The recent appointment of University of Pennsylvania political science professor Ian Lustick as convenor of the new Penn Working Group on Israel and the Middle East is unfortunate, if not surprising.
Mr. Lustick holds the Bess W. Heyman Chair of political science. As professors of Middle East studies go, Mr. Lustick is among those who appear mainstream—smartly dressed and well coifed, he's hardly the scruffy radical of stereotype—but whose words belie their hostility to American interests. Like Fawaz Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College, Mr. Lustick attempts to cloak his radicalism in an aura of dispassionate scholarly respectability.
The Working Group's web site says it will address the question of whether or not the two-state solution is still valid in light of:
…the background of reinforcing processes of polarization in Israel and in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and in the aftermath of the collapse of the Oslo process, two intifadas, the construction of the security barrier by Israel around Gaza and most of the West Bank, the Lebanon War, and the Iraq War….
But, like many of his peers in Middle East studies (MESers), Mr. Lustick has at times been spectacularly wrong on the particulars of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East by dint of his habit of soft-peddling Arab aggression toward Israel and America. For example, speaking about Hamas in a March, 2006, interview with the Voice of America, Mr. Lustick said:
If you go back to the beginning, the Palestinians and Zionists had completely contradictory ideas. The Zionists had the idea that all of Palestine would be a Jewish state and the Palestinian Arabs had the idea that there would be no Jewish presence at all. Now, the center of gravity inside the Israeli political system is that there will be a Palestinian state. And Hamas is mainly popular because one of the things it is trusted to do is probably be ready to live with Israel, even if not officially, for a very long time. (emphasis added)
In 2002, speaking at the Middle East Policy Council, Mr. Lustick went even further afield when he lamented the rapid success of U.S. forces in Afghanistan:
[M]y fear at that time was that if we broke the Taliban too fast and it was perceived in the United States that we had a quick and relatively bloodless on the American side victory, that this would give the necessary fill to that wing, that cabal in the administration that was ready to say that the template for Afghanistan victory was the same template we ought to use elsewhere.
What I wanted was a war, a Goldilocks war, not too fast and not too slow, but we didn't get it. We got one that was too fast and it gave the whip end to the cabal.
Expressing regret that not more American soldiers died in war—wishing that things had been more difficult for our troops—is shocking to most Americans, but among Mr. Lustick's peers, it would hardly raise an eyebrow, so toxic is the atmosphere on American campuses.
Mr. Lustick's recent book, Trapped in the War on Terror, argues that the Bush administration, by waging war on Iraq, has unleashed a force that it cannot control, and that the war on terror is therefore self-perpetuating. Speaking about his book at Penn about a year ago, Mr. Lustick said:
There is no winning this war, because the war on terror is the enemy.
He also predicted an American invasion of Iran, and charged the Bush administration with being Orwellian in its manipulation of information on the war:
There is such a gap between what is real and what is not that it's hard not to think of 1984.
Writing about the war in The Nation in March, 2003, just ahead of the start of the war, Mr. Lustick claimed that this is a "supply side" war:
This is a supply-side war. There is very little demand for the war, and nothing in the way of a compelling necessity for it. But the enormous supply of political capital flowing toward the President after 9/11 combines with the overweening preponderance of US military power on a global level to make the production of war in Iraq not a trivial affair but one that can be embraced with relatively little thought and almost no need to appeal to a readiness to sacrifice. That a war is militarily and politically so ‘easy' for the United States government can explain why so little reason for a war can produce so powerful a campaign for one.
Not only does Mr. Lustick downplay any threats from Saddam, but he again laments American military power and charges that, because America is strong, it chooses to wage war for no particular reason—the imperial power loosed upon a victimized world.
In a fashion common among MESers, Mr. Lustick is a master at the art of moral relativism. When asked in 2004 whether he trusted Arafat, he replied:
Do I trust Yasser Arafat? Of course not. Why should I? Why should anyone trust a politician, whether Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Benjamin Netanyahu, George W. Bush, or Yasser Arafat? Whether we agree with them or not, politicians aren't for trusting. They are for getting done what can be done to make really horrible problems into plain old lousy problems.
This answer allows Mr. Lustick to avoid the obvious: that Arafat was a terrorist and ardent enemy of the West who sought the elimination of Israel. Whatever the sins of Clinton, LBJ, and Nixon, refusing to differentiate between them and Arafat evinces at best intellectual cowardice, at worst a devious desire to engage in moral obfuscation.
More recently, Mr. Lustick defended Norman Finkelstein, whose vitriolic, unscholarly attacks on Israel, America, and American Jewry provided the DePaul University administration the ammunition it needed to deny him tenure and eventually reach a settlement that resulted in his resignation.
Mr. Lustick also acted as an outside evaluator of Finkelstein's scholarship for DePaul, and he invited Finkelstein to Penn to speak last year.
Given his past efforts at moral equivocation between Israel and America's leadership and Arafat, his defense of Hamas, his condemnation of the Iraq war and his concomitant cynicism and alarmism about the Bush administration, it's safe to predict that a Working Group under his direction will "discover" that his past predictions have come true, and that the future will conform to his ahistorical vision of the past.