Last week, Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign announced the Mayor’s team of foreign policy advisors. Charles Hill, a renowned former diplomat who now teaches at Yale, has been named Giuliani’s chief foreign policy advisor and head of his foreign policy advisory board. Other senior advisors whom I know personally include my old friend Norman Podhoretz, my Harvard colleague Stephen Rosen, and Hoover’s Peter Berkowitz. Other senior advisors: Sen. Bob Kasten, S. Enders Wimbush, and Kim Holmes.
I’ve also been named to the team, as senior Middle East advisor. I agreed to come on board for a simple reason: I believe that Mayor Giuliani gets it. He understands perfectly what is at stake in the Middle East, he sees precisely the forces arrayed for and against us, he knows this will be a long contest, and he has the resolve to see the United States prevail. I don’t see that same depth of understanding in any of the other candidates.
So choosing the Mayor was an easy call. But taking on this sort of role did give me a moment’s pause, because of something written by my dear and departed friend, the late Elie Kedourie. A scholar of the Middle East and political philosophy, he achieved an astonishing grasp of the nitty-gritty of statecraft, through the painstaking study of British diplomatic records. This led him to conclude that making foreign policy was an entirely “practical pursuit,” which nowhere overlapped the scholarly vocation. In 1961, he wrote an article chiding academics for throwing around advice about foreign policy.
If the academic is to recommend action here and now–and in foreign policy action must be here and now–should he not have exact and prompt knowledge of situations and their changes? Is it then proposed that foreign ministries should every morning circulate to historians and “social scientists” the reports of their agents and the dispatches of their diplomats? Failing this knowledge, the academic advising or exhorting action will most likely appear the learned fool, babbling of he knows not what.
Elie anticipated the riposte:
It may be objected that this is not what is meant at all; we do not, it may be said, want the academic to concern himself with immediate issues or the minutiae of policies; we want his guidance on long-term trends and prospects; and here, surely, his knowledge of the past, his erudition, his reflectiveness will open to him vistas unknown to the active politician, or unregarded by him. And should not this larger view, this wider horizon be his special contribution to his country’s policies and to its welfare?
Yet this, too, Elie rejected. “This appeal to patriotism, this subtle flattery, needs must be resisted,” he wrote. Why? “The long view, the balanced view, the judicious view, can positively unfit a man for action, and for giving advice on action.” To make policy, wrote Kedourie, is to leap into the unknown.
Shall academics presume to instruct a man how he shall leap? Presumption is the pride of fools, and it ought to be the scholar’s pride not to presume. It is pursuit of knowledge and increase in learning which gives scholars renown and a good name. How then should they, clothed as they are in the mantle of scholarship, yet imitate this lobby or that pressure group, and recommend this action or that, all the time knowing full well that in politics one is always acting in a fog, that no action is wholly to the good, and that every action in benefiting one particular interest will most likely be to another’s detriment.
I gave much thought to Elie’s view of this over the years, so much so that I took it as the theme of a lecture I delivered a few years back, to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing. I could see the point of his uncompromising position–but also why, as I showed in my lecture, he eventually compromised it himself. For that story, you’ll have to read the lecture in full. But here’s a clue as to where Kedourie finally came to rest, from an article he published in 1978:
It is usually (and rightly) said that the academic’s virtues–his critical turn of mind, and his willingness to follow the argument wherever it leads–become defects in the man of action, who must accustom himself to make quick decisions on the basis of hunches and imperfect information. But in a region like the Middle East, where yesterday’s friend can become today’s opponent, where alliances and allegiances shimmer and dissolve like the fata morgana, the academic’s skepticism, his readiness to scrutinize far-fetched theories and unlikely suppositions, are perhaps qualities that even busy men of action should cultivate.
Ah. For the Middle East, Elie Kedourie was prepared to make an exception. I’m glad he did.
Addendum: View this speech on the Middle East by Mayor Giuliani, delivered on June 26 at a synagogue in Rockville, Maryland (where, as it happens, I grew up).