April 06, 2007

Audience, panel air views on Iraq troop withdrawal


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Lt. Col. David Page, an Iraq War veteran and training officer with Cornell University’s Army ROTC Battalion in Ithaca,  stands up to strongly disagree with a panel member’s idea about troop withdrawals from Iraq, during a discussion Thursday in Brockway Hall at SUNY Cortland.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — When a panelist at a SUNY Cortland discussion Thursday on the future of Iraq said it was time for the United States to get out of Iraq, some of the nearly 100 audience members clapped.
Patrick Regan, professor and director of the Center of Democratic Performance in the Department of Political Science at Binghamton University, was the first panelist to say this, and other panelists agreed.
“We can’t be part of the political solution … if we’re one of the actors in it,” he said. But Americans have to leave with their dignity, he said, and understand that there will be chaos in Iraq because no side wants to be the first to disarm.
The panel discussion — “The Future of Iraq: Stable State or State of Chaos?” — featured five panelists with backgrounds in the history of Iraq and the ongoing war in that country.
Not all on the panel or in the audience agreed with Regan.
“Do you think there’s a dignified way for the U.S. to leave?” asked panelist David Tal, a visiting professor teaching international relations at Syracuse University.
Tal, an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict who received his doctorate in history from Tel-Aviv University, where he taught from 1996 to 2005, said that when Americans found no weapons of mass destruction, the troops should have pulled out.
Regan proposed that for every three Americans taken out, someone of a different nationality with a different role replace them. He suggested the French could play a role in this mission to create peace.
Panelist Maj. Richard Brown, training officer of Cornell University’s Army ROTC Battalion in Ithaca, who was stationed in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, also was skeptical about this approach, as was his superior officer, Lt. Col. David Page, an audience member.
After more than two hours of discussion, Page said that in his opinion, this idea would not work. He said he was stationed north of Baghdad for seven months, from July 2005 until January 2006 and when he left, the Iraqi soldiers he had trained were taking over the battle.
“That system is working,” he said of Americans training the Iraqis. But, he said, to do all the training, the Americans would have to send more than 600,000 from the military, whereas right now there are about 138,000 soldiers there.
“To say pull out is asking for a genocide of vast proportion,” Page said.
Borders had to be secured, he said, but he thinks the French stepping in would be “funny.” He said diplomatic, military and economic forces have to be at work in Iraq, not just military, as is the case now.
The discussion touched on an array of topics, from why the French would step in to a question on whether there are peace groups in Iraq.
“I’m sure there are peace groups, but there are so many other serious issues,” said panelist Marica Cassis, an assistant professor in SUNY Cortland’s Department of History who specializes in early Middle East civilizations, citing the danger of Iraq.
One audience member asked why the Iraqis are not given the chance to decide in a vote if American troops should leave.
Tal said that if a general election could be held to decide this, then the new Iraqi government wouldn’t have a problem.
“My understanding is they (the Iraqi government) could ask and we would leave,” said Brown.
Panelist Robert Rubinstein, a professor of anthropology and international relations at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said a vote to stay or go would not necessarily be a meaningful act because who participates in the voting is highly cultural.
Brown said he saw Iraqis who were willing to walk miles to vote. “What I learned is that Iraqis want a change — something different than they have.”



Panelists tackle range of war issues

During Thursday’s discussion, the five panelists each answered a question specifically directed to them. They had eight minutes to respond to the question.
Question for _Marica Cassis:
Much of the present and potentially future violence in Iraq stems from hostility between the Sunni and the Shiah sects. What is the historical context of this deadly violence and is there any hope that peace between them can be achieved?
Cassis stressed the history of the conflict is political and dates back to a seventh century power struggle. “So it’s a religious dispute that had its origins in a political dispute … This back and forth usually has a political basis to it,” she said.
Cassis said she thinks peace can be achieved. “If we can take the politics out of it then we can start to deal with it,” she said.
Question for _Maj. Richard Brown
What actions, new or renewed, might the military now take to help win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqis?
Brown said he thinks the immediate goal should be to “restore security and remove fear. That’s what they want first,” he said, saying they understand roads, sewers and other infrastructure will be fixed afterward. He said to accomplish this, the large American bases with thousands of soldiers living on them have to be broken up into smaller bases. “We need to have small bases in and among the communities,” he said. He said this is happening now. Brown also said trade borders have to be opened up and the agricultural system restored.
Question for David Tal
Saddam Hussein’s stable yet oppressive Iraq instigated violent attacks on Kuwait, Iran, Israel and its own Kurdish population. How big a threat does this more chaotic but potentially democratic Iraq pose to the region in general and to neighbors such as Israel?
Tal said he does not think the current chaos will have an immediate affect on Israel. “I don’t think there will be a Democratic Iraq,” he added. He said the region faces the possibility of becoming three separate entities — Sunni, Shiah and Kurd. Tal said he was concerned that Iran could become more powerful. “That change can affect the region.”
Question for _Patrick Regan
In your opinion, is Iraq in a state of civil war? If so, how did this crisis arise and what are its potential consequences?
“Yes, of course it’s a civil war,” said Regan, citing there are organized groups that are armed and fighting opposing groups in Iraq. “What we don’t have is two heavily armed bodies fighting against each other.”
Question for Robert Rubinstein
How can conflict resolution be achieved in Iraq? Is there any role anthropologists should play?
Rubinstein said to achieve a resolution the factions would have to agree it was no longer worth continuing the fighting. He said the United States seems close to this conclusion but is not sure about the parties involved in Iran or Iraq. Rubinstein thinks this will be a debacle for the United States. Iraq will become partitioned in some way, he said.
“I would be hopeful it would emerge a better region,” he said.
— Ida M. Pease



County defends actions in land deal lawsuit

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county continues to maintain that it had the ability to back out of the purchase of properties on south Main Street for a proposed health building.
County attorney Ric Van Donsel made the argument again in the response he submitted Thursday to a lawsuit filed against the county on behalf of the Moose Lodge, in connection with the failed land deal.
The county’s answer was filed in state Supreme Court, responding to the March 15 complaint filed by Attorney Russ Ruthig on behalf of his client, the Moose Lodge, at 157 Main St.
Ruthig also represents the owners of 11 Williams St., and attorneys for two other property owners involved in the deal also have made complaints.
Ruthig’s lawsuit charges that the county’s initial decision to purchase the properties on Dec. 21 represented a binding agreement, and could not be undone by a Jan. 25 motion to “reconsider” that was, he contends, a motion to “rescind.”
Van Donsel and County Legislature Chair Marilyn Brown could not be reached for comment this morning.
In the response, Van Donsel contends that the vote to reconsider was legal under state county law, contrary to Ruthig’s assertion.
“It’s the same theory that he’s alleged before — that the issue is whether or not a binding contract was created irrevocably on Dec. 21 when the Legislature said ‘go buy these properties,’ which I think it was,” Ruthig said this morning, adding that the “motion to reconsider” isn’t sufficient to annul this binding contract. “We have a disagreement as to the conclusion to be reached.”
With nothing new from the county, Ruthig said that he is prepared to go to court for a summary judgment.


Stockton pleads guilty to felonies

Staff Reporter

A former city police officer pleaded guilty Thursday in Cortland County Court to two felonies, including vehicular manslaughter.
With around 25 of his friends and family members in attendance for support — including several off-duty police officers — Jeffrey “Chip” Stockton admitted to being drunk on the evening of Nov. 17 when he hit two pedestrians at the intersection of Church Street and Central Avenue.
Stockton, 38, of 16 Frank St., Cortland, pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter and second-degree assault, felonies; driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor; and failure to exercise due care, a violation.
Under the agreement Stockton received no sentencing guarantees from the court or District Attorney David Hartnett.
After the proceeding Mark Suben, Stockton’s attorney, declined to say what punishment he will ask for at sentencing.
“Mr. Stockton entered a plea to some very serious charges, which was always his intention,” Suben said, while standing next to Stockton outside the courtroom.
Hartnett refused to come out of his office and answer questions for the news media after the proceeding, saying through his secretary that he has no comment because it is still a “pending investigation.”
One of the two women Stockton hit, Lynn Briggs, 55, of 65 Central Ave., Cortland, died after being in a coma for two weeks with skull fractures and brain swelling.
“He took 25 or 30 years away from her,” Lisa Breed, Lynn Briggs’ daughter, said while standing outside the courtroom, with tears running down her face. “It’s been difficult to deal with, she was my mother and my best friend.”
Breed said she was unsure what she thought an appropriate sentence would be for Stockton.
The maximum sentence from the vehicular manslaughter charge is seven years in prison. As part of the plea, Stockton also agreed to pay an unspecified amount of restitution.
Hartnett told the court that Lynn Briggs did not have health insurance at the time of her death. He said he does not know how much restitution the family will seek, but estimated that the funeral costs totaled around $11,000.
The other woman Stockton struck in the crash, Melody Benn, 55, who lived in another apartment at 65 Central Ave., sustained serious injuries, including loss of memory, loss of motor skills, visual impairments and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Hartnett said.