Bard Professors discuss "American Imperialism and Iraq"


Posted to on March 19, 2004


It is endlessly fascinating to me how Leon Botstein has remolded Bard College in the image of the New York Review of Books. There are now three high-profile professors making the op-ed rounds on a regular basis, and who have written frequently for the NY Review of Books: Ian Buruma (whose NY Times op-ed piece I commented on yesterday), Mark Danner (a liberal supporter of the occupation of Iraq) and DLC type James Chace. All of these guys have garnered more awards than Becks at an annual beer convention and all seem hired on the basis of providing additional cachet for Bard College. With a combination of NY Review of Books glitterati and buildings by Frank Gehry, why would any liberal-minded Goldman-Sachs banker pick another school for his son or daughter?


When I got the latest issue of the alumni magazine in the mail today, I was startled to see an article titled "American Imperialism and Iraq" listed on the cover. Just a year or so ago, a number of regulars on the Bard College alumni bulletin board set up an unofficial Bard College mailing list on yahoo just so they wouldn't have to hear the word "imperialism" from me one more time. After reading the article, I can assure Bard fund-raisers that there will be little in the way of a negative reaction from alumni after they read this piece.


It is basically a one-on-one between Chace and Danner, who is obviously the more "radical" of the two because he is shown wearing a leather jacket in an accompanying photo. Chace has the look of a Jesuit who has just quit smoking. Unfortunately, their colloquy is not online so I will have to quote some of the more interesting exchanges.


Danner opens up the conversation by making the rather startling comment that Bush the elder went into Somalia for "humanitarian" reasons. I myself could have sworn it had nothing to do with starving peasants, especially since a Department of the Army book stated: "Somalia's strategic position on the Indian Ocean--and its Soviet-built military facilities--figured prominently in U.S. plans to protect vital oil interests in the Persian Gulf area." He also believes that famous "Black Hawk Down" incident of B-Movie fame can be blamed on Osama Bin-Laden!


Well, what the heck, Mark Danner is a journalism professor and some kind of well-known leftist so I am almost intimidated from raising an objection, but I would not rush to connect the lines between Somalia militias and Bin-Laden so quickly, especially since the March 21, 2002 Toronto Star reports that:


For a brief time this week, Pentagon officials thought they had found fresh evidence linking Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan to the Somalia firefight in 1993 that killed 18 U.S. Army soldiers.


The Pentagon's main military spokesperson for the war in Afghanistan, Brig.-Gen. John Rosa Jr., told reporters at noon yesterday that a U.S. search team, scouring a onetime Al Qaeda cave above the Shah-e-Kot Valley in eastern Afghanistan, had found a global positioning receiver Monday that appeared to have belonged to a U.S. soldier who died in the Somalia battle, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour.


Both the small portable device and its pouch bore the letters "G. Gordon," which U.S. defence officials initially believed referred to Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, who died after saving the life of a downed Blackhawk helicopter pilot. So close to certain were officials at Special Forces Command, under which Gordon had served, that Gordon's family was notified of the discovery.


But within hours of Rosa's briefing, defence officials said the device had been traced through its serial number to a helicopter pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who had served in Afghanistan. Before leaving the country, he had passed it to another pilot involved in the offensive this month that cleared Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters out of the Shah-e-Kot area.


Is it possible that since Danner is a prestigious Henry Luce Professor of Journalism that he has felt it necessary to adopt Time Magazine standards of accuracy? That would be most untoward.


As the two professors continue their conversation, we learn from the neoliberal James Chace that although the first Gulf war was about "oil", the most recent one is about "democracy". In other words, George W. Bush sent the troops in to overthrow Saddam Hussein because he believed in "one person, one vote". He was inspired by Thomas Jefferson, you see. The fact that Iraq was the number two oil producer in the world was purely a coincidence. (At this point, the exchange between the two is nearly 1/3 done and I have not seen a word about imperialism.)


Of course, Danner does worry that we have bitten off more than we can chew--both in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. He says, "We're finding that the United States can be a military giant and a political dwarf; that is, the political tasks of reconstruction--consuming more time and resources--than the war themselves." In other words, unless you do a proper cost-benefit analysis beforehand, the price of intervention might be too high. Permit me to say that this sounds more like Robert McNamara than Robert Fisk.

When Chace tries to place the occupation of Iraq into a larger historical context, the results are comical. He states that even though we had bases all over the world, the U.S .was not "perceived as an empire". It is entirely possible that Professor Chace has never read anything except stuff written by other NY Review of Books contributors, but he can rest assured that this view would not have held much water in Latin America in the 1950s. For him, the only alternative to cowboy unilateralism is the good old multilateral days when NATO, the World Bank and other "internationalist" bodies were being fostered. No, I am not kidding. He really believes this.


There's another article adjacent to the Chace-Danner exchange by Danner himself, which can best be described as what I did in Baghdad on a two-week vacation. He tells us that "The most positive thing I can say is that the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein is gone." Someday when I get a free moment, I am going to go through Lexis-Nexis and count up all the articles that have a statement to this effect. If it is less than ten thousand, then I am going to vote for Bush in 2004.