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May 2005   kwiatowski
Eliot Cohen, Confused Again By Karen Kwiatowski, Ph.D., Lt. Col. U.S.A.F. (ret)


Without Reservation

A biweekly column by Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D., Lt. Col. USAF (ret.)

posted 24 May 05

Eliot Cohen, Confused Again

In the May 13th Wall Street Journal op-ed, Eliot Cohen shares his dismay that Columbia University has joined a long list of colleges and universities that will no longer host the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on their campuses.

Serving as Director for Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Paul Wolfowitz's old haunt, Cohen is also a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and is a reliable academic voice of support for the undeniably costly, generally counterproductive and often strange Bush foreign policy.

Cohen exhibits a certain intellectualized belligerence toward the rest of the world, a trait he shares with another Bushian character, John Bolton.

Cohen's current belligerence is directed against "the churlishness of Columbia's decision" and the university's disdain, one is to presume, for the military.

Professor Cohen is particularly worried that ROTC is not well-represented on elite campuses like Columbia. He reminds Columbia and other elite schools that they may be subject to the Solomon Amendment of 1996. This law allows the Secretary of Defense to deny federal funding from universities that do not allow ROTC or military recruiting on their campuses.

Cohen appears to hold fast to a reactionary assumption that somehow ROTC offers academic military learning, or that the modern American military has somehow been improved by liberal educations.

If I were an ROTC or military leadership dilettante as Cohen is I might make the same faulty assumptions.

But as a product of four years of ROTC in the late 1970s and early 1980s at two different universities, I can vouch for the fact that little meaningful information is gained through the process, relating either to American military history or to the proper role of an American military officer in society and government.

Far more frightening is my observation, after over twenty years of service as an officer, that a lively academic curiosity and a serious understanding of American strategic and military history often serves as a handicap for the achievement of higher rank, at least at the flag officer level.

People like General Richard Myers, General Peter Pace, General John Abizaid and his predecessor General Tommy Franks come to mind. These current military leaders seem to have attended nothing more than the school of never asking questions, or perhaps the community college of refusing to engage in the rigorous checking of facts and data. These "military leaders" share a marked lack of intellectual curiosity of the past, present or future, beyond the dim-witted but comfortable world of the U.S. military-industrial complex.

In an attempt to support Cohen's thesis that prestigious universities are important to the success of the current military leadership in the United States, let's review.

General Myers graduated from Kansas State University and earned a Master's Degree in Business Administration from Auburn University in southern Georgia.

General Pace graduated from the Naval Academy and holds a Master's Degree in Business Administration from George Washington University.

General Abizaid graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and is distinguished by having earned a Master of Arts degree in Area Studies at Harvard University, and completing a tour as an Olmstead Scholar.

General Franks, Abizaid's predecessor was initially commissioned in 1967 without a college degree. Several years later he attended the University of Texas at Arlington and studied Business Administration. He also earned a Master's Degree in Public Administration from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.

Cohen's editorial hissy fit about ROTC at Columbia and other prestigious universities simply does not pass the logic test. Evidence indicates that to be successful in the military, you should stay away from prestigious academia and instead pursue administrative studies at state schools or military academies, and certainly not waste time or intellectual effort with anything beyond a perfunctory Master's Degree.

Even in the case of the well educated Abizaid, ROTC at a prestigious university was never a factor in his achievement of high rank. It also appears to have little to do with an officer's ability or inability to honorably adhere to their sworn oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I suggest to you it never will.

Perhaps Eliot Cohen and I are in agreement after all. Perhaps, he and I would both would prefer to see far wiser and reflective military senior leadership. Perhaps, he and I would both prefer that our military leadership complete a prestigious classical education and embrace American and European cultural and philosophic traditions. Perhaps, he and I both desire a military cadre more in tune with the historical foundations of the 21st century, and thus be more qualified to face modern complexities in world affairs and national security.

Sadly, I am afraid that is not what Cohen believes. In fact, it appears that his real beef is that popular and prestigious universities are pushing back from the lockstep militaristic domestic and international policies that Cohen holds so dear. These universities, unlike many senior politicians and military leaders, are taking their ethos seriously and exercising what is left of their intellectual and financial independence. It appears his real beef may be Columbia University's proud failure to blindly accept the current U.S. foreign policy and security strategy as perfection personified, and the dangerous anti-government example this might set for others.

Eliot Cohen has confused patriotism and political correctness, and accuses Columbia University of the latter. Yet when the evidence is examined, the opposite conclusion shines as the correct one. Cohen's logic is not only outlandish, it is Fatherlandish.

2005 Karen Kwiatkowski