This year’s Great Decisions lecture series is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday nights at the Cumming library branch, 585 Dahlonega Road. The remaining topics include:
• Feb. 23: Indonesia with J.T. Kwon, assistant professor of political science
• March 1: Mexico with Tamara Spike, associate professor of history
• March 8: State of the oceans with Nancy Dalman, chair of the biology department
• March 15: Energy geopolitics with Anna Rulska, assistant professor of political science
A North Georgia College & State University dean discussed the historical events leading up to the United States’ exit from Afghanistan and Iraq during a lecture Thursday night.
Christopher Jespersen, who heads the School of Arts and Letters, presented the talk to a full audience at the Cumming branch of the Forsyth County Public Library.
It was one of several being presented through the Great Decisions series put on by the college as part of the national program through the Foreign Policy Association.
In his lecture, Jespersen said it’s important to look at the history leading up to the drawdown of troops in the two countries.
“This is an ongoing matter,” he said. “[President Barack] Obama has plans to reduce American troops and transition control to Afghan troops by 2014 and ’15.
“But it’s not enough to talk about the present.”
Jespersen discussed several “what if” situations, beginning with what might have happened had George W. Bush not been elected president in 2000.
He explained that no matter who had been in office at the time of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, military action was demanded in Afghanistan. But, he said, had Al Gore been elected president in 2000, things might have been different in Iraq.
Jespersen said Bush led the charge of calling for a “pre-emptive war” with Iraq because he saw the 1990-91 Desert Storm operation as a “missed opportunity” to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
“He regretted that and wanted to rectify the situation now, despite the fact that all the experts were saying there was no tie between Iraq and 9/11,” Jespersen said.
He also related the military efforts in the two nations to other wars in the past, including Korea and Vietnam.
Both of those, he said, were efforts to stop the spread of communism, just as Afghanistan and Iraq have been efforts to stop terrorism.
Jespersen also talked about the cost of the two wars. He said various news outlets have given different estimates — though all are high — that typically state the total has been more than $2 trillion.
Besides dollar amounts, Jespersen said the efforts have also been high in human suffering.
He noted that some 5,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan from 2001-11, and some 500 were killed during that same period.
Jespersen also noted that while troops may be largely reduced in the countries by 2015, the U.S. “isn’t really leaving.”
“We will still maintain a presence there,” he said. “In fact we’re building the largest U.S. embassy in the world [in Iraq].”
He said the site will be about the size of 94 football fields. It will cost about $2 billion to build and another $25 to $30 billion to operate over the first five years it’s open.
He also noted there are about 400 military bases in Afghanistan and some 130 “projects” that will be ongoing there over the next several years at an estimated cost of about $1.5 billion.
Audience member Tom Young said he enjoyed Jespersen’s presentation.
“At my age, you need all the educational opportunities you can get,” he said. “I’m a Korean War veteran, so when he was talking about that, it brought up a lot of memories for me.
“I thought it was informative about why we had to do what we did. It filled in a lot of gaps for me.”
The Great Decisions series continues at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 with a discussion of Indonesia by J.T. Kwon, assistant professor of political science.