NEWS

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February 17, 2004

Kristol will speak on U.S. policy

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Washington-based political magazine The Weekly Standard will give a lecture entitled, "9/11 and the Future of American Foreign Policy" Wednesday, February 18th at 4:30 p.m. in Social Sciences 122.

Kristol's latest article in The Weekly Standard, "The Right War for the Right Reasons," argued that the judgment to go to war in Iraq "was and remains correct." Kristol writes in the article that "it is fashionable to sneer at the moral case for liberating an Iraqi people brutalized by Saddam's rule. Critics insist that mere oppression was not sufficient reason for war." But in fact, he writes, "the moral and humanitarian purpose provided a compelling reason for a war to remove Saddam."

Kristol is the co-author of The War in Iraq: America's Mission and Saddam's Tyranny, a book whose arguments are considered by many in the national media to be the intellectual offspring of former University Professor Leo Strauss.

While many journalists and academics have criticized what they see as the Bush administration's policy makers' open use of moral judgments in making arguments to go to war, Kristol has embraced the linking of value judgment and fact, a philosophy that has become known as Straussian.

Since a second war with Iraq came to the fore of the nation's political agenda in the summer of 2002, Strauss's name has been linked with prominent hawks such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle of the Pentagon Advisory Board, and Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council.

These individuals, as well as others, are habitually referred to as neo-conservatives, bent on radicalizing the way the U.S. exercises power abroad.

While some of the national media consider Strauss an obscure, mid-twentieth century philosopher, he is well known and respected here at the University. For many years, Strauss taught Classics of Social and Political Thought, one of the University's most famous core classes. He also edited History of Political Philosophy, a staple in many classes still taught today.

In an article featured in Public Interest in fall 2003, Kristol argued that Strauss's main contribution to political philosophy was his rediscovery of classic Western writing and the re-evaluation of the relationship between fact and value when considering judgments in political systems.

Kristol writes that Strauss, following the example of classic political philosophers, believed that if a regime exhibited all the attributes of tyranny, it was perfectly fair and factual to call that regime unjust and tyrannical. In "The Right War for the Right Reasons," for example, Kristol refers to Saddam as a "predator and aggressor."

Many still disagree with this definition of Straussians or the very linking of the eminent professor's name with neo-conservatism. "As far as I can tell, the notion that the war in Iraq is somehow inspired by Strauss's writings or teaching is a creation of journalists eager to avoid the obvious explanations: the un-tenability of the previous policy of containing Saddam and the post 9/11 imperative to try to prevent future attacks with weapons of mass destruction.," said Nathan Tarcov, a professor on the Committee of Social Thought and an instructor of Classics of Social and Political Thought. "I doubt President Bush or Secretary Rumsfield has studied Strauss's works," he said.

Daniel Drezner, assistant professor in the political science department at the University, wrote an article refuting the link between the neo-conservatives and Strauss in The New Republic last spring. "Straussians are pessimistic about rebuilding societies, which is what they are trying to do in the Middle East," he wrote

Referring to those who would like to link neo-conservative thought with Strauss's work, Drezner added: "I don't think it's a great fit."

Joseph Cropsey, professor of political science at the University, is more explicit. In answer to the idea that Strauss would have been an advocate of the war in Iraq, he responded, "It's totally absurd."