On the evening of the historic day that Baghdad fell, Yale held a forum of professorial invective against the statesmanship that brought it about. Without skipping a beat, Yale’s anti-war professors, who yesterday claimed to oppose war in the interests of the Iraqi people, have now moved on to expressing lunatic conspiracy theories. Wednesday, we attended a “teach-in” sponsored by the Yale Coalition for Peace, the Muslim Students Association, and the Students for Justice in Palestine, among other groups. The panel of speakers included professors Ben Kiernan, Director of the Genocide Studies Program at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, Ellen Lust-Okar of political science, Dmitri Gutas of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Glenda Gilmore, the C. Van Woodward Professor of History and University Chaplain, Rev. Frederick Streets.
While Kiernan led off the discussion with predictable condemnations of our “unelected president,” it was Gutas and Gilmore who stole the show. Although the two stopped just short of decrying the deposition of Saddam Hussein, they couldn’t help themselves from promulgating vicious conspiracy theories aimed at their intellectual opponents. Rather than engage in reasoned debate about the merits of a war in Iraq, Gutas launched a (now trite and tired) stink bomb, backed by the likes of luminaries like Congressman James Moran and Pat Buchanan, at the cabal of Jewish conspirators he blames for the war. And although the focus of the panel was purportedly the war in Iraq, Professor Gilmore disregarded the topic, choosing to speak instead about herself and her victimization at the hands of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Gutas advanced the anti-neocon cant, maintaining that the true goal of the war is an Israeli takeover of the Middle East. The American victory in Iraq, following Gutas’ logic, will lead to Israel’s “expansion over the local population.” But it’s not the Bush administration that is controlling United States policy towards Iraq, according to Gutas. It’s a cabal of neoconservative, fiercely pro-Israel ideologues. Gutas named Bill Kristol, Paul Wofowitz, Richard Perle, and any other Jew he could think of as the initiators of the war in Iraq. The ideology of “these people,” according to Gutas, is solely responsible for U.S. policy. Jews have hijacked the Bush administration and are gearing foreign policy towards Israeli (rather than U.S.) interests.
For Gutas to say that the actions of President Bush and his Cabinet, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, are controlled by the Jewish community is an outrage. Not one of those individuals is Jewish; nor is British Prime Minister Tony Blair; nor is Prime Minister Aznar of Spain. To accuse these leaders of taking orders from a minute portion of the population –“these people,” Jews - who are divided on the issue like all Americans, is to employ an ancient anti-Semitic technique which harkens back to the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Not one of the speakers on the panel thought his comments were worth questioning, and it was especially disheartening to see University Chaplain Rev. Jerry Streets watch in silence.
Gutas’ indictment of neoconservatives did not empty his arsenal of vituperative rage. He also challenged the veracity of the Bush administration’s desire to democratize Iraq. He maintained that the United States actually seeks “the maintenance of despotic regimes.” Call us naïve, but is it not Gutas, Gilmore, and the rest of the anti-war left who seek the maintenance of despotic regimes? And is it not the Bush administration, and specifically the neoconservatives, who seek to depose despots of Saddam Hussein’s variety?
Professor Glenda Gilmore, in the smug, self-righteous fashion that characterizes a large component of the anti-war movement, found it difficult to discuss anything but herself. Gilmore’s comments were devoted entirely to decrying the supposed international conspiracy launched by right-wingers like Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Pipes, intended to “shut you up and to shut me up.” Gilmore reached her startling conclusions following the scathing reception her controversial October 11 column in the Yale Daily News received. Gilmore seemed dumbfounded that her statements would elicit such a harsh response. One of the more inflammatory sentences read, “Bush's National Security Strategy makes the United States an imperial power in the most sinister sense of the term, and Congress' resolution will finally and unabashedly give George W. Bush the job he seems so sure he deserves: emperor.”
In one breath, she listed the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Lynne Cheney, as elements of a “pre-planned” plot to squash her political speech. The right-wing campaign, according to Gilmore, is “targeted at anti-war professors” and aims to silence her and anyone else who raises a peep of protest about Bush or the war. She protested Daniel Pipes' labeling of her as "Hating America," though not once in her tirade did she mention the last line of her column, "We have met the enemy, and it is us." It is certainly difficult to understand how Pipes could construe Gilmore’s comment as anything but a symptom of a deep and abiding hatred of America.
Wrongfully assuming that the audience was filled with antiwar students, Gilmore found herself at a loss for words when her tenuous reasoning was accidentally exposed to critical questioning. It became clear that Gilmore was never in fact silenced. The opposite occurred; her views were exposed, disseminated, and legitimately criticized by those who disagreed with her. Coming from the insulated world of leftist academia, Gilmore assumed that criticism and denunciation of her vitriol was evidence of a conspiracy against her. Rather than present well-developed or coherent arguments against the war, she filled her allotted time attempting (successfully) to elicit pity from her audience. It was a spectacle of self-aggrandizement.
Perhaps more than anything else, Yale’s anti-war “teach-in” shed light on the divide between the hawks and the doves that grows as American success in Iraq increases. While pro-war students have been vindicated by the liberation of Iraq and were rightfully ebullient on Wednesday, a common trope of the professors and their sycophantic followers in the student body was that a quick and easy military operation in Iraq should not be equated with a victory in the war. On one of the most momentous days for America since September 11, few positive comments about our military victory were heard from the faculty panel.
Indeed, the conspiracy theories espoused by Gutas and Gilmore are a symptom of the hateful bitterness that characterizes the campus left in the face of American success. As Wednesdays’ panel demonstrated, vicious prevarication has become a substitute for honest argumentation. The jubilant celebrations in the streets of Baghdad, the crushing of Saddam’s Stalinist regime, and the kisses from Iraqis on American soldiers’ cheeks, undermine the words of Ivy League professors who purport to defend the interests of the people of Iraq from American military might. We thought liberals would rejoice at the sights we saw Wednesday in Baghdad. But when liberals become at best nonchalant and at worst conspiratorial at the scenes of an oppressed people rising up in joyous celebration due to their new found freedom, they are no longer liberals. They are nihilists.
Eliana Johnson and James Kirchick are freshmen at Yale University and members of Yale College Students for Democracy. Contact Eliana at firstname.lastname@example.org and James at email@example.com.