There are many signs along the road that leads to the dark end of an empire. Some, like the pattern of American monetary policy and her associated incursions in the Middle East, have been up for so long they are now covered with kudzu and shotgun holes.
Others, like the extraordinarily troubled presidential elections of a troubled child of privilege and ambition, are relatively new. That this president surrounds himself with corrupt officials who whisper sweet nothings such as "How ’bout that big fish!" and "Your very word is law," as they gorge at the public trough is to be expected. But in an age where manners don’t matter in this country — the President’s irresponsible behavior has newly offended many average Americans who are beginning to think he is obsessed, self-centered, even somewhat stupid and unpatriotic.
But empire is never just about the emperor. The enablers of empire — the big purple socialist hegemonic American state — include not just a slavish and well-paid royal military, but also corporate interests, state-funded educational institutions, and an ever-devoted media.
This is the same media so cleanly gutted by Steven Colbert a few weeks ago at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. All those novels about intrepid Washington reporters with the courage to stand up to the administration will be coming soon en masse to a Costco near you. Imperial Americans aren’t going to read them anyway — we don’t care!
Thus, most of the major signs of empire in decline are already posted, and many have been up for a while. And connoisseurs of clues have taken note of yet another revealed just last week.
My former Pentagon boss, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and one of several ill-qualified but very enthusiastic neoconservative architects of war and destruction in the Middle East, has a new job.
Doug Feith stepped down last August to spend more time with his family and write his memoirs. He’s still working on the book, but he will now have to squeeze it in between lectures at Georgetown. Feith is a Hoya! He was hired — in a most odd way — by the Dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Robert Gallucci.
Now, we might debate the qualifications that predispose Feith to teach at Georgetown. He is an ideologically radical freakshow who spent the best part of his time at the Pentagon engineering what history will show to be the winner of the prize for Most Politically and Militarily Idiotic Strategy Ever. His plan for Iraq failed to achieve any of its stated objectives — while members of the Doug Feith fan club do understand that it did, in fact, achieve several of its unstated objectives — at a cost of accelerating the decline of American power worldwide in ways no one could have imagined.
This certainly doesn’t disqualify the man from a coveted position at Georgetown University! In fact, it seems to be why they hired him.
Gallucci says, "The [Bush] administration has not been found guilty in this country in any court of law that I am aware of. No one has been indicted on these kinds of charges. They are controversial. The policy is controversial. That’s what we’re looking to accomplish on the campus: to represent controversy fairly. And I do believe that having Mr. Feith will help us do that. I think it will be good for the students. I think it will be good for him to interact with our graduate students."
And Gallucci is right. Georgetown students will be able to watch, hear and question a man who is not exceptionally intelligent, has few academic or professional accomplishments, who is justifiably nervous about decisions he has made and whether people like him or not, and who supervised convicted spy Larry Franklin during, as the president likes to say, "a time of war." Well — they’ll learn from that.
Georgetown is a political school in a political town, and I imagine if Steven Colbert could joke about the supine media, he could do the same about prostrate Washington academic circles. Quality people, along with quality politics, education, debate and ethics have left the building. It happens that way, when those who tend to survive such things recognize that collapse has become inevitable.
Thus, the hiring of Doug Feith by Georgetown reveals the extent of the decline. Couched in academic seriousness, with trappings of intellectual courage and curiosity, Georgetown students are in for a real bait and switch.
I say this only based on the level of listening, honesty and achievement we observed on a daily basis by Feith at the Pentagon. Perhaps he has changed. In any case, in Gallucci’s own words, "[Feith] could defend, as well as explain, those decisions [behind the Iraq War]. Not many faculty on campus would attempt to defend them, myself among them."
Feith is also a Georgetown University Law Center alumnus, and perhaps loyalty entered into it. Certainly, if Feith kept any papers and notes, those will be a goldmine for historians baffled by the Bush presidency and his foreign policy. Perhaps Georgetown is positioning to be granted those papers decades from now.
I suspect the collapse of the empire will happen long before we get access to Feith’s personal diaries. As the empire wanes and something far more hopeful and free and peaceful emerges here, I can assure you I’ll be too busy to care about what Feith wrote as he played King Leopold hungrily obsessing over the Mesopotamian cake.
Georgetown’s comradely decision to honor Feith with an appointment is just another sign of festering imperial decline in Washington. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock comes to mind. Like this poem by T.S. Eliot, the Feith appointment should be briefly savored for what it says about modern mediocrity, and the educated circle’s self-conscious ridiculousness. And that is all.