Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John Wayne 101

Meet the good American, John Agresto:

"As an integral part of the independent state, Iraq's academic institutions were to be subject to sweeping change. In 2003 John Agresto was appointed Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research, reporting directly to Bremer. He told the Washington Post that before leaving for Iraq he knew 'next to nothing' about Iraq's universities but that he accepted the position because, 'This is what Americans do: They go and help... I guess I just always wanted to be a good American'. Agresto (formerly responsible for a minor liberal arts college in the US) was put in charge of the entire Iraqi higher education system with its 375,000 students. His aim was to 'reconstruct Iraq's decrepit [sic] universities and create an educational system that would nurture and promote the country's best minds'. He regarded the post-invasion looting of campuses as beneficial, saying that it provided 'the opportunity for a clean start'." (The Purging of Minds, Philip Marfleet, in Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned & Academics Murdered, ed. by Baker, Ismael & Ismael, 2010, p 226)

But our good American sustained a bit of a battering in Iraq, and ended up writing a book about his experiences there called Mugged By Reality: The Liberation of Iraq & the Failure of Good Intentions (2007). A sample:

"[T]he liberation and empowerment of women was widespread and deep-rooted in most parts of the country. Both of these - the liberation of women and secularization of Iraqi society - were things Saddam did. In part because of the loss of so many young Iraqi men in the long war with Iran, and no doubt in part because Saddam recognized their equal talent and usefulness, women, secular women, were in positions of authority in many sectors of Iraqi life. Unlike, say Afghanistan, women in Iraq were professors, doctors, professionals of every sort... Sorry to say, I now think that the situation for the average woman has now become worse than it was under Saddam... I'm told by my Iraqi friends who are still there that, unlike just 5 years ago, today no prudent woman goes out without the veil, that classes are again segregated by sex, that the great inequalities of Islamic law are again being applied, that rapes are a tool of the sectarian militias, and open and innocent interactions between young men and women are hardly possibe..." (Mugged By Reality: John Agresto's views on Iraq, jarrarsupariver.blogspot.com)

But John and his mission civilisatrice were not to be deterred:

"[The] American University of Iraq Sulaimaniya (AUIS) bloomed in the Northern Iraqi desert, a very artificial growth sustained hydroponically with US tax dollars. One night, at a very boozy faculty party, some veteran AUIS teachers told us the secret story of how the place was created. They claimed that AUIS was born when John Agresto, a right-wing academic and vassal of the Cheney clan, drove over the Turkish border with $500,000 cash taped to his body. There was something grotesque about this legend, because Agresto is a notably fat man, and once you'd heard the legend of his cash-strapped trip across the border, you couldn't help imagining him bulging with cash on top of his other bulges, like a wombat infested with botfly larvae... In the early stages of the US occupation... Agresto was in charge of 'reforming' the Iraqi education system on good Republican principles. To his credit, he wrote a reasonably honest book about the experience called Mugged By Reality. Unfortunately, the mugging didn't take; Agresto has gone back to his right-wing roots, avoiding that disrespectful thug, Reality, as much as possible. Agresto has a very typical right-wing biography, steeped in resentment and nourishing long, slow, vengeful designs on the academic profession which had humiliated him. He was a Reagan appointee to the National Endowment for the Humanities in the mid-1980s, joining his patron, Bill Bennett, in the project to defund the Left. But when he was nominated as Deputy Head, Agresto was bitterly humiliated. He was criticized as a 'mediocre political appointment' by the American Studies Association, with a dozen academic organizations joining up to issue a statement deploring his 'decidedly partisan reputation'. There were also raised eyebrows at the fact that a witness who testified for Agresto at his confirmation hearings had recently been given a large grant at Agresto's behest. After these bruising revelations, his nomination was dropped... All that bitterness, and all those wads of taxpayer cash, ended up in the creation of AUIS. It was planned, as we new faculty were told, as a three-campus system, with branches in Baghdad and Southern Iraq. But Reality mugged that plan savagely; any attempt to stroll the groves of academe in any other part of Iraq other than the Kurdish far north would have been interrupted with a lesson in practical physics from an IED. Agresto took that money to Sulaimaniya, in the Kurdish zone of Northern Iraq, and set up AUIS, with himself in charge. He apparently chose Kurdistan for the simple reason that Baghdad, the natural place to put an American university in Iraq, was already too dangerous for Americans." (I was a professor at the horribly corrupt American University of Iraq... until the neocons fired me, John Dolan, alternet.org, 8/10/10)

Oh well, even the goodest of good Americans can't win 'em all. But at least now the youth in this little corner of free Iraq are getting the best education America has to offer:

"There was a clear, simple formula for success at AUIS: be a Southern white male Republican with a talent for flattery, an undistinguished academic record, and very little experience in university-level teaching. Some of the faculty were so dismally unqualified and shameless that even our students, mostly reverent toward foreign authority-figures, saw through them. The man Agresto hired to teach American History makes a perfect Exhibit A in any list of what's wrong with AUIS. The first sign that he was not exactly committed to intellectual integrity with his choice of textbook for the course: an abominable book called America: The Last Best Hope by William Bennett. Yes, THE William Bennettt, Reagan's Secretary of Education, the buffoon who sermonized on virtue until his gambling losses added up so high that they drowned out his pomposities, the man who once scolded a child in public for wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt... Luckily for the students in American History, they spent most of their time watching war movies rather than reading Bennett's Sunday School tales. Since I taught in the same cabin as our American History instructor, separated from his class by a flimsy metal wall, I got to listen to a whole semester's worth of bad WWII films. Three long months of trying to teach my students to use the simple present, rather than the present progressive, in their essays, shouting to be heard over the corny dialogue coming through the wall: 'I'm hurt, Sarge! Uh... go on without me!' usually followed by explosions that rocked the thin metal wall, as Sarge and friends took their revenge for the Gipper. His one criterion was 'bad language'. He wouldn't show any movie with swearing in it (thus eliminating every decent war movie ever made). That scruple served him in place of any squeamishness about giving his teaching to the likes of William Bennett and John Wayne." (ibid)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read Dr. Agresto's response to Dr. Dolan's article at http://auisstudent.blogspot.com/2010/10/john-dolan-academic-fraud.html