In August 2006, I wrote a post entitled “Massad mystery at Harvard.” There I asked why, for two years, Joseph Massad described his book Desiring Arabs as “forthcoming from Harvard University Press,” only to announce that it would be published by the University of Chicago Press. I wrote the following:
Last spring , Columbia promoted Massad to associate professor, a rank from which he could be tenured. Did the list of publications he submitted include Desiring Arabs as forthcoming from Harvard? If so, on what basis? What went wrong for Massad at Harvard University Press?…
Since Massad paraded the Harvard credential when he needed it, he should explain why it’s evaporated. And if the elusive book figured in Columbia’s promotion decision, the university should investigate Massad’s conduct—again.
So did Columbia ever look into that Harvard mystery? Massad himself (perhaps in response to my post) gave his explanation in the acknowledgments to Desiring Arabs (pp. xiii-xiv). It turns out that it hinges on Edward Said:
Edward [Said] read drafts of three chapters of the book…. [During] the conference celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Orientalism in April 2003, he asked me if I would be interested in publishing the book in his Harvard University Press (HUP) series. I was in disbelief of this unexpected praise. I prepared a proposal quickly and sent it to him and then forwarded it to the HUP editor. The HUP approved the contract for the book several months later, in September—two weeks before Edward’s death…. He called me on his cellular phone from the car while on his way home from yet another chemotherapy treatment at the hospital. “Any word from Harvard?” he asked. I told him that I had just heard half an hour earlier. He was thrilled. I was ecstatic.
Unfortunately, a few weeks before production was set to begin, the HUP editor and I realized that we had differing visions for the book, and we parted ways.
So the mystery has begun to unravel. “Forthcoming from Harvard University Press” was yet another Columbia inside job. At the time, Edward Said was the general editor of an HUP book series entitled Convergences. HUP apparently accepted Massad’s book provisionally for publication in Said’s series, on the basis of the proposal and Said’s reading of a few chapters. But after HUP had the complete manuscript—and Said was no longer editor of the series—its own editor rejected Massad’s finished product. (“We parted ways” is an amusing euphemism.) Presumably, this decision would have been based, at least in part, upon readers’ reports on the completed manuscript. (At university presses, anonymous peer review is a precondition of publication. All books accepted as proposals still must be vetted.)
The president and trustees of Columbia University, if they haven’t already approved Massad’s tenure, might well bear HUP’s decision in mind. Absent Edward Said, Massad must be judged strictly on his own merit. And they might take some interest in precisely why Massad’s book failed to make the cut at Harvard. “My books are not controversial at all in academe,” Massad recently steamed in a tirade against a critic of Desiring Arabs, “and [to] the extent that I am said to be ‘controversial’ at all, I am so for the New York tabloid press and for Campus Watch, and now for some right-wing gay newspapers upset with my book.” Well, at Harvard University Press, they were less than impressed.
Samantha Power is the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on genocide, and she has a professorship at Harvard (in something called “Global Leadership and Public Policy”). She is also a senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama. This isn’t an honorific: she has worked for Obama in Washington, she has campaigned for him around the country, and she doesn’t hesitate to speak for him. This morning, the Washington Post has a piece on Obama’s foreign policy team, identifying her (and retired Maj. Gen. Scott Garion) as “closest to Obama, part of a group-within-the-group that he regularly turns to for advice.” Power and Garion “retain unlimited access to Obama.” This morning’s New York Timesannounces that Power has an “irresistable profile” and “she could very well end up in [Obama’s] cabinet.”
She also has a problem: a corpus of critical statements about Israel. These have been parsed by Noah Pollak at Commentary’s blog Contentions, by Ed Lasky and Richard Baehr at American Thinker, and by Paul Mirengoff at Power Line.
Power made her most problematic statement in 2002, in an interview she gave at Berkeley. The interviewer asked her this question:
Let me give you a thought experiment here, and it is the following: without addressing the Palestine-Israel problem, let’s say you were an advisor to the President of the United States, how would you respond to current events there? Would you advise him to put a structure in place to monitor that situation, at least if one party or another [starts] looking like they might be moving toward genocide?
Power gave an astonishing answer:
What we don’t need is some kind of early warning mechanism there, what we need is a willingness to put something on the line in helping the situation. Putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import; it may more crucially mean sacrificing—or investing, I think, more than sacrificing—billions of dollars, not in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine, in investing the billions of dollars it would probably take, also, to support what will have to be a mammoth protection force, not of the old Rwanda kind, but a meaningful military presence. Because it seems to me at this stage (and this is true of actual genocides as well, and not just major human rights abuses, which were seen there), you have to go in as if you’re serious, you have to put something on the line.
Unfortunately, imposition of a solution on unwilling parties is dreadful. It’s a terrible thing to do, it’s fundamentally undemocratic. But, sadly, we don’t just have a democracy here either, we have a liberal democracy. There are certain sets of principles that guide our policy, or that are meant to, anyway. It’s essential that some set of principles becomes the benchmark, rather than a deference to [leaders] who are fundamentally politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people. And by that I mean what Tom Friedman has called “Sharafat” [Sharon-Arafat]. I do think in that sense, both political leaders have been dreadfully irresponsible. And, unfortunately, it does require external intervention…. Any intervention is going to come under fierce criticism. But we have to think about lesser evils, especially when the human stakes are becoming ever more pronounced.
It isn’t too difficult to see all the red flags in this answer. Having placed Israel’s leader on par with Yasser Arafat, she called for massive military intervention on behalf of the Palestinians, to impose a solution in defiance of Israel and its American supporters. Billions of dollars would be shifted from Israel’s security to the upkeep of a “mammoth protection force” and a Palestinian state—all in the name of our “principles.”
This quote has dogged Power, and she has gone to extraordinary lengths to put it behind her. Most notably, she called in the Washington correspondent of the Israeli daily Haaretz, Shmuel Rosner, to whom she disavowed the quote:
Power herself recognizes that the statement is problematic. “Even I don’t understand it,” she says. And also: “This makes no sense to me.” And furthermore: “The quote seems so weird.” She thinks that she made this statement in the context of discussing the deployment of international peacekeepers. But this was a very long time ago, circumstances were different, and it’s hard for her to reconstruct exactly what she meant.
It must be awful, at such a young age, to lose track of why you recommended the massive deployment of military force, and not that long ago. So let me help Samantha Power: I can reconstruct exactly what she meant.
Power gave the interview on April 29, 2002. This was the tail end of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield, Israel’s offensive into the West Bank in reaction to a relentless campaign of Palestinian suicide bombings that had killed Israeli civilians in the hundreds. The military operation included the clearing of terrorists from the West Bank city of Jenin (April 3-19). At the time, Palestinian spokespersons had duped much of the international media and human rights community into believing that a massacre of innocent Palestinians had taken place in Jenin. It had not, but the name of Israel had been smeared, particularly in academe. At Harvard, pro-Palestinian activists canvassed the faculty for support of a petition calling on Harvard to divest from Israel. (It was published on May 6.)
Power at the time was executive director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, which she founded in 1999. In 2001, she had recruited a celebrity director for the Carr Center: Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian intellectual and journalist who, like herself, had come to prominence writing about atrocities in the Balkans and Africa. A profile of Ignatieff in March 2002 described the division of labor in the Carr Center: “He shares administrative responsibilities with Samantha Power, the center’s executive director. The division of labor works wonderfully, he says: ‘She does all the work.'” Power later told a Canadian journalist that “their social relationship was based on three Bs: baseball, bottles and boys. They talked about the Boston Red Sox, of whom she is a fanatic supporter; they spent evenings together ‘yelling and laughing’ over bottles of wine, and she found him a kind and sympathetic confidant when it came to affairs of the heart.”
The Carr Center under this management team generally steered clear of the Middle East. But in that spring of 2002, the pressure to come up with something was very great. Ignatieff, who had been to the Middle East a few times, took the lead. On April 19, 2002, only ten days before Power emitted her “weird” quote, Ignatieff published an op-ed in the London Guardian, under this headline: “Why Bush Must Send in His Troops.” I wrote a thorough critique of this piece over five years ago, so I won’t repeat my dissection of its flaws. As I showed then, the op-ed includes every trendy calumny against Israel.
More relevant now are Ignatieff’s policy conclusions. “Neither side is capable of making peace,” he determined, “or even sitting in the same room to discuss it.” The United States should therefore move “to impose a two-state solution now.”
The time for endless negotiation between the parties is past: it is time to say that all but those settlements right on the 1967 green line must go; that the right of return is incompatible with peace and security in the region and the right must be extinguished with a cash settlement; that the UN, with funding from Europe, will establish a transitional administration to help the Palestinian state back on its feet and then prepare the ground for new elections before exiting; and, most of all, the US must then commit its own troops, and those of willing allies, not to police a ceasefire, but to enforce the solution that provides security for both populations.
Ignatieff ended with a grand flourish:
Imposing a peace of this amplitude on both parties, and committing the troops to back it up, would be the most dramatic exercise of presidential leadership since the Cuban missile crisis. Nothing less dramatic than this will prevent the Middle East from descending into an inferno.
So this was the thrilling idea that swept the Carr Center that April: a “dramatic exercise of presidential leadership,” through a commitment of U.S. troops to impose and enforce a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Middle East would be saved. The “amplitude” of this notion made divestment seem small-minded. Samantha Power did not misspeak ten days later in her Berkeley interview. She was retailing a vision she shared with her closest colleague. Power went a bit further than Ignatieff, when she spoke about how this show of presidential courage “might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import.” Ignatieff would never have written that. But it was implicit in his text anyway.
So Ignatieff’s op-ed was exactly what Power meant. That she should claim no recollection of any of this context seems… weird. Or perhaps not. Remember, Ignatieff wasn’t talking about deploying “international peacekeepers,” the context Power now suggests for her words. He specifically proposed United States troops, followed by anyone else who was “willing.” Their job wouldn’t be to keep the peace, but to “enforce the solution.” Far better today for Power to have some kind of blackout, than to tell the truth about the “dramatic exercise” she and Ignatieff envisioned.
(“Iggy,” by the way, left Harvard in 2005 to plunge into Canadian politics, and he is now deputy leader of Canada’s opposition Liberal Party. He still has strong views on what Americans should do. “I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve for a year,” he recently announced. “I’m for Obama.”)
Is there a conclusion to be drawn from this genealogy of a truly bad policy idea? Ignatieff himself may have hit on it. Last year he published a reflection on what he’d learned since experiencing real (as opposed to academic) politics. “As a former denizen of Harvard,” he wrote, “I’ve had to learn that a sense of reality doesn’t always flourish in elite institutions. It is the street virtue par excellence. Bus drivers can display a shrewder grasp of what’s what than Nobel Prize winners.”
Just substitute Pulitzer for Nobel.
Update: The Israel-relevant segment of the Power interview is now on YouTube.
Joseph Massad, the student-abusing extremist who’s left an indelible stain on Columbia, is back from leave to teach this semester. According to Massad, this is to be a banner year for him: in the spring, the University of Chicago Press will publish his new book, Desiring Arabs.
Wait a minute… Just last year, Massad told Columbia that Harvard University Press would publish that book. In his March 2005 statement to the Columbia ad hoc committee that investigated the charges against him, he announced proudly that “my recent work on sexuality and queer theory is also taught across the country, and a book length study on the subject is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.” The Nation, covering the Columbia controversy last year, also reported that Desiring Arabs “is forthcoming from Harvard.” (Its conclusion: such “scholarly output would seem to make him a viable candidate” for tenure.) Indeed, as far back as May 2004, Massad was telling readers of his Ahram Weekly columns that Desiring Arabs was “forthcoming from Harvard University Press.”
I don’t know what’s expected of faculty at Columbia. But in my neck of the academic woods, you don’t go around telling the world that your next book is forthcoming from Harvard, unless it’s really forthcoming from Harvard. That doesn’t mean a friendly chat with an editor in Cambridge. It means an acceptance letter, presumably based on a completed manuscript and readers’ reports. As it turns out, Massad described as “forthcoming” a book he hadn’t even finished. The Columbia Spectatorreported last fall that Massad was “spending this semester in Cairo, Egypt, finishing his book on homosexuality in the Arab world.” If so, it could hardly have been “forthcoming from Harvard.” According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on academic terminology, “forthcoming” indicates that a work has been completed and accepted for publication. (“Under submission” or “under review” refers to completed work that’s been submitted but not accepted. “In preparation” describes work that’s neither been completed nor accepted.)
This isn’t nitpicking. Last spring, Columbia promoted Massad to associate professor, a rank from which he could be tenured. Did the list of publications he submitted include Desiring Arabs as forthcoming from Harvard? If so, on what basis? What went wrong for Massad at Harvard University Press? And is Chicago really going to publish the book in the spring? (It’s not on their website.)
Since Massad paraded the Harvard credential when he needed it, he should explain why it’s evaporated. And if the elusive book figured in Columbia’s promotion decision, the university should investigate Massad’s conduct–again.
Update: It’s 2007 now, and the book is on the University of Chicago Press website.