Archive for Saturday, April 2, 2005

Simons: Universities must support U.S. war, intelligence efforts

April 2, 2005


Headlines around the country this week reported the highly questionable intelligence capabilities of the United States leading up to the invasion of Iraq. A presidential commission chaired by former Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia and retired federal Judge Laurence Silberman found the "intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments."

The nine-member bipartisan panel reported President Bush received "flawed" and "overstated" intelligence briefings on the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

The commission criticized the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies for inadequate intelligence collection in Iraq and flawed analysis of what little they did deliver.

Other reports tell of the extreme shortage of people in the military who can speak Arabic and point out that few U.S. diplomatic officials or those expected to interact with officials and people in the Arab world can hold a news conference in Arabic.

In addition to being unable to speak the languages of the Middle East, few of our military analysts, diplomats or other Americans really know much about the culture, history, religion and politics of these nations.

That being the case, it has been interesting to follow the efforts of KU anthropology professor Felix Moos and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts who authored federal legislation to provide a program to train young men and women to be highly skilled in foreign languages as well as knowledgeable of the history, culture, politics and religions of countries around the globe.

The program has been approved by the U.S. House and Senate, and there is no question that it is badly needed.

The original idea was to have two students from each of 50 U.S. colleges and universities that offer all four ROTC programs, admitted each year to a program of training in languages and other facets of life in foreign countries.

However, the inability of many current CIA or other intelligence officers to master Arabic and other languages caused CIA officials and others to push their agents into this schooling rather than start the program with college students.

It is difficult to understand why our intelligence people have not thought it was sufficiently important to have well-trained and well-schooled observers around the world, people who could speak the languages of these countries and who understood their history and politics.

No wonder this country has been caught off guard in such an embarrassing and dangerous manner. So few in the United States are able to understand or appreciate the values, thinking, visions and goals of millions of people around the world. The education community has shortchanged the country in this regard.

The surprising thing is how little attention this project has received from many who should be applauding Moos and Roberts for their vision and plan to better educate college students.

Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured KU's Moos and the Roberts-Moos plan. The article stirred much debate within the academic community throughout the nation and undoubtedly triggered a great deal of conversation within certain KU departments. The feature on Moos, which was promoted on the front page and included a large color picture of the KU professor along with a picture of Roberts and four full pages on their plan, is sure to have brought out some strong jealousies at KU and questions about why Moos was receiving so much national publicity.

No KU personality in recent times has received anywhere near that much attention in the Chronicle, which also sponsored an online chat with Moos fielding questions about his plan from throughout the country and around the world. Rather than applaud and congratulate Moos, many at KU couldn't bring themselves to applaud their colleague.

Throughout the article and during the online chat, Moos emphasized that the United States is "at war" with terrorists and will be for many years.

He and Roberts, along with members of Congress are offering a plan they think will help Uncle Sam in this effort. Granted, no single plan or program is going to win the war, but any chance for success in this battle would be strengthened by their plan.

This being the case, why is KU almost silent about the Moos plan? Why wouldn't KU be the first to enthusiastically endorse the effort? Do they have a better plan? What is wrong with the Moos-Roberts plan? Don't they think the United States is engaged in a war? Are some at KU so nervous about training potential intelligence people that they would rather veto the plan and, in effect, take away a powerful tool to fight the war?

When will those in the academic community realize they are a part of the overall U.S. community, not in some isolated, elite, untouchable, pure environment where they are not supposed to get involved in matters so significant as the survival of America as we know it today.

To some, this may sound like an overstatement, but what are the guidelines for an American university supported by tax-paying citizens? How serious do matters have to become for this country before universities get involved? In past wars, military men and women were trained on university campuses, where great research projects to help win those wars also were carried on.

In today's college environment, and with the political leanings of faculty members, it is likely little that occurred on U.S. college and university campuses during World War II would be approved today even in a war effort that can be just as deadly and dangerous.

Daily reports out of Washington and from around the world tell of the need for better intelligence if this nation is to be prepared to fight those who relish the idea of weakening the freedoms enjoyed by Americans and embarrassing the United States.

Why wouldn't there be far greater support for the Moos-Roberts plan? Are too many on U.S. campuses happy merely to let things slide and see the United States lose its position of world leadership?

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