Commentary Magazine


Topic: Columbia

Cold War Revisionism Run Wild

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

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India’s New Position on UNSC Seen as Test for Permanent Membership

Of the five new countries just joining the UN Security Council as non-permanent members, India will definitely be the one to keep an eye on for the next two years:

After a gap of 19 years, India today formally took its place in the UN Security Council as a new non-permanent member for a two-year term, a position from which it is expected to push its agenda for UN reform.

Along with India, Germany, South Africa, Columbia and Portugal too took their places at the powerful 15-member body of the United Nations.

President Obama recently came out in support of India’s bid for permanent membership on the council, and U.S. officials are sure to be watching closely to see how the country handles itself during the next two years.

“It has new meaning now that President Obama has signaled his support for India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the council,” Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me. “It’s kind of a test case. A lot of U.S. officials will be watching closely. That makes it a bit more notable than it was in the past.”

One of the tests will be how closely India’s votes hew to U.S. security interests. “Traditionally, India has not voted with the U.S. on the UN,” said Curtis. “The next two years will be significant in indicating how India will likely act as a permanent member of the UN.”

India has taken some hawkish stances recently, tightening its economic sanctions on Iran and indicating that it will focus on terrorism issues during its two-year stint on the UNSC. The country is also in the running to head up one of the two terrorism committees. With this new influence, Curtis said that India is expected to lobby for restrictions on Pakistani terror groups and work to continue sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But even with Obama’s support, India’s bid for permanent membership still looks like a long shot. There are obviously risks to increasing the number of permanent members on the council, said Curtis, and new additions could dilute the U.S.’s agenda and vote against our initiatives.

India will certainly have to prove itself before there is any serious discussion about giving it a permanent position, but there’s no doubt that it would be an enormous benefit to have a reliable ally in the region on the council.

Of the five new countries just joining the UN Security Council as non-permanent members, India will definitely be the one to keep an eye on for the next two years:

After a gap of 19 years, India today formally took its place in the UN Security Council as a new non-permanent member for a two-year term, a position from which it is expected to push its agenda for UN reform.

Along with India, Germany, South Africa, Columbia and Portugal too took their places at the powerful 15-member body of the United Nations.

President Obama recently came out in support of India’s bid for permanent membership on the council, and U.S. officials are sure to be watching closely to see how the country handles itself during the next two years.

“It has new meaning now that President Obama has signaled his support for India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the council,” Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me. “It’s kind of a test case. A lot of U.S. officials will be watching closely. That makes it a bit more notable than it was in the past.”

One of the tests will be how closely India’s votes hew to U.S. security interests. “Traditionally, India has not voted with the U.S. on the UN,” said Curtis. “The next two years will be significant in indicating how India will likely act as a permanent member of the UN.”

India has taken some hawkish stances recently, tightening its economic sanctions on Iran and indicating that it will focus on terrorism issues during its two-year stint on the UNSC. The country is also in the running to head up one of the two terrorism committees. With this new influence, Curtis said that India is expected to lobby for restrictions on Pakistani terror groups and work to continue sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But even with Obama’s support, India’s bid for permanent membership still looks like a long shot. There are obviously risks to increasing the number of permanent members on the council, said Curtis, and new additions could dilute the U.S.’s agenda and vote against our initiatives.

India will certainly have to prove itself before there is any serious discussion about giving it a permanent position, but there’s no doubt that it would be an enormous benefit to have a reliable ally in the region on the council.

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Morning Commentary

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

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Poor Joe Biden

Joe Biden was apparently selected as Obama’s running mate for his experience and foreign policy gravitas. It is only in Washington D.C. that longevity can be confused with wisdom; Biden has plenty of the former and precious little of the latter, having been wrong on almost every national security issue for the past 30 years.

But as things would work out, Biden’s running mate, known for his charisma and political prowess, is proving to be a bore and politically toxic. So the job of rallying the base for the midterms falls to Biden. As this report explains:

Now, at 67, in an election season when his party feels beaten down, when voters are angry and afraid, when the cool, cerebral detachment that seemed so appealing in Mr. Obama in 2008 is raising questions about whether he can “connect,” Mr. Biden is trying to fill the void — even as strategists in both parties see Democrats’ prospects dimming.

Mr. Biden has been zipping around the country to places like Columbia, S.C., and hard-hit Rust Belt cities like Akron, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, while Mr. Obama has been confining himself largely to friendlier settings like college campuses and big-dollar fund-raisers.

Unfortunately, Biden isn’t much better at politicking than he is at foreign policy. He tells a crowd that they are the dullest he’s ever encountered. His “recovery summer” blather is now mocked by pundits and political opponents. But just as no one ever really votes for the vice president in presidential elections, no one in the midterms really pays too much attention to the VP:

“Democrats have it in their heads that he is still more popular in a lot of blue-collar districts where Obama is having a toxic effect,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “To most voters, a Biden campaign visit doesn’t make President Obama disappear.”

For all his troubles, Biden may be traded to the State Department for Hillary Clinton in 2012. And then we can really see all that Biden knows about foreign policy. Well, he probably wouldn’t be any worse than the current secretary.

Joe Biden was apparently selected as Obama’s running mate for his experience and foreign policy gravitas. It is only in Washington D.C. that longevity can be confused with wisdom; Biden has plenty of the former and precious little of the latter, having been wrong on almost every national security issue for the past 30 years.

But as things would work out, Biden’s running mate, known for his charisma and political prowess, is proving to be a bore and politically toxic. So the job of rallying the base for the midterms falls to Biden. As this report explains:

Now, at 67, in an election season when his party feels beaten down, when voters are angry and afraid, when the cool, cerebral detachment that seemed so appealing in Mr. Obama in 2008 is raising questions about whether he can “connect,” Mr. Biden is trying to fill the void — even as strategists in both parties see Democrats’ prospects dimming.

Mr. Biden has been zipping around the country to places like Columbia, S.C., and hard-hit Rust Belt cities like Akron, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, while Mr. Obama has been confining himself largely to friendlier settings like college campuses and big-dollar fund-raisers.

Unfortunately, Biden isn’t much better at politicking than he is at foreign policy. He tells a crowd that they are the dullest he’s ever encountered. His “recovery summer” blather is now mocked by pundits and political opponents. But just as no one ever really votes for the vice president in presidential elections, no one in the midterms really pays too much attention to the VP:

“Democrats have it in their heads that he is still more popular in a lot of blue-collar districts where Obama is having a toxic effect,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “To most voters, a Biden campaign visit doesn’t make President Obama disappear.”

For all his troubles, Biden may be traded to the State Department for Hillary Clinton in 2012. And then we can really see all that Biden knows about foreign policy. Well, he probably wouldn’t be any worse than the current secretary.

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New York’s Eminent Domain “Blight” Grows

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

This case, like the outrageous Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court, which allowed New London, Connecticut to seize private homes to benefit a large corporation (that wound up not building anything on the ruins of the condemned property anyway) ought to inspire a groundswell of support for reform of eminent domain laws. Unless and until such laws are amended to restrict state seizures to cases of properties that are actually blighted and which could be used for a genuine civic purpose rather than merely for the benefit of large, powerful, and wealthy developers, the property rights of every American remain at risk.

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

This case, like the outrageous Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court, which allowed New London, Connecticut to seize private homes to benefit a large corporation (that wound up not building anything on the ruins of the condemned property anyway) ought to inspire a groundswell of support for reform of eminent domain laws. Unless and until such laws are amended to restrict state seizures to cases of properties that are actually blighted and which could be used for a genuine civic purpose rather than merely for the benefit of large, powerful, and wealthy developers, the property rights of every American remain at risk.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

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The Problem with Law Schools

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

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RE: Kagan’s Vulnerability

Emily Bazelon at Slate writes in defense of Elena Kagan:

She was one of 40 law professors who signed that brief. In law school faculties at the time, people were falling over themselves to oppose the Solomon Amendment. Eight other universities filed briefs, along with 56 Columbia law professors and 44 Yale law professors. At some schools, it was out of the mainstream not to sign. Obama has already said it’s time to start getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The White House can support Kagan’s stand on this issue without taking on a new political battle.

Hmm. Is this argument meant to persuade us that Kagan is in the mainstream of judicial thought, or rather that there is something terribly wrong with the law professors who populate elite universities? All of these people got the law wrong. Really wrong — 8-0 wrong.

Moreover, you will note how easily the left conflates a policy issue — “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is bad, so we’re getting rid of it — with the legal argument that proved to be a dead-bang loser at the Supreme Court. Bazelon muddles the two. The question is: did Kagan? And, more important, will she do so on the Court?

Emily Bazelon at Slate writes in defense of Elena Kagan:

She was one of 40 law professors who signed that brief. In law school faculties at the time, people were falling over themselves to oppose the Solomon Amendment. Eight other universities filed briefs, along with 56 Columbia law professors and 44 Yale law professors. At some schools, it was out of the mainstream not to sign. Obama has already said it’s time to start getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The White House can support Kagan’s stand on this issue without taking on a new political battle.

Hmm. Is this argument meant to persuade us that Kagan is in the mainstream of judicial thought, or rather that there is something terribly wrong with the law professors who populate elite universities? All of these people got the law wrong. Really wrong — 8-0 wrong.

Moreover, you will note how easily the left conflates a policy issue — “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is bad, so we’re getting rid of it — with the legal argument that proved to be a dead-bang loser at the Supreme Court. Bazelon muddles the two. The question is: did Kagan? And, more important, will she do so on the Court?

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The Left Tips Its Hand on Supreme Court Selections

The New York Times provides a forum for various legal gurus to expound on the Supreme Court selection. It is instructive about how liberals have come to view the courts. First up is Lani Guinier, who considers it the Supreme Court’s job “to place their imprimatur on perceptions of what is right and wrong.” That’s what we need — the high priests of right and wrong imparting wisdom on the rabble of democracy. Good to know.

Another job for the Court: running corporate America. This brain storm comes from Jamal Greene of Columbia Law School:

I would love to see President Obama nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court. Ms. Warren is the whipsaw-smart Harvard Law professor and bankruptcy expert chairing the Congressional committee charged with oversight of the bank bailout, which she has strongly criticized. …

It would be difficult, moreover, for Republicans to put up much of a fight against a Supreme Court nominee who was willing to publicly dress down the president’s own Treasury secretary over financial regulation. It might be too much to ask for a confirmation hearing dominated by straight talk about the crisis facing middle- and working-class Americans rather than by baseball analogies, but Elizabeth Warren is our best hope.

Alas, this is how liberals have come to view the Court — as a racial- and gender-preference bonanza, a set of philosopher kings, and an uber-legislature. That the Court has a specific, limited task in our Constitutional system is lost on them. In voicing its views of the Court, the left also reveals its fundamental contempt for the idea of impartial judging and for our democratic system — that is, self-rule by elected leaders. For the left, it’s all about getting judges of the right gender or race who can override the “errors” of the democratic system.

The New York Times provides a forum for various legal gurus to expound on the Supreme Court selection. It is instructive about how liberals have come to view the courts. First up is Lani Guinier, who considers it the Supreme Court’s job “to place their imprimatur on perceptions of what is right and wrong.” That’s what we need — the high priests of right and wrong imparting wisdom on the rabble of democracy. Good to know.

Another job for the Court: running corporate America. This brain storm comes from Jamal Greene of Columbia Law School:

I would love to see President Obama nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court. Ms. Warren is the whipsaw-smart Harvard Law professor and bankruptcy expert chairing the Congressional committee charged with oversight of the bank bailout, which she has strongly criticized. …

It would be difficult, moreover, for Republicans to put up much of a fight against a Supreme Court nominee who was willing to publicly dress down the president’s own Treasury secretary over financial regulation. It might be too much to ask for a confirmation hearing dominated by straight talk about the crisis facing middle- and working-class Americans rather than by baseball analogies, but Elizabeth Warren is our best hope.

Alas, this is how liberals have come to view the Court — as a racial- and gender-preference bonanza, a set of philosopher kings, and an uber-legislature. That the Court has a specific, limited task in our Constitutional system is lost on them. In voicing its views of the Court, the left also reveals its fundamental contempt for the idea of impartial judging and for our democratic system — that is, self-rule by elected leaders. For the left, it’s all about getting judges of the right gender or race who can override the “errors” of the democratic system.

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Bought and Paid

While the media was fixated on a health-care vote with a preordained outcome, the New York Post broke a blockbuster story over the weekend:

Anti-Israel, pro-Iran university professors are being funded by a shadowy multimillion-dollar Islamic charity based in Manhattan that the feds charge is an illegal front for the repressive Iranian regime.

The deep-pocketed Alavi Foundation has aggressively given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University and Rutgers University for Middle Eastern and Persian studies programs that employ professors sympathetic to the Iranian dictatorship.

“We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation,” said Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

And remember the much criticized visit of Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? It seems it was a good deal for Columbia University: “In one of the biggest handouts, the controversial charity donated $100,000 to Columbia University after the Ivy League school agreed to host Iranian leader and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to the foundation’s 2007 tax filings obtained by The Post.”

The Iranian regime has gotten its money’s worth. Gary Sick of Columbia chimes in that we can disregard all that “wipe Israel off the map” stuff from Ahmadinejad. The Sick translation of Ahmadinejad’s genocide talk: “What he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to [sic] the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.” Got that?

Other professors from Columbia and Rutgers (which also received funds) are equally forthcoming with propaganda nonsense, enough to make the mullahs proud. This is a scandal of the first order — a financial conflict of interest and an ethical betrayal of the universities’ supposed role as bastions of academic independence and free inquiry. They have instead among their ranks a number of shills for the mullahs, whose leftist claptrap is subsidized by those with an interest in seeing the mullahs’ party line recirculated through American universities. It seems worth taking a look, especially when these institutions receive taxpayer money and their students earn degrees on taxpayer-supported scholarships.

While the media was fixated on a health-care vote with a preordained outcome, the New York Post broke a blockbuster story over the weekend:

Anti-Israel, pro-Iran university professors are being funded by a shadowy multimillion-dollar Islamic charity based in Manhattan that the feds charge is an illegal front for the repressive Iranian regime.

The deep-pocketed Alavi Foundation has aggressively given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University and Rutgers University for Middle Eastern and Persian studies programs that employ professors sympathetic to the Iranian dictatorship.

“We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation,” said Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

And remember the much criticized visit of Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? It seems it was a good deal for Columbia University: “In one of the biggest handouts, the controversial charity donated $100,000 to Columbia University after the Ivy League school agreed to host Iranian leader and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to the foundation’s 2007 tax filings obtained by The Post.”

The Iranian regime has gotten its money’s worth. Gary Sick of Columbia chimes in that we can disregard all that “wipe Israel off the map” stuff from Ahmadinejad. The Sick translation of Ahmadinejad’s genocide talk: “What he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to [sic] the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.” Got that?

Other professors from Columbia and Rutgers (which also received funds) are equally forthcoming with propaganda nonsense, enough to make the mullahs proud. This is a scandal of the first order — a financial conflict of interest and an ethical betrayal of the universities’ supposed role as bastions of academic independence and free inquiry. They have instead among their ranks a number of shills for the mullahs, whose leftist claptrap is subsidized by those with an interest in seeing the mullahs’ party line recirculated through American universities. It seems worth taking a look, especially when these institutions receive taxpayer money and their students earn degrees on taxpayer-supported scholarships.

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RIP William Odom

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

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Bollinger Still Doesn’t Get It

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-“where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-“where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

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Do Radicals Dominate Islam?

I am seldom accused of being wishy-washy or noncommittal when it comes to major issues of foreign policy. But I was decidedly undecided when I showed up last night for the Intelligence Squared debate in Manhattan on the resolution “Islam is dominated by radicals.”

The pro side was argued by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist turned Christian evangelical who is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Paul Marshall, formerly of Freedom House, now at the Hudson Institute; and Asra Normani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter (and good friend of the late Daniel Pearl) who has chronicled her own battles against Muslim hardliners at her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia.

On the con side were Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Richard Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia; and Edina Lekovic, a Muslim of Bosnian descent who is director of communications at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (and who was wearing a head scarf).

Both sides threw out a lot of good arguments. Gartenstein-Ross and Aslan, in particular, engaged in some heated exchanges that entertained the audience. The problem is that neither side could really define the crucial terms in the debate—“dominated” and “radicals.”

Both agreed that radicals were certainly a big problem within Islam. The pro side pointed repeatedly to the Saudi and Iranian regimes as emblematic of the problem, and said that the Saudis are spreading their hateful Wahhabi doctrines. All true. But does Wahhabism dominate global Islam? The con side could point to convincing Pew opinion surveys showing that most Muslims reject Al Qaeda and its ideology of violence. They could also point to surveys (and election results in countries like Pakistan) that show most Muslims don’t want to be governed by hard-line Islamic parties.

The pro side replied that the views of the majority were irrelevant: the radicals were able to dominate the institutions of Islam and intimidate the moderate majority into acquiescence. There seemed to be some truth to this. But the pro debaters were, I thought, confused: were they complaining about the dominance of theological conservatism or of violent radicalism?

Normani, in particular, complained that a “patriarchy” dominated Islam: she cannot become an imam preaching to men; in more and more mosques women and men have to sit separately. That may be true, but that’s very different—and much less alarming from my infidel perspective—than saying that more and more Muslims are lining up to practice terrorism in the name of jihad. In fact, most conservative Muslims (e.g., Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq) oppose radical calls for a religious war even while preaching a version of sharia that would be intolerable to Western liberals.

In the end, I concluded that the pro side had not proven their case. They had certainly demonstrated that radicalism is a large and growing problem. But dominant? Not on the evidence presented last night. So I voted with the con side, notwithstanding my occasional annoyance at their leftist rhetorical tics. But I was in the decided minority. 46% of the audience voted “pro” before the debate, a figure that swelled to 73% after the debate.

While the debate was fascinating, the issue is not one that we should lose too much sleep over. Whether radicals actually dominate Islam or are simply trying to dominate it doesn’t really matter from a practical perspective. Either way, we need to do what we can do aid the forces of moderation if we are to prevail in the Long War.

I am seldom accused of being wishy-washy or noncommittal when it comes to major issues of foreign policy. But I was decidedly undecided when I showed up last night for the Intelligence Squared debate in Manhattan on the resolution “Islam is dominated by radicals.”

The pro side was argued by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist turned Christian evangelical who is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Paul Marshall, formerly of Freedom House, now at the Hudson Institute; and Asra Normani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter (and good friend of the late Daniel Pearl) who has chronicled her own battles against Muslim hardliners at her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia.

On the con side were Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Richard Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia; and Edina Lekovic, a Muslim of Bosnian descent who is director of communications at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (and who was wearing a head scarf).

Both sides threw out a lot of good arguments. Gartenstein-Ross and Aslan, in particular, engaged in some heated exchanges that entertained the audience. The problem is that neither side could really define the crucial terms in the debate—“dominated” and “radicals.”

Both agreed that radicals were certainly a big problem within Islam. The pro side pointed repeatedly to the Saudi and Iranian regimes as emblematic of the problem, and said that the Saudis are spreading their hateful Wahhabi doctrines. All true. But does Wahhabism dominate global Islam? The con side could point to convincing Pew opinion surveys showing that most Muslims reject Al Qaeda and its ideology of violence. They could also point to surveys (and election results in countries like Pakistan) that show most Muslims don’t want to be governed by hard-line Islamic parties.

The pro side replied that the views of the majority were irrelevant: the radicals were able to dominate the institutions of Islam and intimidate the moderate majority into acquiescence. There seemed to be some truth to this. But the pro debaters were, I thought, confused: were they complaining about the dominance of theological conservatism or of violent radicalism?

Normani, in particular, complained that a “patriarchy” dominated Islam: she cannot become an imam preaching to men; in more and more mosques women and men have to sit separately. That may be true, but that’s very different—and much less alarming from my infidel perspective—than saying that more and more Muslims are lining up to practice terrorism in the name of jihad. In fact, most conservative Muslims (e.g., Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq) oppose radical calls for a religious war even while preaching a version of sharia that would be intolerable to Western liberals.

In the end, I concluded that the pro side had not proven their case. They had certainly demonstrated that radicalism is a large and growing problem. But dominant? Not on the evidence presented last night. So I voted with the con side, notwithstanding my occasional annoyance at their leftist rhetorical tics. But I was in the decided minority. 46% of the audience voted “pro” before the debate, a figure that swelled to 73% after the debate.

While the debate was fascinating, the issue is not one that we should lose too much sleep over. Whether radicals actually dominate Islam or are simply trying to dominate it doesn’t really matter from a practical perspective. Either way, we need to do what we can do aid the forces of moderation if we are to prevail in the Long War.

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Reasons to Commit Suicide

One of my most productive confidential sources in Washington keeps what he tells me is an expanding file on his desk labeled “reasons to commit suicide.”  He occasionally sends me items that he’s added to it.

Here’s the latest, a conference starting tomorrow at Columbia University: “Fear of Flying”: Can a Feminist Classic Be an American Classic?

Thirty-five years ago, Erica Jong’s first novel, the international bestseller Fear of Flying, electrified readers around the world and sparked fierce debate. Breaking from conventional expectations of fiction by and about women, Fear of Flying freed other women writers to write intelligently and openly about sex and to debate intimate issues of importance to women. Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired a large collection of Erica Jong’s archival material in 2007. Jong’s papers have become an important asset as the Columbia Libraries continue to document the history of women and feminism in contemporary American society. In an outgrowth of this interest and intent, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will join the Columbia University Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College in gathering a group of distinguished writers and critics for a half-day conference, “Fear of Flying: Can a Feminist Classic be a Classic?” on Friday, March 28, 2008.

Speakers will revisit Jong’s novel and will assess the status of women’s writing and of feminism in today’s literary scene and the possibilities of subversion open to contemporary young women writers.

Here is the question of the day. What would be more painful to endure: watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reap the dividends of being ineffectually insulted by the president of Columbia, or attending this conference?

One of my most productive confidential sources in Washington keeps what he tells me is an expanding file on his desk labeled “reasons to commit suicide.”  He occasionally sends me items that he’s added to it.

Here’s the latest, a conference starting tomorrow at Columbia University: “Fear of Flying”: Can a Feminist Classic Be an American Classic?

Thirty-five years ago, Erica Jong’s first novel, the international bestseller Fear of Flying, electrified readers around the world and sparked fierce debate. Breaking from conventional expectations of fiction by and about women, Fear of Flying freed other women writers to write intelligently and openly about sex and to debate intimate issues of importance to women. Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired a large collection of Erica Jong’s archival material in 2007. Jong’s papers have become an important asset as the Columbia Libraries continue to document the history of women and feminism in contemporary American society. In an outgrowth of this interest and intent, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will join the Columbia University Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College in gathering a group of distinguished writers and critics for a half-day conference, “Fear of Flying: Can a Feminist Classic be a Classic?” on Friday, March 28, 2008.

Speakers will revisit Jong’s novel and will assess the status of women’s writing and of feminism in today’s literary scene and the possibilities of subversion open to contemporary young women writers.

Here is the question of the day. What would be more painful to endure: watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reap the dividends of being ineffectually insulted by the president of Columbia, or attending this conference?

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The Noose Tightens

One of the weirdest stories of last year was the mysterious tale of the noose found on the door of a Teachers College professor at Columbia University, an African-American woman who claims to be a scholar of “racial micro-aggression” — which is to say, events like someone hanging a noose on the door of an African-American.

Her name is not Tawana Brawley. It’s Madonna Constantine. But you might be forgiven for confusing the two.

After Constantine revealed the supposedly monstrous crime, Columbia erupted in protests. The administration vowed to find the evildoer. The NYPD got involved. Columbia began acting oddly, refusing to cooperate with the NYPD. The NYPD produced a subpoena for the films from surveillance cameras in the hallway. They came up with nothing.

Then, suddenly, the NYPD announced it was closing the investigation. Columbia University, the parent of Teachers College, went silent. We learned the professor in question, Madonna Constantine, had a history of provocative acts, including a confrontation with a colleague whom she had sued for defamation.

Now, Teachers College has sanctioned Dr. Constantine for plagiarism — the conclusion of an investigation that dates back, it turns out, to 2006:

Teachers College of Columbia University confirmed today that it has sanctioned Professor Madonna Constantine after an internal investigation found numerous instances in which she used others’ work without attribution in papers she published in academic journals over the past five years. The investigation, which began in 2006, was prompted by complaints from students and one former faculty member who said language from materials they wrote was included without attribution in the articles.

Constantine, predictably, responded to this by wondering whether a “white person” would be treated this way. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that Constantine discovered the writing was on the wall last October, that she was going to be caught out as a plagiarist, and that she dangled the noose from her own office doorknob as a way to make it impossible for Columbia to punish her.

Thus, the parallel with the Tawana Brawley case. Terrified she was going to be punished by her stepfather for a night out with a boy, Brawley staged her own false rape and claimed it had been at the hands of white attackers. It was a monstrous lie. But at least Brawley was seventeen at the time. Madonna Constantine is 44. And will soon be out of a job.

One of the weirdest stories of last year was the mysterious tale of the noose found on the door of a Teachers College professor at Columbia University, an African-American woman who claims to be a scholar of “racial micro-aggression” — which is to say, events like someone hanging a noose on the door of an African-American.

Her name is not Tawana Brawley. It’s Madonna Constantine. But you might be forgiven for confusing the two.

After Constantine revealed the supposedly monstrous crime, Columbia erupted in protests. The administration vowed to find the evildoer. The NYPD got involved. Columbia began acting oddly, refusing to cooperate with the NYPD. The NYPD produced a subpoena for the films from surveillance cameras in the hallway. They came up with nothing.

Then, suddenly, the NYPD announced it was closing the investigation. Columbia University, the parent of Teachers College, went silent. We learned the professor in question, Madonna Constantine, had a history of provocative acts, including a confrontation with a colleague whom she had sued for defamation.

Now, Teachers College has sanctioned Dr. Constantine for plagiarism — the conclusion of an investigation that dates back, it turns out, to 2006:

Teachers College of Columbia University confirmed today that it has sanctioned Professor Madonna Constantine after an internal investigation found numerous instances in which she used others’ work without attribution in papers she published in academic journals over the past five years. The investigation, which began in 2006, was prompted by complaints from students and one former faculty member who said language from materials they wrote was included without attribution in the articles.

Constantine, predictably, responded to this by wondering whether a “white person” would be treated this way. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that Constantine discovered the writing was on the wall last October, that she was going to be caught out as a plagiarist, and that she dangled the noose from her own office doorknob as a way to make it impossible for Columbia to punish her.

Thus, the parallel with the Tawana Brawley case. Terrified she was going to be punished by her stepfather for a night out with a boy, Brawley staged her own false rape and claimed it had been at the hands of white attackers. It was a monstrous lie. But at least Brawley was seventeen at the time. Madonna Constantine is 44. And will soon be out of a job.

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American Idol

The Barack Obama phenomenon puzzles me. I recognize that he is a handsome, articulate politician who seems, for the moment at least, to have the capacity to square circles. In recent months I’ve asked my students and former students, who are exceptionally thoughtful young people, whom they were supporting for president. Roughly three-quarters of them, including some who described themselves as independents or Republicans, support Obama, almost all with enthusiasm.

When I asked why they liked him, their responses, even from those who were articulate, were almost all vague. Race played some role in their views, but it didn’t seem to be primary. Mostly they told me about their disdain for both President Bush and the Democratic Congress, and the need for “change,” with little elaboration as to what that change would be.

What’s odd is that I get the same leap of faith with no clear basis of support from older and in some cases politically savvy and highly intelligent people. With these older folk, not all of whom are liberal, neither Obama’s lack of achievements, nor his woolly foreign policy statements, nor dubious episodes in his career such as his infatuation with a Black Nationalist minister and involvements with shady Chicago characters has any effect. I’ve had a half-dozen variants of the following conversation:

Usually Thoughtful Friend: “Obama has big ideas.”

Fred: “What are these ideas?”

Friend: “He’s a very bright guy who went to Columbia and Harvard.”

Fred: “Again, what are these ideas?”

Friend: “Diplomacy and civility are important.”

Fred: “Who would argue with that?”

Friend: “I can’t explain it, he’s just got something.”

If I continue to press, what I’m told, in a tone of voice suggesting that there’s an unspoken consensus on the subject, is that “this election is about character and personality.” If they’re Bush critics, I ask, “But isn’t that what W ran on in 2000? “Yes,” comes back the answer, “but this is different.”

So what’s this all about? Some of it is that Obama represents an opportunity to ditch Hillary now that Dems think they’ve found a better horse. But for those I’ve talked to who are older partisan Democrats who’ve reconciled themselves to the loss of white middle class male voters, Obama’s appeal in part is that he incarnates the Democratic Party. He is both a highly educated member of the upper middle class and a half-minority. As one of my acquaintances put it, referring to the way Obama blends an educated articulation of policy positions with the uplifting cadences of the African-American preacher: “Who better to represent us?” Some continue: “Who better to heal our racial wounds?” When I press them on this point, explaining that I live in the most racially diverse neighborhood in the U.S. and that I’m not looking for a priestly President who can absolve me of my sins, I’m told that such absolution is a good thing—whether I want it or not.

Among the younger people I’ve talked to, he draws adulation from both starry-eyed young liberals and those who see him as beyond partisan politics. That’s an impressive feat, a tribute to his ability to project an image of rectitude unsullied by the ordinary trench warfare of politics. But there is a two part question that seems to stop all of the Obama admirers, young or old, that I’ve talked to in their tracks. Can he, I ask, govern? Could he be a commander in chief? The most common reactions, I get is “that’s beside the point,” or “I’m not sure,” or “I haven’t thought about that,” or “you’ve got a point, but . . . .” The election to date—with Huckabee as Obama’s GOP counterpart—is turning into an episode of American Idol where the performance is the thing, albeit with a religious twist.

The Barack Obama phenomenon puzzles me. I recognize that he is a handsome, articulate politician who seems, for the moment at least, to have the capacity to square circles. In recent months I’ve asked my students and former students, who are exceptionally thoughtful young people, whom they were supporting for president. Roughly three-quarters of them, including some who described themselves as independents or Republicans, support Obama, almost all with enthusiasm.

When I asked why they liked him, their responses, even from those who were articulate, were almost all vague. Race played some role in their views, but it didn’t seem to be primary. Mostly they told me about their disdain for both President Bush and the Democratic Congress, and the need for “change,” with little elaboration as to what that change would be.

What’s odd is that I get the same leap of faith with no clear basis of support from older and in some cases politically savvy and highly intelligent people. With these older folk, not all of whom are liberal, neither Obama’s lack of achievements, nor his woolly foreign policy statements, nor dubious episodes in his career such as his infatuation with a Black Nationalist minister and involvements with shady Chicago characters has any effect. I’ve had a half-dozen variants of the following conversation:

Usually Thoughtful Friend: “Obama has big ideas.”

Fred: “What are these ideas?”

Friend: “He’s a very bright guy who went to Columbia and Harvard.”

Fred: “Again, what are these ideas?”

Friend: “Diplomacy and civility are important.”

Fred: “Who would argue with that?”

Friend: “I can’t explain it, he’s just got something.”

If I continue to press, what I’m told, in a tone of voice suggesting that there’s an unspoken consensus on the subject, is that “this election is about character and personality.” If they’re Bush critics, I ask, “But isn’t that what W ran on in 2000? “Yes,” comes back the answer, “but this is different.”

So what’s this all about? Some of it is that Obama represents an opportunity to ditch Hillary now that Dems think they’ve found a better horse. But for those I’ve talked to who are older partisan Democrats who’ve reconciled themselves to the loss of white middle class male voters, Obama’s appeal in part is that he incarnates the Democratic Party. He is both a highly educated member of the upper middle class and a half-minority. As one of my acquaintances put it, referring to the way Obama blends an educated articulation of policy positions with the uplifting cadences of the African-American preacher: “Who better to represent us?” Some continue: “Who better to heal our racial wounds?” When I press them on this point, explaining that I live in the most racially diverse neighborhood in the U.S. and that I’m not looking for a priestly President who can absolve me of my sins, I’m told that such absolution is a good thing—whether I want it or not.

Among the younger people I’ve talked to, he draws adulation from both starry-eyed young liberals and those who see him as beyond partisan politics. That’s an impressive feat, a tribute to his ability to project an image of rectitude unsullied by the ordinary trench warfare of politics. But there is a two part question that seems to stop all of the Obama admirers, young or old, that I’ve talked to in their tracks. Can he, I ask, govern? Could he be a commander in chief? The most common reactions, I get is “that’s beside the point,” or “I’m not sure,” or “I haven’t thought about that,” or “you’ve got a point, but . . . .” The election to date—with Huckabee as Obama’s GOP counterpart—is turning into an episode of American Idol where the performance is the thing, albeit with a religious twist.

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Obama, the Non-Muslim

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Christian.  As his official campaign biography notes, Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago with a church-based group after graduating from Columbia, and he currently attends Trinity United Church of Christ with his family.

Yet at various points during his campaign, Obama has had to address questions regarding the Islamic aspects of his biography, which include a Kenyan-Muslim father, an Indonesian-Muslim stepfather, four years spent living in Indonesia during his childhood, and an Islamic middle name (Hussein).  Earlier this year, with the help of investigative journalists, Obama debunked the rumor that he had studied at an Indonesian madrassa.  Yesterday, amid whispers from supporters of Hillary Clinton, Obama again declared that stories regarding his “Muslim background” had been “misreported.”

These episodes questioning Obama’s “true faith” expose two disturbing trends.  The first is the upsetting tendency of Obama’s opponents to invoke his “Muslim roots” as a weapon.  Although this smear campaign is most pronounced on the Internet, it received a substantial bump last week, when former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey played the Muslim card while endorsing Hillary Clinton.  “I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim,” Kerrey said.  News of Kerrey’s remark quickly spread to the Arabic press, where readers of the al-Arabiyya were outraged, commenting that the statements were “racist” and proved that “America is at war with Islam to build Zion.”  Their anger—though surely not their bigoted retorts—is understandable.  If it is wrong to take issue with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, then it is logically even more wrong to take issue with Obama’s non-Islamic faith, especially insofar as it demonizes Islam in the process.

But Obama’s responses to these spurious insinuations are also frustrating.  Obama likes to have it both ways, severely downplaying his Islamic heritage while still claiming to possess a unique understanding of the Muslim world.  In this vein, you won’t find “Hussein” anywhere in his officially produced campaign content, while he emphatically told an Iowa audience on Sunday that his Muslim father “wasn’t very religious.”  Yet, in the same conversation, Obama claimed that living in Indonesia from the ages of 6-10 gave him “insight into how these folks think.”  Where does this insight come from, if Obama is as removed from Islam as he claims?  What kind of intense sociocultural conversations was young Barry Obama having with his classmates during recess in Jakarta that would meaningfully inform his thinking on the Muslim world four decades later?

Frankly, Obama’s response demonstrates that his experience in the Muslim world has taught him little about “these folks.”  Indeed, if he truly understood the Muslim world, he would respond to future insinuations regarding his “Muslim background” by taking umbrage at the equation of Islam with evil, and declaring such sentiments un-American.  Perceptions of Islam are critical to many in the Muslim world, and statements such as those made by Kerrey do little to assuage their concerns.  Instead, Obama has fallen back on the selectively embellished version of his cultural biography, reminding us of his travels when he is unable to provide substance.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Christian.  As his official campaign biography notes, Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago with a church-based group after graduating from Columbia, and he currently attends Trinity United Church of Christ with his family.

Yet at various points during his campaign, Obama has had to address questions regarding the Islamic aspects of his biography, which include a Kenyan-Muslim father, an Indonesian-Muslim stepfather, four years spent living in Indonesia during his childhood, and an Islamic middle name (Hussein).  Earlier this year, with the help of investigative journalists, Obama debunked the rumor that he had studied at an Indonesian madrassa.  Yesterday, amid whispers from supporters of Hillary Clinton, Obama again declared that stories regarding his “Muslim background” had been “misreported.”

These episodes questioning Obama’s “true faith” expose two disturbing trends.  The first is the upsetting tendency of Obama’s opponents to invoke his “Muslim roots” as a weapon.  Although this smear campaign is most pronounced on the Internet, it received a substantial bump last week, when former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey played the Muslim card while endorsing Hillary Clinton.  “I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim,” Kerrey said.  News of Kerrey’s remark quickly spread to the Arabic press, where readers of the al-Arabiyya were outraged, commenting that the statements were “racist” and proved that “America is at war with Islam to build Zion.”  Their anger—though surely not their bigoted retorts—is understandable.  If it is wrong to take issue with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, then it is logically even more wrong to take issue with Obama’s non-Islamic faith, especially insofar as it demonizes Islam in the process.

But Obama’s responses to these spurious insinuations are also frustrating.  Obama likes to have it both ways, severely downplaying his Islamic heritage while still claiming to possess a unique understanding of the Muslim world.  In this vein, you won’t find “Hussein” anywhere in his officially produced campaign content, while he emphatically told an Iowa audience on Sunday that his Muslim father “wasn’t very religious.”  Yet, in the same conversation, Obama claimed that living in Indonesia from the ages of 6-10 gave him “insight into how these folks think.”  Where does this insight come from, if Obama is as removed from Islam as he claims?  What kind of intense sociocultural conversations was young Barry Obama having with his classmates during recess in Jakarta that would meaningfully inform his thinking on the Muslim world four decades later?

Frankly, Obama’s response demonstrates that his experience in the Muslim world has taught him little about “these folks.”  Indeed, if he truly understood the Muslim world, he would respond to future insinuations regarding his “Muslim background” by taking umbrage at the equation of Islam with evil, and declaring such sentiments un-American.  Perceptions of Islam are critical to many in the Muslim world, and statements such as those made by Kerrey do little to assuage their concerns.  Instead, Obama has fallen back on the selectively embellished version of his cultural biography, reminding us of his travels when he is unable to provide substance.

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Two Shades of Black

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s September 24 speech at Columbia University seems like ancient history. The news media has long since turned its attention to other obsessions, such as what a helluva nice guy Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is, or just how low our expectations for the upcoming Annapolis conference should be. But professors at Columbia apparently have remarkably long attention spans, and the handling of Ahmadinejad’s speech remains deeply contentious among faculty members.

The fault lines of this dispute are numbingly predictable. Last week, over 100 faculty members signed a petition, protesting Bollinger’s leadership in light of the Ahmadinejad circus:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.

Not to be outdone, as of Monday, 70 faculty members had signed a counter-protest petition defending Bollinger, disputing the notion that the president’s combative introduction of Ahmadinejad allied Columbia with (heaven forbid) the Bush administration:

As the publicly available transcript confirms, these remarks addressed sequentially: 1) Holocaust denial; 2) Ahmadinejad’s stated intent to destroy Israel; 3) Iran’s funding of terrorism; 4) Iran’s proxy war against US troops in Iraq; and 5) Iran’s nuclear program. Only the fourth item refers to the war in Iraq, and only in the context of Iran’s role in financing and arming terrorist attacks against our troops.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s September 24 speech at Columbia University seems like ancient history. The news media has long since turned its attention to other obsessions, such as what a helluva nice guy Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is, or just how low our expectations for the upcoming Annapolis conference should be. But professors at Columbia apparently have remarkably long attention spans, and the handling of Ahmadinejad’s speech remains deeply contentious among faculty members.

The fault lines of this dispute are numbingly predictable. Last week, over 100 faculty members signed a petition, protesting Bollinger’s leadership in light of the Ahmadinejad circus:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.

Not to be outdone, as of Monday, 70 faculty members had signed a counter-protest petition defending Bollinger, disputing the notion that the president’s combative introduction of Ahmadinejad allied Columbia with (heaven forbid) the Bush administration:

As the publicly available transcript confirms, these remarks addressed sequentially: 1) Holocaust denial; 2) Ahmadinejad’s stated intent to destroy Israel; 3) Iran’s funding of terrorism; 4) Iran’s proxy war against US troops in Iraq; and 5) Iran’s nuclear program. Only the fourth item refers to the war in Iraq, and only in the context of Iran’s role in financing and arming terrorist attacks against our troops.

Last week, my contentions colleague Noah Pollak applauded the pro-Bollinger professors for standing up to the “tenured thugs,” who have undertaken “the setting of ideological boundaries by purging and intimidating those who would ignore them.”

Yet, for everything that one finds troubling about the anti-Bollinger petition—most especially, the presumption that we should be hospitable to Holocaust-denying dictators—it is hard to sympathize with Bollinger’s defenders. Indeed, the debate among Bollinger’s supporters and detractors obscures the fact that, no matter ones views of Bollinger’s firm introduction of Ahmadinejad, the entire affair should never have occurred in the first place. By inviting Ahmadinejad, Bollinger granted an academic forum to a most academically dishonest leader, dangerously boosting Ahmadinejad’s credibility where the United States can least afford it: among Iranians.

Again, this is all old news and you’ve probably heard it before. But here’s a new twist: I hereby declare myself the first contentions writer openly to obey a Rashid Khalidi-signed petition: after all, the anti-Bollinger petition decries the “intervention” of outsiders in faculty matters. Thus, as it is impossible to choose between the president that invited Ahmadinejad and professors who would have been more accommodating, I abstain from taking sides. Bollinger and his miffed opponents deserve one another completely.

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Columbia’s Tenured Thugs

We are called upon, ladies and gentlemen, to join the arts and sciences faculty of Columbia University in being aghast at the depredations of Lee Bollinger, who has not sufficiently expressed his intolerance for critics of the arts and sciences faculty, and who forced the entire university into lockstep with the Bush administration by saying mean things to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These are truly dark days for the sensitive souls of the sociology department.

More than 100 faculty members issued a declaration yesterday stating that “President Bollinger has failed to make a vigorous defense of the core principles on which the university is founded, especially academic freedom.” They note in particular that 1) the Bollinger administration has not made “unequivocally clear” that attempts by “outside groups…to vilify members of the faculty and determine how controversial issues are taught” will not be tolerated (whatever that entails). 2) That the faculty has not been sufficiently consulted before making “decisions on key issues.” Point three bears reprinting in full:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.”

And finally, Bollinger “has publicly taken partisan political positions concerning the politics of the Middle East in particular, without apparent expertise in this area or consultation with faculty who teach and undertake research in this area. His conflation of his own political position with that of the University is unacceptable.”

In case you didn’t get the message, Professor Eric Foner told the New York Times, regarding Bollinger’s treatment of Ahmadinejad: “This is the language of warfare at a time when the administration of our country is trying to whip up Iran.” Isn’t it clear to you now that Bollinger is just a Bush stooge? This letter, coming after the ouster of Larry Summers at Harvard largely by the humanities faculty, has caused a stir on campus, and the most eloquent response happily has come from a dissenting group of Columbia professors, from the quantitative fields. Responding to point 1, they write that

When nonacademics and outsiders encounter or hear about what they consider inappropriate forms of teaching, allegations of intimidation or harassment, or the distortion of basic historical or scientific facts, they are justified in expressing, and entitled by the First Amendment to express, their objections. No university administration has the power to prevent such expression.

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We are called upon, ladies and gentlemen, to join the arts and sciences faculty of Columbia University in being aghast at the depredations of Lee Bollinger, who has not sufficiently expressed his intolerance for critics of the arts and sciences faculty, and who forced the entire university into lockstep with the Bush administration by saying mean things to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These are truly dark days for the sensitive souls of the sociology department.

More than 100 faculty members issued a declaration yesterday stating that “President Bollinger has failed to make a vigorous defense of the core principles on which the university is founded, especially academic freedom.” They note in particular that 1) the Bollinger administration has not made “unequivocally clear” that attempts by “outside groups…to vilify members of the faculty and determine how controversial issues are taught” will not be tolerated (whatever that entails). 2) That the faculty has not been sufficiently consulted before making “decisions on key issues.” Point three bears reprinting in full:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.”

And finally, Bollinger “has publicly taken partisan political positions concerning the politics of the Middle East in particular, without apparent expertise in this area or consultation with faculty who teach and undertake research in this area. His conflation of his own political position with that of the University is unacceptable.”

In case you didn’t get the message, Professor Eric Foner told the New York Times, regarding Bollinger’s treatment of Ahmadinejad: “This is the language of warfare at a time when the administration of our country is trying to whip up Iran.” Isn’t it clear to you now that Bollinger is just a Bush stooge? This letter, coming after the ouster of Larry Summers at Harvard largely by the humanities faculty, has caused a stir on campus, and the most eloquent response happily has come from a dissenting group of Columbia professors, from the quantitative fields. Responding to point 1, they write that

When nonacademics and outsiders encounter or hear about what they consider inappropriate forms of teaching, allegations of intimidation or harassment, or the distortion of basic historical or scientific facts, they are justified in expressing, and entitled by the First Amendment to express, their objections. No university administration has the power to prevent such expression.

Isn’t it curious that it has fallen to a group of scientists to explain to the university’s humanities professors what the First Amendment means? The rest of the letter is similarly devastating, as it starkly exposes the mendacity and bad faith of the humanities professors:

That President Bollinger’s introductory remarks to Ahmadinejad “allied the university with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq”: As the publicly available transcript confirms, these remarks addressed sequentially: 1) Holocaust denial; 2) Ahmadinejad’s stated intent to destroy Israel; 3) Iran’s funding of terrorism; 4) Iran’s proxy war against US troops in Iraq; and 5) Iran’s nuclear program. Only the fourth item refers to the war in Iraq, and only in the context of Iran’s role in financing and arming terrorist attacks against our troops.

And:

That “the President has publicly taken partisan political positions concerning the politics of the Middle East, without apparent expertise in this area or consultation with faculty who teach and undertake research in this area”: We follow President Bollinger’s public statements closely. The only one that may be characterized as concerning the politics of the Middle East is his denunciation of the British University and College Union’s proposed boycott of Israeli academics, which he described as “antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy.” This statement is actually not about the political problems of the Middle East; it is precisely what President Bollinger is accused of not providing: a vigorous defense of academic freedom, based on his recognition that denying such freedom to any individual or group endangers the entire academic enterprise.

This group of 62 professors should be congratulated for thoroughly humiliating a larger faction of professors who are signatories to a shameful—and actually Orwellian—invocation of free speech and academic freedom for the express purpose of undermining exactly those things. The thugs in Columbia’s humanities departments have made false accusations against the university president; they have demanded exemption from being criticized for their scholarship and campus behavior; they seek political litmus tests for speech; and they have proffered a standard of acceptability to the “university community”—meaning, acceptability to themselves—for speech on the part of the university president. And all of this is put forth explicitly as a requirement of fidelity to open debate, academic freedom, and a salubrious university environment. Cynical doesn’t even begin to describe it.

There is something more to be said about this controversy, because it represents more than just the latest bit of silliness from an American campus. Like Larry Summers’s expulsion from the Harvard presidency before it, the Columbia controversy is exemplary of a new era in campus radicalism in which the radicals who now so thoroughly dominate the academy are engaging in the next act in consolidating their power: the intimidation or expulsion of internal enemies. The lexicon of the previous era continues to be employed, but now its use becomes even more awkward and incongruous than it always was: In demanding control over the content of campus debate, Columbia’s thugs talk about the imperatives of open dialogue and the founding principles of the university.

In 1963, several years after the publication of God and Man at Yale brought him onto the national stage, William F. Buckley wrote another critique of the university entitled “The Aimlessness of American Education,” in which he said that:

Under academic freedom, the modern university is supposed to take a position of “neutrality” as among competing ideas. “A university does not take sides on the questions that are discussed in its halls,” a committee of scholars and alumni of Yale reported in 1952. “In the ideal university all sides of any issue are presented as impartially as possible.” To do otherwise, they are saying, is to violate the neutrality of a teaching institution, to give advantage to one idea over against another, thus prejudicing the race which, if all the contestants were let strictly alone, truth is bound to win…. Academic freedom is conceived as a permanent instrument of doctrinal egalitarianism; it is always there to remind us that we can never know anything for sure: which I view as another way of saying we cannot really know what are the aims of education.

How far down the road have universities such as Columbia traveled since Buckley wrote those words. It is not enough today to allow that Larry Summers deviated from campus orthodoxy, or that Lee Bollinger wasn’t nice enough to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Such acts of dissension strike at the very core of the campus power structure (to appropriate some familiar rhetoric), and to allow them to go unpunished is to deny the incumbency of the radicals and their need to impose intellectual homogeneity. This faction has succeeded in becoming a supermajority in the humanities departments, and now their campaign is hewing to a predictable course: the setting of ideological boundaries by purging and intimidating those who would ignore them. American education is no longer characterized, as in Buckley’s era, by the aimlessness of doctrinal egalitarianism. Today’s campus is characterized by the thuggery of doctrinal totalitarianism.

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Cheapening Free Speech

When Columbia University invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last month, the most common refrain uttered by the University’s defenders was that, by doing so, the University was honoring the time-tested and proudly American principle of “free speech.” This country was founded upon a resistance to monarchical authority; a corollary to that impulse is the individual’s freedom to say or publish what he thinks. No one can quibble with this understanding of a bedrock American freedom. But where Columbia’s defenders went wrong was in their contention that protesting Ahmadinejad’s presence would contradict thi fundamentally American notion.

This has always been a silly and unsophisticated understanding of what the Bill of Rights actually says, or what the “spirit” of free speech actually means. No one has denied Ahmadinejad a platform for his odious views; indeed, just the day after his rant at Columbia he was given an international soapbox at the United Nations General Assembly. And the fact that his views on matters ranging from the existence of the Holocaust to the future existence of Israel are so well known further lays waste to the claim that not inviting Ahmadinejad would strike a blow to “free speech.”

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When Columbia University invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last month, the most common refrain uttered by the University’s defenders was that, by doing so, the University was honoring the time-tested and proudly American principle of “free speech.” This country was founded upon a resistance to monarchical authority; a corollary to that impulse is the individual’s freedom to say or publish what he thinks. No one can quibble with this understanding of a bedrock American freedom. But where Columbia’s defenders went wrong was in their contention that protesting Ahmadinejad’s presence would contradict thi fundamentally American notion.

This has always been a silly and unsophisticated understanding of what the Bill of Rights actually says, or what the “spirit” of free speech actually means. No one has denied Ahmadinejad a platform for his odious views; indeed, just the day after his rant at Columbia he was given an international soapbox at the United Nations General Assembly. And the fact that his views on matters ranging from the existence of the Holocaust to the future existence of Israel are so well known further lays waste to the claim that not inviting Ahmadinejad would strike a blow to “free speech.”

What ultimately mattered was that a distinguished University lent credence to his views. Columbia’s physics department would never host a speech by a member of the Flat Earth Society, nor should it. People who think the moon landing was a hoax or that the Holocaust never happened have every right to utter and publish these beliefs; they have no “right” to a speaking engagement at an Ivy League School.

This crucial distinction is one that has long been lost on those people who organize events on college campuses. The latest example occurs across the pond at Oxford University, where the Oxford Union—the school’s prestigious debating society that counts leading politicians, journalists, and business leaders as alumnae—has invited a rogue’s gallery to take part in a “Free Speech Forum” set for the end of November. The Union has already been excoriated by critics, as noted on contentions, for staging a debate on the Middle East conflict and loading it with anti-Israel activists.

Among those invited to the “Free Speech Forum” are David Irving (the notorious Holocaust denier), Nick Griffin (the leader of the anti-Semitic, racist, and fascist British National Party), and Alexander Lukoshenko, the dictator of Belarus. The Union’s president told the Guardian that, “The Oxford Union is famous for is commitment to free speech and although I do think these people have awful and abhorrent views I do think Oxford students are intelligent enough to challenge and ridicule them.” Indeed, one Oxford Union committee member even used Columbia’s example as a justification for the invite: “If Columbia can invite Ahmadinejad, then why shouldn’t we invite Irving?” Thankfully, Lukoshenko is under a European Union travel ban and will not be able to attend. Unfortunately, both the fascist and the Holocaust denier have indicated their eager anticipation.

The primary outcome of this invitation is the Oxford Union’s discrediting of itself. As with Ahmadinejad at Columbia, there is nothing to be “learned” from engaging in dialogue with fascists and Holocaust-deniers. Oxford students are indeed an “intelligent” bunch: all the more reason that they do not need to spend an evening listening to these men, thus granting them legitimacy. One presumes that the motivating impulse behind Oxford’s “Free Speech Forum” is to present some of the most outlandish views possible. But the purpose of freedom of speech is to elevate discussion and broaden our common understanding, not to promote lies and hate (Griffin’s and Irving’s specialty).

To honor “free speech,” ought not the Oxford Union instead extend invitations to individuals living in countries where the principle is non-existent? Why not invite democracy activists in China or exiled Zimbabwean journalists, of which there is no shortage in the United Kingdom?

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