Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Humanities Need a Course Correction. By Paula Marantz Cohen.

The Humanities Need a Course Correction. By Paula Marantz Cohen. Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2015.

Marantz Cohen:

Consider academia’s contrasting treatment of Erich Segal in the 1970s and Cornel West today.

Forty-five years ago, a Yale assistant professor of classics named Erich Segal published a best-selling romantic novel after completing his academic opus on Roman comedy. Although the book on Roman comedy was widely and positively reviewed in academic journals, Segal was denied tenure. Whether the success of his novel “Love Story”—which also became a blockbuster film in 1970—accounted for the denial, the perception within academia was that it did. The division between high and low in the humanities was then strictly enforced: A scholar didn’t stoop to writing popular fiction.

Today, Segal’s success would be applauded as a sign of savvy entrepreneurship, and his university would no doubt welcome the publicity. He could then spend the rest of his career analyzing the semiotics of his success, connecting “Love Story” to classical narratives, hosting a blog on the afterlife of the protagonist, Oliver Barrett IV, and parsing the meme: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

For an actual example of how things have changed since 1970, consider the 2001 case of philosopher  Cornel West, who was chastised by then-Harvard President  Larry Summers for recording a rap CD and writing the kinds of books reviewed in newspapers rather than in serious academic journals. Incensed, Mr. West decamped for Princeton, where he was embraced by that university’s president,  Shirley Tilghman. Mr. West has since amicably parted ways with Princeton and is now employed by the Union Theological Seminary, where he has continued to write popular books and articles and appear on talk shows.

What happened in the interval between Segal, who died in 2010, and Mr. West?

By the end of the 20th century, the humanities departments in universities had become closed enclaves. The writing of scholars in these disciplines had grown increasingly dense and jargon-filled, inaccessible to anyone without years of graduate study. For some academics, this enforced isolation became stifling. They sought new forms of expression. Thus literary theorists  Wendy Steiner, Frank Lentricchia and  Henry Louis Gates Jr. have turned to opera librettos, mystery novels and PBS documentaries.  Harold Bloom and  Stephen Greenblatt have largely abandoned scholarship for popular nonfiction, while others have escaped into blogging and personal memoir.

Driving this change is the emergence of a new media landscape. An academic book in the humanities from a good press used to have guaranteed sales to most university libraries and a solid readership among scholars in the field. Now, as fields have splintered and libraries have cut back on print acquisitions, an academic author, even a well-regarded one, is lucky to sell 300 copies of a book that may have taken years to write. Only the most masochistic scholar would cheerfully submit to that process.

Another motor of change has been the growth of creative-writing programs. To be a creative writer now doesn’t impinge on being an academic. In fact, an MFA in creative writing can sometimes provide a better route to a university position than a Ph.D., as students clamor to take courses in which they can write their own work rather than read the work of others.

A recent issue of PMLA, the official scholarly journal of the Modern Language Association, devotes a number of its pages to what it calls “The Semipublic Intellectual: Academia, Criticism, and the Internet Age.” The articles under this heading concede that online writing and reviewing (forms in which footnotes and theory are minimal) will soon have to be considered in tenure and promotion evaluation. PMLA, in short, is acknowledging its own imminent obsolescence.

There was once a generally agreed-upon hierarchy of what was considered original and important. Serious books were at the top, and television was at the bottom. (In the 1950s, the radio comedian  Fred Allen quipped that “imitation is the sincerest form of television.”) That hierarchy has mutated. Check out the repetitive subject matter and the duplication of references in books from the most-prestigious university presses. Television, on the other hand, has become an enormously creative medium. There are now many TV series available—from “The Wire” to “Blunt Talk”—that can surprise and delight a viewer with their insight and wit.

Academics my age have passed through two eras. We grew up revering great books and good writing. We then saw the books we loved become fodder for deconstructionist theory and politicization while the writing in our fields grew ugly. No wonder that many of us have turned to other forms of expression, connected to personal experiences and popular culture rather than the great tradition we were trained to study.

The future of the humanities seems to depend on finding our way to the following: a curriculum of serious reading that conforms to what Matthew Arnold called “the best which has been thought and said in the world”; a support for research-driven and critical writing that is accessible and graceful; and a perspective on popular culture that is intelligently appreciative when warranted. (This is what the eminent literary critic Christopher Ricks has done with his 2003 book on Bob Dylan, “Dylan’s Visions of Sin.”)

The challenges to getting to such a place are considerable, given where we are. But I hope the next generation of humanities scholars—recognizing the value of inspiring students to read great work and write eloquently about it—will take on the mission of renovating their disciplines.

A Reagan Doctrine for the Twenty-First Century. By Matthew Continetti.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, June 12, 1987.

A Reagan Doctrine for the Twenty-First Century. By Matthew Continetti. Washington Free Beacon, October 9, 2015.


How to confront Vladimir Putin.

From Sweden in the Baltic to Tartus in the Mediterranean, Russian forces are on the offensive. The consensus among U.S. officials not beholden to the White House is that Mitt Romney was right. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is the most dangerous threat to America.

And not only to America: Russia’s attempts to reclaim its empire spread conflict and misery, prolong war, destabilize the postwar alliance system that has brought security and prosperity to the world, and erode Western values such as freedom, equality, and individualism. Though Russia may no longer espouse global communist revolution, the consequences of its militarism and aggression are not limited to a small geographic area. The Comintern is gone. But the goals of dominating the Eurasian heartland, Finlandizing Europe, and isolating and challenging the United States have returned. The stronger Putin becomes, the more despotic, poorer, and more corrupt is the world.

Except for sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the occasional scolding, President Obama has been uninterested in retaliating against imperialism and deterring further aggression. He holds the view that history will expose Putin as a pretender and fool, and that Russia will be bogged down in a Syrian quagmire just as it was bogged down in Afghanistan long ago. What Obama forgets is that the Soviet Union’s defeat in Afghanistan came about because the United States financed and equipped anti-Soviet forces—a course of action he has rejected since the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Obama’s supporters note that there is no clear U.S. ally in the Syrian conflict. Obviously not, since the president did nothing to identify and assist potentially friendly anti-regime Sunnis when the war began. Nor has he aided fully those few groups—“Syrian Kurds close to Turkey, moderate forces supported by Jordan close to its border, and small number of other moderate Syrians”—that, at least rhetorically, the United States backs today.

Obama’s critics, meanwhile, are concerned with tactics. Both Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio have called for America to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. They’re several years too late. A no-fly zone might have worked at the beginning of the conflict, as part of a strategy of coercive diplomacy to remove Bashar al-Assad and reach some sort of power-sharing agreement among Syrian tribes. Now, with Su-25s flying unrestricted over Syria, a no-fly zone would be greeted by the Russians as a nonstarter.

Worse, it would invite direct confrontation with the Russians, who are already buzzing NATO airspace from their new southern flank. Putin would like nothing more than to humiliate America over the skies of Raqqah. A no-fly zone is also superfluous. Our forces are already operating above parts of Syria—we could establish safe-havens at any time without asking for Russian permission. The problem isn’t our capabilities. It’s our lack of will.

What to do? The time has come for a revised strategy towards Russia, the greatest military and ideological threat to the United States and to the world order it has built over decades as guarantor of international security. We’ve faced a similar problem before. To create a freer and richer world, not the United States but Russia must be knocked back on its heels.

That is exactly what Ronald Reagan did in the final years of the Cold War. What is required today is a Reagan Doctrine for the twenty-first century—a comprehensive military, diplomatic, and cultural approach that elevates America’s stature and diminishes Russia’s.

I can hear liberals already: Reagan, they’ll say, was not a warrior but a peacemaker. Didn’t he negotiate with Gorbachev, didn’t he offer at Reykjavik to eliminate all ICBMs in exchange for the right of strategic defense? And so he did. But to focus only on Reagan’s diplomacy is to suffer from historical myopia. It is to ignore Reagan’s first term in favor of his second.

The hawkish policies Reagan enacted between 1981 and 1985 gave him the economic, political, and military leverage to become friends with Gorbachev later. And only with Gorbachev: During Reagan’s first term, three Soviet leaders preceded the author of glasnost and perestroika. The president didn’t meet with any of them. “They keep dying on me,” he liked to say.

In their moral disapproval of force, in their fallacious belief that human beings of every nation and every government share the same values and interests, liberals forget that every diplomatic solution is based on the balance or preponderance of military power. It is the weaker party that seeks negotiations—just as Europe and the United States, consumed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, did after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Just as President Obama, preoccupied with ending the Middle Eastern wars and resolving the financial crisis, attempted his reset with Russia. Just as Europe and the United States, in the grip of anomie and malaise, have sought to freeze the conflict in Ukraine and “de-conflict” the escalating war in Syria.

Let’s reverse the equation.

Like the strategy pursued by our fortieth president more than thirty years ago, a twenty-first century Reagan Doctrine would have three parts:

Military buildup. President Reagan reversed the degradation and demoralization of the U.S. armed forces. The defense budget in his first term more than doubled. Yes, there was waste. But more important than the $400 toilet seat were the B1 bomber, the stealth fighter, the Trident submarine, and hundreds of F-14s and F-15s. Defense spending created jobs, inspired patriotism, and laid the foundation for American success in Operation Desert Storm and the Balkan wars. We use many of these platforms to this day.

The gusher of weapons scared our enemies. “The scale and pace of the American buildup under Reagan,” writes Henry Kissinger in Diplomacy, “reinforced all the doubts already in the minds of the Soviet leadership as a result of debacles in Afghanistan and Africa, about whether they could afford the arms race economically and—even more important—whether they could sustain it technologically.”

Who now holds such doubts? The trajectory of U.S. troop numbers and defense budgets is downward. The “sequester” is about to take a huge bite of the Pentagon’s resources. Our ability to fight in two theaters at once, a pillar of postwar American defense policy, is in doubt.

“Just as the threats have become visible and undeniable,” write the authors of “To Rebuild America’s Military,” a new American Enterprise Institute report, “the United States is continuing to cut the armed forces dramatically, having imposed the cuts through an extraordinary means—a law imposing arbitrary limits on parts of the federal budget and employing the mindless tool of sequestration—with no analysis whatsoever of the impact on the nation’s security.”

The AEI scholars recommend a return to the level of defense spending proposed by Robert Gates, and the gradual build to “an affordable floor of 4 percent of gross domestic product that would sustain the kind of military America needs.” These numbers might not be as shocking as Reagan’s. But at least they would reverse the hollowing out of the force. And they would grab the attention of the Kremlin.

Both left and right are likely to oppose more spending on the grounds of debt and deficits. For the left to make this critique is disingenuous—their leading economists say deficits do not matter in the current economic environment and call for an expansionary fiscal policy. What the right needs to understand is that deficit reduction and balanced budgets are worthy goals in a time of peace. And peacetime this is not.

Strategic Weapons. Vladimir Putin plays ICBM politics. His regime holds nuclear retaliation as its ultimate trump in negotiations—and while the Russians have not played this card, oh how they love to show it.

The U.S. response is naïve. Not to mention contradictory. It combines idealistic calls for nuclear abolition with hapless and toothless diplomacy that does little to stop Iran from spinning centrifuges, North Korea from building more bombs, and Russia from violating treaty commitments.

We forget we hold nuclear cards, too. This is a fact Reagan did not lose sight of. “The two strategic decisions which contributed most to ending the Cold War,” writes Kissinger, “were NATO’s deployment of American intermediate-range missiles in Europe and the American commitment to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).”

Keep the Pershing IIs on hold (for now). But please update and modernize our nuclear forces, which exist in an embarrassing state of disrepair and neglect. And do not forget the importance of strategic defense: Development of anti-ballistic missile technologies would be a highly controversial, and highly important, part of any renewed defense buildup. The broadening of the missile shield reassures allies—and worries Russia.

Not only would a revitalized and advanced nuclear force, coupled with increased funding and enlargement of strategic defense, assert U.S. supremacy, deter adversaries, and develop innovative technologies. It would also bring political benefits to whoever proposed it.

When Reagan announced SDI in the spring of 1983, notes Kissinger, “The experts had all the technical arguments on their side, but Reagan had got hold of an elemental political truth: In a world of nuclear weapons, leaders who make no effort to protect their peoples against accident, mad opponents, nuclear proliferation, and a whole host of other foreseeable dangers invite the opprobrium of posterity if disaster ever does occur.”

The president’s duty is to ensure that it does not—not by terrorists who desire weapons of mass destruction, not by the states that possess them.

Insurgency. It was Charles Krauthammer who coined the phrase “Reagan Doctrine” in an April 1985 essay for Time magazine. The article described Reagan’s support for anticommunist forces in Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan, and beyond. Some of those forces, like Solidarity in Poland, truly were democratic. Others, like the mujahedin, were the enemies of our enemy—and thus, in specific circumstances, worthy of our help.

It takes a set of moral blinders the size of the president’s ego not to recognize today’s Russia as America’s enemy. There is no other power as devoted to undermining U.S. authority and prestige and interests—from subverting the NATO alliance to replacing us as the dominant external power in the Middle East to hacking our technological infrastructure to harboring the fugitive Edward Snowden. As America has waned, Putin has waxed. And so for America to wax, Putin must wane.

We must arm his enemies. That means deadly weapons and massive financial aid to Ukraine. Forward bases in the Baltics. And the sending of arms and cash to the Syrian rebels his jets are strafing. Not even the liberal pretends that Putin is going after ISIS; why should our government?

Imposing costs on Putin requires dealing with unsavory people. It risks unforeseen consequences, some potentially negative. But the actual consequences of the policy being pursued at the moment—ongoing war, regional destabilization, humanitarian chaos, Islamic radicalization, and erosion of U.S. leadership and credibility—are worse.

The insurgency launched by Reagan was not limited to arms. It also had an ideological component. “The Reagan Doctrine has been widely understood to mean only support for anticommunist guerillas fighting pro-Soviet regimes, but from the first the doctrine had a broader meaning. Support for anticommunist guerillas was the logical outgrowth, not the origin, of a policy of supporting democratic reform or revolution everywhere, in countries ruled by right-wing dictators as well as by communist parties,” says Robert Kagan in A Twilight Struggle.

Speaking forthrightly and proudly of liberal values, and condemning their abuse within the Russian sphere of influence, is a requirement of any foreign policy associated with Ronald Reagan. As Secretary of State George Shultz put it in 1985: “The forces of democracy around the world merit our standing with them. To abandon them would be a shameful betrayal—a betrayal not only of brave men and women but of our highest ideals.”

Standing with the forces of democracy is not the same as calling for elections everywhere. Elections are not the beginning of the policy. They are its endpoint. The beginning is in the rhetorical promotion of individual freedoms, in renewed financial support for nongovernmental organizations promoting civil society and an independent media, in education in the habits and traditions of the West.

The Kremlin spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on a global propaganda network that spreads conspiracy theories, distorts reality, and incites suspicion and hatred of the United States and its representative democracy. And that is just Russia—China and Qatar have similar operations. We have nothing that bears comparison. The main Putin network, RT, has more employees than the Voice of America. We are disarming ourselves not only materially but also ideologically. This must end.

The agenda I have outlined would cost quite a bit of money. It would involve America with some morally suspect individuals. The debate over it would be heated. There would be reprisals.

But the Reagan Doctrine was all of those things, too. And it worked. “The Reagan Doctrine proclaims overt and unashamed American support for anti-Communist revolution,” Krauthammer wrote in 1985. “The grounds are justice, necessity, and democratic tradition.” Replace anti-Communist with anti-authoritarian, and what has changed? If we are to reestablish American ideals, American interests, and American pride, we must hurt the bad guys, and overtly and unashamedly revise the Reagan Doctrine for a new American century.

Putin? He is one bad guy. So let’s take off our gloves.

What Is Putin’s End Game In Syria? By Garry Kasparov.

What is Putin’s end game in Syria? Garry Kasparov interviewed by Paul Gigot. Video. Journal Editorial Report. Fox News, October 10, 2015. Also at Lenovo.

Putin’s Goal in Syria Is Chaos. By Garry Kasparov. Newsweek, October 7, 2015.


One year ago, the Russian military expanded its push into eastern Ukraine once it became clear that Europe and the United States had no interest in standing up to Vladimir Putin’s latest gambit—at least
not in any way that would deter him. The core of the problem with the West's response is that economic
and political measures cannot stop a dictator's tanks or defend a commercial airliner from a Russian
missile. Putin consistently responds to words with action and he has done so again in Syria, where
Russian airpower is now bolstering the murderous regime of Bashar Assad by hitting rebel forces,
including those trained and supported by the United States. The Kremlin’s official pretexts, that the
strikes are against ISIS and part of the global war on terror are, like most Kremlin statements, blatantly
false, as can be seen by a glance at a map of Russia's targets.

As in Ukraine, Putin will stay in Syria until it no longer suits him. He has no long-term strategic goals
beyond creating chaos and weakening the alliances of the free world wherever possible. This allows him
to play the big man on the international stage, an essential element of his domestic appeal. 24/7 propaganda and Soviet nostalgia have turned Putin's invasion into a domestic hit in Russia. In contrast,
Russians have no interest in Syria or Assad, but who cares what they want? Unlike the leaders of
Europe, the U.S., and other democratic countries, Putin doesn’t have to worry about how popular his
foreign adventures are at home. There are no checks and balances in the Russian government, no free
media to criticize him, and no popularity polls that matter more than ranks of well-armed riot police.
This security allows dictators like Putin to move opportunistically into any breach as the White House
dithers. Yesterday Ukraine, today Syria, and what about tomorrow? Africa provides inviting targets,
such as Benghazi in Libya, another hot-spot where the United States has retreated. Putin is happy to sell
or even make gifts of Russian weapons far and wide, especially where he smells oil.

Despite looting Russian retirement funds for cash and all his bluster about changing the world order at
the United Nations last month, Putin isn’t interested in waging a big war himself. The one thing Putin’s
dictatorship couldn’t stand is for its hero to look like a loser. He cannot risk a military confrontation he
might lose, hence his habit of finding targets NATO isn't willing to defend, such as Syrian rebels and
Ukrainian farmers. Putin’s military pokes and prods the borders of NATO to provoke division among his

He does it in the Baltics and now he’s doing it in Turkey, a NATO member with the second-largest
military in the alliance. Will America and Western Europe defend Turkish airspace or will they tell the
Turks to stand down? It’s a question Putin may soon demand an answer to. Meanwhile, he’s helping
Assad flood Europe with refugees while at the same time supporting anti-immigrant parties there. The cynical calculus is that when the time comes for the European Union to renew sanctions on Russia over
Ukraine, perhaps a few of his allies will be in power to block them.

When I said last year that Putin was more dangerous than ISIS it was not a reference to the immense
Russian nuclear arsenal, at least not directly. ISIS is dangerous and growing more so, but it is regional
and would quickly be beaten down without Putin and his clients in Iran and Syria stoking civil war and
creating fertile ground for ISIS's recruiting by slaughtering Sunnis. Obama is already scurrying to avoid
contact between Russian and U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, allowing Putin to function as a nucleararmed
guarantor of Assad's massacres.

Every Putin action that catches the West flat-footed leads to another round of what a brilliant “chess
master” he is, a metaphor that annoys me more than most, as you might imagine. For years I’ve said that
Putin doesn’t play geopolitical chess, and if he did he wouldn’t be very good at it. He is, however, good
at playing poker with a weak hand against anxious opponents who fold against his every bluff.
The greatest danger isn’t in confronting Putin, it’s in waiting so long to do so that the stakes will be
incredibly high. The longer we wait, the more confident he becomes and the more dangerous the
eventual confrontation will be. Stopping Putin will be harder now than it would have been two years
ago, but easier than it will be a year from now.

Putin is trapped in a downward spiral of hatred and violence. His survival at home depends on it. It will
end only with a major conflict abroad and when Russians are willing to shed their blood to free
themselves. When the end comes for Putin it will be the way that most dictators fall: abruptly, violently,
and as a result of the economic and moral bankruptcy of the state he has created in his image.