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Posts For: November 17, 2012

Universities: “The Most Authoritarian Institution in America”

In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, occasional COMMENTARY contributor Sohrab Ahmari distills an interview with Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The article really is a must-read. It begins:

At Yale University, you can be prevented from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on your T-shirt. At Tufts, you can be censured for quoting certain passages from the Quran. Welcome to the most authoritarian institution in America: the modern university—”a bizarre, parallel dimension,” as Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, calls it.

A glance at FIRE’s top current cases shows just how serious the problem has become. Campuses may still teach science, engineering, and humanities, but they do not imbue basic notions of liberty or intellectual tolerance. Too many administrators and professors seek to stifle rather than promote free speech, the tenure process now squelches it as junior faculty members are reticent to speak their mind lest they cross politically or otherwise senior professors.

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In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, occasional COMMENTARY contributor Sohrab Ahmari distills an interview with Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The article really is a must-read. It begins:

At Yale University, you can be prevented from putting an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote on your T-shirt. At Tufts, you can be censured for quoting certain passages from the Quran. Welcome to the most authoritarian institution in America: the modern university—”a bizarre, parallel dimension,” as Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, calls it.

A glance at FIRE’s top current cases shows just how serious the problem has become. Campuses may still teach science, engineering, and humanities, but they do not imbue basic notions of liberty or intellectual tolerance. Too many administrators and professors seek to stifle rather than promote free speech, the tenure process now squelches it as junior faculty members are reticent to speak their mind lest they cross politically or otherwise senior professors.

The irony is that while some professors explain away the huge discrepancy between left and right among the professorate by simply suggesting that leftwing/progressive positions are more educated, many of the same professors refuse to debate their positions in front of those with alternate viewpoints. Some students affiliated with Alexander Hamilton Society chapters, for example, say that professors refuse to debate mainstream foreign policy experts and right-of-center academics they bring to campus. Sometimes they decline on grounds that they are not expert enough in topics such as Iran, Syria, a rising China, and resurgent Russia. This itself is problematic, as it suggests the theories in which the professors immerse themselves and their students have no basis in reality.

Other times, professors simply tell students that they do not believe debate is the best way to highlight arguments or educate about issues. Perhaps then speech codes and strict litmus tests of campus speakers is a product of this intellectual cowardice. Either way, Lukianoff and FIRE deserve kudos for holding university presidents’ feet to the fire by shining a spotlight on universities abusive of free speech and refusing to let these campuses to hide behind the artificial barriers and reality which they construct.

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Gaza Mess is Obama’s Fault Too

Despite attempts by Israel’s critics to deflect responsibility for the violence of the last week, there’s no question that the conflict along the border between Israel and Gaza is exclusively the fault of Hamas. The Islamist terrorist group chose to escalate the clash from a steady but small number of rockets fired regularly from Gaza to the massive barrage that engulfed southern Israel last weekend. Since then, emboldened by its diplomatic support from Egypt and Turkey, Hamas has chosen to up the ante at every point when it could have backed down in the last seven days. It has gone from pounding the region next to Gaza to launching missiles at Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. In doing so, Hamas has not only terrorized millions of Israelis, but it has endangered the lives of Palestinian civilians, whom they use as human shields. Hamas has sacrificed the lives and property of the people of both Israel and Gaza by firing rockets indiscriminately at civilians and hiding their weapons among their own people. But Hamas’s cowardly leaders aren’t the only ones at fault. President Obama bears some responsibility too.

It is true that the administration’s behavior during the present crisis has been exemplary. The White House and State Department have condemned Hamas and endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense against its attacks. Rather than pressure Israel to accept a premature cease-fire or to halt its efforts to take out Hamas missile caches and terrorist cadres, Washington has seemed to give Jerusalem a blank check to do what needs to be done with regard to Gaza. Yet even as these positions deserve praise, it must also be understood that an administration policy of engagement with Hamas’s diplomatic backers has directly led to the current crisis. By leading from behind in the Middle East, the United States has largely abdicated its leadership role. Washington’s passivity in the Syrian crisis, and its embrace of the Islamist regime in Turkey and the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, has materially contributed to a situation where Hamas feels it can act with relative impunity.

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Despite attempts by Israel’s critics to deflect responsibility for the violence of the last week, there’s no question that the conflict along the border between Israel and Gaza is exclusively the fault of Hamas. The Islamist terrorist group chose to escalate the clash from a steady but small number of rockets fired regularly from Gaza to the massive barrage that engulfed southern Israel last weekend. Since then, emboldened by its diplomatic support from Egypt and Turkey, Hamas has chosen to up the ante at every point when it could have backed down in the last seven days. It has gone from pounding the region next to Gaza to launching missiles at Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. In doing so, Hamas has not only terrorized millions of Israelis, but it has endangered the lives of Palestinian civilians, whom they use as human shields. Hamas has sacrificed the lives and property of the people of both Israel and Gaza by firing rockets indiscriminately at civilians and hiding their weapons among their own people. But Hamas’s cowardly leaders aren’t the only ones at fault. President Obama bears some responsibility too.

It is true that the administration’s behavior during the present crisis has been exemplary. The White House and State Department have condemned Hamas and endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense against its attacks. Rather than pressure Israel to accept a premature cease-fire or to halt its efforts to take out Hamas missile caches and terrorist cadres, Washington has seemed to give Jerusalem a blank check to do what needs to be done with regard to Gaza. Yet even as these positions deserve praise, it must also be understood that an administration policy of engagement with Hamas’s diplomatic backers has directly led to the current crisis. By leading from behind in the Middle East, the United States has largely abdicated its leadership role. Washington’s passivity in the Syrian crisis, and its embrace of the Islamist regime in Turkey and the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, has materially contributed to a situation where Hamas feels it can act with relative impunity.

Barack Obama arrived in the White House four years ago determined to create more distance between the United States and Israel. By picking fights with Israel’s government, the president achieved that and more. Ironically, his pressure on Israel to make concessions led to the Palestinian Authority taking even more hard-line stands and avoiding peace negotiations. But while the administration has appeared to repent of these stands during its election-year Jewish charm offensive, it has compounded this error by giving unconditional support to Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood as it seized power in Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

No one should blame Obama for Mubarak’s collapse. Nor did his feckless approach to the Middle East create the Arab Spring, in which radical Islamists gained ground throughout the region. But by deliberately choosing to lower America’s profile and adopt a “light footprint,” the United States has become a powerless bystander as Syria descended into chaos and the formerly isolated regime in Gaza suddenly found itself backed by powerful friends.

Democrats bitterly criticized George W. Bush’s foreign policy as a neocon failure. But though Bush made plenty of mistakes, the weak stance of his successor has enabled Hamas to become a confident regional player.

While the United States would desperately like to be able to broker a cease-fire, President Obama finds himself utterly without leverage. Israel is grateful for his current support, but after years of being dumped on by Washington, Netanyahu has no reason to trust the president. And though he claims Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as one of his best foreign friends and has done much to reach out to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, neither has paid any attention to the president’s pleas to pressure their ally Hamas into stop firing on Israel.

Though Netanyahu has no desire to invade Gaza and would have been happy to avoid the entire conflict, he has been forced to hit back hard precisely because Obama’s friends have encouraged Hamas to launch this war and to persist in their rocket fire on Israeli civilians.

Even if the president were to start acting like a leader now by publicly demanding that Egypt and Turkey cease their support for Hamas and making it clear that the terror group should not be allowed to profit from their outrages, it may already be too late.

Just as Obama’s weak diplomatic stance and comical engagement encouraged Iran to stick to their nuclear dreams, an administration that has been voting absent in the region is in no position to use what is left of its leverage to make Hamas’s backers listen to reason. Nor is it entirely a coincidence that Hamas would choose to start this war after the president’s re-election rather than before it. President Obama’s “light footprint” and friendship with Islamists has made it difficult if not impossible for the United States to influence these events or to make it harder for the terrorists in Gaza to keep shooting. Hamas started this war, but Obama helped make it possible.

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The Gaza Conflict: The View from Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took to the stage at Cairo University to condemn Israel for its attacks on Hamas military leaders, weapons depots, and missile launching pads in the Gaza Strip. “Everyone must know that sooner or later there will be a holding to account for the massacre of these innocent children killed inhumanely in Gaza,” he declared. Let us put aside the massacres of unarmed Kurdish children under Erdoğan’s watch. These have no parallel in the Gaza situation, where Israel puts its own soldiers at risk to avoid This is the same man who has railed against “the Jew;” has worked tirelessly to break Israel’s lawful (according to the United Nations) blockade of Gaza, an action meant to keep weaponry out of the hands of Hamas; and has called Hamas rocket strikes on Israel a hoax. This is also the same man whom President Barack Obama identified as one of the five foreign leaders closest to him personally.

Any Israeli official who thinks that Turkey can be bought around has either replaced analysis with hope, or is delusional. After a decade in power during which he has seized the reins not only of state broadcasters but many private newspapers as well, Erdoğan has succeeded in indoctrinating a generation of Turks in anti-Israel incitement. Erdoğan isn’t going anywhere. But even if he does, the Abdullah Gül’s, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s, and Egemen Bağış’ that mark Turkey’s future are as fiercely anti-Israel.

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took to the stage at Cairo University to condemn Israel for its attacks on Hamas military leaders, weapons depots, and missile launching pads in the Gaza Strip. “Everyone must know that sooner or later there will be a holding to account for the massacre of these innocent children killed inhumanely in Gaza,” he declared. Let us put aside the massacres of unarmed Kurdish children under Erdoğan’s watch. These have no parallel in the Gaza situation, where Israel puts its own soldiers at risk to avoid This is the same man who has railed against “the Jew;” has worked tirelessly to break Israel’s lawful (according to the United Nations) blockade of Gaza, an action meant to keep weaponry out of the hands of Hamas; and has called Hamas rocket strikes on Israel a hoax. This is also the same man whom President Barack Obama identified as one of the five foreign leaders closest to him personally.

Any Israeli official who thinks that Turkey can be bought around has either replaced analysis with hope, or is delusional. After a decade in power during which he has seized the reins not only of state broadcasters but many private newspapers as well, Erdoğan has succeeded in indoctrinating a generation of Turks in anti-Israel incitement. Erdoğan isn’t going anywhere. But even if he does, the Abdullah Gül’s, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s, and Egemen Bağış’ that mark Turkey’s future are as fiercely anti-Israel.

Maybe it is time that Israel fight diplomatic fire with fire. Israeli officials might argue that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) today is fighting a military insurgency and no longer engages in terrorism. The group is overwhelmingly popular in southeastern Turkey. After all, the Kurdish areas of Turkey are not doing well; life expectancy throughout Turkey is lower than in Gaza. Given Turkey’s support for Hamas, perhaps the Israelis might begin a public debate about recognizing Kurdistan with Diyarbakir as its capital. Perhaps it’s time for Israel to consider providing both civil and military support to Turkey’s Kurds. Turkey and Turks should know what is at stake. At the very least, it’s important to speak not in diplomatic nicety—Erdoğan is incapable of understanding that—but rather in language he understands.

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Petraeus’s Phony Critics

The most unseemly aspect of the scandal surrounding David Petraeus is the gleeful Schadenfreude being exhibited by so many who are eager to kick a great man when he is temporarily down. One of the most egregious and nauseating examples is this New York Times op-ed by Lucian Truscott IV entitled “A Phony Hero for a Phony War.” It is insulting not only to Petraeus but to all those men and women who have served valiantly and at great risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Truscott is a West Point graduate with a famous name–his grandfather, Lucian Truscott Jr., was a notable general in World War II. Truscott IV, to judge by his preening description of himself, has rather less achievements to his name; he did not last long in the army and has made a career as a freelance writer and screenwriter, often sniping at the military establishment. He is apparently so in thrall to his grandfather and his contemporaries that he seems to think that no modern general can possibly measure up. “Iraq wasn’t a real war at all,” he sneers, which will come as news to the thousands of Americans killed there and the tens of thousands injured.

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The most unseemly aspect of the scandal surrounding David Petraeus is the gleeful Schadenfreude being exhibited by so many who are eager to kick a great man when he is temporarily down. One of the most egregious and nauseating examples is this New York Times op-ed by Lucian Truscott IV entitled “A Phony Hero for a Phony War.” It is insulting not only to Petraeus but to all those men and women who have served valiantly and at great risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Truscott is a West Point graduate with a famous name–his grandfather, Lucian Truscott Jr., was a notable general in World War II. Truscott IV, to judge by his preening description of himself, has rather less achievements to his name; he did not last long in the army and has made a career as a freelance writer and screenwriter, often sniping at the military establishment. He is apparently so in thrall to his grandfather and his contemporaries that he seems to think that no modern general can possibly measure up. “Iraq wasn’t a real war at all,” he sneers, which will come as news to the thousands of Americans killed there and the tens of thousands injured.

Then he attacks Petraeus for supposedly not leading “his own Army to win anything even approximating a victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan,” which rather ignores that Petraeus actually did deliver something close to victory in Iraq under extremely difficult circumstances in 2008–only to have his achievements squandered by the Obama administration. As for Afghanistan, he set the campaign on a course toward success even if he was not given the time–or resources–to see it through to as successful a conclusion as the campaign in Iraq.

Truscott continues: “It’s not just General Petraeus. The fact is that none of our generals have led us to a victory since men like Patton and my grandfather, Lucian King Truscott Jr., stormed the beaches of North Africa and southern France with blood in their eyes and military murder on their minds.” It seems that Patton and old man Truscott “were nearly psychotic in their drive to kill enemy soldiers and subjugate enemy nations”; they “chewed nails for breakfast, spit tacks at lunch and picked their teeth with their pistol barrels,” while “General Petraeus probably flosses.”

There is more of this same risible name-calling, including the truly astonishing claim that Petraeus is too concerned with his personal appearance (“never has so much beribboned finery decorated a general’s uniform”)–as if Petraeus were remotely in the same league as Patton who was known for his riding breeches, highly polished helmet, and ivory-handled pistols.

I search in vain for a serious point here. There is none. Rather this is sheer animus against Petraeus animated by runaway nostalgia for the Greatest Generation, which ignores the fact that most wars before and since World War II could not be ended by marching on the enemy’s capital to demand unconditional surrender. Where, after all, is the capital of the Taliban or al-Qaeda in Iraq? Petraeus and the troops under his command did extremely well in dealing with in dealing with a more diffuse enemy that could not simply be pounded into submission with massive firepower because he did not wear a uniform or control a well-defined territory.

“Guerrilla war is more intellectual than a bayonet charge,” T.E. Lawrence said. Petraeus was smart enough, dedicated enough, and capable enough to rise to the challenge of understanding and fighting that type of war. In the annals of counterinsurgency he is one of the all-time greats. Now, as payback for a lifetime of service, he gets insulted by sideline spitballers like Lucian Truscott IV.

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Gaza Conflict: A View from Down Under

Colin Rubenstein, the director of AIJAC based in Melbourne, Australia, appeared Friday on the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s (ABC) News 24. Australia’s ABC takes a political slant much like that of the BBC, but Rubenstein’s description of the reason for and logic of the Israeli military campaign is about as articulate as it comes. It is worth the watch.

It’s also well-worth noting that not only Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition and the head of the center-right Liberal Party, but also Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is decidedly left-of-center, have endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense and roundly condemned Hamas without any moral equivalence. It is good to see that, at least outside the United States, many liberals and progressives recognize just what is at stake.

Colin Rubenstein, the director of AIJAC based in Melbourne, Australia, appeared Friday on the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s (ABC) News 24. Australia’s ABC takes a political slant much like that of the BBC, but Rubenstein’s description of the reason for and logic of the Israeli military campaign is about as articulate as it comes. It is worth the watch.

It’s also well-worth noting that not only Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition and the head of the center-right Liberal Party, but also Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is decidedly left-of-center, have endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense and roundly condemned Hamas without any moral equivalence. It is good to see that, at least outside the United States, many liberals and progressives recognize just what is at stake.

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