For those at Yale who imagine themselves warriors in the perpetual and valiant struggle against the oppressor that is this University, it has been a rather uneventful couple of months. Major hostilities in Iraq have ceased; tensions between the administration and the unions have quelled. Yet last Friday, the perfect protest opportunity emerged out of the heavens as President Bush announced the formation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the intelligence his administration used in pressing the case for the removal of Saddam Hussein. One of the selected members was our own President Richard Levin. Let the conspiracy theories begin.
My first reaction to this announcement was appreciation, and one would hope that most other Yalies would share that feeling. But alas, the forces of campus cynicism always find an outlet somewhere. With apparently nothing else better to do on a Friday evening, a group of 20 or so students and faculty shouted at Levin as he left a press conference. Thomas Frampton ’06, followed Levin to his waiting car shoving a sign in his face, only to yell, “What experience could you possibly have on weapons of mass destruction or U.S. intelligence?” Levin, whose personal character has been a constant target of Yale’s unions, responded with an answer that perfectly characterized the activist left at Yale, “I have something you lack — an open mind.”
On Monday, the editors of this paper criticized the union-sponsored protests yet were stronger in their professed shock at the reason for the demonstration than in their censure of it. The editors claim to be “confused,” “baffled” and state that they “just don’t understand” why students at Yale would so angrily reject President Bush’s decision. Yet while the editorial board is entirely correct in its recognition of this “misguided” and “seemingly meaningless protest” (it did not just appear meaningless, but actually was), there is little for them to be confused about. Criticism of Levin’s appointment has nothing to do with his qualifications and everything to do with his politics.
Some have argued that members of the body who lack experience in professional intelligence gathering are unfit to serve. But there is no good reason for every member of the commission to be an intelligence expert. Having a diversity of experience will make the body more thorough in its investigation; after all, it was a team of government intelligence officials themselves who supposedly screwed up in the first place. Intelligence is just another word for information, and the members of the commission, all respected experts in their fields of law, government and economics, will all bring a different approaches to analyzing the information presented before them.
True, the conditions of the panel’s selection are not optimal. It should have been Congress, and not the president, who formed the panel and setting the panel’s deadline months after the presidential election is a cynical ploy. But claims that the commission will be some right-wing rubber stamp are preposterous. In a letter to the editor on Wednesday (“Protest aims at problems with intelligence committee and Levin’s participation,” 2/11), Saqib Bhatti ’04 wrote, “Such a commission can hardly be called ‘independent.’ Since when does the defendant get to handpick the prosecution?” Since when did this country abandon the principle of presumed innocence? The commission has been formed to investigate, not to make baseless assumptions, as Bhatti as already done. In addition to Levin, the commission thus far includes Lloyd Cutler, who advised Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (during the Whitewater scandal no less) and Patricia Wald, an assistant attorney general in the Carter administration. Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about war, is no friend of the current president. William Studeman was deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency under both Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton. This is a bipartisan commission and very may well hold the administration responsible for failures in intelligence gathering. So while Bhatti castigates Levin for being “complicit in this travesty,” by not “taking a principled stance and rejecting Bush’s offer,” I applaud President Levin for serving his country.
The heart of the matter is that the parochial attitude of the protesting groups has led them to believe that Presidents Bush and Levin are already guilty, and there is nothing that will convince these stubborn individuals otherwise.
President Levin’s qualifications do not matter here; he has opposed the interests of the unions — that is what matters. Whether it be publishing a meaningless report condemning some of Yale’s founders for owning slaves three centuries ago or demanding that the University pay a greater and greater share of the city’s annual budget, the unions have stopped at nothing to portray Yale in the worst light possible. Arguments that Levin is unqualified to serve on the committee are a facade covering the real motive of these protests: the unions’ anti-Yale agenda.
In addition to a basic lack of reason, there is something far more ominous underscoring this campaign of negativity. In their fight against Yale, the unions and students especially have lost a great deal of civility. When a student approaches the leader of the University and hurls accusations at him as if he were a criminal, only to be encouraged by his peers and faculty, Yale loses some of its luster. It slowly begins to resemble the campus of the 1960s, when professors were forced off their podiums and told that they had no right to speak. Among students at Yale, hopefully a closed mind is more the exception than the rule.
James Kirchick is a sophomore in Pierson College.