Congress' failure to pass an economic bailout may have dominated headlines Monday, but at Kansas University's Dole Institute of Politics, Iraq took center stage.
Famed journalist and KU alumnus Bill Kurtis hosted a courtroom-style discussion, debating the pros and cons of withdrawing American combat forces from Iraq by 2010. The event, called Neutral Ground, was filmed for a Topeka PBS affiliate and pitted Topeka lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray against Fred McClure, who has served as a legal adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Irigonegaray argued for a withdrawal, while McClure advocated for staying in Iraq.
"We're going to show Americans that it's still possible for Americans with different points of view to sit down and talk about issues and to argue to disagree," said Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute. "We don't have to agree ... but we can disagree civilly and with respect towards other people."
The argument to leave
Irigonegaray's witnesses talked about the need for U.S. forces to pull back in order for the Iraqi government to take responsibility for its sovereignty.
"Iraqis haven't had to build an internal security on their own," but would be forced to if coalition forces backed out to places like Kuwait and Qatar, said Michael Mosser, a professor of international studies at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth.
He said Iraq should be one campaign in the War on Terror, and the U.S. should "repurpose and re-energize" its mission in combating terrorism.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Bill Weber said the Middle East would revert to historical rivalries if American forces left but that al-Qaida would leave Iraq. Preparing for a withdrawal now would allow Iraq plenty of time to build up its internal security, as coalition forces assist it in keeping foreign threats at bay.
Responsibility to stay
But McClure's advocates for staying in Iraq said the U.S. has moral responsibilities.
Peter Schifferle, a professor of history of the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies, said the U.S. must stay to resolve blunders made during first phases of the war, where the Iraqi army was disbanded and lawlessness ruled, as well as the failure to initially defeat the insurgency. He also said the U.S. would squander the sacrifice of lives and money by leaving.
Retired Army Col. Michael Sevcik, who served in Iraq, said U.S. forces must stay until Iraq steadies itself.
"Look at your portfolio. Would you invest in Iraq if you knew the Americans are leaving? I don't think so," he said.
Kansas City, Kan., resident Prasanth Reddy said the debate tackled difficult questions.
"One of the difficult concepts to understand in this global war on terror, it's difficult to fight a country. It's a battle for hearts and minds," the Air Force reservist said.
Kurtis called the debate a draw and said he was impressed with the arguments.
"All of a sudden, halfway through, there are people talking about important issues that you don't hear on TV in such detail," he said.
Kurtis, who has made forays into pop culture as the narrator in the comedy film "Anchorman" and most recently as an AT&T spokesman, said he has no trouble balancing humor with the serious job of journalist.
"I questioned whether to do the commercial and 'Anchorman,'" he said. "I said, 'Heck, I'm 15 years out of a working journalist and I enjoy humor. (People) accept my doing a serious documentary and me making fun of it.'"