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"Clearly, Saddam Hussein is evil," he declared during an Oct. 24 anti-war "teach-in" at UC Irvine's Cross Cultural Center. "Sanctions are a joke. Saddam has been able to enrich himself while thousands of innocent Iraqis are starving every month. Less people would die in a battle in Baghdad to topple him than from starvation if we do nothing and let the sanctions continue, so let's invade!"
LeVine was part of a panel of five UC Irvine professors. While each provided prescient analysis (and biting criticism) of the looming U.S. war on Iraq, LeVine alone whole-heartedly embraced it. Many in the audience reacted to his call to arms with laughter, assuming—or perhaps hoping—that LeVine was joking.
"I'm being completely serious here," he protested.
While preparing his speech two days before the teach-in, LeVine rationalized that bombing Iraq was a "moral alternative" to economic sanctions. That's when he recalled watching a 1996 televised interview with then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who said the Clinton administration had no problem with the sanctions-related death of half a million Iraqi children. "We think the price was worth it," Albright had said.
Albright's comments reminded LeVine of Jonathan Swift's famous essay on British imperialism in Ireland, "A Modest Proposal." In his essay, Swift argued that rather than let thousands of Irish babies starve during the 1729 potato famine, the British should feed the urchins just enough to fatten them up—and then eat them.
"The fact is 500,000 Iraqi people have died because of sanctions," LeVine said. "The logic behind Albright's assumption is so numbing when you really think about it, especially because we have done nothing to alter the situation."
LeVine, who teaches courses on contemporary Middle East politics and Islam, is no stranger to controversy. His criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories has earned him a spot on the list of "pro-terrorist" professors maintained by the LA-based Middle East Reporting In Truth (MERIT). LeVine calls MERIT "a group of lunatic right-wing Jews."
He believes that the UN Security Council should be expanded to include India and Brazil and that the U.S. right to veto Security Council resolutions should be quashed. He also believes that all U.S. military aid to regimes that violate human rights should be abolished and wants President George W. Bush to sign agreements to end the proliferation of land mines and global warming.
But he doesn't just criticize U.S. foreign policy or, for that matter, Israeli-Palestinian relations. He has published articles condemning Palestinian violence against Israelis and has criticized European intellectuals for their dogmatic anti-U.S. views. His curriculum vitae says he "trusts no one" and challenges "the actions and opinions of rulers and ruled, oppressed and oppressor alike."
His call for Saddam Hussein's military ouster by the U.S. and Britain—the only two countries in the world who favor such action—stunned the standing-room-only crowd attending the teach-in. But LeVine didn't stop there.
"While we're at it, let's invade Saudi Arabia, too," he urged. "It's one of the most undemocratic, oppressive regimes on the planet. We've propped up this regime since its inception, so we have the moral obligation to get rid of it. What about Israel? Let's invade Israel, too. And then Jordan and Egypt, both of which are becoming increasingly autocratic. In fact, why don't we take down every regime in the Middle East? If we did that, we might actually have more Arabs and Muslims on our side. That's my modest proposal."