Poor Doug Feith. All he ever wanted was to do was spread the good news of the neoconservative utopia he tried to build in the Middle East to the up-and-coming staffers in some future catastrophic Republican administration.
But now, when his contract expires next month, just two years after the School of Foreign Service hired him as a visiting professor and distinguished practitioner in national security policy, Professor Feith will be out of a job. (As for the Middle East utopia, well . don’t ask.)
Truth be told, I don’t feel all that bad for Feith, a former under secretary of defense for President Bush. At some point, everyone who took part in planning the Iraq war will find out what it feels like to get thrown under the bus. Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell (Why, Colin, why?) . they all kind of had it coming.
Still, I’m a bit disheartened by what Georgetown’s two-year fling with Feith and our sudden, tragic split from him brought to light about the state of intellectual diversity on the Hilltop.
Feith’s been getting grief since the first weeks after the announcement of his appointment in May 2006, when more than 35 professors signed a letter to SFS Dean Robert Gallucci insinuating that Feith’s role in planning the Iraq war may “constitute war crimes.” Gallucci stood firm in his defense of Feith, but the critics never let up. Just this month, a group of students from the antiwar group Georgetown Peace Action protested Feith’s book lecture with signs that floated the familiar “war crimes” charge.
For his part, Feith says that all of his direct contact with students and faculty while he was here was entirely respectful. But since Gallucci has publicly assured that his teaching record was not related to the decision not to renew his contract, Feith says he feels confident that his public past was behind it.
“There has to be some reason why I wasn’t asked to stay,” Feith says. “You have to assume it’s related to politics.”
Gallucci hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to dispel that idea. His meek explanation for not renewing the contract was that he had planned all along to show Feith the door after his two-year stint expired. That’s hardly standard protocol for new hires, and it makes even less sense in Feith’s case, since by all accounts he did a good job while he was here, so much so that some of his students are circulating a petition asking Gallucci to reconsider.
Last semester, I wrote a column saying that perennial complaints about liberal bias in academia were largely overblown. I still believe that this is the case. At Georgetown, at least, the problem is not liberalism.
The problem is that debate of any kind tends to be dominated, and ultimately swayed, by a few groups of people that are a bit too small and a bit too loud. I call them Caps Lock People. You know who I mean. The IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, DON’T BE CATHOLIC people on one end and the CORPORATIONS KILL INNOCENTS on the other. You can’t argue with them; you just get drowned out by their big-letter bombast. You hate them at parties.
The Caps Locks have no regard for such trivial considerations as a man’s job performance or any original contributions he might make to the discourse. They just show up with their WAR CRIMES, TORTURE, EVIL, CRIMINALS, and that’s it. Their arrival foretells the end of a healthy debate, not the start of one.
Feith’s plight has given me some insight into why I have sometimes had difficulty writing this column this year. I would never have expected that. I love politics, and I have plenty of strongly held opinions.
But I don’t think in all caps. My opinions come together in Sentence Case: long, winding sentences with commas, subordinate clauses, punctuation and – critically – plenty of room for revision. Maybe those kinds of opinions don’t make for the most enthralling spectator sport. I’ll probably never have a blog. But Georgetown could benefit – we could all benefit – from hearing a little bit less from the Caps Locks and little bit more from the rest of us.
“A school like Georgetown should be open to a range of views, and I’m not sure that there’s anybody else on the faculty that has views that basically support the national security policies of the administration, as I did,” Feith says.
Could anyone disagree with that? For Professor Feith, I offer this sentence: The Iraq war represents a demoralizing failure of leadership on behalf of our elected officials. History will look back on the run-up to the invasion as a staggering, arrogant misjudgment by the Bush administration aided by the capitulation of both political parties and a majority of the American public.
I would be embarrassed to have my name linked to the policies that Feith openly admits to supporting. (This is, after all, the man that Tommy Franks called the “stupidest fucking guy on the planet,” which, in fairness, is probably a little harsh.) That doesn’t mean those policies shouldn’t be given equal consideration in intellectual discourse.
Until The Hague starts handing down indictments against everyone from President Bush and Vice President Cheney on down, all the bluster about WAR CRIMES and TORTURE is just a silly distraction that shouldn’t be invoked to deny a dedicated professor with less popular viewpoints the opportunity to teach.
aybe Professor Feith and I are leaving at just the right time, right before the Caps Locks drain the last traces of reason from campus. But I hope not. It’s a lot more fulfilling to debate people who think something different than you do. Try taking the dialogue down to a lower case for a little while, and see what happens.
Stephen Santulli is a senior in the College and a former editor in chief of THE HOYA. He can be reached at santullithehoya.com. This is his final installment of THOUGHTCRIME.
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