Robert Shaffer: Historian says that Alan Greenspan's admission that Iraq was about oil rebuts charge made by David Horowitz





One of the most striking statements in Alan Greenspan's recently published memoirs is that he is "saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil" (1). The passage is significant for historians and other scholars, of course, in legitimating a discussion of the economic motives of U.S. interactions with the world; after all, if the longtime chair of the Federal Reserve admits that control over resources is a key motive of the present war, we might certainly pursue such an analysis in our research and teaching, on this and other conflicts, past and present.

One person who probably did not welcome Greenspan's frank statement, however, is David Horowitz, the erstwhile radical turned conservative critic of the academy. In his 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Horowitz unleashes a raft of criticisms against a wide range of scholars, but one of his recurring themes is that an attempt to ascribe economic motives to U.S. actions in Iraq, or to suggest an interpretation of history based on greed or the needs of capitalism, is simply out of bounds for a scholar. Thus, Horowitz finds unacceptable Joel Beinin, a former president of the Middle East Studies Association, in part for insisting that the U.S. went to war in Iraq "to make and unmake regimes and guarantee access to oil." More broadly, Horowitz excoriates Howard Zinn for his widely circulated book, A People's History of the United States, in which "greed is the explanation for every major historical event" (2).

Aside from attacking professors for specific arguments in their research, public statements, and, in some cases, their classes, Horowitz asserts that left-wing professors have taken over the universities and use their positions to indoctrinate students and to prevent moderate or conservative scholars from being hired. Horowitz further argues that these leftwing ideas are not based on legitimate scholarly research, so such professors do not deserve "academic freedom." Given the efforts of Horowitz and his followers to enlist the public, and state legislatures, in their campaign against the alleged radical takeover of the academy, historians and other academics must be familiar with Horowitz's line of reasoning (3). For example, in my state of Pennsylvania, a legislator who provided a dust jacket blurb for Horowitz's book was the driving force behind a committee which held hearings around the state for almost a year, searching for professors who abused their classrooms for political purposes (4)....

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Michael Glen Wade - 11/27/2007

Yes, that line of reasoning which seems so familiar has parallels in the McCarthy witch hunts.

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