Matthew Bandyk ‘06
Whenever Davidson lands in the national news, it is a big event for our small community. It happens just rarely enough that we know each instance will have an oversized effect on how the country and world perceive us. That is why the entire Davidson community of students, alumni, faculty and employees needs to pause and reflect on the decision to offer Iraq War cheerleader Bill Kristol a job as the visiting Professor of Ethics.
This is, without question, the most publicly humiliating event that has befallen Davidson, at least since I arrived as a member of the Class of 2006.
Our community needs to look at President Quillen and the rest of the current leadership of the school and ask: how could they have thought such an obvious case of academic malpractice would be good for the school, and why should we have any confidence in their ability to lead the institution going forward?
Judging by the reactions I saw on Facebook, some context is sorely needed, because many seemed to view Kristol’s professorship through the lens of contemporary political controversies over alleged “censorship” of conservative thought.
But the problems with Kristol have nothing to do with left-right political ideology. This is about having basic competence in one’s job. Given his track record of complete bone-headedness, Kristol shouldn’t be hired to teach preschool.
The defining political issue of my time at Davidson was the war in Iraq. Like many, I fell for the deceptive arguments in favor of the war, and, to my eternal regret, publicly supported the war on campus, especially in the pages of The Davidsonian, where I was an editor as a senior and a writer for my four years at Davidson. I, at least, can blame my warmongering on youthful ignorance and naiveté. What is Bill Kristol’s excuse?
Kristol’s (recently deceased) Weekly Standard magazine was the leading mouthpiece of the fantasy that invading and democratizing Iraq would be quick, easy, and cheap.
Most infamously, a piece by David Brooks entitled “The Collapse of the Dream Palaces,” published in 2003, contained the immortal line, “now that the war in Iraq is over”—a mere eight and a half years, and over 100,000 deaths, before the U.S. formally withdrew combat troops from Iraq.
Kristol himself predicted on C-SPAN that the war would last “two months,” and made countless arguments on cable news and in testimony before Congress about how great the war would be for the Middle East.
To say these predictions aged badly would be a huge understatement. As if the direct losses of civilians and troops from the war itself weren’t bad enough, the war also led to the rise of ISIS and the unfathomable human misery that followed.
That Kristol is to be a professor of ethics (ethics!) is so backwards it feels like a sick joke.
Any ethical person with an ounce of humility who had been as catastrophically wrong as Kristol would be so embarrassed that their only option would be to withdraw from public life and retreat to, say, a monastery for a few decades of soul-searching.
Yet Kristol remains a popular cable news talking head and sheepishly defends the war, even after most Republicans have moved on and embraced a president who mocks supporters of the war.
Most recently, Kristol has tried to reinvent himself as a “woke” Trump opponent—never mind that, as disastrous as his presidency has been, Trump and his administration still have not done anything nearly as damaging as the Iraq invasion.
No doubt Kristol will use his first post-Weekly Standard job as a professor at a highly selective liberal arts college to further rehabilitate his image. What a profound embarrassment for Davidson.