Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 11, 2011

Bard College luminaries: enemies of democracy in the Middle East

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

Jonathan Cristol

Sari Nusseibeh

Despite Bard College’s admittedly fading radical reputation, the school has made it its business to hire professors with conventional State Department outlooks for key social science positions. They all fit neatly into the New York Review of Books/New Republic/Atlantic Monthly constellation of received wisdom. Those who stray outside this framework of liberal pieties, like Joel Kovel, are likely to incur the wrath of President-for-life Leon Botstein, the school’s dear leader.

A friend alerted me yesterday to a blog article on the American Interest website written by Jonathan Cristol, the director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs (BGIA) Program. A careful study of Cristol’s writings will lead you to the conclusion that the department is dedicated to promoting globalization, or what we Marxists call imperialism. On January 29th, Cristol offered this opinion on developments in Tunisia and Egypt:

Am I really arguing that these states should brutally suppress the protestors and that the United States should encourage them to do so? Not really. The optics of America supporting brutal suppression would not be good for Washington. However, if these governments wish to stay in power, the best means of doing so is to scare the people sufficiently enough to stop them from marching through the street.

Cristol puts forward the same arguments heard from John Bolton, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and all of the other cruddy right-wing pinheads who pollute the airwaves from their roost at Fox-TV or the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal:

Maybe liberty and justice are indeed for all, but these particular protests are not necessarily good for the United States. America’s love of democracy sometimes blinds us to the potential results of the democratic process (re: Gaza) and to the fact that liberty and democracy do not always go hand in hand.

What a pig.

It should be noted that Cristol got his B.A. at Bard College, proof that the school is turning out clones of board member Martin Peretz under the Botstein regime. When I was an undergraduate in the early 1960s, most students aspired to be beat poets or advertising copy writers—at worst. Now it turns out open enemies of democracy.

Cristol first came to my attention last May during the course of some research on the school in conjunction with a movie I made about going to an alumni weekend. I discovered that he was responsible for a joint studies program with the U.S. Military Academy:

In the program’s first year, Bard and West Point students took joint seminars each semester on international relations theory taught by Jonathan Cristol, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Studies at Bard College, and Scott Silverstone, Associate Professor of International Relations at the United States Military Academy. The classes met jointly several times during term, with Bard students visiting West Point and cadets traveling to Annandale-on-Hudson. In the fall, Silverstone gave a well-attended public lecture at Bard entitled ‘Preventive War, American Democracy, and the Challenge of a Shifting Threat Environment.’ In May, six Bard seniors attended West Point’s Project’s Day, and presented the findings of their senior theses to West Point faculty and cadets.

Frankly, I have a different idea about what constitutes a “Threat Environment” than Cristol or Silverstone. For me, it is the Pentagon, where Silverstone once worked in the department of Naval Operations, and the ideological apparatus run by warhawk intellectuals like Jonathan Cristol or Paul Wolfowitz.

Cristol has a most interesting CV. Before coming to Bard in 2003, he was an analyst of Middle Eastern politics for the Intellibridge Corporation. I bet you can guess what kind of outfit Intellibridge is. It was founded in 1998 by David Rothkopf, formerly the managing director of Kissinger Associates and co-run by Anthony Lake, the U.S. Vice Consul in Vietnam from 1963 to 1965 and Clinton’s National Security Advisor.

Back in 2002, our friends at Counterpunch wrote about Intellibridge’s work with Enron:

In the wake of the California electricity “crisis” last year, Enron hired a Washington, D.C., consultancy, headed by a former Clinton administration official, to improve the public image of the giant energy trader. From early last summer until Enron filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2001, Intellibridge Corp. essentially served as an independent “propaganda” arm for Enron, developing a news Web site and organizing conferences, which brought regulatory, political, media and business leaders together to discuss the merits of Enron’s vision for restructuring the electric power industry across the United States.

Prior to the revelations of its off-balance-sheet partnerships last October, Enron’s biggest concern had been fallout from California and how other states may become scared to enact their own forms of electric and gas restructuring programs that possibly would benefit Enron and other non-utility energy marketing companies. Through its connections in D.C.’s closely tied political and international business world, Intellibridge landed the multi-million dollar contract with Enron.

Is there any doubt that Enron picked out exactly the right firm to advance its interests in Washington?

When Al-Quds University in Jerusalem formed a partnership with Bard College in 2008, this became a convenient defense against charges that the school was hostile to the Palestinian cause. Those who were upset with Joel Kovel’s termination were told that the ties with Al-Quds proved that Kovel’s pro-Palestinian writings were beside the point.

A deeper reading of the Al-Quds partnership will reveal that it was actually consistent with what happened to Kovel since there is ample evidence that Sari Nusseibeh, the school’s president, is a willing partner in denying the rights of the Palestinian people.

In the latest New York Review of Books, David Shulman reviews Nusseibeh’s What Is a Palestinian State Worth? The book defends a one-state solution that would leave Palestinian with civil rights, but forgo anything resembling self-determination. Shulman comments:

What this means is that Palestinians would renounce political rights—such as voting for the Knesset and serving in high government office and in the army—but receive basic civil rights: health insurance, social security, freedom of speech and movement, education, legal self-defense, and so on. They would be subjects but not citizens of the joint Israeli-Palestinian entity, which would be owned and run by the Jews. As Nusseibeh notes, there is already in place a precedent for some such arrangement: the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem have lived like this for the past forty-three years.

How remarkable that a Palestinian notable would look to the situation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem as a model for anything except second-class citizenship. Shulman, by no means a Kovel type commentator, notes:

Nusseibeh’s proposal is clearly meant to challenge the political elites on both sides to think seriously about what lies around the next turn in the road or after the next terrible explosion. Even so, it seems not a little disingenuous. Booker T. Washington famously proposed something rather like it for African-Americans—the so-called Atlanta compromise—in 1895; it was, of course, almost immediately superseded. Can one really separate political from civil rights? Is that what most Palestinians want or need?

So that’s what a Bard College globalization professor and a Palestinian hireling of the school amount to: apologists for dictatorship and dispossession. What a sad state of affairs for a school that once had a very good reputation but poor finances. It is to Leon Botstein’s everlasting shame that he has turned this upside down. With every new million dollars he raises, the school’s good name goes deeper and deeper into the sewer.


  1. Bard’s “radical” reputation is related to events 40 years ago. Faculties, administrations and student bodies change a lot in two generations.

    I’d say Bard today is like the star HS quarterback who has a car dealership in town that is successful mainly because the town is full of people who remember him playing well, and not for anything he does today.

    Comment by CF Oxtrot — February 11, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  2. Your first mistake was expecting universities to be anything other than what they are: ideology factories for the bourgeoisie. The second mistake, which follows from the first, is to expect anything more “radical” than disgruntlement from college students.

    Comment by The Idiot — February 11, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

  3. And your first mistake is thinking that I write in order to accomplish anything except my own personal satisfaction.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

  4. Louis,

    Hi hope you are well.

    Thank you for your article. The whole concept that America stands for freedom but not in certain cases proves one of two things about those the espouse those views. The most obvious is that these people are hypocrites. The second that these people give freedom lip service but in the depths of their hearts they are cold and evil individuals.

    Jesus had his harshest words for hypocrites. The same man who freely associated with prostitutes, out cast lepers, and tax collectors who were extortionists called the hypocrites of his day, “broods of vipers” and “children of hell”.

    I firmly believe that in the righteousness of the calling lies the key to victory and the destruction of both the imperialistic and capitalistic systems. Expose the evil and the foundations will crumble.

    If you doubt this tactic then explain why so great an effort is made to distort the truth and lie. The United States indoctrinates it’s people from the cradle to the grave. People wish to see themselves as good. Prove to them they are evil and they will implode.

    Hypcrites, or devils that is what anyone who opposes the American values of democracy in Egypt in favor of brutal dictator that tortures, and murders his own citizens for self serving ends.


    John Kaniecki

    Comment by john kaniecki — February 11, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

  5. Times and men do not change all that much. As Sauk of the Black Hawk said, in the 19th century: “How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.”

    Comment by Richard Greener — February 11, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

  6. After reading this item I had a daydream that I was in a position to order a Bush style rendition of Jonathan Cristol whereby he was snatched in the middle of the night and flown over Tahrir square then jettisoned out of a cargo hatch wearing a parachute set to deploy at 500 feet along with thousands of leaflets with his words printed in Arabic fluttering down amidst the crowd.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 11, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

  7. >What a pig

    >they are cold and evil individuals

    Thank you! This is the exact language we should be using for such people (i’m using the term “people” here very generously) instead of engaging into some absurd liberal notion of civil discourse, as if Liberty and Democracy are matter up for discussion and difference of viewpoint and opinion. It is the language of clarity that old Lenin used to call for from socialists, and has been the language of liberation christianity (credit where is due), and those liberals who are permanently horrified chanting “ad hominem!” seeking to engage these animals as if they are equals, are going against humanity’s entire liberation tradition and should be put beyond the pale.

    Comment by Antonis — February 11, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

  8. If that’s the case Louis, keep it to yourself. As long as you post in a public forum, and allow criticism, hopefully it will waged. Who knows who may come away from reading your stuff with the sorts of illusions you promote.

    Comment by The Idiot — February 12, 2011 @ 1:50 am

  9. Let’s return to Silverstone. He’s brilliant. See how the title of his public lecture says it all. “Preventive Wars” (ours against them), “American Democracy” (what we haven’t got and they shouldn’t have) “and the Challenge of a Shifting Threat Environment” (Ragheads under the bed). Cristol’s pretty sharp too. “re: Gaza”, he says. That’s where we’ll be watching Al Jazeera next.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 12, 2011 @ 10:32 am

  10. For those who are curious to see what this dickhead Cristol looks like in a video, go to http://vimeo.com/15612565. He is totally obnoxious and totally stupid. It makes me want to tell people that I went to Oberlin or Antioch rather than Bard.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 12, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  11. As far as Nusseibeh goes, we can forget what he or other Zionists are willing to grant a sold-out Palestinian Authority.
    That’s yesterday. It’s the much derided “Arab street” that in the long run will guarantee the rights of Palestinians. Just think. An israeli attack on Iran still seemed feasible a month ago. Not today.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 12, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  12. Byrne’s point is prescient. Nothing derails the predation of imperialist war plans like millions of historically oppressed toilers in the streets amidst general strike shouting unquentchable demands and possessing the moral authority of not only the inexorable future but also the keen interest & sympathy of billions of fellow toilers world wide.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 12, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

  13. “For those who are curious to see what this dickhead Cristol looks like in a video…”

    God, sounds like someone still stuck in high school debate club.

    “Also, I think it’s very hard to oppose taking out a dictator. I’m not always against dictators, sometimes they can server American interests.”

    “Would you intervene in an ongoing genocide? Yes, I would. In the case of Saddam Hussein, he was committing genocide long ago. I’m not for intervening everywhere, but on the other hand I do think that intervening only whether there’s a humanitarian disaster then you’re just telling people to do it quickly.”

    “Where I differ from the mainstream neo-Conservative is that I don’t always think democracy is a good thing in every case.” “There are many states if they become democratic it wouldn’t be in America’s favor. I never understood the idea that it is in America’s interest to spread democracy in the Middle East.” “It is in some cases, and isn’t in other cases. I don’t think we can generalize.”

    Well played, sir.

    Comment by aaron — February 12, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  14. Stupid and obnoxious is just about right for Cristol’s inevitable future at some Think Tank like the Brookings Institution: If he makes it that long?


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 13, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

  15. Correction. Above link has typo. Should be:


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 13, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  16. Anyone who uses the word optics in a non-scientific context should be forced to face the corner wearing a dunce cap for an indeterminate period of time.

    Comment by David H — February 14, 2011 @ 8:42 am

  17. I think you do Nusseibeh a little injustice (only a little), I believe. I have read many of his works and do feel that I know what he really attempts to get at, and sadly, he really wants to be more of a pragmatist and a realist when it comes to the aspirations of a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation. Now Nusseibeh is far more privileged than most living in the West Bank and in Gaza and especially in the refugee camps, and I do feel he doesn’t take their wishes into account much, and if he does, it really is dismissive as he is one who seems to agree that “might makes right”. In doing so, he frames his solution as more of a “lesser harm” option rather than one for total liberation at the expense of lives which would mean mostly Palestinian deaths here. It’s hard to find fault at the motivation for such a conclusion as no one in their right mind wants the conflict to continue much longer but it is also hard to picture that Nusseibeh’s “non-citizen” solution would also be sustainable either. It is something similar to another non-solution that The Magnes Zionist Jeremiah Haber also envisions, not because they do not want full political rights for the Palestinians and Israelis but because they feel that it is such an impasse that a better managed non-solution is the least dangerous that the other two solutions posited by everyone else. Advocates for the two-state over a single-state constantly allude to the fact that this is more desirable as it would lead to the least amount of bloodshed and clashes against a single state; whatever the differences in opinion of which is better, they cannot be easily dismissed as sellouts of the Palestinian cause, in my opinion.

    Comment by Joshua — February 16, 2011 @ 4:13 am

  18. But Peter made a very important point: alot depends on what happens in Egypt, and I am sure most of us are crossing our fingers that a more representative body will rise up and take control which would totally change the whole landscape of the Israel-Palestine equation. I wonder if Suri and all the other two-staters would think the same thing today or if they see the shift of power in Egypt give a new lease of life to the justice of the Palesitinian cause and end up dismantling the racist state of Israel.

    Comment by Joshua — February 16, 2011 @ 4:16 am

  19. Mr. Proyect,

    As a current Bard student about to graduate, I feel the need to respond to your comments concerning what you see as a decline of Bard’s ‘good reputation’. I understand that you were once a student here as well, but as your Bard career ended half a century ago, I wonder how in touch you actually are with the current culture of the school/student body. Naturally we are not nearly as radical as the students who must have been your peers, but as has already been stated, the sixties are over and a majority of the hippies and free spirits who burned their draft cards or bras back then eventually bit the bullet and joined the ranks of the bourgeoisie they previously scorned.
    That said, I can attest to the fact that Bard maintains its reputation as a unique academic institution which offers a (beautiful, 700 acre) haven for all those students who may have been deemed ‘weirdoes’ in high school for their ‘bizarre’ desire to learn and think critically about important philosophical/political/social/ethical issues, and which hires professors based on their ability to meet the needs of such students. Jonathan Cristol is one such professor; a Bard grad himself, and I’m sure one of the more successful people to have attained an undergraduate degree from our humble institution, I find your comments regarding him as an ‘apologist for dictatorship and dispossession’ and a ‘pig’ who once worked for a company associated with Enron to be histrionic, misleading, and childish at best. I understand that his opinions must seem ghastly to an ‘unrepentant Marxist’ whose unbounded idealism allows him to keep his dream of a utopia in which capital no longer holds power in class struggle alive – but for a student who is about to enter the ‘real world’ where money and power continue to abound, it is more than refreshing to have a professor who is willing to admit that there are power structures in our society which do indeed exist, and who furthermore does not call on some idealistic absolutism about how things should be, but who confronts such issues with the understanding that people are not perfect, but that decisions must be made nonetheless, and always at the cost of the group who gets the raw end of the deal. If anything, his blog entry on the Egyptian protests, which you so haughtily and unequivocally degrade as evidence of Bard’s descent into conventionality, actually proves the opposite of what you claim; for the entry is itself a radical response to events which almost everywhere else were met with unhesitating applause at the moral worthiness of the Egyptian people’s cause (an opinion shared by many of my fellow Bardians). As an international relations scholar and political theorist, Jonny hesitated, as I hope any prudent politician would ( and as the Obama administration did), and considered the issue from the perspective of what the United States needs to do in order to maintain its own status of power at home and abroad. If such ‘conservative’ response prompts people like you to damn him to hell, then I would be scared to see how you would respond to such a crisis if it were you in the seat of power making decisions for this country.

    But this isn’t really about Jonny, it’s about your unhelpful and unfounded comments concerning the fate of Bard; like it or not, this college is an institution subject to the structures of bureaucracy and capitalism just as any other – perhaps President Botstein enacts policies you disagree with, but at least he is working to ensure funding for the school which, as you said is of ‘poor finances.’ It is all well and good of you to denounce your Bard affiliation as an embarrassing stain on your biography, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be more productive if you were to put your money where your mouth is, as it were, and actually invest in the institution which provided you with such a radical education – only then would you truly have the right to espouse your opinions about the character and culture of the school, and only then would those opinions hold some power with regard to the policies which you so emphatically disagree with.


    Comment by Leah — February 22, 2011 @ 4:14 am

  20. Leah, you are as big a pig as Jonathan Cristol. I am sure that you will be welcomed with open arms at Goldman-Sachs or any other such firm that a Bard degree has prepared you for.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 22, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  21. Hello,
    I am a political studies major at Bard in my junior year and would like to point out that while this institution may be wrought with hypocrisies and elements of it do espouse ideals that perpetuate the now globalized system of imperial-capitalist domination and exploitation, this is not the whole story. Pseudo-liberal apologism for U.S. foreign policy and the many international institutions that enable it, is in my opinion contemptible and I wish it weren’t happening at this school. It is precisely the machinery of unabashed warmongering, the subjugation of disenfranchised populations around the world and the reckless destruction of our environment that me and many of my peers wish to put an end to. As we truly came to realize with the advent of Occupy last autumn, what has got an ever-tightening grip on our world is the “transnational corporatocracy” whose proceeds go to a small group of people that continues to evade culpability and has come to be called the “1%”. I reckon that many people at Bard, professors and students alike, would agree with a general Marxian diagnosis of the ills of capitalism, though conceptions of what would make for good remedies would likely differ quite widely. I suspect that Professor Cristol’s U.S.-centric views that seem to condone neoliberal agendas and widespread military interventionism are more of an exception to the rule than the rule here at Bard, but having never been in one of his classes or had any interaction with the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program, I cannot say for sure. What I can say for sure, though, is that there is a whole lot more going on here than that. The BGIA is just one of 50 undergraduate programs that Bard has. And though I think there are many things at this institution that need rethinking and redress, is that not the case for our world at large?

    Comment by Hans Kern — December 1, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

  22. This is assigned reading this semester in Jonny Cristol’s class. Lmao.

    Comment by CJ — December 2, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

  23. […] Du Mont, the character running the program is a Bard graduate named Jonathan Cristol. Cristol. In an article about Cristol I wrote in February 2011, I took note of his disgusting take on the Arab Spring in an article for […]

    Pingback by The growing intimacy between Bard College and the American military | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 16, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

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