The letter (printed below) comes from the Security Scholars for Sensible Foreign Policy, a nonpartisan group of national security and foreign policy experts. The signees — university professors and former Pentagon and State Department staffers — represent a broad range of institutional and theoretical camps. This impressive group, comprised of conservatives and liberals alike, is united in one belief: Internationally, America is already in a deep hole and is digging deeper every day.
Butler University professor Siobhan McEvoy wondered to herself what she’d say to her young son 20 years from now if he asked her what she did as America became entrenched in an unwinnable war. “Usually, for scholars there’s not a lot you can do,” she said. “But this letter is something. So I decided I needed to sign on.”
McEvoy is joined on the list by Bill Ayers of the University of Indianapolis, IUPUI’s Scott Pegg and Marian College’s Pierre Atlas — all well-respected political science professors.
Ayers likens this letter to one that came from the scientific community in recent years on global warming. Those experts made a unified statement pushing the debate past the issue’s validity. Similarly, the political experts signing this letter “may disagree on the details, but the world is round, not flat,” said Ayers, who noted that the signees include every living author he’s listed on a class syllabus. “There are always two sides to every issue. But, as a community of scholars, we do have a consensus on some things. And this is one.”
The power of this message comes from just how diverse the members of the consensus are — even among the four signees from Indianapolis. “This goes beyond bipartisanship,” Ayers said. “A lot of these people are bitter enemies on other issues. And many of them are nobody’s liberal. Not even close. Even the diversity of the four different people from Indianapolis serves as a microcosm for the letter’s signees in general.”
Pegg agreed. “All sides of the debate are on the letter. I’ve never seen any document with such a broad consensus,” he said. “Every strand of opinion in the field is there. [The Bush Administration’s policies] have unsettled a variety of people in a variety of ways. This is, by no means, a leftist, pacifist conspiracy.”
McEvoy said this kind of cooperation is unusual from her colleagues. “International relations scholars are not the kind of people who jump quickly to make pronouncements,” she said. “It is remarkable.”
Atlas, a registered Republican who writes a regular column for The Indianapolis Star and specializes in Middle East politics, hopes people outside of academia don’t dismiss this as more whining from egghead liberals. “People need to break through the sports rivalry approach. This isn’t the Yankees versus the Red Sox,” he said. “It’s bigger than that.”
Ayers hopes people can break away from their teams or tribes and stop and think about the issues. “It’s not about substance or ideology anymore, it’s about what group we belong to,” he said.
All four professors fear the anti-intellectual sentiment in America — encouraged by the Bush Administration — may weaken the power of the letter’s message to those who feel outside that group. “It’s very dangerous for a president to dismiss academics,” Atlas said. “One real problem with Bush and most of his advisors is that they are utterly unwilling to listen to anybody who doesn’t agree with them.”
While the letter stops short of endorsing John Kerry for president, it makes it clear that Bush isn’t a viable option. And, released shortly before the election, the scholars’ goal seems clear.
“We are optimistic that maybe somebody out there would like to know what people who spend their lives thinking about this kind of thing have concluded,” Ayers said. “This is it.”
While Atlas said he doesn’t think the “world will blow up” if Bush is reelected, he sees Kerry’s approach as much better for the U.S. and the world. Kerry’s emphasis on building alliances and leading the world instead of bullying it has been our approach to foreign policy for 50 years, he said. “Bush is not conservative when it comes to foreign policy,” Atlas said. “He’s radical. Kerry’s approach to foreign policy is far more traditional and more in line with previous Republican and Democratic administrations.”
McEvoy feels the necessary change of course won’t happen without a new president. “The kind of thinking and the diplomacy necessary are not something the Bush Administration can achieve,” she said. “This administration has a very narrow intelligence and a very narrow world view.”