America Is Ill-Served by Its Government-Funded Area Studies and Foreign Policy Programs

Report Asia

America Is Ill-Served by Its Government-Funded Area Studies and Foreign Policy Programs

August 25, 2014 24 min read Download Report
Mike Gonzalez
Senior Fellow, Angeles T. Arredondo E Pluribus Unum Fellow
Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow in Heritage's Allison Center for Foreign Policy and the Angeles T. Arredondo E Pluribus Unum fellow.

Midway through President Barack Obama’s second term, the United States finds itself besieged by explosive foreign policy crises, one of which has reached its own border. Despite White House spokesman Josh Earnest’s claims that the Administration has “substantially improved the tranquility of the global community,”[1] chaos is erupting all over the world.

Tens of thousands of Central American children have flocked to our border with Mexico, convinced that the promise of sanctuary under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)[2] will allow them to escape violence and poverty. The Obama Administration was warned as early as 2012 that this crisis was brewing and chose not to act.[3] Its policies have fed disorder in Latin America.[4]

In the Middle East, the settlement that has held since the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire is coming undone. Libya, whose tyrant we helped topple in 2011, is being divided into fiefdoms by chieftains who now control oil fields.[5] Forty-two years of Muammar Qadhafi’s dictatorial rule left Libya without the political culture needed to hold together. Haunted by George W. Bush’s Iraq experience, President Obama “left the country quickly without a comprehensive effort to build a workable government system or internal security apparatus.”[6]

In Syria, a civil war that has claimed more than 191,000 lives[7] has produced a virulent terrorist Sunni group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), that has seized northern parts of Syria and Iraq.[8] This group has declared a caliphate that its leader declares will be used as a base from which to attack the West and specifically the United States.[9] The Administration’s failure to reach out to non-Islamist elements of the Syrian opposition early on or to provide armament to them[10] left a vacuum that ISIS filled. President Obama’s earlier refusal, against the advice of his military commanders,[11] to leave a residual force in Iraq left the Administration unable to affect the situation on the Iraqi side of the border—a border that is now disappearing.

In July, Israel reacted to bombing by Hamas with a ground operation against the terrorist group’s base on the Gaza Strip. World opinion quickly turned against this key U.S. ally, with the head of the U.N. calling Israel’s defensive operation “an atrocious action.”[12] An Administration that has warned Israel that it might become “an apartheid state”[13] and publicly voiced opposition to Israel’s use of force in Gaza[14] clearly lacks the moral authority to defend Israel.

In Europe, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula marked the first time since World War II that a European country had formally seized the territory of another.[15] Washington and the European Union responded with a spate of minor economic sanctions[16] that had no deterrent effect. Ethnic Russian rebel forces materialized in eastern Ukraine, commanded by officers from Russia and armed with Russian weapons. In July, these rebels downed a Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukrainian airspace, killing nearly 300 people.[17] Vladimir Putin’s aggression has destroyed any notion that President Obama’s “reset” policy would contain the ambitions of the Russian leader and may have exacerbated them by showing weakness.[18]

One of these crises alone would tax any Administration. Many elements have contributed to the Administration’s present difficulties, including its penchant for putting domestic politics above international policy considerations, its abhorrence of any action that could be associated with those of the previous Administration, its hostility to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a surfeit of confidence about its understanding of the world.

Looming behind this record of comprehensive failure—and reinforcing some of the Administration’s worst instincts—is also a progressive academic consensus that influences policymaking in myriad ways. This consensus is the result of the leftist, secularist views prevalent among college professors.[19] Interpreting global events through such a prism often clouds the analysis of these experts, especially when they are grappling with actors motivated by religious beliefs or ideology or who espouse conservative and traditionalist values that are little understood or scorned by university faculty.[20]

Their counsel can be so uniform as to become a perverse conventional wisdom. Across the world, these experts somehow always strain to see “broadly representative government”[21] in the most totalitarian and corrupt settings, from Caracas to the West Bank; they “generally do a far better job of speaking for the country or countries they study than for the U.S.,”[22] and they have a tendency to side with those who “are most hostile to American power.”[23]

Their bias is easily documented: “In the 2004 presidential election, the Yale faculty donation ratio of Kerry to Bush was 150:3. The ratio at Princeton wasn’t much different, 114:1, nor at Harvard, 406:13.”[24] Foreign policy professors are no different from their counterparts in other fields in terms of their progressivism.

Title VI

Americans pay for the university indoctrination of their children—and for the bad policy that results—in many ways: They pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. As taxpayers, they subsidize colleges and universities indirectly, primarily through the Higher Education Act’s Title III and especially Title IV, which authorizes the government-guaranteed student loan program.

Taxpayers also directly support universities through the act’s Title VI, which funds 10 programs that provide instruction in languages and areas that could become key to the national interest. The lion’s share of the $97.5 million that taxpayers spent in 2010 on Title VI programs went to 125 National Resource Centers at U.S. universities across the country and to Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS), which are related as the centers receive most of the FLAS moneys.

From its inception in 1958, the raison d’etre of Title VI (then part of the National Defense Education Act) has been to “insure trained manpower of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the national defense needs of the United States.”[25] In its latest reauthorization, this time under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA), the law makes clear that the relevant studies are meant to address “national needs.”[26]

For the first decade or so, the academics involved in these centers did work in the national interest, as the patriotic consensus that was built during World War II held together. In the 1960s, agreement on what constituted the national interest broke down, and by the 1970s, it had disappeared. Since then, these taxpayer-subsidized area studies centers have been among the most important entry points for paradigms inimical to the interests of the United States, from Latin American revolutionary struggles[27] to authoritarian governmental practices in the Middle East.[28]

Specialists at these centers often have allowed these concepts to get in the way of the university’s primary role: the discovery of truth. This would not be a problem if it were a matter of a few radical professors, but contrary views are systematically stifled, and the result has been extreme, ideologically driven scholarship.

Academic Underpinnings of the Administration’s Foreign Policy Failures

Faculty members who specialize in world regions or in the fields of foreign policy, international relations, and development help influence policy in different ways. They shape the views of many of Washington’s foreign policy elite, and they often ascend to positions of prominence at the National Security Council and the State Department.

For example, Anne-Marie Slaughter, President Obama’s first director of policy planning, had been dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Samantha Power, the present ambassador to the U.N., lectured on foreign policy at Harvard. As far back as 2003, Power wrote:

We need a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States…. Instituting a policy of mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors. When Willie Brandt went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto, his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors.[29]

Power’s call for America’s public abasement and her abject comparison of past American actions to Nazi crimes came six years before what critics have dubbed Obama’s “apology tour,” during which he said that America “had shown arrogance” to Europe and spoke of the “darker periods in our history.”[30]

Progressive academics set the tone for the Obama Administration’s foreign policy strategy in other ways—through congressional testimony, media appearances, and informal contacts with policymakers. Some of the letter-writing campaigns conducted by academics have succeeded in changing policy. Journalists, themselves shaped by the ideological fads prevalent on campuses,[31] constantly reach out to professors for commentary, presenting them as “objective” pundits, forming an echo chamber that amplifies their views.[32] (There is even a website, Profnet, that links journalists and academics).

These experts have bashed Israel unstintingly and minimized the Islamist threat while providing “a chorus of almost ritual criticism of any U.S. military role in the region, and any use of force.”[33] In Latin America, they support Marxist governments allied with narco-traffickers,[34] and in Russia, they applauded the appeasement of the “reset” policy.[35]

Barack Obama, the President most beholden to the fads of the faculty lounge since Woodrow Wilson, has executed this orthodoxy faithfully, with results that all can see. Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil–Military Relations, points out that “it’s important to recognize that Obama did not lead the echo chamber. He reflected it. He embraced policies widely supported by the academics and diplomats never mind that those policies completely misunderstand the realities of international relations.”[36]

President Obama’s confidence in his own insights into the conduct of statecraft in the 21st century is evident from his penchant for suddenly breaking into lectures in the middle of press conferences and speeches. In Moscow, during his first year in office, he averred: “In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over.”[37] More recently at West Point, he observed that conflicts now simply end when you walk away: “this is how wars end in the 21st century.”[38]

These prognostications have shattered embarrassingly against the shoals of reality in Ukraine and Iraq. Douglas Feith and Seth Cropsey, writing in Foreign Policy in 2012, explained how the ideas incubating in American universities have such perverse consequences when tried on the world stage by this President:

Within the community of progressive American academics—the community of which Obama and key members of his administration have long been proud members—the idea of America as leader of the free world commands little respect. The very term “free world” is disfavored, as is the idea of the United States as leader. Rather than see American power and assertiveness as desirable, progressive faculty members at leading universities commonly look at them negatively, as major sources of international tension.[39]

It bears saying that many good men and women pursue academic careers in foreign policy or as area experts, but they are punished when they refuse to toe the line, prevented from gaining honors[40] or “pushed to the margins of the guild or out of academe altogether (often into the more open world of the think tanks).”[41] The few conservative academics who remain complain constantly of discrimination. “Being conservative counts against you…. I have observed it happening,” said one.[42] The resulting rush to conform by foreign policy scholars has taken its toll across the globe.

The Middle East

Of all regional studies areas, Middle Eastern studies is the most tightly controlled. A zealous cabal of gatekeepers make sure that no academic strays too far from the reservation. They have gone so far as to issue effective blacklists of wayward academics[43] and organize a boycott of the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a government-sponsored program that encouraged students to work for national security agencies.[44] A few months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when even politicians had largely reached agreement on the nation’s primary national security threat, the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), the most important association of Middle East area specialists, published a strong condemnation of the program.[45]

The radical left took hold of academic studies of this region in the 1960s and 1970s and has not let go since then. The foundational work of the new orthodoxy was Columbia University’s Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, which has reshaped “the field for two generations now.”[46] Said claimed essentially that all Middle Eastern scholarship before him had romanticized the Orient and was led by an establishment that he described as “a pool of interests, ‘old boy’ or ‘expert’ networks linking corporate business, the foundations, the oil companies, the missions, the military, the foreign service, the intelligence community together with the academic world.”[47]

Said “introduced McCarthyism into Middle Eastern studies”[48] and ensured that the field was dominated by an ideology that sees the region only through the lens of the Arab–Israeli conflict (and from a decidedly anti-Israeli perspective) and focuses disproportionately on Arab Muslims. In Said’s work and in much of the discipline thereafter, “There are no Copts, no Maronites, no Mandaeans, no Samaritans, no Assyrians, no Greek Orthodox Christians, no Chaldeans, no Berbers, and of course no Jews.”[49]

The reason for going into this at length is the deleterious impact that such ideological tunnel vision has had on Middle East policy. Said’s work, wrote Martin Kramer, “has crippled Middle Eastern studies to this day.”[50] If you cannot have an honest discussion of the facts, then you cannot know your enemy, and “the disastrous effect of Said’s Orientalism on the discipline … has resulted in a fear of asking and answering potentially embarrassing questions that could upset Muslim sensitivities.”[51] This region, unsurprisingly, continues to present America with the greatest number of problems.

The Khomeini revolution, the al-Qaeda attacks, the Taliban, and the success of ISIS all have caught many of the leading members of the progressive academic community by surprise. John Esposito, an intelligence adviser to the Clinton White House and former president of MESA, wrote three years before 9/11: “Focusing on Usama bin-Laden risks catapulting one of the many sources of terrorism to center stage, distorting both the diverse international sources and the relevance of one man.”[52] Esposito is now one of the leading Mideast experts at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

The campus orthodoxy also makes it possible for Islamist zeal to receive a level of immunity from criticism that Christian ideologies lost long ago. This is also partly because, in an environment where few worship on a regular basis, the political appeal of religion receives little notice. As John Schindler wrote in 2007:

The largely secular academy had managed to ignore the rise of the Islamist International, so much so that the president of the influential Middle Eastern Studies Association conceded that the field mistakenly considered Islam as “something of residual cultural importance and declining political salience.”[53]

Today, we see echoes of these biases. Thus, such influential commentators as Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, warned the Obama Administration not to arm Syrian rebels when it might have made a difference.[54] Landis knew how to push all the right buttons, writing that acting would “risk a fiasco on par with Iraq and Afghanistan.”[55]

Likewise, the academy encouraged President Obama’s decision to ignore the advice of his own military (and that of The Heritage Foundation[56]) to leave a residual force in Iraq that would be able to prevent Iraq’s slide toward chaos. Even before he took the oath of office, the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole, another media pundit, wrote, “President-Elect Obama should stick to his guns and withdraw US troops from Iraq despite any resistance he may get from the US officer corps and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.”[57]

American faculty lounges have become hotbeds of pro-Palestinian feeling, with many professors involved in a growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”[58] Many Jewish students have begun to complain that outright anti-Semitism is on the rise.[59]

When Israel decided this summer to protect itself against Hamas, academics swung into action. More than 50 Middle Eastern experts from top U.S. universities signed a letter published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz calling for “an end to Israel’s obscene assault on Gaza.”[60]

There have been lions of Middle Eastern studies who did not acquiesce to the reigning ideology, notably Bernard Lewis and the late and lamented Fouad Ajami. It is instructive that they founded the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa to rival MESA in 2007. A statement by Lewis said: “Because of various political and financial pressures and inducements, the study of the Middle East and of Africa has been politicized to a degree without precedent.”[61]

Latin America

Latin American area specialists are second only to their brethren in the Middle Eastern field as prototypes of the “leftover left” that has flocked to college campuses since the 1960s. By the 1980s, the popularity of the leftist North American Congress on Latin America among faculty in Latin American Studies departments offered “perhaps, the best evidence of the ideological bias of the majority of academics in this field as well as their representative organization, the Latin American Studies Association [LASA].”[62] A huge association with thousands of members, LASA “became radicalized during the 1970s.”[63] It routinely denounced friendly governments but kept silent about atrocities in Cuba.

Today, many of the young activists who were engaged with Central American leftist groups in the 1980s are now deeply entrenched in academia—so much so that the University of Texas’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, one of the top area studies centers in the country, held a conference in February to bring together some of these “sandalistas,” whom UT professor Virginia Garrard-Burnett quaintly called “the solidarity people.”[64]

Such a background helps to set the atmospherics in the policymaking world, where the academic field embeds liberal, statist, and particularly development views derived from the study of such subjects as literature, sociology, history, and race studies. The list of graduate coursework offered by the University of Arizona’s center explains that “areas of primary concentration include the thematic areas of Borders of the Americas and Immigration, Environment and Development, History and Culture, and Power and Inequality.”[65] Often missing are practical, market-oriented, private sector–friendly pursuits. Economics PhDs accounted for just 29 of 3,500 respondents in a recent massive survey by Harvard of all area studies professionals.[66]

Area specialists who buck the reigning ideology but speak off the record for fear of professional reprisal depict a stultifying atmosphere in which you must learn to navigate the environment lest you become persona non grata. Writing books or even papers for university presses is described as “a painful process.”[67]

The weeding out begins at the student level with who gets accepted. Applying to a PhD program by writing that you want to do research on Indian villages in Nicaragua is much more likely to result in your being accepted than is writing that you want to explore Cuban political oppression.

One academic who has spoken out, Yale’s Cuban–American history professor Carlos Eire, says “leftists on American college campuses have been trying to stifle free speech for decades. Ostracism and censorship are among their favorite tactics.” The Latin American studies center at the University of Wisconsin refused to sponsor a talk on his memoir about growing up in Cuba that he gave at Madison in 2003. The letter rescinding the invitation said he “couldn’t pollute the Madison campus with [his] presence.”[68]

Years later, Dr. Eire had another encounter with the Wisconsin center, one of the country’s most highly rated. He had arranged to contribute a chapter on growing up in Cuba. “I wasted a whole summer writing the [12,000-word] piece,” he told me in an interview.[69] The scholar in charge of the project rejected the article because it was “unbalanced.” The rejection letter to Eire included queries over distinctions without much real difference:

The phrase “Communists like Che” (p. 3) brings up the question whether the label “communist” should be applied to all leaders of the early Revolution during its early years (i.e., the years when Che was in Cuba and performed leading tasks within the Revolution) or if it can be applied only to those who espoused communism per se, that is, the leadership of the old Communist Party (PSP). For Che, perhaps the label “Maoist” would be more appropriate. Consider other terms, perhaps “Revolutionaries,” with a capital R.[70]

“Maoists,” by this logic, are presumably “agrarian reformers,” not Communists. Needless to say, except perhaps among the scholars of the Wisconsin center, the Mao of “Marxist–Leninist–Mao Zedong Thought” himself was a Communist. The academy’s unwillingness to make obvious judgments betrays policy preferences, and those preferences have real impact not just abroad, but also at home.

Honduras. Security aid to Honduras was severely restricted when the newly inaugurated President Obama declared the 2009 legal impeachment of leftist, pro–Hugo Chávez Honduran President Manuel Zelaya a “military coup d’etat” and attempted to have Zelaya reinstated. Under U.S. law, a coup triggers the suspension of critical U.S. aid and of joint military operations, much of which was “in the form of counternarcotics assistance.”[71]

Unsurprisingly, control of the country’s Caribbean coastline quickly fell to the drug traffickers,[72] leading to the violence that in turn led has led to the current crisis at the U.S. border. The children who have arrived at our border from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are the tipping point of a collapsed Latin American policy[73]—a policy that was cheered enthusiastically by campus ideologues.

The Administration’s errant approach in Honduras has been encouraged by Latin American experts who ritually condemn conservative governments in the region and cozy up to leftist ones. Yet another massive letter-writing campaign by top academics called on the Obama Administration to denounce “the Honduran dictatorship.”[74]

There are many reasons why the Northern Triangle has become such a violent place that mothers hand over their children to coyote networks. Corruption on the part of the main institutions in these countries must bear much of the responsibility for these failures, but the Obama Administration’s reductions in defense spending, combined with an overall reallocation of foreign assistance toward development rather than security,[75] have contributed to the collapse of order in this area.

El Salvador. One Central American government that is linked to drug trafficking cartels, El Salvador’s, gets plenty of support in the academic community—and money from the Obama Administration. Academics pressured President Obama in 2009 to accept a victory by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Marxist guerrillas turned political party. The letter was signed by over 130 academics, including seven former presidents of the LASA.[76] A well-known leftist group crowed that “White House support was likely integral” to the FMLN victory.[77]

After the election, President Obama made an important visit to El Salvador, and the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation decided to shower the country with a highly coveted $277 million development package[78] even as the FMLN’s connections with drug cartels were becoming more apparent.[79] Refusal to condemn these FMLN links led to the election in February 2014 of another FMLN leader, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, as president.

Despite the gauzy, romanticized descriptions of the FMLN that may be found in area studies centers, Sanchez Ceren is an anti-American Marxist who on September 11, 2001, led a mob in San Salvador in celebrating the attacks on New York and Washington. Sanchez Ceren’s close confidant Jose Luis Merino is a well-known drug kingpin who “studied intelligence at an elite Soviet military academy and was trained in guerrilla warfare in Cuba.”[80]

None of these facts, however, prevent American progressive academics from praising Sanchez Ceren’s “marvelous political, social and economic thinking” or pondering how much he and the FMLN could teach the Democratic Party as it battles Republicans.[81]

Venezuela. In Venezuela, turmoil is intricately tied to events in Central America. Some 75 percent of the drug flights from South America that land in Honduras originate in Venezuela,[82] but progressive Latin American experts continue to counsel the Obama Administration to refrain from using one of the few tools—sanctions—that could influence the behavior of Venezuela’s unstable president, Nicolas Maduro.[83]

Cuba. As for Cuba, search for the words “dictator,” “dictatorship,” or “Communist” in the 40-page report describing the Cuban Studies program at Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American studies and you will not find a single one. You will find, however, that they have a paper on “Transnational Santeria: Ritual Media, Tourism and Religious Subjectivities between the U.S. and Cuba” and another on “Homosexual Themes in Cuban Literature in the 80s and 90s.”[84]

Then there is the indoctrination. One student, Anna Pasternak, wrote a testimonial detailing how life in the tightly controlled Communist society had made her reject her materialistic past:

The lack of publicity (on television, billboards or otherwise) objectifying women in Cuba and holding us to a standard of being skinny, blond, with perfect skin and shiny hair was enlightening. Never have I ever felt so confident and accepted as a woman in my natural state.[85]


Some experts from the Cold War era still remain, making this field more mixed. Vladimir Putin is also more difficult to pin down on Russia’s political spectrum than Hugo Chávez and Bibi Netanyahu are are on theirs. He may pine for Soviet days, which pleases Marxist apologists on the left, but also has introduced laws barring the proselytizing of homosexuality, which upset them. He clearly presents a threat to U.S. national interests, and appeasing him, as scholars eagerly encouraged the Obama Administration to do, has not proven to be a successful strategy.

President Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s gamble that making concessions to Putin might make him a global partner—the infamous “reset”—has backfired badly: Putin continues the ruthless pursuit of his own interests. In fact, the reset was an across-the-board capitulation. Less than 12 months after the Russian invasion of Georgia, the new Obama Administration halted President George W. Bush’s belated efforts to get tough with Putin by resuming military contacts. Obama also cancelled plans to install missile batteries in Eastern Europe, signed a New START nuclear arms treaty, repealed the Jackson–Vanik amendment that denied Russia most favored nation status, and diluted the Magnitsky Act.

Putin apparently pushed the restart button: The Russian leader responded by arming Syria, supporting Iran, calling the U.S. “a parasite,” giving asylum to Edward Snowden, cheating on New START and the 1987 INF Treaty,[86] and more recently by shelling parts of Ukraine he has not annexed.[87]

Again, academics led the cheers for President Obama and Mrs. Clinton in 2009 and 2010. The very influential Charles A. Kupchan, then professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, wrote in a Foreign Affairs piece (infelicitously titled “Enemies into Friends”) that “rapprochement with Russia arguably offers the best prospects for near-term success.” He advised, moreover, that the U.S. pursue the same commercial liaisons with Russia that have rendered many of our European partners so passive.[88] In another article for the same publication later that year, Kupchan went further with this advice for the Obama Administration: “Russia should become a member of NATO.”[89]

Kupchan, who in 2012 excoriated Mitt Romney with an influential article in Foreign Policy in which he said that America has ceased to be a superpower and should be okay with that,[90] has just been rewarded by being appointed Senior Director for Europe on President Obama’s National Security Council.

The architect of the reset, Michael McFaul, was plucked from Stanford by President Obama, first to be his senior adviser on Russia and then to be ambassador to Moscow. In McFaul’s defense, he has always made clear in his writings that he saw Putin as an autocrat.[91] Still, he believed the reset would work.

The examples are many. As Michael Rubin wrote in Commentary, President Obama “embraced policies widely supported by the academics and diplomats never mind that those policies completely misunderstand the realities of international relations.”[92] Rubin’s piece also included an ominous warning: “The culture that has led Obama to fail completely in his assessment of Vladimir Putin isn’t going to end in 2016, when Obama exits the White House.”

This is true. The environment created by the academy in our foreign policy apparatus does not affect only progressives. Both George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan had to fight their own bureaucracies—and even senior appointed officials—to carry out the policies they had been elected to enact.

What the U.S. Should Do

As Congress prepares to consider once again the reauthorization of the HEOC, the decision is easy. Though there are no quick fixes to the lock that leftist academics have on faculties, the first steps are clear:

  • Eliminate funding for Title VI. The money being spent on these programs may be small by the gargantuan standards of the federal government, but it has a multiplier effect as the universities then use the government’s imprimatur to raise more money from foundations.
  • Increase funding for the National Security Education Program. Because there remains a need for specialized knowledge in languages and regions, Congress should consider redirecting all or part of the money being spent on Title VI to the NSEP, which has never lost its way. Administered by the Department of Defense’s National Defense University, the NSEP funds studies in “languages and regions critical to national security,”[93] and it requires that recipients of aid make a good-faith effort to work in national security.

Presidents as far back as Richard Nixon, through Reagan and George W. Bush, have understood this problem and have contemplated calling on Congress to eliminate the Title VI programs. None of them did so because they hoped that the programs could be reformed and once again serve to prepare experts in strategic regions. In the latest reauthorization in 2008, amendments were introduced stressing that these programs should reflect “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.”[94]

Top specialists at these centers are clearly unconcerned by the explicit intent of the programs. As Gilbert W. Merkx, director of the Duke University Center for International Studies, wrote in 1994:

Regardless of congressional intent, did government funding bring a cold-war slant to the content of foreign-area studies in the United States? To the contrary, Title VI programs actually resulted in a democratization of foreign area intelligence that fueled opposition to cold-war policies of the government. As the dissemination of information about foreign areas expanded, criticism of foreign policies grew.[95]

The centers also receive funding from foreign governments that use this privileged position to propagandize, particularly when the centers fulfill their mandated role of outreach to society. In one such outreach effort, Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, which has received funding from the Saudi-owned company Aramco, included among its teaching aids for K–12 teachers an “Arab World Studies Notebook” that was designed “to induce teachers to embrace Islamic religious beliefs.”[96]

Since the 1960s, Title VI programs have failed in their mandated task of preparing foreign language and regional experts to meet the national defense needs of the United States. Instead, these programs have long been bastions of a progressive academic consensus that promotes ideas and policies hostile to America’s interests. The effects of their extreme, ideologically driven scholarship can be seen in the many crises that America is now facing. The past half-century has demonstrated that these centers are incapable of reforming themselves; their sheer one-sidedness makes it unreasonable to expect the taxpayer to continue to fund them.

—Mike Gonzalez is Senior Fellow in the Center for International Studies, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.

[1] News release, “Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary,” The White House, July 14, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[2] News release, “Remarks to the Press with Q&A by Vice President Joe Biden in Guatemala,” The White House, June 20, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[3] David Nakamura, Jerry Markon, and Manuel Roig-Franzia, “Obama Aides Were Warned of Brewing Border Crisis,” The Washington Post, July 20, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[4] Michael Gonzalez, “Obama’s Central American Follies,” The National Interest, June 23, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[5] “Deadly Attack and Low Turnout Mar Libya Election,” The Daily Telegraph, June 25, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[6] John Hudson, “It’s Not Benghazi, It’s Everything,” Foreign Policy, May 20, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[7] Nick Cumming-Bruce, “Death Toll in Syria Estimated at 191,000,” The New York Times, August 23, 2010, (accessed August 25, 2014).

[8] “Two Arab Countries Fall Apart,” The Economist, June 14, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[9] Ali Weinberg, “Obama to ‘Make Sure’ ISIS Can’t Attack U.S., Kerry Tells ABC,” ABC News, June 24, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[10] James Phillips, “Syria’s Chemical Weapons: U.S. Should Engage Syria’s Opposition to Defuse Threat,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3925, May 1, 2013,

[11] James Phillips, “Obama Administration Gambles on U.S. Troop Strength in Iraq,” The Daily Signal, September 8, 2011,

[12] Fox News, “U.N. Security Council Demands Gaza Cease-fire,” July 21, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[13] Peter Beaumont, “John Kerry Apologizes for Israel ‘Apartheid’ Remarks,” The Guardian, April 29, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[14] Fox Nation, “Kerry Caught Mocking Israel on Hot Mic,” July 21, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[15] Kathrin Hille, Neil Buckle, Courtney Weaver, and Guy Chazan, “Vladimir Putin Signs Treaty to Annex Crimea,” The Financial Times, March 18, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[16] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “U.S. Imposes New Crimea Sanctions,” April 11, 2014. (accessed August 6, 2014).

[17] Anne Applebaum, “The Malaysian Airlines Crash Is the End of Russia’s Fairy Tale,” The Washington Post, July 18, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[18] Nile Gardiner, “Beyond the Crimea Crisis: Comprehensive Next Steps in U.S.–Russian Relations,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2896, March 25, 2014,

[19] Howard Kurtz, “College Faculties a Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2005, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[20] John Schindler, Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad (St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company, 2007), p. 93.

[21] Edward W. Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Times Books, 1979), p. 178.

[22] Anthony H. Cordesman, “Living With Saddam: Reshaping U.S. Strategy in the Middle East,” testimony before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, March 25, 1998, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[23] Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001), p. 69, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[24] Joe Naron, “George Washington Slanted Here,” Accuracy in Academia, March 10, 2010, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[25] National Defense Education Act, Public Law 85-864, § 101 (1958), (accessed August 18, 2014).

[26] Higher Education Opportunity Act, Public Law 110-315, § 106 (2008), (accessed August 6, 2014)./p>

[27] Paul W. Drake and Lisa Hilbink, “Latin American Studies: Theory and Practice,” ch. 1 in David L. Szanton, ed., The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines (Oakland: University of California Press, 2004).

[28] Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand, p. 50.

[29] Samantha Power, “Force Full,” The New Republic, March 3, 2003, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[30] Nile Gardiner and Morgan Lorraine Roach, “Barack Obama’s Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 2466, June 2, 2009,

[31] Tim Groseclose, Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the News (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011).

[32] Mark Francis Cohen, “The Quote Machines,” American Journalism Review, April/May 2005, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[33] Cordesman, “Living With Saddam.”

[34] Mike Allison, “El Salvador’s Brutal Civil War: What We Still Don’t Know,” Al Jazeera, March 1, 2012, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[35] Charles A. Kupchan, “Enemies Into Friends: How the United States Can Court Its Adversaries,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 89. No. 2 (March/April 2010), (accessed August 6, 2014).

[36] Michael Rubin, “Obama Wasn’t Alone Misreading Putin,” Commentary, March 5, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[37] Jesse Lee, “A Hopeful Reset,” The White House Blog, July 7, 2009, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[38] David Hudson, “Bringing the War in Afghanistan to a Responsible End,” The White House Blog, May 27, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[39] Douglas Feith and Seth Cropsey, “How the Russian Reset Explains Obama’s Foreign Policy,” Foreign Policy, October 16, 2012, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[40] Fareed Zakaria, “Remembering Samuel Huntington,” Foreign Policy, January 5, 2011, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[41] Fred S. Laffer and Michael Stein, preface in Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand, p. ix.

[42] Kurtz, “College Faculties a Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds.”

[43] Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand, p. 38.

[44] Anne Marie Borrego, “Scholars Revive Boycott of U.S. Grants to Promote Language Learning,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 16, 2002, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[45] Ibid.

[46] Peter Berkowitz, “Answering Edward Said,” Policy Review, June/July 2008.

[47] Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1979), pp. 301–302.

[48] P. J. Vatikiotis, Among Arabs and Jews: A Personal Experience 1936–1990 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991), p. 105.

[49] Ibn Warraq, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007), p. 14.

[50] Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand, p. 22.

[51] David Bukay, From Muhammed to Bin Laden: Religious and Ideological Sources of the Homicide Bombers Phenomenon (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007), p. 28.

[52] Michael Widlanski, Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 33.

[53] Schindler, Unholy Terror, p. 93.

[54] Joshua Landis, “Stay Out of Syria,” Foreign Policy, June 5, 2012, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[55] Ibid.

[56] Phillips, “Obama Administration Gambles on U.S. Troop Strength in Iraq.”

[57] Juan Cole, “Top Ten Reasons Obama Should Resist Military Plans for American Bases in Iraq,” Informed Comment, December 19, 2008, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[58] BDS Movement, “Introducing the BDS Movement,” (accessed August 6, 2014).

[59] Sara Dogan, “Anti-Semitism at Hampshire College,” Frontpage Mag, September 20, 2011, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[60] Richard Silverstein, “International Scholars Declare Opposition to Israel’s Attack on Gaza,” Tikun Olam, July 17, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[61] Scott Jaschik, “A Different View of the Middle East,” Inside Higher Ed, November 2, 2007, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[62] Joan Frawley, “The Left’s Latin American Lobby,” Heritage Foundation Institution Analysis No. 31, October 11, 1984, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[63] Alfred G. Cuzán, “The Latin American Studies Association vs. the United States: The Verdict of History,” Academic Questions, Vol. 7, No. 3 (September 1993), pp. 40–55.

[64] University of Texas at Austin, Teresa Lozana Long Institute of Latin American Studies, “The 2014 Lozano Long Conference—Archiving the Central American Revolutions.” February 19–21, 2014, (accessed August 18, 2014).

[65] University of Arizona, “Graduate Program: Latin American Studies (MA),” (accessed August 19, 2014).

[66] Laura Adams, “The State of Area Studies: A Survey of Foreign Language and Area Studies Specialists in Higher Education,” National Council of Area Studies Associations Survey Report, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[67] Author interview with an academic who requested anonymity for fear of professional reprisal.

[68] Carlos Eire, “Political Correctness Police Win Battle Against Free Speech,” Babalú Blog, May 4, 2014. (accessed August 6, 2014).

[69] Interview with author.

[70] Letter from University of Wisconsin–Madison Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program to Dr. Carlos Eire.

[71] Ana Quintana, “Misguided U.S. Policies Fuel Central American Immigration Crisis,” Heritage Foundation Commentary, July 17, 2014,

[72] Ana Quintana, “Improving Regional Security in Central America’s Northern Triangle,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4240, June 23, 2014,

[73] Gonzalez, “Obama’s Central American Follies.”

[74] North American Congress on Latin America, “Academics and Experts on Latin America Call on Obama to Denounce Human Rights Abuses by Honduran Dictatorship,” November 12, 2009, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[75] Peter J. Meyer and Clare Ribando Seelke, “Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, May 6, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[76] Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, “Open Letter from U.S. Academics on Salvadoran Elections,” December 10, 2008, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[77] Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Concessions of a Leftist Party: The FMLN’s Dilemma in the Face of Funes’ Centrist Policies,” June 28, 2010, URL (accessed August 6, 2014).

[78] James Roberts, “Obama’s MCC Rewards Bad Behavior in El Salvador,” The Daily Signal, September 20, 2013,

[79] Roger F. Noriega, “Will Elections in El Salvador Create a Narcostate?” American Enterprise Institute, February 24, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[80] Ibid.

[81] James Iffland, “El Sueño del Buen Vivir para El Salvador,” MetroLatinaUSA News, September 26, 2013, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[82] Mike Gonzalez, “The Deep Roots of the Border Crisis,” The Daily Signal, July 21, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[83] David Smilde, “Sanctions on Venezuela Would Be Counterproductive,” The Washington Post, May 19, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[84] Harvard University, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, “Cuban Studies at Harvard University 1998 to 2013,” pp. 15–16, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[85] Ibid, p. 34.

[86] Editorial, “Putin Invades, Obama Dismantles,” The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[87] Tom Vanden Brook, “Russian Military Fires Artillery into Eastern Ukraine,” USA Today, July 24, 2014, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[88] Kupchan, “Enemies into Friends.”

[89] Charles A. Kupchan, “NATO’s Final Frontier: Why Russia Should Join the Atlantic Alliance,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[90] Charles Kupchan, “Sorry, Mitt: It Won’t Be an American Century,” Foreign Policy, February 6, 2012, (accessed August 6, 2014).

[91] Michael McFaul, Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001).

[92] Rubin, “Obama Wasn’t Alone Misreading Putin.”

[93] National Security Education Program, “Welcome to the National Security Education Program,” (accessed August 6, 2014).

[94] Higher Education Opportunity Act, Public Law 110-315,

[95] Gilbert W. Merkx, “Editor’s Foreword,” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 30, No. 1 (1995), (accessed August 6, 2014).

[96] Stanley Kurtz, “Saudi in the Classroom,” National Review Online, July 25, 2007, (accessed August 6, 2014).


Mike Gonzalez
Mike Gonzalez

Senior Fellow, Angeles T. Arredondo E Pluribus Unum Fellow