22 October 2007

How a University Compromises Its Principles ~ Not Quite Totally

"Guernica," Pablo Picasso (1937)

About two weeks ago I heard Debra Satz, a friend who teaches philosophy at Stanford, on npr. She was interviewed as part of this report on faculty and student opposition to having former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appointed as a "distinguished fellow" at the Hoover Institution which is located on the Stanford Campus. I admire Debra's work ~ especially her series of extremely smart papers on markets and equality* ~ and her politics. It seems to me that faculty ought to speak out when their University seeks to appoint someone like Rumsfeld, who arguably is a war criminal, to some position or other.

Of course, Stanford has no real control over the folks at Hoover, which is a quasi-autonmous entity. But, I have to agree with the folks there who object to Rummy's appointment. Unlike BushCo minions like John Yoo ~ he of the infamous 'torture memos' ~ who now teaches law at Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), Rumsfeld was not just a mouthpiece for putrid policies. He was directly in the chain of command. I would object to having Yoo on faculty where I teach but fortunately we have no law school! This is not "left-wing intolerance" as Conservatives (or Liberals who are free speech fundamentalists) are wont to proclaim; it is simply talking back to those who have said things in public that are both dangerous and stupid.** It is an attempt to hold Universities to their own principles. Would I urge the administration at Rochester to deny Yoo an academic appointment? No, but I likely would make clear that I find his rationalizations for torture contemptible. Would I ask the administration at UofR to deny Rumsfeld an appointment? Yes, just as I would in the case of other war criminals like, say, Henry Kissinger. Yoo rationalized torture in his speeches/writings, Rumsfeld actually implemented various dispicable policies.

All of that brings me round to the good old University of Rochester. This past weekend was "Meliora Weekend," part of the PR/Development campaign by which the University seeks to cultivate relations, both intellectual and economic, with alumnae and alumni. Nothing wrong with that. But the Keynote event on campus was an address by none other than former Secretary of State Colin Powell, he of the deceptive BushCo campaign to justify our invasion of Iraq.

This official-style head shot is how the University PR materials depict Powell. That makes sense since, according to the University, Powell is a "fervent purveyor of democratic values." This, unfortunately, seems to me to be considerably more than a stretch. Powell is a liar. In his 2003 testimony before the United Nations Security Council, Powell lied with a straight face about the alleged WMD in Iraq. He did not "mislead" or "dissemble." There is no need to sugar-coat the testimony he offered. He lied. He lied to you and me and the world. And he has admitted as much himself. It is deeply embarassing that the UofR invited Powell to speak on campus. Accordng to the University, while in office Powell "used the power of diplomacy and the universal ideal of democracy to" among other things "build trust"; it escapes me completely how lying to the American people, and to our allies and adversaries, enhances trust either domestically or internationally. Quite the contrary. And to the extent that our premise is that healthy democracy presupposes a reservoir of political trust, Powell seems to me an enemy of democracy.

Here is a far more appropriate photograph of Powell. It is a still taken from the video of his perfomance at the U.N. in the winter of 2003. This is the defining moment of Powell's career in public service. Here he is peddling lies. He is peddling lies that it seems quite disingenuous to suggest he did not know were lies at the time. Why didn't this image appear on our Meliora Weekend web page?

Call me an "absent-minded Professor." I do not pay much attention to Meliora-like events. The only evidence I had that there was a special event on campus last Friday was my inability to find a place to park. So I didn't even know Powell was on the schedule. I didn't know there was a schedule. Had I known I would've objected in advance. As it is, I am objecting now. I'm sure there will be those who chastise me, claiming that Powell has a right to speak. That, of course, is true. But let's be quite clear about what has happened. As part of the Meliora events we didn't just offer Powell an audience; we granted him an honorary degree. That is simply pathetic. It tarnishes the reputation of the University ~ to put it very mildly ~ to lend its name to the "achievements" of an admitted liar. Allowing someone to speak is one thing. Honoring him and his ignominious achievements is another.

I started this post with a reproduction of Picasso's Guernica because it bears witness to the evils of unjust and duplicitous regimes and the consequnces their policies generate. It also is relevant to Powell's defining moment, because the copy of this work that hangs at the U.N. Headquarters in NYC appropriately was covered over during Powell's testimony. Picasso's is a work of testimony. And ironically enough another of the speakers invited to address our alums this past weekend was Barbara Olshansky (BA, Rochester ’82; JD, Stanford '85 ~ how is that for a coincidence?) who, as the Deputy Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, successfully fought the Bush administration's ongoing efforts to shred the Constitution in the name of this or that ill-conceived and deceitful policy. Olshansky now is on the faculty of Stanford Law School and is Litigation Director for the International Justice Network. She is a truly distinguished alumnus.

As far as I know the UofR bestowed no honorary degree on Olshansky; she simply was offered an audience to whom she could provide a report on her honorable work trying to counteract the lies and actions of those like Colin Powell. So our compromise, I suppose, was not total.
* You can find a draft of one of these papers here.
** Steve Holmes dismantles Yoo's views (pardon the rhyme) in this essay in The Nation.

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Blogger tim atherton said...

Hmm... it's not like Powell doesn't have a history of this kind of thing


22 October, 2007 22:51  
Blogger Stan B. said...

But then, America loves it liars. And, unfortunately, that admiration extends even further- let's not forget that war criminal Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize...

23 October, 2007 10:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Stanco, the Nobel Peace Prize is decided upon by Norwegians - nothing to do with Americans there, sorry! If you're gonna criticize your country, at least sound informed.

23 October, 2007 12:28  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Dawei, I thought I didn't have to s-p-e-l-l it out, but the phrase "that admiration extends even further" can, and does, refer to an extension beyond the confines of one country's particular citizenry (ie- inherent to people everywhere, a condition common to mankind in general). And that wouid, very much, include Norway.

23 October, 2007 14:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stanco, I am embarrassed. I must have misread your comment. No need to spell it out. I apologize for my patronizing comment.

One point about liking or disliking liars is that it's subjective. I can understand how people admire those who have done unsavory things if they believed the end justified the means. I can also see people admiring unsavory characters if they stand to gain from their actions. For example, Kissinger is widely respected in China because of his rapprochement policy toward China and because the Chinese basically approved of what he did in Cambodia and Vietnam. The idea that Kissinger's covert policies have led to the tragic death of many doesn't register when it's your enemy. It's the whole one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter thing.

23 October, 2007 14:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"it is simply talking back to those who have said things in public that are both dangerous and stupid"

Fine principle to have.
Though people differ on how they evaluate that, especially in relation to complex and multi sided situations. Making such remarks in absolutist terms to support just one small facet of such complexity is called bias.

Many things can be dangerous and stupid....it doesn't have to derive from the men in power, it also concerns public consciousness.

23 October, 2007 15:26  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


What I wrote is indeed an oversimplification, a summary statement. But let's be clear - None of the rationalizations offered by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell or Rice in the run-up to war were true. No Iraqi WMD. No Iraqi connnection to Al-Quaeda. No Hussein responsibility for 9/11. No intention (as witnessed by a plan) to establish democracy or even stability in post-invasion Iraq.
So even spelled out, what Powell and the others peddled turned out to be stupid and dangerous. And the whole crowd knew they were lying -they are not individually or collectively that stupid.

The subsequent joint intelligence reports conclude that Americans are not any safer due to the war. The military changes its assessments more or less daily, and not for the better. The upshot? Thousands of Americans caualties and wonded, tens of thousands of Iraqis.

So where is the "bias" - all of what I've recounted here is relatively uncontroversial. The war has been a fiasco. The administraiton sold it to the public by knowlingly peddling lies and fear. As I mentioned in a recent post,a large segment of the public still thinks Hussein was responsible for 9/11 - because BushCo and their propaganda groups continue to play up that falsehood.

We can change our subject from the war to torture or lying about security agents or any of several other matters. The refrain is the same. And Powell is up to his elbows in all that. It is called complicity and we shold not honor it.

23 October, 2007 17:53  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Dawei, no problem- it's the best I can do before running off to work to pay taxes for a war that continues to maim, kill and mutilate to satisfy the lust and greed of cowards and liars.

23 October, 2007 18:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where and when did Bush & Co say Hussein was responsible for 9/11? The fact that dumb US citizens think this is irrelevant: the ignorance of the latter is well known, when it concerns the rest of the world outside the US.

Where is the evidence either Bush or Blair lied about WMD? There is none. Blair said it was an intelligence error. I find it rather stupid to think a national leader would tell the entire world a lie of such blatant magnitude. Saying they did so is just rhetorically convenient. I say, they did not: it was an error, and if you want to curse them for the error, go ahead. But there is no evidence they lied and its presumptuous for people to say this when they've not seen the intelligence (and never will) that made people think WMD existed.

As for the success or not of Iraq, that is again a complicated matter you link with the motivations and policies of Bush & Co. because you find it rhetorically convenient. I do not blame Bush & Co in the same way: I think they underestimated the volatility and essential barbarity of those Iraqi tribes, who were let lose once Hussein's control over them was gone. You do not know Bush and Co. had no rebuild plan: where is your evidence for saying that? I suggest the plan they had has been destroyed by the tribal hostilities, which is not the same thing.

That it has been a disaster few people would deny. That anything much has been achieved, if at all, few people would deny. That this means the reasons for doing it were dumb and suspect does not logically follow. And plee-eeease, no knee jerk references to the oil mantra, for which there is once again no evidence and the same applies to Afghanistan: *there is no evidence for that knee-jerk accusation*.

This is what I mean by bias. You are making mere statements of feeling, and for one such as yourself and what your job is, I think its legitimate to point this out.

I've also said before, I am essentially uninterested in politics and subscribe to no party or ideology. So you might also refrain from the great temptation to label me 'Right', etc etc as a form of abuse, because that is further incorrect and irrelevantly formulaic. The whole of politics pretty much disgusts me, across the entire spectrum, but its legitimate to point out the nonsensical nature of what gets constantly repeated and espoused, in a quasi religious manner: all belief, no facts. That is a very poor standard of political discourse.

24 October, 2007 04:41  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

I will reply to your comments one by one. I am not going to do extensive research for you. Try Google. Here is a passage from a story in The Guardian from 2006 announcing a change in course in Bush's insistence that Hussein was responsible for 9/11.

“The president conceded some crucial ideological ground, formally disavowing the neo-conservative accusation that Saddam had played a role in the attacks on September 11 2001. But he was unapologetic about the decision to invade Iraq.

"I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks," Mr Bush said. "The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat. My administration, the Congress, and the United Nations saw the threat - and after 9/11, Saddam's regime posed a risk that the world could not afford to take.

"The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power."

The admission that Saddam had no connection to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon was a departure for a president who is famously averse to any expression of regret.” (9/12/06)

Why would a major newspaper announce this as news if Bush had never made the initial claim?

24 October, 2007 07:54  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

So, having been asked about the Hussein-9/11 connection Bush did not reply "I never claimed there was one!" in astonishment. And Cheney also makes the claim continuously. As for the Right wing propaganda machine, Freedom's Watch, a group consisting at least in part of for administration officials, still perpetrates the lie that we are in Iraq because we were attacked in 9/11. Go to their web page and see the commercials they run. Still.

As for WMD go to Wikipedia here:

Read the section "Alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction" and especially the documentation re: the Downing Street Memo and that about Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger and Wolfowitz's OSP. All of that occurred prior to the US invasion. Bush knew about all of it. He lied. Period.

OF COURSE Bush and Blair are blaming bad intelligence. The alternative is to admit that they rigged the "facts" to suit their policy desires.

24 October, 2007 07:57  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


Here, from that well known pinko rag The Houston Chronicle is another story you should read. It details the fabrications and falsehoods the Bush team peddled re: WMD prior to the war.


Even if you don't think Bush et al lied, the decision to go to war given all of the dissent and conflict over this issue might've cautioned them from reaching a hasty decision. To bad, they had already made up their minds. They were not seeking evidence, they were crafting a rationalization.

24 October, 2007 07:59  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


From the outset there have been charges from reasonable people regarding the lack of planning for post-invasion reconstruction etc. in Iraq. Remember the looting of public buildings in Baghdad? Well here is a NY Times report on this from early 2003.


The report is on a bi-partisan task force of former govt. officials sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations - hardly a left-wing outfit.

What has been accomplished. Hussesin and his minions are gone. Iraq is in the midst of civil war. The region is less stable. And (again according to US joint intelligence estimates) we are no more secure.

NONE of the BushCo rationales turn out to hold any water. My conclusion? They lied. They knew they were lying. I don't think that is a stretch. If there is a bias in our discussion it is your entirely credulous acceptance of nearly anything BushCo claim.

PS: As for your pained Pleeeeesseeee re: ‘blood for oil', I rarely if ever mention that. But Alan Greenspan has expressed his doubts lately. So even the far right is accepting that it might be a possible scenario.

24 October, 2007 08:01  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


A final observation. I am not a journalist. Nor do I claim here to be a "value neutral" social scientist (whatever that might mean). I do not claim to be either. On this blog I offer my judgements and assessments and thoughts re: politics, photography (and related practices) and political theory. It is not clear that complaints about "bias" have much purchase here. I read the press and academic materials and I draw inferences from them. I am not making stuff up out of whole cloth (as the easily located sources I cite above make clear). What I usually offer are views backed by reasons. (And sometimes my likes and disllikes, usually re: music or art.) I never claim to be "fair and balanced." If that is what you are looking for, this is the wrong place to hang out.

24 October, 2007 08:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"OF COURSE Bush and Blair are blaming bad intelligence. The alternative is to admit that they rigged the "facts" to suit their policy desires."

1) So you admit they have NOT acknowledged they lied? I dont think Blair, in particular, had any desire to invade and the anecdotal stuff about Bush finishing the job his predecessor didn't is just that: anecdotal.

2) No, the alternative is to think that in both cases what they say is actually corect. And I'm sorry, but adamant declarations to the contrary testify to the lazy stupidity with which politics is characteristically conducted.

I could probably do pretty much the same thing myself, find quotations scattered around the internet to support my points. None of what you provided there is conclusive, and none of it would be that I could also provide. Blair in particular made it very clear he thought there were WMD, based on the intelligence presented to him.

But do you really think this is adult or even interesting to pursue: "he was a liar". "No he wasn't!" Yes he was!" "No he wasn't!" - I repeat again, there is no actual evidence to support this and you simply making spurious claims you find rhetorically convenient.

"If there is a bias in our discussion it is your entirely credulous acceptance of nearly anything BushCo claim."

I am not credulous at all: I don't believe in any politics, whereas you do. And you use that, as an attitudinal basis, to say stuff which I have correctly challenged. I do not believe any career politician would make such a blatant lie of that magnitude, to the entire world, saying WMD existed when they knew they didn't. And I do not accept this sneering, holier-than-thou stance suggesting that if people disagree with your evaluation they are "credulous". I don't think you have any coherent evaluation, that's the point, and I think accusations of credulity apply to those stuck in rigid formulaic politics, where much of it has a similar logic to religious belief. In short, I am challenging you to THINK, and you are neither willing to do that nor apparently aware of what I'm even saying because it shakes your foundations too much and so you resist it.

You're just scrabbling around, "even if" this and "even if" that, like a debate about who will win the World Series (which does not concern the "World" - it concerns the US).

And I will conclude, that disliking homosexual practice is a legitimate feeling and a wholly legitimate right: I'm sorry, but it just is. That has nothing to do with social policy, issues of discrimination etc, nothing whatsoever, and your hostile response to this notion testifies to that in a wholly irrelevant and quite annoying way. You are talking like you have a right to legislate and arbitrate on people's feeling on such matters, and invoke a formulaic political superiority to do that. You do not have that right, and your assumed superiority is just that: assumed, and on that basis questionable.

24 October, 2007 13:30  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


(1) If you could support you position with something other than your assertions you should. I did. Easily. From perfectly reputable "mainstream" sources.

(2) Politics is about argument And an argument means listening to somthing other than your own views. Or, at least, trying to establish that they are not just views you happen to want to believe regardless of actual reasons or argument.

(3) Homosexuality has nothing to do with this post or thread. Bye!

24 October, 2007 14:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I recall Greenspan's point was not meant as a criticism of the Bush administration. His point, rather, was that the oil (and the in/stability hinging upon it) was reason enough invade.

What this means, in the context of this post, is that it is not a far off-left wing-evidenceless-gut-emotional-reaction to say that an important reason to invade was... oil. We may then say that there were other complementary reasons, but still.

24 October, 2007 20:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Call me a neocon nut but I saw validity in Greenspan's argument that oil, being the precious and essential resource that it is to modern civilization, should not be under the control of a crackpot like Saddam. Yes, I know he was "our son of a bitch" but clearly when he invaded Kuwait, killed 300,000 Kurds, and sponsored terrorists in Palestine, our "son of a bitch" turned out to be a not very reliable troublemaker.

I think that the administration saw a host of strategic advantages in invading Iraq: Iranian containment, energy security, and the possibility for an Arab democracy that may influence the region. I also believe, as Ron Suskind argues in his book "The 1% Doctrine," that after 9/11 the Bush administration wanted to send a clear and decisive message to the Muslim world that messing with the U.S. carries tremendous consequences and that Afghanistan didn't provide a grand enough stage for the U.S. to display its power.

On the issue of intelligence I think the truth is somewhere between Jim's and Anon's views. I think that the U.S. greatly embellished very flimsy intelligence bordering on lies but they didn't outright lie-it's inconceivable to me that British, American, Russian, and French intelligence were all in on some grand scheme. That said, I think the U.S. pushed ahead with this flimsy intelligence because, in the words of George Tenet, WMD's were a "slam dunk." After all, Saddam used them extensively in his tenure and, during the lead up to the war, he never denied he had them. Therefore I think that the Bush administration never imagined that they would end up looking like liars because the idea that Saddam doesn't have WMD's never crossed their mind. They should know, the U.S. probably sold him half of them!

24 October, 2007 23:55  

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