What's wrong with academia, chapter 972

By James Fallows

A friend sent me a recent blog post. The (lengthy) relevant portion begins this way:

In the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly, the magazine's national correspondent James Fallows suggests that it is time for the United States to declare victory since the U.S "is succeeding in its struggle against terrorism." When he wrote his article, Fallows was obviously not aware of a National Intelligence Estimate that in April 2006 pinpointed the war in Iraq as "a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat..." He may have written a different piece. While President Bush and others in his administration underline the successes in the "war on terrorism," the intelligence community paints a far less rosy picture. As the Washington Post reported today, "the battlefronts intelligence analysts depict are far more impenetrable and difficult, if not impossible, to combat with the standard tools of warfare."


OK, let's clear this up. ...

When the Wall Street Journal's editorial page distorts a point in order to criticize it, you hardly notice. That's what the Journal's editorial page does. For instance, a recent item contended that this Atlantic article "argues that the smart thing for the U.S. to do is declare victory and give the conflict a rest." Agree or disagree with the article, that's not what it said. The argument is slightly too long for a bumper sticker: we've diminished one threat, and should recognize that, yet we could do better against the remaining threat if we didn't continue the concept of "war." But it is not that much harder to grasp than, say, the idea that cutting taxes increases federal revenue, which the Journal's editorial page has mastered. (Further precis of the argument on the free part of the Atlantic's web site, here.)

It's more depressing when a blogger apparently without an axe to grind simply writes without thinking. Did I know about this National Intelligence Estimate when I wrote the article three months ago? No, since it has only recently been disclosed. But I knew about dozens of other reports to the same effect, which is why I have made the same point repeatedly in the Atlantic over the last three years, most recently in this same article in the September issue. For instance, a long section headed "What Has Gone Right for Al Qaeda" was about the damage done by the Iraq war, and was introduced this way:

"The things we have done right have hurt al-Qaeda," says Caleb Carr, who strongly supported the reasoning behind the war in Iraq. By this he means the rout of the Taliban and the continued surveillance of Pakistan. "The things they have done wrong"--meaning the attacks on mosques and markets--"have hurt them worse."

"There is only one thing keeping them going now," he added. "That is our incredible mistakes." The biggest series of mistakes all of these experts have in mind is Iraq.


Would I have written a different article if I had known of this latest National Intelligence Estimate? I would have written an article containing yet another piece of evidence for one of the article's central points.

There is no benefit in naming this blogger, who in trying to make a "gotcha!" point instead illustrated a failure to read any farther into an article than the first half of its sub-head. (The second half said: "The time has come to declare the war on terror over, so that an even more effective military and diplomatic campaign can begin. ") Here is what I love. The blogger is a professor. Of political science. At an Ivy League university. Jeez louise! Is it too much to expect an academic to read before criticizing?


On the brighter side, I saw a blog that exactly grasped the significance of the new CIA assessment and its relation to past reporting, including mine. The blog is produced by Barbara O'Brien, whose bio proudly points out that she holds a degree in... Journalism.

(Update: I have learned that the blogging Professor is actually an Adjunct Professor.)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2006/09/what-apos-s-wrong-with-academia-chapter-972/7453/