Some day, Yale’s prince will come

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Danish cartoons scandal at Yale University Press is the role of the university administration. When author Jytte Klausen was summoned by John Donatich, director of the press, to hear that it wouldn’t publish the cartoons in her book about them, Donatich had company. Also present were the chair of Yale’s Mideast center, Marcia Inhorn, and Linda Lorimer, Yale vice president and secretary of the Yale Corporation. Klausen now asserts that the university effectively forced the hand of press, by collecting almost “unanimous” opinions of “experts” warning that violence would erupt if the images were republished. Klausen: “Once the university had decided to collect these alarmist reports about the consequences [of including the pictures], there was very little the press could do. That is why I agreed to go ahead with it, [although] I disagree with it.” The press has confirmed reaching its decision “after receiving the outside advice collected by the university.” And that advice was collected from on high. Islamic art historian Sheila Blair, one of the outside experts (who recommended in favor of publication), says she was approached by an assistant in the office of Yale president Richard Levin.

What prompted the Yale administration to intervene? Roger Kimball and Diana West have already suggested that Yale University is foraging for funding from oil-soaked Arab sources. Yale’s administration intervened not to prevent violence, but to prevent damage to its fundraising prospects in Araby. There’s a strong prima facie case for this, and it revolves around Yale’s courting of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Over the years, I’ve reported on Prince Alwaleed’s efforts to buy up prime academic real estate in the United States. It was six years ago, in July 2003, that Alwaleed, then the world’s fifth-richest man, announced his plan to go on what I called “an academic shopping spree.” On a stop in Britain, Alwaleed revealed that “I am in the process of establishing centers of Arab and Islamic studies at select universities in the United States.” I made a prediction:

If you want a fabulously wealthy Saudi royal to drop out of the sky in his private jet and leave a few million, you had better watch what you say.… Prince Alwaleed’s buying binge is liable to reduce the entire field [of Middle Eastern studies] to a cargo cult, with profs and center directors dancing the ardha in the hope of attracting the flying prince.… In the near future, don’t be surprised to see grinning university presidents posing with Prince Alwaleed. They will say there are no strings attached. Puris omnia pura: To the pure all things are pure.

Sure enough, in December 2005, Harvard and Georgetown universities announced that they’d each received $20 million endowments from Prince Alwaleed—Harvard for an Islamic studies program and Georgetown for John Esposito’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Sure enough, a photographer captured Georgetown’s President John J. DeGioia beaming alongside the Prince, and a Georgetown administrator made the inevitable assurance: “The funds are designated, but there are no strings attached.”

The crucial thing to know about Prince Alwaleed is that he believes in “strategic philanthropy.” He’s not tied emotionally to particular universities, and he’s not interested in honors. He seeks maximum return on investment. The two $20 million gifts he made in 2005 followed a semi-secret competition, in which half a dozen institutions put on their most Saudi-friendly face. Alwaleed later named some names in an interview with the New York Times: Harvard, Georgetown, Chicago, Michigan, “and several of the Ivy Leagues” were in the running. The interviewer pressed for more names. “Please. Keep the other universities out,” said Alwaleed. “I’d rather not embarrass them.”

Who was spared embarrassment? The Yale Daily News asked President Levin if Yale had been in the race; Levin “said two University proposals had been in the final running.” Finalist, but not a winner.

But everyone assumes that Alwaleed will run another competition. He isn’t worth as much as he was a few years back, but according to Forbes, he’s still worth over $13 billion. (In March, he summoned a Forbes reporter to spend a week with him, just to prove he’s still living the opulent life. “Observing wealth on this scale, even for a seasoned billionaires reporter, was staggering.”) And he’s still in the academic market—so says Muna AbuSulayman, executive director of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation: “Because of what is happening (in the markets) people might think he is stopping his philanthropy; on the contrary he is fully committed to his charity goals no matter what happens.” According to her, the Alwaleed Foundation has set aside $100 million for its Islam-West dialogue project, which endowed the centers at Harvard and Georgetown.

This same Muna AbuSulayman is also Alwaleed’s point person for his academic programs. “I used to work with him at Kingdom Holding, I was head of strategic studies, and I was given the assignment of doing the first centers in the U.S. I guess I did such a good job that he actually offered me the foundation.” You can see her in this photo of Alwaleed with Georgetown’s president, and in this one of Alwaleed with Harvard’s provost (she’s the one with the hijab). AbuSulayman continues to monitor the Alwaleed centers; in March, she convened their directors in London for their first joint planning meeting. (In this photo, she’s surrounded by the directors of the endowed centers, including Georgetown’s John Esposito and Harvard’s Roy Mottahedeh. Look carefully for strings attached.)

Now it gets interesting. In April, Yale named Muna AbuSulayman a “Yale World Fellow” for 2009. This isn’t some honorific, and she’ll reside from August through December in New Haven. (Her Facebook fan page, August 16: “I need help locating a Town House/condo for short term leasing near Yale University… Anyone familiar with that area?”) Can you imagine a better way to set the stage for a major Alwaleed gift? Hosting for a semester the very person who structured the Harvard and Georgetown gifts, and who now directs Alwaleed’s charitable foundation? A stroke of genius.

Imagine, then—and we’re just imagining—that someone in the Yale administration, perhaps in President Levin’s office, gets wind of the fact that Yale University Press is about to publish a book on the Danish cartoons—The Cartoons That Shook the World. The book is going to include the Danish cartoons, plus earlier depictions of the Prophet Muhammad tormented in Dante’s Inferno, and who-knows-what-else. Whooah! Good luck explaining to people like Prince Alwaleed that Yale University and Yale University Press are two different shops. The university can’t interfere in editorial matters, so what’s to be done? Summon some “experts,” who’ll be smart enough to know just what to say. Yale will be accused of surrendering to an imagined threat by extremists. So be it: self-censorship to spare bloodshed in Nigeria or Indonesia still sounds a lot nobler than self-censorship to keep a Saudi prince on the line for $20 million.

Yale has seen its endowment suffer billions in losses, and its administration has the mission of making the bucks back. Yale’s motto is lux et veritas, light and truth, but these days it might as well be pecunia non olet: money has no odor—whatever its source. Still, that isn’t the mission of Yale University Press, which seeks to help authors of exceptional merit shed full light on the truth. More than three years ago, I warned against “the deep corruption that Prince Alwaleed’s buying spree is spreading through academe and Middle Eastern studies.” If this is what caused Yale University to trespass so rudely against the independence of its press, then the rot has spread even further than I imagined. I’ve been a reader for Yale University Press, which I think publishes a more interesting list in Middle Eastern studies than any university press. But if editorial decisions are to be subjected to vetting and possible abortion by Yale’s money collectors, why bother?

Ignore all the denials, and watch for a hefty gift from Arabia, perhaps for another Alwaleed program in Islamic apologetics. Fat endowments speak louder than words—or cartoons.

Chas Freeman and 9/11

How important has resentment of Israel been to Al Qaeda’s terrorism? Here is one side of the argument, by an American who knows Saudi Arabia well:

The heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was told by Saudi friends that on Saudi TV there were three terrorists who came out and spoke. Essentially the story they told was that they had been recruited to fight for the Palestinians against the Israelis, but that once in the training camp, their trainers gradually shifted their focus away from the Israelis to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and to the United States. So the recruitment of terrorists has a great deal to do with the animus that arises from that continuing and worsening situation.

And here is the opposing view, by an American who knows the Kingdom equally well:

Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.

So now you’ve heard two sides of the debate. Who made the first statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Who made the second statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

The first quote dates from January 2004, the second from October 1998. The difference between them is 9/11, when it became the Saudi line to point to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians as the “root cause” of the September 11 attacks. The initial promoter of this approach in the United States (well before Walt and Mearsheimer) was Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed. “At times like this one,” Alwaleed announced a month after 9/11, “we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause.” That statement led then-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani to return a $10 million check Alwaleed had just presented to him for a special “Twin Towers” relief fund.

Since 9/11 Freeman hasn’t repeated his 1998 assessment (“nothing to do with Israel”), instead sticking with his Saudi-pleasing spin of 2004 (“the heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum”). It’s not hard to figure out why. When the 9/11 Commission interviewed him in 2003, it noted that his position as president of the Middle East Policy Council “requires regular trips to the Persian Gulf for fundraising. While there, he meets with many senior Saudi officials.” In 2006, Freeman finally went the extra mile, offering this explanation for 9/11:

We have paid heavily and often in treasure for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago, we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home.

Freeman was now touting precisely the sort of nonsense he had previously dismissed out of hand. And he hit paydirt for doing it: within months, Prince Alwaleed wrote a check to Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council for $1 million. Here is a photo of Freeman, supplicant, visiting Alwaleed in the latter’s Riyadh HQ.

Does Freeman really believe that Israel’s actions caused Bin Laden’s terror? Who knows? He’s put forward two completely contradictory explanations. One would like to believe that in his heart of hearts, he still knows what he knew in 1998, that Bin Laden’s “campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel.” One would like to believe that in 2006, he was cynically shilling for the Saudis when he blamed 9/11 on “our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach.” Because if he wasn’t just cynically shilling, he’s gone off the rails. (Actually, there is a third Freeman explanation for 9/11, so bizarre that I don’t know quite how to categorize it. Parse this: “What 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back.”)

If Freeman’s gone off the rails, he obviously shouldn’t be taken out of mothballs to coordinate U.S. intelligence. But that’s so even if he was just cynically shilling. “An ambassador,” said Sir Henry Wotton, “is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.” In America, an ex-ambassador is all too often an honest man hired from abroad to lie to his own country. Freeman may have an impeccable record of past service, just as his old buddies attest. But if the National Intelligence Council and its products are to earn the respect of the American people, the NIC chair cannot be suspected of ever having deliberately twisted the truth into something else for our consumption, especially on a crucial issue of national security and at the behest of foreign interests.

Chas Freeman doesn’t pass that test.

Update, March 9: Some have argued that the two opening quotes in this post are actually consistent with one another. So I offer the full context of the first quote from 1998, which demonstrates that on that occasion, Freeman was actively deflecting the thesis that Bin Laden’s appeal rested on Israel and U.S. support for it. He was chairing a panel, and a member of the audience asked a question.

Q: I’m astonished that nobody has mentioned the name Osama bin Laden. And it astonishes me also that we do nothing, apparently, to indicate that we are not a colony of Israel, when his whole appeal depends on demonstrating and reminding Muslims the world over that the United States is identified with Israel. If we do not develop a firm disagreement with Israel, we are going to suffer repeated casualties and deaths, including Foreign Service personnel.

AMB. FREEMAN: Perhaps I could begin by saying that Mr. Osama bin Laden is a renegade from his family and from Saudi Arabia; his family has disowned him, and the kingdom has certainly dissociated itself from him. Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.

So Freeman was actively deflecting an argument he himself would later make. It is interesting that this one-time-only absolution of Israel occurred while Freeman was playing host to a panel featuring Martin Indyk, at the time Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. Maybe that explains it.

Pointer: See subsequent post, Chas Freeman and preemptive cringe.

Update, late afternoon, March 10: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”

Georgetown Yankees in Prince Alwaleed’s court

In December, Harvard and Georgetown universities announced that they’d each received $20 million from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, for programs in Islamic studies. There’s been much commentary on this, and I’ll have more to say later. For now, I draw your attention to the photograph of the signing ceremony for the Georgetown deal.

Presumably, Alwaleed’s own photographer shot the event (it took place on November 7 at one of his properties in Paris), and it seems logical to assume that Alwaleed selected the photograph for release to the press. Anyone gazing upon it will sense immediately that this wasn’t just a signing ceremony. It was a deliberately choreographed court ritual, about power and control.

The most striking element in the mise en scène is the positioning of Prince Alwaleed. He is front and center. Immediately to his right is Georgetown president John J. DeGioia. Note that they aren’t positioned as equals—as joint partners in a shared enterprise. That’s because DeGioia is a mere a recipient of royal largesse, inferior to Prince Alwaleed. This is true not only in the formal sense that he is not of royal lineage. It’s also true in absolute terms of wealth. Georgetown’s endowment is a meager $680 million. Prince Alwaleed’s personal worth is estimated at $23.7 billion. In other words, Georgetown’s entire endowment can be tucked into the leftovers of Alwaleed’s worth, to the right of the decimal point.

It’s telling, too, that DeGioia is grinning in gratitude, while Prince Alwaleed remains expressionless. DeGioia has achieved a coup, having added greatly to the university’s endowment. It remains for Georgetown to do what it takes to put a smile on Prince Alwaleed’s face. “We are deeply honored by Prince Alwaleed’s generosity,” DeGioia said in a statement announcing the gift. It’s a telling formula. Prince Alwaleed, unlike most donors to universities, hasn’t exchanged his money for the trifling honors of academe. He has showered Georgetown with his money and his honor. Now it’s incumbent upon Georgetown to give him what he wants in return.

That’s where the figure seated at the far left comes in. He’s Georgetown professor John Esposito, founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which has now been renamed for Prince Alwaleed. Esposito, more than any other academic, contributed to American complacency prior to 9/11. He peers out from this photograph as if to say: I’m back. Indeed he is, having proved that he’s still a magnet for Arab and Muslim money. Prince Alwaleed apparently decided that while Esposito’s reputation may be dented, the professor still has some value in him. (Remember, too, that the prince made his fortune buying up distressed stock.) So Esposito’s now a bought and paid-for subsidiary, and he’s signed himself over in his own hand, as this photograph attests. (But Esposito, to his credit, doesn’t undersell himself. A recent profile reported that he’d unloaded his trophy Hillandale home to the NFL commissioner, downsizing to a Bethesda, Maryland condo, while keeping his getaway on the Maryland shore and a “dream home” on the Florida coast. He collects up to $30,000 for speaking to groups that support his message. Advocating for foreign interests from within the academy can be a lucrative vocation.)

What’s also striking, too, is that DeGioia and Esposito have crossed the Atlantic to accept the gift in Paris—specifically, at the Hotel George V, owned by Prince Alwaleed. The great Arabian prince cannot be troubled to come to Georgetown, but rather summons his newly-acquired agents to his outlying campsite to collect their gift, hear his wishes, and take oaths to do his bidding.

Finally, note that the scene is flanked by two national flags, of the United States and Saudi Arabia. Georgetown is a private university (with its own flag), and Prince Alwaleed is a private businessman. The agreement between them isn’t a treaty between governments. But the national flags send the implied message that this deal is somehow in the interests of the two countries and deserves their blessing. Prince Alwaleed thus claims to serve a higher purpose, as a self-professed “friend” of the United States and its “special relationship” with the Saudi kingdom.

I find the whole scene both fascinating and repelling. It’s the most dramatic visual confirmation of the deep corruption that Prince Alwaleed’s buying spree is spreading through academe and Middle Eastern studies. Erik Smulson, assistant vice president for communications at Georgetown, made this assurance about the gift: “The funds are designated, but there are no strings attached.” Such boiler-plate statements are ritualistic incantations. Over two years ago, I predicted that Alwaleed would reduce Middle Eastern studies to a cargo cult, with university administrators vying to win the attention of the flying prince. And I wrote this passage: “In the near future, don’t be surprised to see grinning university presidents posing with Prince Alwaleed. They will say there are no strings attached. Puris omnia pura: To the pure all things are pure.”

My prediction has come true.