Princeton University has become, in mainstream discourse, virtually synonymous with American liberalism, antiwar sentimentalism, or worse. To honor the second anniversary of the occupation of Iraq, the Daily Princetonian ran a David Horowitz column warning against Princeton University’s appearance as “a redoubt of anti-American radicalism” and “a promoter of sympathies for our terrorist enemies (03/25/05).” The university’s richest student publication, the Tory, recently cried out against pro-liberal “selective tolerance” among undergraduates, echoing their regular monthly objections to the vast anti-“conservative” bias in Princeton’s intellectual posture in the country (10/05). The “liberal” image is so ubiquitous that when Max Blumenthal notices in the Nation that “Princeton Tilts Right” (02/23/06), a deluge of disbelief and criticism is ready to dismiss his “liberal propaganda,” in the words of Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. Increasingly, Edward Said and Ralph Nader are evoked as the truly exemplary Princetonians, while Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and other pro-war gems from Princeton’s neocon factory are dismissed as “exceptions” (as Perle himself called them in a recent chat with Princeton students).
Sadly, “radicalism,” “liberalism” and “antiwar” icons like Edward Said could not be further from the reality of Princeton’s role in the world today. To confirm this, let us ask a naive question: who has this excessively “radical” institution been inviting, rewarding and honoring in recent years? Reviewing briefly the Princeton University’s latest guest lists – and especially those of its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs – we may learn some alarming things about academic integrity in America’s most powerful school.
To begin, one might recall the presentation of the prestigious Crystal Tiger Award to former Secretary of State Colin Powell in March 2004, for his “transformative impact” on millions of lives. The gentleman was presented the award “on behalf of the entire undergraduate student body,” a decision mysteriously unknown at the time to the entire undergraduate student body (with the exception of a few students on the Crystal Tiger Award Committee). Nevertheless, we were reminded by a Committee official thatâ€¦
“Princeton University’s motto is: ‘In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.’ I cannot think of an individual who embodies this ideal more than you [Powell]. Thank you for setting a course of lifelong service that we can only hope to emulate.”
The “course of lifelong service” worthy of emulation included, presumably, his promotion of the occupation of Iraq with the following known results (at the time): an occupied, destroyed country with over 15,000 dead Iraqis, over 500 dead Americans, over 50,000 injured or maimed, countless refugees and internally displaced persons, a near-civil war state of chaos and instability, a scorn of global public opinion and the UN and an assurance that US interference in the Middle East will be enduring. Add that to a crime of aggression, and you’ve got a prime candidate for a Crystal Tiger Award at Princeton.
Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman – a notorious feminist who is often charged with rudely harboring antiwar nostalgia – took the opportunity to add how “delighted” Princetonians are “that Secretary Powell has agreed to honorâ€¦indeed, all Princetonians who have served with distinction in the diplomatic corps.” Tighman’s praise would probably have been questioned by some people. For instance, by the thousands of Panamese who have spent fifteen years petitioning for compensation for death or injury of themselves or family members, as a result of Powell’s role in the US invasion of Panama. It could also have been questioned by the victims of Powell’s first attacks on Iraq, which set a precedent in targeting biological and chemical agents plants (a precedent that was condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN). It might even have been questioned by the surviving parents of the 500,000 children killed by US sanctions in Iraq, a policy Powell first energetically championed, and later offered its “failure” as a reason to invade Iraq.
At Princeton, however, no such questioning took place. Rather than be challenged on any of the mentioned issues, or the countless others one could think of, Powell was thanked for his efforts to “provide us with a richer humanity and inspire us to pursue it.” Thunderous applause greeted Powell’s sermon, as University officials compared Powell’s career with that of George Kennan (a compliment in Princeton circles, mind you). Appropriately enough, Kennan was a critic of the second Iraq invasion and a firm believer in diplomatic solutions – the kind that Powell dismissed as “irrelevant” in the months building up to March 20th, 2003. The four-star General had refused several initiatives of the General Assembly, a Security Council draft resolution and Iraqi offers at an alternative weapons inspection procedure, and was now defending the Bush administration’s massive violence in front of an Ivy League audience. In return, Princeton gave Powell a lot to see during his visit: standing ovations; photos of hundreds of students waiting for hours in line to get tickets for his lecture; Princeton’s very own ROTC military recruiters parading in his honor; the future joint chiefs of staffs and potential Secretaries of State showing their admiration and respect for his accomplishments, etc. What Powell did not see is the frantic woman screaming “You killed my son! You killed my son!” from Princeton’s Tiger Park protest as his limousine was passing it. He also didn’t see this mother of a dead American soldier fall to the ground crying as she remembered her son’s death in Powell’s military expedition. Needless to say, the Crystal Tiger Award committee did not consider Powell’s “transformative impact” on her life.
Moving on, we may recall the warm welcome of Robert McNamara in November 2004. Woodrow Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter complimented his commendable career as architect of the Vietnam War and expressed the students’ gratitude for his visit. Thus a man responsible for bringing the world closer to nuclear war delighted his audience with a discussion of “The Folly of Current U.S. and NATO Nuclear Policy.” Soon thereafter, the University embraced George Shultz (an honorary co-chair at the Princeton Project on National Security), who was part of a celebrated panel on “National Sovereignty and International Institutions,” two things he has set records in undermining and violating during Reagan’s terrorist wars in Central America. Under the co-sponsorship of the Woodrow Wilson School, he delivered a heartbreaking defense of US refusal to cooperate with international criminal tribunals. Having been shielded from uncomfortable questions, Shultz decided to visit again over the summer of 2004, at which time the University gave him the 2004 James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service, to complement the Woodrow Wilson Award the school had given him in 1971.
On April 8-9 2005, the Woodrow Wilson School staged a prestigious colloquium entitled: Rethinking the War on Terror. It’s mission was to “bring together leading practitioners, academics, and policymakers from a range of disciplines, backgrounds, and countries to examine both the concept of a war on terrorism and the practical strategies being used to fight it.” The general spirit of unquestioningly receiving government officials apparently inspired the invitation list for this colloquium as well. In attendance was the State Department’s Director of Recruitment Diane Castiglione, the leader of Bush’s war recruiting efforts at hundreds of US universities. CIA inspector general Frederick P. Hitz was also there (Princeton boy, Class of ’61). When he isn’t traveling around campuses enlightening students, he spends his time denying the CIA’s involvement in the Latin American drug trade and defending the US’s support for the Contras. After much denial, Hitz had reluctantly admitted before Congress that there had been “instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity, or take action to resolve the allegations.”
Needless to say, the issue was never brought up during his visit. Hitz’s colleague Peter Probst was also attending: former CIA, Pentagon and Office of the Secretary of Defense employee. In the 1990’s, Probst served on an advisory board of the Middle East Forum to advocate and lobby for American intervention in the Middle East, worked on what is euphemistically called “special operations and low intensity conflict,” and warmly associated with militant fanatic Daniel Pipes. Another panelist was Col. Thomas F. Lynch III, the Director of the Commander’s Advisory Group at United States Central Command (USCENTCOM). In this capacity, he has participated in war and occupation management in Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, Pakistan and elsewhere.
The list gets longer and more impressive with every name. Yet, the speakers with the most credentials were without a doubt two keynote speakers: Giora Eiland and Anthony Zinni. Israeli Defense Forces superstar Giora Eiland earned his rightful place in a report to the UN Commission of Inquiry on “Grave Breaches and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.” Namely, he was condemned by the Commission for a plethora of war crimes and terrorist acts committed by the IDF under his leadership. Throughout his career, Eiland advocated the use of F-16 fighter jets to bomb Palestinian targets, civilian or otherwise. He also championed regular IDF use of US military helicopters to kill dozens of civilians. In the period from September 2000 to May 2001, Eiland’s leadership killed over 450 Palestinians, more than half later confirmed as civilians. This is a reduction in killing rate, mind you, from the more successful first month of the 2000 Intifada, during which Eiland’s IDF forces killed over one hundred Palestinians. Indeed, with such a record of mass murder, Eiland’s support for the construction of the Israeli wall against the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ, July 2004) seems minor.
Rather than being exposed to any of this information, Princetonians enjoyed Eiland’s pleasant narrative [pdf] about his experiences as perpetrator of the massacre in Jenin, in which capacity he found, according to Amnesty International (4/22/02), that “bulldozing” and “destroying houses” was “the most humanitarian way to deal with the situation.” One might summarize his sophisticated thought (worthy of a Princeton audience) in his own words:
“The sheriff is allowed to be stronger because the other side is criminal,” he said. “There is no limit to how much you can explain how evil the other side is.” (Christian Science Monitor, 07/31/01)
Being the beacon of Socratic dialogue that it says it is, Princeton University helped this sheriff charged with war crimes in his limitless explaining of just how evil that “other side” of the ‘war on terror’ is.
Following Eiland’s performance was a grand reception of General Anthony Zinni, who also had keynote speaker credentials. He was formerly the head of Operations Restore Hope, Continue Hope, and United Shield in Somalia. In July 1995, Foreign Policy revealed that under his command troops slaughtered from 7000 to 10000 Somalis, according to the CIA. He also held experience in maintaining illegal no-fly zones in Iraq and, the International Red Cross found (1/26/99), bombing civilians in unprovoked US attacks, such as the one in al-Jumhuriya. The crucial thing about Zinni was that he was the Woodrow Wilson School’s main ‘dissenter’ – his presence was the affirmation of the University’s dedication to critical thought. This argument was based, of course, on the fact that Zinni broke with “neocons who didn’t understand [the Middle East] and were going to create havoc there.” The break was, however, strictly about tactics, and only about Iraq. “I’m not saying there aren’t parts of the world that don’t need their ass kicked,” he said. The thousands of dead in Afghanistan from the American bombing and invasion are not an issue: it was “the right thing to do” (Washington Post 12/28/03).” Of course, “one of Zinni’s responsibilities while commander-in-chief at CENTCOM was to develop a plan for the invasion of Iraq. Like his predecessors, he subscribed to the belief that you only enter battle with overwhelming force” (CBS News 5/21/04). The problem, Zinni feels, was that we needed 300,000 troops to carry out the illegal occupation rather than a mere 180,000.
That is the closest thing to “rethinking the war on terror” that the University had to offer – the US’s obvious right to “kick ass” around the world notwithstanding.
All the while, the pretension of academic “neutrality” and “balanced discourse” was pervasive. Behind it was something uglier. There was not a single panelist or speaker who criticized the ‘war on terror’ on a basis other than ‘strategic’ or ‘tactical.’ Not a single keynote speaker lacked a government position or state/military function in their biographies. Not a single speaker or panelist represented those millions around the world who are on the receiving end of the ‘war on terror.’
Finally, we may look at the Grand Finale of the political rape of Princeton’s intellectual integrity: the Woodrow Wilson School’s 75th anniversary festivities on October 1st, 2005. In no more than 24 hours, the University hosted Lt. General David Petraeus, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The anniversary included a playfully innocent “Mock National Security Council Meeting,” with an impressive array of corporate executives (including RAND Corporation Senior Analyst Steven Simon) and prominent US militarists (including Colonel Robert Gordon III). They spent the hour role-playing an NSC meeting hypothetically dealing with an imminent nuclear disaster. Dean Slaughter personally made sure that issues worthy of discussion about the actual disasters in the real world were left outside, as were most students who were denied entrance.
“One of our most distinguished alumni,” as Slaughter called David Petraeus, followed. In front of America’s former Defense Department elite and several senators, he delivered a sophisticated block of propaganda – unchallenged and unquestioned – about the occupation of Iraq and beyond. The General had developed a reputation in US military circles as a supporter of cooperation with former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party (support which even convicted fraudster Ahmed Chalabi adamantly opposes). His years of war management everywhere from Bosnia to Haiti had recently reached a peak in his role in the Fallujah massacre as commander of the 101st Airborne Division. His central contribution to destroying the city and driving out 250,000 people from it was not mentioned. Dean Slaughter (apparently under orders from the Defense Department) again ensured that only selected members of the audience direct questions to the General, none of which dealt with this fresh military accomplishment. She found it appropriate, nevertheless, to crack a joke about how amazing it was when Petraeus immediately responded to her email during the battle of Fallujah. Petraeus returned the compliment by calling Slaughter the “the jewel of the crown” of Princeton University and thanking her for her close ties to Washington.
The pinnacle of the imperialist festivities, however, came with Condoleezza Rice. “I cannot imagine a better person to launch our 75th anniversary celebrations,” said Dean Slaughter, and explained that Rice “exemplifies those values” of Princetonians “serving the nation and the world.” Her values had been explicit since her involvement in the first Bush administration, the root of her allegiance to the Reaganite clique (Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell). At the time, she was promoting George I’s friendship with Saddam Hussein, as well as the invasions of Iraq and Panama. Her values were also made clear when she assisted the execution of an illegal coup in Haiti and the abduction of the popularly elected president, Jeanne-Bertrand Aristide. In March 2004, as she was persistently refusing to testify in front of the 9/11 Commission, she threatened that Jamaica would face consequences if it did not expel Aristide from the entire Western hemisphere (Democracy Now 3/25/04). A year later, further guided by the same values, Rice traveled to Pakistan and India to promote US sales of F-16 fighter jets to both countries, a gesture of endorsement for the existence of nuclear weapons in the two states (Wall Street Journal 3/15). Soon thereafter, she dismissed Amnesty International reports calling for a stop to US torture practices, and upheld her government’s violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture. She also served “the nation and the world” in her consistent diplomatic support for Israel, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes, which compete with North Korea for most brutal records of suppressing their dissidents and democratic movements.
Finally, Rice’s values crystallized most in her advocacy of the occupation of Iraq. As is now well-understood (even in Princeton), lying for the sake of loyalty had become a job prerequisite for Dr. Rice. Highlights of her deceit include: backing Bush’s State of the Union speech claim that Iraq is attempting to acquire uranium from Niger (Sunday Herald, 10/13/03); connecting Hussein’s regime to the atrocities of 9/11 (CBS 3/28/04); connecting Hussein’s regime to Al Qaeda (CNN 9/26/02); denying knowledge that she had of the possibility of a terrorist attack on the US shortly prior to 9/11 (LA Times 9/27/01); rejecting the proven claim that the White House knew of the US intelligence community’s uncertainty and skepticism about Iraq WMD claims (Washington Post 7/27/03); and guaranteeing the existence of Iraq’s WMD program, as well as Hussein’s intent to abuse it (CNN interview, 3/18/04). Not a single Princeton professor, student, or publication put any of these issues forward during her visit. By the time Dean Slaughter saluted Michael Chertoff’s speech to close the festivities, one could hardly keep track of the hypocrisy anymore.
These few examples come only from the past few years – more broadly, they are pins on a mountain of celebrity statesmen who have enjoyed intellectual and academic autonomy at Princeton University. In all of the reviewed cases, not a single speaker represented the majority of world opinion on issues of recent US wars. In all of the reviewed cases, there was not a single independent analyst, academic, journalist, historian or activist included. In all of the reviewed cases, the speeches and speakers were left largely unchallenged and unquestioned, by students and faculty alike.
Some complaints did surface. For instance, on the second day of the “Rethinking the War on Terror” colloquium, around a dozen students gathered to protest in front of the Woodrow Wilson School. The group’s signs included: “The university should be preventing war, not supporting it!”; “You put three war criminals in a room, what do you get? A Princeton conference”; and the vital question: “Why didn’t you bring Pinochet?” The students were quickly herded off to the sidewalk on the other side of the street for being “disruptive” – strolling silently around the WWS building, holding up signs and denoting NO WAR with duct tape letters on clothing. After much criticism for their failure to get required University authorization for a demonstration, the protestors were ignored by all Princeton publications, as was their action. If one compares the media coverage of the hyped Frist Filibuster in April 2005 with this forgotten “incident” at the WWS’s colloquium, one sees the boundaries within which political discourse is allowed at Princeton University: criticizing a relatively minor and generally irrelevant congressional practice is fine; criticizing war-makers is not.
After the fact, the Rice-Chertoff-Petraeus propaganda blitz was (unsuccessfully) challenged. Although Dean Slaughter could not “imagine a better person” than Rice to grace the University’s campus, some Princetonians could. Over a hundred undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members, with a somewhat stronger imagination, signed a public letter which “question[ed] the university’s motives in inviting Rice” and condemned the “institutional endorsement of a position that is elsewhere being questioned for its disregard of international codes of conduct, treaties and laws.” Slaughter and Tilghman issued responses without addressing the substance of the letter, the Daily Princetonian dismissed the letter for failing to see the “great value in inviting the people who run our country” to campus (10/21/05), and the University carried on its business as usual: in April alone, the school’s highest officials awarded James Baker for his commitment to American prosperity (as seen in his role in Gulf War I), hailed Madeline Albright as she preached democratization in the Middle East (perhaps with the bombing of Yugoslavia in mind as an ideal), appointed Daniel Kurtzer to the prestigious S. Daniel Abraham Chair in Middle East Policy Studies (an honor he earned as US ambassador to Israel at one of the most deadly times in Palestinian history), arranged a world-widely publicized lecture for the presidential ambitions of Hilary Clinton (who took the opportunity to call for sanctions on Iran) and, finally, confirmed her husband Bill Clinton as Class Day Speaker.
Given this record, not much ambiguity is left about Princeton’s political role. One of the world’s most influential universities (arguably the most influential), at this critical stage of US military expansion, is smilingly giving war criminals free propaganda sessions at prestigious conferences. Instead of encouraging independent thought, the University has consistently greeted and awarded figures in power in total disregard of their records of waging monstrous wars, lying to the UN and the world, advocating mass murder and violating international law. Instead of hosting free dialogue in a critical intellectual arena, Princeton has reduced itself to the shameful status of academic ‘stamp’ for those in power. Instead of protecting critical thought from state/military propaganda, the university is protecting state/military propagandists from criticism.
Sadly, Princeton is not alone. Major U.S. academic institutions are increasingly refusing to allow independent voices a space to be heard, preferring instead to support government spokesmen who use universities like speakerphones. If students themselves do not stand up to this, the so called “military-industrial-academic complex” will become painfully real.
DANILO MANDIC is an undergraduate at the Sociology Department at Princeton University. His interests include Balkan history, war sociology, modern nationalism and US foreign policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.