Carolyn Eisenberg is a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Hofstra University. She is a proud socialist and was a featured speaker at the 2004 Socialist Scholars Conference.
As a professor of foreign policy, Eisenberg is in a position to greatly influence her students’ assessments of America’s international engagements. Impugning the U.S. for what she calls its history of “unbridled nationalism and racism,” Eisenberg personally holds in contempt virtually all American foreign policy decisions – and is no less critical of the nation’s domestic policies and its capitalist economic system. The task of imparting these opinions to her students is, for Eisenberg, part of her self-defined mission as an educator.
According to Professor Eisenberg, “American imperialism and militarism are longstanding features of our national identity.” “American militarism in its Cold War incarnation,” she elaborates, “was never exclusively a device for protecting profit. It grew out of the specific circumstance existing at the end of the Second World War and was the means by which American officials could best enhance the power of the nation-state, while establishing a global economic framework for capitalism. This might seem like a theoretical nitpick. However, by incorporating this view, we can more easily recognize that over the course of a half-century ‘American militarism’ has become an important phenomenon in its own right. It does not appear as simply a consequence of economic interests, but actually shapes the way in which the U.S. government makes decisions in the international field.”
Professor Eisenberg contends that not only have U.S. leaders been historically unwilling to seek peaceful solutions to international conflicts, but that they also have frowned upon potential breakthroughs for the furtherance of world peace – fearing that such developments might derail their quest for an ever-larger military and an ever-growing American empire. “Some of you may remember,” says Eisenberg, “when the Berlin Wall came down that George Bush Sr. forgot to smile. That was because he wasn’t very happy. What would justify the continuation of NATO, if the wall disappeared, if in fact Germany was reunited?”
“I would also suggest,” adds Professor Eisenberg, “that a similar concern inspired senior Bush to go hurtling into the first Gulf War I. It is not surprising that an American President would want the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Yet as was evident in 1991, Bush was absolutely determined to do this in a military way, willfully sabotaging any chance of diplomacy.” In making this assertion, Eisenberg passes over the fact that more than five months elapsed between Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the initiation of Operation Desert Storm’s military strikes in January 1991. Eisenberg is similarly silent about the fact that during that period, Saddam Hussein ignored repeated demands – under threat of war – that he withdraw his troops from Kuwait.
Professor Eisenberg casts President George W. Bush’s use of a preemptive strike against Iraq in March 2003 as a reckless and potentially disastrous precedent for future unprovoked attacks by nations around the world. She laments, however, that this policy “isn’t so new either.” “Since the inception of the Cold War and even before,” she continues, “the United States government had dispatched troops to other countries, when there was no likelihood that they were preparing an assault on us. The cases of Grenada, Panama, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia spring immediately to mind. This practice did not originate with George Bush, Jr.” In the final analysis, however, Eisenberg does not confine her blame for the Iraq War solely to President Bush, but rather she indicts all of American society and its allegedly violent character. She asks rhetorically, “You can say why did Bush go to war – because he was stupid, didn’t read newspapers, was ideologically driven – but what kind of country do we have that led to such an irrational war?”
Professor Eisenberg sees Operation Iraqi Freedom as merely one step in a long, calculated march toward expanded empire and global dominion. She casts members of the Bush administration as “ideological extremists with a vision of a new world order . . . It is a vision of a world in which the United States, as the one remaining superpower, has the opportunity to use its military power in new ways and to create an international order in which the America government will be permanently dominant and in which their version of ‘free market capitalism’ can be extended. In their outlook, the seizure of Iraq is not an end in itself, but a bold first step in a larger military plan.”
Refusing even to concede that a military response to the Taliban-supported al Qaeda attacks of 9/11 was justifiable, Professor Eisenberg depicts that response as further evidence of America’s inherent predisposition toward unwarranted aggression and violence. “[A]s of September 10 ,” she explains, “the United States was a country ‘wired for war.’ This had been the case for decades. However, since Pearl Harbor, there had not been an attack on our shores. Given the American propensity to threaten or use military power in a wide range of situations, and the careless assumption that our military advantage would prevent any attack on our vital interests, it was a foregone conclusion that the response to 9/11 would be war.”
Declaring that “U.S. foreign policy has always exacted a fearful price from people around the world and it has long been dangerous to our own populace,” Professor Eisenberg can find nothing positive to say about any presidential administration in living memory. In her view, there have been only greater and lesser evils, varying gradations of ineptitude and malice. “[S]ome administrations are more reckless and irresponsible than others,” she says, “and some Presidents are dumber. At present we are in the hands of right-wing ideologues, who are truly ignorant about the rest of the world and are subject to grandiose delusions about what military force can achieve.”
As a historian and professor, Carolyn Eisenberg believes it is incumbent upon her to blur and even erase the line between pedagogy and political activism. “[H]istorians urgently need to educate the public,” she says. “In every possible venue, we need to put the subject of ‘militarism’ as well as ‘free market’ orthodoxy up for debate. Ironically, my generation of radical historians was galvanized by the Vietnam [W]ar, which nurtured a belief that scholarship and teaching could nurture a critical sensibility that would reverberate throughout our society. Yet while many constructive changes have taken place in our discipline, it is on this very topic – the American role in the world – that we have been least voluble and least effective. That educational task is still before us. I hope we can meet it.”
One manifestation of Professor Eisenberg’s effort to pursue this self-identified mission was the antiwar “Day of Inquiry” she helped organize on the Hofstra campus in September 2004. “With a Presidential election looming over the semester,” she said at the time, “a crucial task for antiwar faculty is to devise campus events that go beyond traditional campaigns, raise significant issues and that can galvanize student engagement. . . . The structure of the day was deceptively simple – a series of events from early morning until late at night in which various aspects of the ‘Bush agenda’ (e.g., war in Iraq, effect of the Patriot Act on our school, reproductive rights) were discussed and debated.”
Professor Eisenberg’s campus activism, both inside and outside the classroom, has not escaped the notice of her students. On the website RateMyProfessors.com, a considerable number of Eisenberg’s students note her virulent anti-Americanism and her habit of airing her personal political views in the classroom. Among the student comments are the following: