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September 02, 2003 - Image 30

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-09-02

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8B - The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Fall 2003
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War and the politics of
democratic consent

I remember clearly the day just over
12 years ago (Aug. 2, 1990) when
Bombay's Mid-Day newspaper
announced that Iraq had invaded
Kuwait. I was a FYJC (11th grade) stu-
dent at St. Xavier's College in India and
my friends and I spent the remainder of
the day in the canteen discussing the
ramifications of the day's events (actu-
ally we spent every day in the canteen
but that's another story). Against the
backdrop of Security Council resolu-
tions and Operation Desert Storm we
analyzed and critiqued the actions taken
by both sides all year long, debating
vociferously India's decision to allow
U.N. airplanes to use Indian air bases
and its participation in U.N. economic
sanctions against Iraq (which UNICEF
now estimates contributed to the deaths
of over 5,000 Iraqi children under five
years old a month or over half a million
children under five since 1991).
The war clouds gather again over Iraq
(though the latest news from the United
Nations is encouraging) and I am still on
a college campus, albeit many miles
from the Xavier's canteen. Things are
quite different this time around: while
life came to a standstill at St. Xavier's
and debates about the morality of war
could be overheard everywhere, student
life at the University appears unaffected
by the possibility of a second Gulf War.
Thinking about these differing reactions
led me to reflect on the relationship
between education, democracy, and war,
and this essay is the result.
Political scientists often argue
whether democracies behave differently
in matters of international relations. One
popular theory is that'since elected lead-
ers are accountable to the voting public
and since these publics are typically
against war (because they are the ones
who have to do the fighting) democratic
leaders avoid conflict unless provoked.
Further democratic states supposedly
have free presses that take the political
leadership to task by asking difficult
questions, the answers to which the elec-
torate considers carefully in giving con-
sent to foreign policy decisions. But a
CBS News/The New York Times poll last
week found that while just 27 percent of
937 respondents nationwide thought the
Bush administration had "clearly
explained the US position with regard to
possibly attacking Iraq," 68 percent
approved of U.S. military action against
Iraq (the poll had a 3 percent margin of
error). Clearly our theories of democratic
consent need serious revision.

I argue this simple example reveals
how shallow democracy can be, and that
true democratic debate is too often
replaced by flag-waving and jingoistic
claims of U.S. exceptionalism and
supremacy (I offer as local evidence the
Daily's coverage of the Sept 11 anniver-
sary; the national corporate media is no
better). Yet democracies are meant to be
governments "of the people, for the peo-
ple, and by the people." What this means
is that we, as citizens in a democracy, are
obliged to hold our leaders responsible
for their actions rather than blindly acqui-
escing in whatever they tell us to believe.
So, when Andrew Card, the president's
chief of staff, defends delaying discus-
sion of the proposed war on Iraq till this
month saying, "From a marketing point
of view, you don't introduce new prod-
ucts in August," we should be outraged
and disgusted rather than amused. When
the White House insists it will attack Iraq
with or without world support (in a
recent interview with Newsweek, Nelson
Mandela calls the U.S. "a threat to world
peace"), we should demand to know
why. Why Iraq? Why war? Why now?
Unfortunately, as Frank Rich put it in
a New York Times opinion piece last Sat-
urday, "to question the president on Iraq
is an invitation to have one's patriotism
besmirched." To oppose war against Iraq
is to attack America, to defend Saddam,
and to ignore the realities of evil in a post
Sept. 11 world. Is Saddam Hussein evil?
Sure. Do the people of Iraq deserve to be
free of Saddam's despotic rule and to
govern themselves democratically? Of
course they do. But to believe that Bush-
Saddam II will bring peace and democra-
cy to that accursed country is naive.
Democratic consent cannot be demanded
by our leaders but must instead be earned
though open discussions in which all par-
ticipants have access to all the facts.
Without such free and open discussion,
democracy is reduced to a procedural
exercise blindly completed at the ballot
box rather than a substantively conse-
quential form of government, which is
revolutionary in allowing common peo-
ple to control their own destinies. Of all
places, a public university should pre-
serve this revolution by providing a safe
intellectual space within which it is not
just appropriate but rather a responsibili-
ty to demand real answers and to reject
government propaganda. That, after all,
is what Thomas Jefferson meant when he
said that "the price of freedom is eternal
Nooruddin is a Ph.D. candidate in Politi-
cal Science.


The never-ending nonsense of the NCAA
sion I athletics often excel despite the best attempts of the governing body to thwart competition
BY JOSEPH LITMAN and impede the lives of its dependent coaches and players. There is no other way to think of the
NCAA, an organization that again put its flawed judgment and self-defeating proclivity on
Sports journalists who occupy their time primarily covering a single sport routinely display last week when it banned the University men's basketball team from participating in
cite reasons why their respective area of expertise in the sports arena is superior to all any postseason tournaments for which it may qualify in 2004.
others. NFL advocates laud the unmatched parity of the league, baseball writers tout the s The reasons for the ban stem from an array of transgressions - mostly illegal payments totaling
game's majesty, NBA observers note the association's unmatched star power - you get more than $600,000 to Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock by now-
the picture. For a long time, college basketball proponents have pointed to the excitement deceased "friend" of the program, Ed Martin - committed in the '90s by players, coaches and an
of March Madness while college football pundits have cited the tradition that enhances outside booster who have had nothing to do with the University since 1998. Acknowledging that
the sport when making their separate cases. Those who cover college football and basket- the University made an earnest attempt to atone for its past sins, the NCAA imposed additional
ball should now unite and start trumpeting this unique claim to preeminence: In no other punishments, placing the University on probation for three-and-a-half years, mandating that the
sports do success and popularity ensue in spite of the governing body. University avoid all contact with the four players involved for 10 years, stripping the basketball pro-
Excepting the Bud Selig cynics, the "No Fun League" comedians and the profession- gram of one scholarship for four years commencing next recruiting cycle and banning next season's
al-style-of-basketball polemicists, few could make a case that Major League Baseball," team from postseason play.
the NFL or the NBA work to limit the growth and prosperity of their games. In all three, The first three stipulations seem appropriate given the egregious crimes committed and the
the rules established and decisions rendered mostly attempt to satisfy fans and showcase nature of the punishments - they will all hurt the school, primarily. The postseason ban, howev-
the best of each sport. Even the NHL - which at times appears directionless and out of er, while harmful to the institution, mostly affects next year's coaching staff and players, none of
touch with the demand for its product - hasn't limited the brutal fighting that likely , whom committed any wrongdoing according to the NCAA. In effect, innocent people are being
attracts many fans to hockey. All of those various league executives and presiding bodies punished for the crimes committed by others. Who cares? How about Bernard Robinson, Jr., a
understand that satisfying consumers and appearing as fan-friendly as possible is a cru- man whose inspired play last year was a major component in the team's success and a rising sen-
cial component to the equation for success. The NCAA, however, missed that memo. rior who deserves better than a final year of eligibility spent playing for synthetic goals and con-
For the sake of fairness and accuracy, one must note that the NCAA is perhaps solation prizes. In more universal terms, why should an infraction committed by a family
fundamentally different from the cited analogs because the latter don't oversee ama- member before you were born commit you to a sentence in Pelican Bay?
teurs, yet there are also parallels to be drawn because the NCAA, like its profession- The cry of injustice may seem hackneyed, yet it is apt. More importantly, the NCAA deserves
al counterparts, is the organizing entity responsible for promoting the competition, to be taken to task for its decision last week because the organization continues to misallocate
and that role has been willingly played to great financial gain. Thus, there are neces- blame, never learning from its previous errors. At too may schools - Miami, Alabama, Ken-
sarily more rules required to govern amateurs, yet the ones in place often don't make tucky Michigan to name a few - people have been unfairly asked to atone for mistakes commit-
sense and have worked to detract from the products the NCAA lucratively sells ted by their predecessors. The NCAA should punish the programs and the schools but spare


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