February 14, 2006,
Which president do you trust to stock our defense and intelligence agencies with Arabic-speaking experts who can prosecute the war on terror: the president of the United States, George W. Bush, or the president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Juan Cole? You’re going to have to decide, because presidents Bush and Cole are even now involved in a tug-of-war over the administration’s newly announced National Security Language Initiative.
In a sense, National Review Online and its readers are involved as well. Years of public infighting (much of it covered on NRO) over failed Title VI subsidies to Middle East-studies programs have prompted the administration to attempt an end-run around professor Cole and his friends. Instead of pouring millions more dollars into programs that have failed to produce government linguists, the administration is trying something new.
Last month, the president launched a major new language-training initiative directly tied to our defense and intelligence agencies, with robust requirements for government service in exchange for government subsidies. Cole and the academic establishment are not pleased. They’ll soon be doing everything they can to water down government-service requirements and break the link between this new scholarship program and our defense and intelligence agencies.
The President’s New PlanAddressing an audience of university presidents at the State Department on January 5, the president tied his new $114 million language initiative directly to the war on terror. Although the education establishment routinely demands that language scholarships be sponsored by the Department of Education alone, the president noted that the new initiative would be supervised, not only by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, but also by Secretary of State Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, all of whom were in the audience as the president spoke.
Secretary Rumsfeld, the president said, “wants his young soldiers, who are on the front lines of finding these killers, to be able to speak their language and be able to listen to the people in the communities in which they live.” “We need intelligence officers,” said the president, “who when somebody says something in Arabic or Farsi or Urdu, know what they’re talking about.” The president is right. The need is profound. Of course, we know that intercepts from the 9/11 hijackers were left unheeded for want of translators. But the lack of trained linguists continues to hurt us in many other ways. A covert American attempt to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities would be particularly difficult because of the lack of linguistic competence in our defense and intelligence agencies. American troops risk alienating the very Iraqis they’re trying to help when they can’t communicate with them. And the critical task of
Disingenuous AcademicsOf course, Cole and the others profess to be happy that the government is spending more money on language education. They just want those strings removed. But why? After all, there’s no special title of the higher-education act devoted to subsidizing programs of art history or philosophy. The federal government subsidizes Middle East and other area studies programs for reasons of national security. The government is perfectly entitled to see that it gets something in return for its investment. Despite the millions of federal dollars they regularly pocket, area studies programs have failed to create a significant pool of recruits for our defense and intelligence agencies. That’s why the president has decided that instead of increasing funding for Title VI, it’s time to try a new approach with more accountability.
The excuse most frequently offered for opposing scholarship service requirements at our defense and intelligence agencies is the supposed danger this poses to students in the field. What if people in other countries start to see American field researchers as spies? But field workers in the Third World have worked under such suspicions for decades. No scholarship is going to change that one way or the other. The National Security Education Program has had a government-service requirement for years, and field workers have had only a few, isolated problems abroad, no more than field workers without NSEP scholarships. Can you imagine these lefty professors objecting to students working for civil rights in the American South because it might put them in danger? Our professors are happy to feed off of millions of taxpayer dollars. Will they do nothing in return to safeguard the lives of our troops?
Worry over student field workers is a bogus cover story. The truth emerged when the Boston Globe went to Boston College law professor Kent Greenfield, who heads FAIR, the organization that sued Secretary Rumsfeld to bar military recruiters from law schools. Asked about the National Security Language Initiative, Greenfield warned that universities must not be coopted by the government’s agenda: “I think the Cold War is instructive,” said Greenfield. “During the 1950's and the McCarthy era, what really hurt America at that time was the absence of independent voices and skepticism.” Sounds like FAIR’s suit against the Pentagon has much more to do with anti-militarism than with “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s this opposition to America’s military, not concern for the safety of field workers, that stands behind the academy’s opposition to language scholarships that call for service in our defense and intelligence agencies.
The outrageous boycott of the National Security Education Program levied by the Middle East Studies Association and other scholarly associations are motivated by this anti-militarism. MESA won’t even accept advertisements from our defense or intelligence agencies in its publications. Yet MESA affiliated scholars like president Juan Cole are happy to take taxpayer subsidies.
Funny how NPR’s Elaine Korry managed to quote three members of the Middle East Studies establishment begging for still more no-strings Title VI subsidies, without consulting a single critic. If she had, Korry may have figured out why President Bush is not about to trust Juan Cole and his MESA colleagues with a massive no-strings increase in Title VI subsidies. Congress tried that right after 9/11, and we’re facing exactly the same shortage of linguists as before Professor Cole and his friends got more money. These professors haven’t helped the war effort, because they don’t want to help.
Fortunately, NPR and the rest of the mainstream media have lost their information monopoly. Sites like NRO, and bloggers like Martin Kramer at Sandstorm, have exposed the games academics play: asking congress for millions of no-strings dollars for “national security” and delivering little or nothing in return.
Getting ToughSo the president’s new National Security Language Initiative is a major victory for those of us who have long criticized Title VI. The need for more government linguists is all too real. Yet instead of pouring good money after bad, the administration has developed a new program, closely tied to the defense and intelligence establishment, with real requirements for government service. If it weren’t for public criticisms of Title VI, Professor Cole and his MESA cohorts might even now be spending more than a hundred million new dollars of no-strings government money.
But this victory is really only the beginning of a new battle. It’s clear from the remarks of Cole and the others that the academy is going to do everything in its power to remove government service requirements and detach these new scholarships from the defense establishment. They’ve done it before. (See Who Will Defend the Defenders? on NRO.) It will take vigilance to prevent the destruction of yet another well-intentioned national security language scholarship initiative.
Why should we have to fight this battle? Why can’t our educators differentiate between legitimate political opposition and attempts to hamstring our military and intelligence agencies? Let’s resolve our policy differences in the political arena. But if our country is at war, and our soldiers are in danger, there should be no question of trying to undermine or boycott scholarships tied to national defense. Sadly, however, the tug-of-war is on. I know which president I’m rooting for.