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Dogulas Feith’s syllabus

May 27, 2006

Jesus’ General has the goods on Georgetown’s latest hire.

The Washington Post explains what this is all about:

Douglas J. Feith, the former Pentagon policy chief who was an architect of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies, is joining the faculty of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

In an announcement yesterday, the university said Feith will teach a course on the administration’s anti-terrorism strategy and also will conduct seminars as a visiting professor and distinguished practitioner in national security policy. He will start this fall.

“I think it’ll be enjoyable and useful to teach Georgetown students about the administration’s national security policies and policymaking,” Feith said in an interview. “I may be able to shed some light on little-understood topics that have generated enormous heat in the public debate.”

Feith has been a target of heat from some Democrats who accuse him of having misled Congress about Iraq’s prewar links to al-Qaeda. In November, the Pentagon’s inspector general’s office said it had begun to investigate allegations that an office run by Feith engaged in illegal or inappropriate intelligence activities before the war. Feith has called those allegations groundless.

The New York Times wrote up the story yesterday:

Douglas J. Feith’s table at the Georgetown University faculty club is shaping up as a lonely one.

The move to a teaching position at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown by Mr. Feith, a former Pentagon official, set off a faculty kerfuffle, with 72 professors, administrators and graduate students signing a letter of protest, some going as far as to accuse him of war crimes.

Some critics complain about the process. (He was hired without a faculty vote.)

Some complain about the war in Iraq. (Mr. Feith has been accused of promoting it with skewed intelligence.)

All say the open protest is unusual at a place that embraces former officials as part of its panache. A former secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright; a former national security adviser, Anthony Lake; and a former director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, have joined the faculty without event.

But Mr. Feith, a former under secretary of defense for policy planning and analysis, is another story.

“I’m not going to shake hands with the guy if he’s introduced to me,” said Mark N. Lance, a philosophy professor who teaches nonviolence in the program on Justice and Peace and who organized the protest. “And if he asks why, I’ll say because in my view you’re a war criminal and you have no place on this campus.”

The dispute can be read as — take your pick — an explosion of fury at a disastrous war, an illustration of the pettiness of academic politics or evidence of Mr. Feith’s talent for attracting invective.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks of the Army, the top commander of the Iraq invasion, once referred to him as “the stupidest guy on the face of the earth.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Feith said he welcomed debate “in a proper, civil and rigorous way.” But he called the accusations that he had politicized intelligence, advocated torture and attacked the Geneva Conventions as “false,” “flatly false” and “outrageous.”

For the record, I think the comments by my colleague in the philosophy department are completely out of line; they only serve to reinforce the inevitable “lefty-faculty-out-of-control” interpretation of the dust up. There’s truth to this. Clearly some faculty opposed the hiring because of Feith’s political views and his role in the Bush administration. But there are broader issues about process and qualifications at stake.

For more on Feith’s hiring, academic politics, and plain old ideological clashes, see the Hoya’s report on “Take Back Georgetown Day” (which, to my ears, sounds like conservative colleges students are getting ready to storm my old high school.). There’s a pretty good discussion of the broader context of the controversy in the Georgetown Voice.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.