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The Derogation of William Polk

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    Posted: 10 December 2006 at 2:51pm

Please excuse the length of this post. 


It was my good luck, while scrounging through a used book shop this past summer, to find what I consider (thus far, I’ve yet to finish it) one of the better, more even-handed treatments of the history of the modern Middle East and of related US foreign policy issues.  The book, The United States and the Arab World, was published at an interesting historical distance, in 1969, as part of the American Foreign Policy Library by the Harvard University Press and then distributed in Great Britain by Oxford University Press.


As I understand, the author, William R. Polk, a reported descendent of the eleventh president of the US, James K. Polk (1795-1849), was, at or near the time of the book’s writing, a member of the Policy Planning Council of the State Department and left that position to become Professor of History and Director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago (and Director of the Adlai Stevenson Institute).


His editor, in the book’s Forward, said this of him:


“Dr. Polk has lived in the region he writes about, and has gone successfully through a long apprenticeship in Arabic and Islamic studies.  He has the intimate personal knowledge of what he writes about that the founders of the Library regarded as essential in their writers.  He has also something even more important than technical mastery of language and history and personal experience of the lands and peoples he deals with; in discussing this very important region, divided by the moral dilemmas set by the establishment of Israel as an independent nation in the heart of the Arab World, Dr. Polk maintains the detachment of the scholar, the fairness of the judge.  Such an attitude is not easy to achieve toward the basic problem of Israel and the Arabs …”  


Dr. Polk has since retired to the South of France, one learns through the remarkable power of this Internet, where he continues to write, as a sort of elder US statesman, articles and books which are at times critical of this present Bush Administration.  In one of his more recent entries, entitled “What America Needs to Do to Achieve its Foreign Policy Goals … Concerning Public Ignorance,” he writes, concerning Daniel Pipes’s organization, “Campus Watch:”


"Similar to the way that the McCarthyites attacked specialists on China who (correctly) predicted the fall of Chiang Kai-shek, Martin Kramer has attacked specialists on the Middle East in the Department of State (in Ivory Towers in the Sand, Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy) while Daniel Pipes, astonishingly recently appointed to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, has orchestrated campaigns against professors in American universities who have been critical of American and Israeli policy in the Middle East. Inspired by Pipes and Kramer, Senator Rick Santorum has written a bill which only George Orwell could have imagined, entitled "Ideological Diversity" to cut federal funding from colleges and universities that permit teachers and students from criticizing Israeli policies. Santorum's colleague Sam Brownback wants to go even further, to create what would amount to an ideological police force.”


And thus, while the (some argue) alarmist -or at least astonished- but nevertheless seasoned Dr. Polk draws our attention to Campus Watch, Campus Watch, in turn, sends Alexander H. Joffe out to say (below in blue) such things as:


“Let us defend the right of Dr. Polk to say whatever he wants and cite whomever he wants, disreputable though they may be.”  (Thank you for the concession, Servie says.  In the process we won’t force ourselves to conclude that Paul Wolfowitz is a neo-Nazi because Leo Strauss corresponded with Carl Schmitt.)


“Being a founder {as Dr. Polk was} of the Middle East Studies Association and the European Union is some kind of cosmic convergence, albeit a fitting one, which lesser men would not trumpet loudly. Where else do such great strands of anti-Israel bias align?”  (And where else, one might ask, excepting David Horowitz’s Frontpage, does such writing as this pass as legitimate criticism?)


“But there is something both uncomfortable and unhappy about watching undistinguished middle level bureaucrats pretending to be statesmen and diplomats.” (By now, one suspects that Alexander Joffe would sell his mother for Dr. Polk’s credentials and experience.)


“This is the old "television made us st**id" argument, which presumes that before David Sarnoff (a Jew!) …” (And there’s the smear.  William Polk, through a close reading of Alexander Joffe, is transmuted into an anti-Semite.)






William Polk’s article:


Alexander Joffe’s rebuttal:


Other writings by William Polk:

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