Yesterday, President Bush announced a new National Security Language Initiative, which has the potential to fix America’s debilitating deficit in foreign language proficiency in the military and government. I’ll say more about it later, but I’ve already been struck by a few of the reactions in Middle Eastern studies.
Consider this one. F. Gregory Gause III is a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the University of Vermont, and member of the academic freedom committee of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). When my book Ivory Towers on Sand appeared in 2001, he wrote a critical review essay in Foreign Affairs. To my suggestion that Congress reexamine its subsidies to Middle Eastern studies, he offered this rejoinder, piously couched in the language of the national interest:
Now more than ever the United States has a compelling national interest in encouraging its citizens to study the difficult languages of the Muslim world, and that costs money…. In fact, given the lack of official linguistic capacity evident during the post-[9/11] attack crisis, the federal government’s current Middle Eastern studies funding priorities should be languages first, second, and third…. Only increased federal support can sustain and expand the language instruction necessary to turn students into the careful and knowledgeable observers that everyone wants them to be.
Gee, readers must have thought, here is a Middle Eastern studies prof who defies Kramer’s generalization, and who has our security at heart–the kind of clean-cut guy MESA might want to send up to Capitol Hill to lobby for Title VI money.
So what are we to make of Gause’s response to Bush’s new initiative, made yesterday in the comments section of a weblog?
In this country, where we even had to use “national defense” as the justification to build our interstate highway system, you just can’t squeeze enough money out of the mountebanks, charlatans, ideologues and goobers who represent us in Congress to fund these programs unless they can be sold as “national defense” (or now, “homeland security”).
Bingo. I’ve argued all along that the mandarins of Middle Eastern studies are scamming Congress. In public, they announce that they’re eager to put their shoulders to the wheel in the nation’s defense, if Congress comes up with the budgets. In private, they have nothing but contempt for the Congress that subsidizes them, and for the Congressional obligation to assure that America is defended and secure. They look down on elected representatives as a bunch of “goobers,” who can be efficiently “squeezed” for money by mouthing patriotic platitudes about “national security” (in sneering scare quotes).
The sad thing is that Gause is probably the best of the bunch. Unlike most of his colleagues, he’s willing to hold his nose and take taxpayers’ money even when it comes in defense packaging. The diehards around him would strangle any federal program for students who want to study languages in order to serve.
Well, I’m glad Gause has told us how he feels. I’ll be happy to convey his latest message to the appropriate charlatans on the Hill.