Book Review: Iraq: Opposing Viewpoints

Iraq: Opposing Viewpoints. Edited by William Dudley. Greenhaven Press. 2004. 185 pages, plus bibliographies, questions for further discussion, organizations to contact and index. ISBN: 073772286X. Available from Amazon.com.

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that people will believe what they read, unquestioningly – as long as what they read conforms with what they already *know to be true. And if what they read contradicts what they believe they know, they dismiss it out of hand. Which is a pity, because that’s how mistakes and myths are perpetuated.

That’s why I suggest that adults, as well as the teens (9th grade and up) to whom this is aimed, read this book. Ostensibly it’s about the controversial issues of the Iraq war, but it also provides lessons in how to think analytically, how to “compare and contrast author’s credibility, facts, argumentation styles,[and] use of persuasive techniques…” in other words, how to recognize when you’re seeing facts (which you would do well to check against independent sources) and when your emotions and knowledge are being manipulated for the purposes of the writer.

Iraq: Opposing Viewpoints is a series of articles grouped under four major chapter headings. Each set of two articles provides a different ‘take’ on the same issue.

At the beginning of each article, the editor provides a short biography on its author, where the article came from, and then a series of questions to keep in mind while reading the article in question.

I’m not going to critique the articles themselves, or whether better articles for or against a certain viewpoint could have been found – that’s your job. What I will do is tell you what issues are covered. Because this book is aimed at high schoolers, some of the language – but certainly not all – has been simplified, but the general meaning of each article is unchanged.

As you read through these articles, it’s interesting to note that each one of these writers has, presumably, access to the same information – the same knowledge of history, the same knowledge of the politics of the present, and yet, because of their belief systems, are able to draw completely different- opposite – conclusions. What this says about mankind’s ability to think logically – I’m not really sure.

Read, and decide, for yourself.

Chapter 1: Was the 2003 War on Iraq justified?

1 and 2:
An American Attack on Iraq.
George W. Bush says that it is justified, in the speech he made on March 17, 2003, just prior to the invasion of Iraq. John E. Farley, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University, explains why we shouldn’t attack Iraq. (His essay is reproduced from his website, and was written in 2002.)

3 and 4:
Liberating Iraq’s people
In Tikkun, author George W. Vradenburg explains that liberating Iraq’s people from a cruel regime justifies war. Michael Massing, writing for The Nation, postulates that it does not.

5 and 6:
Weapons of mass destruction were found
David Cornwrites in The Nation that the war was not justified because no weapons were found, while Michael Schrage’s defense on this subject was published in Washington Post Weekly.

7 and 8:
America’s New Foreign Policy
Thomas Donnelly wrote for National Security Outlook that the war on Iraq heralded a positive new direction for the U.S. foreign policy, while Foreign Policy in Focus published an article by Stephen Zunes saying that it was a dangerous new direction.

Chapter 2: What Role Should the United States play in Iraq?

1 and 2:
Order in Iraq
Philip Carter said the United States was failing to establish order in Iraq, in an article in Washington Monthly, meanwhile Vito Fossella said the opposite in the Washington Times.

3 and 4:
An Imperialistic Role for the United States
Max Boots, in the USA Today newspaper, said the US should embrace such a role, while Awad Nasir, in National Review Online, says the U. S. should reject such a role.

5 and 6:
The United Nations and Iraq
Joseph H. Biden and Chuck Hagel come down on the pro side in the Washington Post, while Nile Gardiner comes down on the con side in Heritage Foundation WebMemo.

Chapter 3: What kind of government should Iraq have?

1 and 2:
Barham Salih, in The Age, pleads that Iraq should have a secular democracy, while Amir Butler, in Four Corners, says the Iraqi people do not want such a democracy.

3 and 4:
Transitional Government
Daniel Pipes explains the need for rule by a ‘Strongman’ in the New York Post, while Laith Kubba, in the Financial Times, explains the need for a government with dispersed powers.

5 and 6:
An Islamic Regime
Joan Ryan in Liberal Opinion Week, says the United States should permit the Iraqis to elect an Islamic regime, while, in MediaLink, Robert Garmong argues against it.

Chapter 4: What lies in the future for Iraq?

1 and 2:
Iraq and democracy
Rend Rahim Franke, for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Perspectives, argues that Iraq’s prospects for democracy are good, while Patrick Basham, in Cato Daily Commentary, says they’re poor.

3 and 4:
Type of government
Alon Ben-Meir, in an article sent out by United Press International, theorizes that Iraq needs a Federalist government, while Ralph Peters speculates, in the Washington Post, that Iraq may need to be divided into separate countries.

5 and 6:
Iraq’s Oil
Daniel Yergin, Boston Globe Magazine, says Iraq’s oil resources can lay the foundation for future development, while John B. Judis, New Republic says it’ll hinder it.

The book concludes with more questions for further discussion about each chapter, organizations to contact, a bibliography of books, and an index.

There are several more books in the Opposing Viewpoints series – Biological Warfare, Islam, the Middle East, National Security, and Terrorism. I recommend that you acquire them all.

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