International Affairs Symposium kicks off week with lively debate

Photo by Mat Berry

By Kaiya Gordon /// Features Editor

This is baseball and apple pie stuff. We’ve been spying as long as we’ve been Americans,” General Michael Hayden said to the crowd in Council Chambers at a debate hosted by LC’s International Affairs Symposium. The audience, which filled all of the empty chairs, steps and aisles in Council Chambers, stared back at him.

The comment came during the first keynote of  LC’s 52nd Annual International Affairs Symposium, the oldest student-run symposium in the United States. It has been covered by publications like The New York times and The Oregonian, and hosts a rich tradition of debate and disagreement. Centered around the United State’s use of drones, the keynote pitted General Hayden, a current principal at the Chertoff Group, former director of the NSA and former director of the CIA, against John Weston, a current contributor to the Daily Beast and a former State Department political advisor and official.

Debate and disagreement were on the table as Hayden and Weston began their long-reaching, two hour discussion on American security and drone usage. Weston, who spent seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the symposium organizers that he was at the symposium “because the Afghans cannot be here, and someone has to tell the story of life under drones.” Hayden was more interested in telling the American side of the story, asserting that the United States has a “unique view” of the war on terror, but that that view is just.

Hayden opened the debate by cracking a few jokes. “Are you ready?” he asked Weston. “They mentioned civil discourse so many times I’m getting a little scared.” “I think I still have diplomatic immunity,” Weston retorted.

Students responded well to the conversation. “That was the best symposium event I’ve ever been to,” Sophie Lee (‘16) said of the debate. It was well-attended. Five minutes before the debate started, Council Chambers was filled with people. Students, faculty, community members, and symposium organizers milled around, talking and laughing. As the crowd settled down, every seat in Council Chambers was taken up, and the remaining attendees hunched over steps. In fact, in the minutes before the debate started, an overflow room was announced. Organizers asked that anyone without a chair or a step move to Stamm.

“That was the best symposium event I’ve ever been to,” Sophie Lee (‘16) said of the debate.

That overflow room, too, was full of students watching a simulcast of the debate. Olivia Davis (’16) said that the event “was more full than anything I’ve ever been to at this school” and that students in Stamm were engaged by the event, “chuckling at John Weston” and reacting to the students asking questions.

In fact, it was during the Q&A section when the event got most heated, as students confronted Hayden about the NSA’s tactics. “I really disagree with the NSA,” one bold student said. But Hayden cut the student off, saying “let’s do something unusual––let’s inject facts into this conversation.” Hayden maintained that the NSA is unable to simply track American conversation over text and email, explaining that the NSA only tracks conversations with at least on international participant. While Hayden said that the NSA does not have access to domestic conversations, when the student pulled out his phone to check facts, Hayden joked that Eric Shmitt of google might “have something that goes through your texts.” But he warned: “do not presume that the NSA can request a foreign intelligence source do do anything they cannot do.”

The conversation continued to be aggressive. “If you’re going to play,” Hayden told the student, “you’ve really got to drill down and understand some stuff.” Hayden spoke of the NSA’s beginning, saying that the “NSA spent most of its natural life looking at the Soviet Union. We spent the GDP of a small country so that we could put things in the air…looking for words of interest, like ‘launch.’” But now, Hayden said, the equivalent of that “SRF launch code” is in the email pool. “If you expect your state to collect those things,” he said, “your state must be in the flow where your emails are as well. If you don’t trust the NSA to do it, you’ll be a hell of a lot more comfortable and a hell of a lot less safe.”

IA Steering Committee members said that they decided to bring a controversial speaker to encourage multiple perspectives within the symposium. They also noted that Hayden has significant experience in drones and surveillance.

At 5:30pm, hours before the debate, Young Americans for Liberty was already preparing by creating posters and speaking to students. Chris Roark, student leader of the group, explained that they intended to go to the debate, sit quietly until the Q&A section and then ask Hayden to justify his positions. “A lot of people, despite us explaining what we want to do, think that we’re just going to go wild,” Roark said. Before, however, they hoped to gain student interest through their posters. “We’re trying to put our main points on the posters––the most informed and the most direct.” Roark said. “Quotes from Hayden, and some other things. We want to grab attention.” Roark pointed to a poster, which he called their “best.” It read: “Remember when you googled ‘Al Qaeda?’ The NSA does.”

As they wrote on their poster-boards, the group joked about different ways to get on the NSA’s watch-list: going to Israel, looking up science terms. A student asked Roark if he would be “cool” if Obama came to campus. “No,” Roark responded, “I wouldn’t.” The student followed up with: “would you rather that Hayden wasn’t here?” “The point is,” Roark said, “I’m not welcoming him here with open arms.”

Debate organizers seemed prepared for closed arms. Before the debate, Bob Mandel, faculty advisor to the symposium,  said that they were “thrilled that we have speakers who are willing to be on the podium with others who will challenge their remarks” and emphasized “civil discourse” and “independent thinking.” In fact, as Roark approached the microphone during the student Q&A section, Hayden joked, saying “here comes the civil discourse.” But when Roark asked Hayden whether he would support a drone strike on a U.S. citizen, Hayden shrugged him off, saying “no,” and asking for the next question.

Talk about drone strikes attacked less student response, than NSA policies, though it was no less serious or aggressive. “We’re talking about targeted killings,” Hayden said. “These are tools of war.” His argument centered on three points: jus ad bellum (just war), jus in bellow (justice in war), and a discussion about the “intelligence” of drone-usage. Hayden explained that he, and both Presidents engaging in drone usage, were comfortable in the United State’s view of the war on terror. “There has been no change in that large embrace,” he said. “We are at war with Al Qaeda in a global conflict.” He continued by underlining the proportionality of drone usage, saying drones allow for precise strikes, and that “its rare that someone who’s applying violence on your behalf gets to do it with such patience and such precision.”

But Hayden allowed that there were plenty of negatives too––saying, “the more we do this, the more we create daylight between ourselves and our friends.” He continued by explaining that drone usage was a way to buy time and eliminate terrorists, but not to end global terror. “Targeted killing is not a substitute for strategy,” he said. “These strikes can buy you time, but they can’t be all you have.” However, “their use is not just allowable, their use is compelled.”

Weston opened his argument by objecting to the semantics of drone-usage. “Words become a tactic and a part of the strategy,” he said. “I will never part about a human as a bugsplat.” Weston said that the names created by the military to describe drone targets were not a fair representation of the community that they impact. He said that the language American representatives are using to describe war have contributed to the problem, and that this debate should be emotional.

Hayden commented on language as well. “The greatest temptation of man isn’t sex,” Hayden said. “It’s messing with someone else’s prose.” Hayden maintained that he used phrases like “bugsplat” to be candid, and objected to Weston’s usage, saying that the term doesn’t describe physical bodies, but the intended target area.

Both Hayden and Weston underlined that this was a bi-partisan issue. But Weston asked the audience to think about more than an American view of the war. “What adjectives or words do you associate with America?” he asked the audience. Then he continued, asking what other countries would respond with. Weston said that many international descriptions of the United States are not good. While he joked that audience members may associate things like “Beyoncé” and “twitter” with America, many others link the country with warfare. “Drones are really not about Osama Bin Laden,” Weston said, calling Hayden’s earlier use of Bin Laden’s name a “red herring.” They are about “everyone––we as citizens need to look in the mirror and see where the cracks are.”

But the debate ended on a surprisingly patriotic note, as Weston and Hayden spoke more about citizen involvement. When speaking about the events leading up to the Iraq war, Hayden said that Americans tell him, “you told the court, you told the congress, and you didn’t tell me. And that’s where we are now.” Hayden continued by explaining that government officials like him respond to the boundaries set by the American populace. “Just tell us where the lines are,” Hayden said. He demonstrated potential privacy lines drawn by the American public by holding up his hands and making a box with them. “This is where the box is now,” he said. “But if I don’t play to the limits of that box, and a really bad thing happens, look at the new box that you’ll want to draw!” He held up a black folder, four times the size of his hands, and laughed.

Weston spoke too about American involvement, but warned that we need to listen to international voices too. We need to be listening to those living under the drones, Weston said “to do right by our Corporals and to do right by those families that, to be frank, will always have more PTSD than I do.” He continued by saying “that is what you guys need to be a part of.” Weston asked the audience, “are generations around the world going to believe that America represents something that works?”

Weston maintained that America’s global image isn’t all bad, at least not yet. “When we go down certain paths, that’s when we lose.” Weston said. But “there is still an American story that broke through” in the war on terror. He asserted that America’s involvement internationally had done some good, too, insisting that he didn’t believe that American’s ever intended harm. “When you go to war, you are held accountable for a long time,” Weston said. But “there is no greater honor than representing the United States of America.”

“I’m glad we were able to share the stage,” Weston said of General Hayden, as the debate closed. Weston turned to the audience, thanking them for coming. “Continue to ask questions,” he said. “That’s what only you can do, and your government responds to the will of the people.”

The 52nd International Affairs Symposium continues through April 9th. Check the schedule online for upcoming events.

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1 Comment

  1. Drones and air strikes seems to be acceptable responses to terrorism from our current President. What he seems incapable of doing is gathering intelligence and listening to the advice of his generals. Obama ran his campaign on the promise to end the war and bring all of our soldiers home. The problem with doing that is that you no longer can gather the kind of intelligence that you need to keep the world safe. He doesn’t want to call our current conflict with ISIS a war, but it is just that. The only way we can complete the mission is with boots on the ground. I think he’s discovering that the job of President of the United States of American is very hard & he was very unprepared. Golf anyone?

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