withdrawal and timetables." He continued, "This talk only emboldens our enemies. It may be possible that we need more troops, and we definitely need to increase the size of our military." Krenson’s response to Ehrlich’s statement was met with mostly disapproval from the UCSC students in the audience. Politics Department Chair Dan Wirls disagreed with Major Krenson’s assertion, citing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s recently-posed question."Are we killing more terrorists than we’re creating? The answer is no. This is a dead-end policy," Wirls said.Major Krenson responded to Wirls’ words by repeating that the war can be won if only the U.S. military becomes more powerful, echoing former Reagan’s call in the 1980s for "peace through strength.""We need a bigger stick so our words will mean something again," Krenson said. "We need to win and finish it. To do otherwise would destroy our reputation in the world."Both the tension between speakers on opposite sides of the Iraq war debate and the emotional involvement of the audience steadily grew throughout the evening, as was exhibited by both groups’ increasingly raised voices and expressive body language. While other speakers debated the possibility of eventual military victory in Iraq, Erhlich concluded his arguments by again calling for immediate withdrawal.Ehrlich made reference to a recent poll stating that 71 percent of Iraqi civilians want complete U.S. military withdrawal within a year."The United States has already lost the war politically," Erhlich said. "You can’t win when the people of Iraq are as opposed to our involvement as they are."The recently declassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), written by top U.S. intelligence analysts, suggests that the U.S.-led war in Iraq has actually created a greater threat of global terrorism. Along with the New York Times report, these contentious estimates over the effectiveness of the war have led to a greater scrutiny of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq and its larger War on Terror.