Chicago Prof Joins Conspiracy-of-the-Month Club

Leave it to a professor of Middle Eastern studies to infiltrate the crudest interpretation of American motive into Chicago’s leading daily. Fred Donner is a professor of early Islamic history at the University of Chicago. Last week, the Chicago Tribune ran a piece by Donner, where he called the idea of removing Saddam a “Likudniks’ scheme.”

Why? It is “a vision deriving from Likud-oriented members of the president’s team—particularly Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.” (Perle is explicitly denounced as a dual loyalist: “Why is he serving in a high position in an American administration?” asks Donner.) A war against Saddam would be “mainly in the Likud’s interest rather than our own.” And poor President Bush, according to Donner, is not even aware that a war would open a “Pandora’s box,” because he now sees the Middle East through the “Likud’s rose-colored glasses.”

True, this theory has surfaced in the mainstream media, but not in such a crude form. Naturally, Jewish organizations have written letters in response. The chair of Chicago’s Jewish Community Relations Council noted that Donner, “applying thinly-veiled code words, essentially argues that America’s Iraq policy was designed and is being driven by disloyal Jews.” An officer of the Anti-Defamation League, in a published letter to the Trib, wrote that Donner had provided “fodder for conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites,” and served “to propagate centuries-old anti-Semitic canards of Jewish control.” I’d have to agree.

I’m acquainted with Professor Donner (we overlapped at Princeton for a couple of years), but I don’t purport to know him. I do know that he’s no authority on Washington’s workings or the contemporary Middle East. And I strongly suspect that he simply parrots whatever conspiracy theory is fashionable on his campus or in the media at any moment.

Here, for example, is a photograph of Professor Donner at the January 18 anti-war rally in Washington. Read his sign. Beneath the words, “Pre-emptive war is un-American” (a questionable assumption), it says: “NO WAR FOR OIL!” Now am I missing something? This is a completely different conspiracy theory from the one Donner has put forth in the Trib, where oil doesn’t even appear. So what is it, Fred? Greedy oil companies or devious American Likudniks? Or maybe you haven’t got a clue?

I respect Donner as a historian of early Islam. Unfortunately, he and his colleagues seem to think that modern American politics operate like the early Islamic caliphate (albeit with less moral authority). Add the Donner affair to the bill of indictment.