Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cornell Alumni Magazine Smears Alumnus Wolfowitz

Being a recent graduate from Cornell University, I found it interesting that a fellow alumnus, Paul Wolfowitz was recently nominated by President Bush to lead the World Bank. The current defense undersecretary and '65 graduate is controversial to say the least. When I graduated in May 2004, my graduation or convocation program had a list of notable Cornell Alumni. I believe it included Bush's current secretary of treasury John Snow, but I could not find any information on a known Cornell alumnus, Paul Wolfowitz. I figured that maybe he was not included because he wasn't a high enough ranking member of the administration to be worth mentioning there, but I had serious doubts about that idea.

So this morning, I decided to search around Cornell's web site and see if I could find the notable alumni list and see if Dr. Wolfowitz had been added to it. I could not find that list, perhaps it isn't online, but I did find a rather troubling alumni magazine article about Wolfowitz and his Cornell-professor-father that read more like a serial killer's backstory than the standard alumni fluff piece. Right off the bat, the article begins its hatchet-work:

"...The childhood Paul and his words of wisdom have vanished from his dreams. Maybe Browne doesn't need the advice. Or maybe something is telling his unconscious that Paul Wolfowitz is no longer the guy to be giving it.

Wolfowitz is probably the most influential deputy defense secretary in U.S. history, and almost certainly the most vilified. Ever since he emerged as a leading proponent of the invasion of Iraq, this soft-spoken son of a Cornell mathematician has found himself at the epicenter of an ongoing war of ideas surrounding the use and abuse of American power. In the narrative of the antiwar movement, 'Wolfie' is cast as a lead villain, the utopian whose fantasy of an imperial foothold in the Middle East coaxed a credulous president into a bloodbath; among neoconservative policymakers and pundits, he's the big picture visionary whose faith in the transformative goodness of democracy brought down a tyrant.

But as the optimistic pre-invasion scenario he so passionately advocated seems ever more implausible (and as Wolfowitz--now said to be an embattled figure within the Bush Administration-- recedes in prominence), a third, more conflicted character has emerged: the misguided idealist who managed to deceive himself about the price of regime change. Probing his biography for clues, many journalists seized on his graduate studies at the University of Chicago with the late Leo Strauss, the German émigré political philosopher whose ideas inspired several prominent neoconservative thinkers. Strauss's interpretation of Plato's ideal Republic, where an enlightened philosopher caste tells 'noble lies' to the masses while whispering esoteric truths to a select few, made the Straussian connections running through neocon policy circles an irresistible topic of media speculation."

It is interesting that they decided to include this in a magazine designed to maintain alumni ties to the university and thus increase alumni donations. I am pretty certain that the author of the article is an Ithacan, a species not known for balanced political writing, but why on earth is Cornell putting its name behind this stuff? Do they only want liberal alumni to donate to their school? Are they trying to ensure that people are clear that the elites at the school maintain a liberal bias? I mean, just in case we had any doubts...

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner has a good take on Wolfowitz's nomination.

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