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VOA-TV Interview With Alan Lichtman


VOA-TV NewsLine host David Borgida talks with Alan Lichtman, history professor at American University, about the situation in Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA
Now joining us to discuss this, American University History Professor Alan Lichtman. Professor Lichtman, thanks for joining us today.

As we see the scenes from the Security Council, somewhat reminiscent of 1962, when the U.S. Ambassador then confronted the then-Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba, compare the two moments.

PROF. LICHTMAN
Well, they were very similar in that a representative of the U.S. had to go to the U.N. Security Council and convince the world of the truth of charges we had made about a serious threat to world peace.

In this case, the placement of offensive missiles in Cuba. The situations were different, though, in that in 1962 it was a confrontation between the two great superpowers, with the possibility of nuclear war hanging in the balance, and Mr. Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador, confronted the Soviet Ambassador, Mr. Zorin, face to face, and said: Are you denying you put these weapons in Cuba?

And when he didn't answer, Mr. Stevenson had these incontrovertible photos actually showing the missiles in place.

MR. BORGIDA
Well, this is, after all, a highly technical age, and there is no surprise that Secretary Powell would use audio/visual aids, as he did in a way. What is the impact of that beyond rhetoric and words and narration? Is that, do you think, a technique to make his case more forcefully?

PROF. LICHTMAN
Absolutely. People will look at those pictures and draw their own conclusions. Words are one thing, but the drama of a picture is unmatched. However, of course, you still had to draw inferences from the pictures shown by Mr. Powell, whereas Mr. Stevenson's pictures were the final proof. They were not just the smoking gun, they were the fired bullet and the ballistics report all wrapped up into one.

MR. BORGIDA
Professor, let's talk a little bit about public opinion. We're not long after the speeches at the United Nations, so instant analysis is a little difficult at the moment. But let's talk just a bit about American public opinion.

I believe someone did say that this speech, and it might have been the Iraqi Ambassador who said the speech, by Mr. Powell was aimed at domestic, the U.S., public opinion, and of course world public opinion. Take them both. First, U.S. public opinion, how might this affect all that?

PROF. LICHTMAN
I think it will probably move U.S. public opinion more behind the Bush position, that we have to take strong action, even go to war, against Iraq. It won't be unanimous, but it will be a lot stronger, both because of the case and because of the prestige of the messenger.

I think it will have much less effect on international opinion, which has been pretty much against the U.S. position. I don't think this speech alone will cause a dramatic change in the views of the people of the world.

MR. BORGIDA
As a communicator, and you've studied communicators for a long time, do you believe that Mr. Powell's speech was effective in making the U.S. case?

PROF. LICHTMAN
Yes, I think he was a very credible and effective communicator. There wasn't the single dramatic moment like there was in 1962, but there was kind of piece of evidence piled upon piece of evidence.

And while no single item was necessarily compelling, the entire case was extremely compelling, especially for the fact that Iraq is in material breach of the U.N. resolutions.

MR. BORGIDA
And he is viewed widely, even in the Arab world, as someone who has considerable credibility, don't you think?

PROF. LICHTMAN
Absolutely. Powell is probably the most credible spokesperson for this administration. And he was typically identified with kind of the more moderate, more dovish, less warlike wing of the Bush administration.

MR. BORGIDA
And initially he was the one who wanted to go the U.N. in the first place, and convincing the President of that weeks and weeks ago.

PROF. LICHTMAN
And I think that's very smart that we're following this path. Even if not every single member falls into line, the fact that we're going to the world community and not taking, at this point, unilateral action is very, very important in terms of the precedent that we're setting here.

Back in 1962, President Kennedy and his brother, advisor Robert Kennedy, were very careful not to have the precedent of what they called a reverse Pearl Harbor coming from unilateral American action.

MR. BORGIDA
And of course the President does believe, Alan, that unilaterally moving ahead is not the worst-case scenario in this case. They believe that they can do it alone if they have to at this stage.

PROF. LICHTMAN
But they won't do it alone.

MR. BORGIDA
We shall see.

PROF. LICHTMAN
They won't be alone.

MR. BORGIDA
American University Professor Alan Lichtman, here in Washington. Thanks so much, Professor Lichtman, for joining us today.

PROF. LICHTMAN
Thank you.

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