A leftwing amalgam of political science, comparative politics, international relations and public policy, U Penn’s National and Ethnic Conflict-Regulation course purports to examine the ways in which governments respond to ethnic conflict. In keeping with this aim, it surveys those corners of the earth, past and present, where national and ethnic conflicts have flared with the greatest intensity: Northern Ireland, South Africa, Nazi Germany, and, curiously, the United States. Students with an interest in the troubled Middle East, however, will be in for a disappointment, in that there appears to be only one conflict in the tumultuous region meriting serious scholarly study: Israel/Palestine.
Though course descriptions do not disclose a syllabus, UPenn’s choice of professor reveals much about the direction of the course. This spring, it will be taught by Brendan O’Leary, a political science professor at UPenn. To gain some insight into O’Leary’s approach to conflict studies, one need look no further than the remarks he made just two days following the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Counseling against easy condemnations of the attackers, O’Leary instead urged his audience to ponder how the attackers “might have seen their actions.” O’Leary then offered his own, interpretation of the attacks’ root causes:
“The people who organized these atrocities were probably motivated by the world-religion that is most secularization-resistant, and from the peoples who feel most humiliated and outraged by western power, and its leading state, the United States of America.”
Nor was a military response appropriate, according to O’Leary, who called on Americans to “think carefully before supporting large-scale retaliatory jihads.” Rather, he suggested that the United Sates reflect upon its own role in fuelling the rage of Islamists, insisting that, “it must be asked why hatred of the U.S. is so fierce in these locations.” The question presented no difficulty for O’Leary himself, who identified American foreign policy toward the Middle East and American support for Israel as the prime culprits. True, O’Leary granted, some of the terrorists’ rhetorical attacks against the United States had little basis in fact. “But,” he went on, “U.S. foreign policy before and after the Cold War has propped up authoritarian regimes. And it has, to the abiding humiliation of the Islamic world, supported Israel, right or wrong--and Israel is not always right.” On the subject of whether America’s supposedly deplorable history justified the murder of innocent civilians, O’Leary did not speculate.
This was hardly the first occasion on which O’Leary gave vent to his anti-Israeli animus. In October of 2002, in the course of panning a book by Alan Dershowitz for London’s Times Higher Education Supplement, O’Leary derided as “terrorists” the founders of the state of Israel. He took a conspicuously more charitable view of terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian Arabs, who, as O’Leary explained were merely prone to “political violence”; this violence, in turn, was carried out by “militants.”
It was in this context that O’Leary assailed Dershowitz for urging a policy of toughened response to terrorism. From O’Leary’s perspective, “a policy of not distinguishing between the violence of self-determination movements, repressive states, rogue states, and that of ideological and religious fanatics will serve the US, and all of us, ill.” There was little doubt as to which “self-determination movements” and which “repressive states” O’Leary had in mind. O’Leary also invoked the charge of dual loyalties, a classic in the canon of anti-Semitism, describing Dershowitz, a liberal Democrat, as “the intellectual neo-conservative who is a double super-patriot of the U.S. and Israel.” That Israel may have a legitimate right to defend itself against terrorism struck O’Leary as a proposition undeserving of serious consideration. (O’Leary’s attack did not go unanswered by Dershowitz, who noted in a properly indignant letter to the editor that O’Leary’s review was “tinged with a bit of ethnic stereotyping—if not bigotry,” pointedly adding, “O'Leary doesn't like me because I generally support Israel, but his dislike does not give him a license to lie.”)
O’Leary alone is slated to teach “National and Ethnic Conflict-Regulation” in 2005, but in previous years, he was joined by another professor, Clark McCauley. Like O’Leary, McCauley, an adjunct professor of psychology at UPenn, brings his own leftist certitudes to the study of global conflicts. A glimpse into some of them is afforded by a 2001 essay McCauley authored for the Social Science Research Council, a leftist think tank based in New York.
The essay, titled “The Psychology of Terrorism,” aimed to analyze the psychology propelling terrorist violence. And McCauley harbored no doubts about the root causes of this violence. Lifting a page from the conspiracy-riddled Arab press, McCauley explained that “When the U.S. and its allies embargoed Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the shortages of food and medicine killed more children than men in uniform.” McCauley further explained that terrorists “want to be seen as representing all who feel that the U.S. has since WWII dominated, humiliated, and helped to kill Muslims.” In light of these alleged grievances, it would be improper to condemn terrorism, McCauley explained. “Rather we should inquire into the policies of the U.S. that could create so much anti-American feeling around the world.” In closing, McCauley lamented that as a consequence of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States would likely denounce terrorism categorically, without regard for the ostensibly noble motives of some of its practitioners: “It seems unlikely that the U.S. will never again want to distinguish terrorists from freedom-fighters, in order to support the latter despite their attacks on civilians.” Perhaps most bizarrely, McCauley, who has written several books about the Middle East, wrote that, “There is no special association between religion and violence.”
To understand how leftists like O’Leary and McCauley end up inculcating the next generation of degreed activists, it is instructive to consider the institution that made “National and Ethnic Conflict-Regulation" possible—at UPenn, that would be the Solomon Asch Center for Ethnic Studies. Affiliated with UPenn’s School of Arts and Sciences, the center was founded in 1998 by a $120,000 seed grant from the leftwing charity, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (A passel of leftwing philanthropies have since queued to bankroll the center, among them the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the MacArthur Foundation.) Its mission, according to the center, is “to advance research, education, practice, and policy-relevant study in ethnic group conflict and political violence.”
It is a telling commentary on the political orientation of the Solomon Asch Center that neither O’Leary nor McCauley is its most radical staffer. That dubious distinction is more accurately accorded to Associate Director Ian Lustick, a professor of political science at UPenn. In 2002, appearing at a forum at the Middle East Policy Council, Lustick caused something of a stir. In a revealing moment of candor, Lustick remarked that while he had supported the war in Afghanistan, he regretted that the United States had shed little blood in the process of toppling the Taliban. As Lustick explained it, “my fear at that time was that if we broke the Taliban too fast and it was perceived in the United States that we had a quick and relatively bloodless on the American side victory, that this would give the necessary fill to that wing, that cabal in the administration that was ready to say that the template for Afghanistan victory was the same template we ought to use elsewhere.”
Untroubled by the casualties, whether Afghani or American, which would have attended the longer war for which he clamored, Lustick was concerned only to discredit the so-called “cabal.” Said Lustick, “What I wanted was a war, a Goldilocks war, not too fast and not too slow, but we didn't get it. We got one that was too fast and it gave the whip end to the cabal.” This cabal, Lustick contended, comprised “neo-conservative warriors” who aspired to nothing less than “American-military-enforced new order in the Middle East with pretensions and fantasies of democratization of the region of an American rule, domination of the oil wealth there, establishment of large, semi-permanent military bases in the heart of the region and the elimination of all pressures on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.”
Lustick reprised this “cabal” theme in a March 2003 screed for the leftist magazine the Nation. Inveighing against the Iraq war, Lustick insisted that it should be understood as a “supply-side war because it is not driven by a particular threat.” Instead, support for the war stemmed entirely from the “highest echelons of the American government of a small cabal long ago committed to just this sort of war.” As Lustick saw it, the war unfairly targeted Arab countries like Iraq while giving a pass to the true menace of the Middle East: Israel. “There is also an unstated but powerful objective to transform the Arab countries in the Middle East from states putatively obsessed with irrational hatreds of a wholly innocent Israel into rational, accommodating democracies that will give up on the Palestinian problem and let right-wing Israeli governments determine the future of the occupied territories without external pressures,” wrote Lustick.
When one considers that views like Lustick’s enjoy broad representation at the Solomon Asch Center, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that in designing courses like “National and Ethnic Conflict-Regulation” the center, and UPenn, are encouraging an understanding of international conflicts informed less by a rigorous discussion of pressing problems than the leftist politics of the professors tasked with its instruction.
UPenn’s conflict regulation courses propose to mint the next generation of international problem solvers. But by tendentiously explaining those conflicts as the offspring of the United States and its democratic allies like Israel, while giving short shrift to authoritarian governments and Islamist terrorism, the Solomon Asch Center—and its counterparts in “Peace Studies" departments across the nation—guarantee that today’s conflicts will remain unsolved in the future.