January 24, 2007: Features
In the service of nations ... and of people
Their jobs can change policies, and sometimes minds and hearts. Some are at the center of attention; others remain far from the limelight, as the best work is often done quietly. They work for governments, and for grassroots organizations aiming to fix what governments will not. Here are three of many internationally minded Princeton alumni whose ideas have received public attention and stand to make a difference.
The accidental academic:
By Kathy Kiely ’77
Michael Doran *97 says he left Princeton for the White House in 2005 because “I wanted a calmer, less political environment.”
Only half a joke, Doran’s wry comment captures the professor-turned-presidential adviser’s two most striking qualities: offbeat humor and a flair for the provocative.
A former member of Princeton’s Near Eastern studies faculty, Doran left the University in the midst of a very public controversy over whether he should receive tenure. In August 2005, he joined the Bush administration as the National Security Council’s senior director for Near Eastern and North African Affairs. Doran’s portfolio does not include Iraq or Afghanistan, but he’s responsible for helping shape policy for a wide swath of regional hot spots, including Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. In October 2006, he traveled to the Middle East with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and visited Riyadh, where he was hosted by Turki al-Faisal ’67, then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.
Doran, 44, is “one of the smartest and most creative and interesting minds of his generation in Middle East studies,” says Gideon Rose, managing editor of the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs. Otherwise sharply critical of the Bush administration’s Middle East policies, Rose considers the decision to hire Doran for the National Security Council an encouraging sign. “It shows they are still interested in ideas,” he says.
As an adviser to the nation’s top policy-makers, Doran is no longer permitted to share those ideas in public. “It’s the president’s policy now, Michael,” a White House press officer gently but firmly warned Doran when a question came up about his views on the future role of the United States in the region during an interview with PAW.
His past writings and pronouncements reveal Doran to be an idiosyncratic thinker who defies easy pigeonholing. He is sympathetic to Israel, where he studied Hebrew for three years, though he wrote in one 2002 Foreign Affairs article that Washington should “distance itself from misguided Israeli policies such as the building of settlements in the occupied territories.” To Doran, the key conflict in the Middle East is not between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Arabs and their own despotic governments. In another, influential article published in Foreign Affairs in 2002, he wrote that the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington had drawn the United States into “somebody else’s civil war.” Al-Qaida’s war with the United States was not a goal in itself, Doran wrote, but an “instrument designed to help [Osama bin Laden’s] brand of extremist Islam survive and flourish among the believers.” The extremists were more interested in toppling Arab governments allied with the United States than with a direct U.S. confrontation, he argued, noting that, once attacked, the nation “had no choice but to take up the gauntlet.”
Doran was an early supporter of the Iraq war. He accuses al-Qaida and its sympathizers of indulging in a “paranoid view of the world.” But he has steeped himself in the writings — both historic and contemporary, and including the Web sites of Islamic extremist groups — that led to the development of that worldview. He has a keen appreciation for the powerful attraction that radical fundamentalism presents in today’s Islamic world, and he believes it will take more than just military might to defeat it. Doran sees Osama bin Laden and his followers as would-be reformers of oligarchical regimes who, “while failing to capture state power, have nevertheless succeeded in capturing much cultural ground in Muslim countries.”
As a professor, Doran served up his opinions with undiplomatic honesty. In a February 2003 interview with PAW, he said the goal of American policy should be “maintaining the U.S. predominance in the Persian Gulf.” He was blunt about the reason why: “Everything that we do in the Middle East is ultimately a result of our concern about oil. That’s our fundamental interest in the region,” he told the magazine.
Despite his history of outspokenness, Doran says he’s finding his new role as a national security adviser challenging. Instead of tossing off ideas for students or readers to ponder, he says, “You actually have to tell your bosses what they should do.”
Doran does this from the Dwight Eisenhower Executive Office Building (also known as the Old Executive Office Building), an eccentrically lavish architectural relic of the Gilded Age that sits next door to the White House. A heavy lock defends the door to the warren of rooms where Doran works. Cell phones, BlackBerrys, and other transmitting devices must be checked with the receptionist before visitors can enter Doran’s office — a modest room, taller than it is wide, that is lined with maps of various Middle Eastern countries.
The former professor seems unimpressed with the super-secure ambience, and with himself. Tall, with the loose-limbed gait of the athlete he once was (Doran says he’s been razzed unmercifully by White House colleagues since The Washington Post revealed his history as a high school All-American in water polo), Doran can dissolve into laughter when telling self-deprecating stories about himself.
Doran, whose father sold carpets for a living and served as a Republican precinct captain, was born in Kokomo, Ind. The family moved to California when he was in high school.
He jokingly describes his career as a series of fallback positions, caused by a string of failures. He says he decided to go into Middle East studies after realizing he wasn’t going to make first string on the water polo team at Stanford University, where he obtained his undergraduate degree. His efforts at studying the “social history of the Ottoman Empire” ran into a brick wall, which Doran describes as “the Ottoman language.” He says he still suspects that the language was “a big practical joke that Ottoman bureaucrats played on future historians.”
His detour into the field of modern Middle Eastern politics began when he wrote his Princeton doctoral dissertation on the diplomatic history of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. But Doran insists that also was an accident. After obtaining his master’s degree at Princeton and preparing for his doctorate, “I started to feel I had something in me that was not academic,” Doran says. He decided he wanted off the professorial career path and picked a topic that would allow him to write a “quick and dirty” dissertation to finish up his doctorate speedily. It was supposed to be about state-building in Jordan, but when Doran arrived at the British Public Records Office (the equivalent of the National Archives) to do his research, he found that none of the documents he needed were there. Instead, Doran says, “I read the diplomatic archives.”
What he found fascinated him. The work renewed Doran’s interest in Middle East studies and crystallized an idea that would become a leitmotiv in his analysis of subsequent regional conflicts. “I looked at the 1948 Arab-Israeli war as a war between Arabs as well as a war between Israel and Arabs,” he says. At the records office, Doran also met his wife, Melanie, who worked there, finding papers requested by academics. Because of the strict quota system, “some of the other researchers thought I might have been trying to get more papers when I started to date her,” Doran says. For the record, he insists that he never did.
After obtaining his doctorate, Doran taught at the University of Central Florida before returning to Princeton as a faculty member. He was a popular teacher.
“One of the things I liked about him was that he wasn’t comfortable teaching something until he had figured it out for himself,” Professor Michael Cook, a former colleague on the Near Eastern studies department faculty, said in an e-mail. “There are people who can confidently paper over the cracks in their thinking and befuddle their students with smoke and mirrors. He didn’t. He couldn’t. So there was an authenticity, a transparency, to his thinking that I think students seriously appreciated.”
Doran’s departure from Princeton became a matter of public controversy. A March 2005 article in the conservative magazine National Review claimed that he was denied a permanent post on the Near Eastern studies faculty because of pressure from members of the University’s history department. According to the National Review’s analysis, it was a case of political correctness run amok: “In a field dominated by anti-Western dogmatism, Doran stands out,” the magazine wrote.
The real story may be more closely guarded than the National Security Council’s secrets. All that Sükrü Hanioglu, the chairman of the Near Eastern studies department, would allow in an e-mail was: “Professor Doran left Princeton for government service. He is a former faculty member and, of course, a Princeton Ph.D.”
Doran won’t talk about it, either. But he holds no hard feelings toward his old department. Princeton is “the best place in the country to do Near Eastern studies,” Doran says. “There’s more intellectual honesty and openness than you find in other parts of the world.”
After more than a year of White House workdays that begin at 6:30 a.m. and can stretch until after 8:30 p.m. — a tough schedule for the father of two young children — Doran is nostalgic for academe. The man who once thought there was “something in me that was not academic” says he misses teaching. He makes it plain that he wouldn’t mind going back to Old Nassau someday.
Foreign Affairs’ Rose, hardly a right-winger, agrees with National Review when it comes to Doran. Letting him go “was Princeton’s loss,” Rose says.
Rose worries that “one of the most free-thinking scholars in the field” may have difficulty finding a teaching berth after his time at the National Security Council. “The academic world sees policy-makers as unsophisticated boobs who are not interested in scholarship or intellectual discussion,” he says. But Doran’s time on the front lines will enable him to understand real-world foreign policy challenges “in a way you cannot from the outside,” Rose says. “I look forward to reading the articles he writes after he leaves.”
Kathy Kiely ’77 is a reporter at USA Today.
By Lucy Hornby ’95
It’s a long way from anywhere to Baojing, China, in the western mountains of Hunan Province. From the nearest airport, it’s still a drive of several hours on a curvy road between steep limestone hills. White feathers drift out of the darkness from a truckload of ducks just ahead.
Western Hunan is mountainous and poor. Misty, craggy scenery draws tourists to the nearby UNESCO natural heritage park of Zhangjiajie and the preserved historic town of Fenghuang. But not many visitors linger in the smoggy, scooter-choked streets of Jishou, the county seat. Still fewer come to Baojing, where rain- and smoke-darkened concrete buildings pile up steep hillsides.
Kate Zhou *94 makes the trip, again and again. She first journeyed to Baojing, her grandfather’s hometown, in 2002. The region has since become her project.
Born in China in 1956, Zhou left in 1986 to study at Texas A&M University. She earned her doctorate in politics at Princeton, and is now an associate professor of political science at the University of Hawaii. Sixteen years after she left, she returned to China, jolted by the attacks of Sept. 11 and wondering how she could help people left behind by poverty and spread a more positive image of the United States.
“When I came to America, and at Princeton, so many people helped me. I believe in reciprocity but how could I help them?” says Zhou, who talks a mile a minute. “When people are totally disconnected to the world we are living in, economically or culturally, it can be very dangerous. So this became a way to give back to America.”
It was also a way to give back to China. On her first visit to Western Hunan, she says, she was impressed by the people’s desire for education and “interest in linking up with the world,” despite their poverty. Her solution: to recruit English instructors who could help provide that education. She returned to Hawaii and immediately advertised in newspapers for teachers to travel to China. “I got eight people to sign up,” she says. “I paid for some of them myself. That was the first English camp.”
More than 1,000 students applied to attend that first English camp in the summer of 2002 in Jishou, two hours from Baojing. Only half could be chosen. The camp was the first in a series of projects that have taken most of Zhou’s free time for the last four years.
She now supports an array of projects in Baojing and elsewhere, visiting several times to stay on top of things. Within four years, she has created crucial connections between Chinese and foreigners with money or time to volunteer, and a region that otherwise would get little attention from the outside world. “Her brain’s like a popcorn popper — she’s always thinking of things,” says Princeton Professor of East Asian Studies Perry Link.
Zhou grew up in Wuhan, an industrial and university city in central China. During Chairman Mao’s Great Cultural Revolution, her family was exiled to the countryside, her parents jailed. Zhou was homeless for three years, and her grandfather starved to death. The decade left young Kate wary of government officials who try to control everything from the top down. She became sympathetic to rural women, especially women who take huge risks to bear a second or third child.
After exposure at Princeton to the ideals of the U.S. Constitution, Zhou came to believe that China’s rural poor needed control over their lives and property. Many of her projects seek to take the pressure off families — especially migrants from the countryside — who have had more children than allowed under China’s one-child policy. In addition to facing heavy fines and loss of house and livestock, parents often cannot send unregistered second children to school without paying huge additional charges.
“Whatever we can do to expand the nongovernment sector is good for Chinese people,” Zhou says. “What I mostly want to do is give a little bit of space, so that society can develop. But I am limited. I realize there is very little I can do.”
Her ideas are big — property rights, education, freedom of choice in bearing children — but the seeds are planted in small, concrete steps that aren’t threatening to local officials. Zhou’s foundation, Education Advancement Fund Inter-national, or EAFI, helps fund Qiao Tou, a private preschool in Baojing that admits unregistered children. EAFI pays for school fees for some of the children and some teachers’ salaries. It subsidizes vocational training for rural women. It channels micro-credit loans and grants, some of which cover the fines levied on second or third children.
In Jishou, a city of 150,000 people, Zhou has placed American teachers in local high schools and universities, where they teach English to students who normally would not have the resources available in bigger cities. She has organized summer boot camps in English for rural English teachers in Hunan and other provinces. She has founded an English library at the Jishou Teachers’ College in honor of her Princeton mentor, the late sociology professor Marion Levy. Her connections helped get Chinese officials on board for Princeton-in-Asia’s Summer of Service program, developed by Rory Truex ’07 and launched last summer. Nearly 150 students studied in an English-immersion program all summer at the Jishou Teachers’ College. Princeton-in-Asia hopes to continue the program next year.
In July 2005 Zhou organized a conference on rural development that brought national and international experts to Jishou. “At the time, I didn’t see the point of it, but now we are seeing the effects,” says Zhou Chunlu, retired president of Jishou Teachers’ College. A recent policy speech by Western Hunan’s top official incorporated the recommendations of the experts at the conference, he says.
Some of the recommendations are being put into practice by the Xiangxi Human Resource and Market Information Center, a nonprofit organization that was spun off from the local labor bureau. EAFI helps subsidize the center, which publishes a small jobs newspaper and helps administer scholarships for local children, small business loans, and grants for vocational training for young women. Employees and volunteers carefully vet the applicants. In one case, they walked an hour uphill from the nearest road to meet an old woman in a mud-brick house who was seeking school fees for her grandson. She fell on her knees to thank them.
Sometimes, the bigger ideas run aground. A survey of rural dwellers was supposed to help pin down residents’ property rights and allow farmers to borrow against the value of what they own. It ran into suspicion from district bureaucrats, village chiefs, and even the farmers themselves, who didn’t see the point of outsiders asking so many questions. A proposed boarding school for North Korean refugee children, by the border in Northeast China, proved increasingly complicated. Other big projects that have withered include a church hall and orphanage in Hunan.
But high on a muddy hill overlooking Baojing, the Qiao Tou preschool is a neat and cheerful, five-story building covered in white tiles. Principal Xiang, a short woman with ramrod posture, gold earrings, and a thick Hunan accent, shows off the spare concrete classrooms. Eighty little wooden beds with gingham quilts, all ready for naptime, crowd one room. In eight years the school has expanded to 85 preschoolers, at a cost of about $25 per student per semester. EAFI funded 22 of the students in 2006. After graduation, they will be able to go to public school. It’s a Sunday, so the children are at home. Instead, the adults are perched on the little wooden chairs and give the air of parent-teacher day. Their children are all recipients of Zhou’s various scholarships, including a pretty 10-year-old who introduces herself in English. One woman sobs as she clutches a pale, thin 2-year-old. Zhou found donors to pay for the little girl’s heart surgery.
The talk isn’t about property rights or human rights. It’s about the $325 that has kept a daughter in high school even though her brothers have had to drop out. In one family, a parent has died and the breadwinner has fallen ill — but $125 has let an elementary student eke out an extra semester.
“I’d like to thank Kate Zhou,” says one father. “Baojing has too many poor people. Our kids have been taken care of, but many others can’t go to school.” Then he suggests that the school program be expanded.
Sometimes the need is overwhelming, the requests unending. Zhou hopes to pass some of her projects to larger organizations, who can keep them going. She wants not to have to worry about them for a while. But then she brightens, and the ideas begin bursting out again.
Lucy Hornby ’95 reports for Reuters in Beijing.
The public intellectual:
By Dan Grech ’99
Jorge Castañeda ’73 is sitting in a taxi on his way to Columbia University one crisp Saturday morning in October. Next to him is David Lucero, a Columbia undergraduate from Mexico who has convinced Castañeda to speak about immigration reform. “How long’s my talk?” Castañeda asks. “Fifteen minutes?”
“Half an hour,” Lucero says.
Castañeda takes a breath. A few weeks earlier, members of Columbia’s Chicano Caucus stormed the stage during a speech by Jim Gilchrist, founder of the anti-immigrant Minuteman Project. The students were pilloried in the national press — Gilchrist called them “fascist liberal anarchists” on Fox News. This morning, about 200 Chicano activists from 17 colleges have gathered for their fall conference; the atmosphere is still tense, and feelings are still raw.
Castañeda turns to Lucero. “I have no idea what the hell I’m getting into,” he says.
“To be honest,” Lucero says, “neither do I.”
Lucero takes the podium half an hour later. He comes to the point quickly — “Dr. Castañeda is the former foreign minister of Mexico. He’s a man who needs no introduction” — and walks off. Lucero doesn’t need to tell the audience that Castañeda is one of the leading leftist intellectuals in Latin America, that he’s a firebrand thinker whose writings have graced best-seller lists and appear in newspapers across North America, that he’s a lightning rod for criticism because of his shifting political allegiances. Today, Castañeda comes to the front of the room wearing a leather jacket and jeans. Someone has written eight “Ground Rules” in black marker on a poster board attached to the podium. Rule #8: Attack the idea, not the person.
Castañeda speaks without notes. Within minutes, he is advocating an idea many in the audience consider heresy.
“Why do we want a guest-worker program?” he asks. “Because without one, there will be no legalization of undocumented workers. That’s the notion of ‘the whole enchilada.’ If you don’t have both, you will have neither. One without the other won’t fly in Congress or in the business community.”
Chicano groups say a guest-worker program will create a new underclass in this country: people who don’t have labor rights or housing or a path to citizenship, people who work at low wages and then are forced home. As Castañeda speaks, students shift in their seats. But they keep listening.
Castañeda hits other sensitive spots. Smugglers of people and smugglers of drugs are teaming up at the Mexican border, Castañeda says. “Our Minuteman friends emphasize this too much, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. They’re both moving very expensive, very illicit merchandise. And they’re starting to do it together.”
When Castañeda opens the floor to questions, students are direct but polite. “What would a guest-worker program imply for U.S. workers?” one asks. Castañeda is relaxed and polemical. After an hour, the session ends. Some students leave for an immigrants’-rights march in Union Square. Castañeda goes to lunch.
“I just faced a room of student activists and left with a round of applause. I didn’t get hooted down,” he says afterward. “In Mexico, events have always been scripted, closed, organized. Politicians don’t face hostile crowds. There is no Mexican politician that can do what I just did here.”
Castañeda’s limitless self-confidence has been the subject of intense discussion in Mexico City. That was particularly true between December 2000, when he joined Mexican President Vicente Fox’s cabinet, and October 2005, when his run for Mexican president was cut short by a legal ruling. Consider the adjectives employed by the international press during that time to describe him: prickly, provocative, pain-in-the-butt, acerbic, caustic, profane, toweringly arrogant. The New York Times called him “one undiplomatic diplomat.”
“I am not arrogant,” Castañeda famously replied, “just overbearing.”
Castañeda is now largely out of the public eye. He teaches at New York University and writes columns for publications in the United States and Mexico. Despite his transition out of politics, his ego remains intact. Now, within certain circles in Latin America, a different debate about Castañeda rages — one that will distinguish his legacy as a leading leftist intellectual or forever tarnish it: Is Jorge Castañeda a traitor to the left?
Castañeda’s father, also named Jorge, was a career diplomat who rose to become Mexico’s foreign minister in 1979, two decades ahead of his son. His mother, Neoma, a Jewish emigrée from Russia, raised him in New York, Mexico, and Cairo, where he perfected his English and French.
He learned from his father that saying what you think is not always valued within the diplomatic corps. “My father paid a price for having an independent mind in the Foreign Service,” he says. “He should have been appointed foreign minister 10 years earlier.”
Castañeda rebelled. He became a radical. “Princeton was not a good fit,” he says. He wore long hair and a beard, strummed Mexican folk songs on his guitar, and protested the war in Vietnam. His history thesis was on the revolutionary left in Chile.
He found a better fit at the University of Paris, where he earned a doctorate in political economy in 1978. There he befriended the revolutionary theoretician Régis Debray, whose arguments in favor of armed struggle were adopted by Che Guevara. And there Castañeda discovered the perfect professional fit for his restless mind: the swashbuckling public intellectual.
“France in the ’70s was my formative years and environment,” Castañeda says as he sits in the back of another New York taxi, on the way to an appointment. “I believe in the committed intellectual. I realize the idea’s a little old-fashioned, not postmodern at all.” Then, without the slightest warning, without even taking a breath, he begins speaking into the Bluetooth headset of his cell phone. While describing his time in France, he’d made a phone call.
“A conversation with him can be a dazzling blur,” Tim Weiner wrote in The New York Times in 2002. “He speaks supersonically (in Spanish, English or French), juggling a cup of espresso with a cell phone proffered every few minutes by a secretary. The ideas come so fast that a listener feels like ducking.” Friends and foes agree that Castañeda’s ability to multitask is part of his charm — and his arrogance.
Castañeda finishes his phone call. “But as I was saying, I am much more French-educated and French-formed than anything else,” he says, without missing a beat. “My sense, following the Sartrean view of the intellectual, is you should take sides.”
“Does that mean you should also switch sides?”
“I don’t buy that I switched sides, though a lot of people accuse me of doing it.”
It’s not hard to see why many on the Latin American left consider Jorge Castañeda a traitor. Consider the evidence:
When he returned from Paris to Mexico in 1978, he became a militant in the Communist Party. But his 1997 biography of Che Guevara, Compañero, is so critical of the revolutionary that many leftists saw it as a betrayal. In 2000, he joined the cabinet of Vicente Fox, a member of Mexico’s most conservative party.
As a young man, Castañeda grew close to Cuba’s Fidel Castro — so close that he was accused of being a Cuban spy. But when he became foreign minister, Castañeda distanced Mexico from Cuba — and cozied up to the United States. This about-face prompted Castro to call him a “diabolical liar.” In 2000, a prominent Mexican journalist accused him of being a spy for the CIA.
“I am one of few people accused simultaneously of being an agent of both the Soviet Union and the Mossad,” he says, laughing. “Of course, it’s not true, but those are difficult things to disprove.”
Castañeda gave a clue to his political shape-shifting during a speech at Princeton in November. He argued that there are actually two lefts in Latin America. One is dogmatic, nationalistic, revolutionary — the left of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The other left is market-friendly but socially conscious, like the path taken by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Castañeda argued at Princeton that this second group is taking hold in the region. “Why do the radicals become moderates?” he asked the audience. Because, he said, it’s proven to be the most effective way to win power.
And that, in a nutshell, is Castañeda’s treason.
“He’s a part of what I’d call the disillusioned left,” says Stanley Stein, an emeritus professor of history at Princeton and an adviser to Castañeda’s junior independent work. “He was formed in an age when people of a progressive bent have been forced to compromise. But many Mexicans say that reeks of opportunism.”
Castañeda denies a change in ideology. “Most of the things I wrote or said or thought when I was in the Communist Party, I still think,” he says. The difference is that he gave up on changing Mexico’s Communist Party and focused instead on changing Mexico.
And so his most powerful intellectual contribution to the left, developed in France and tested in Mexico, is an unapologetic pragmatism. He argued in his influential 1993 history, Utopia Unarmed, that the left is relevant only if it can influence established governments — even if that means cooperating with the opposition. Then he took his own advice.
Castañeda says his main accomplishment as foreign minister was convincing the United States and Mexico that they had to work together on immigration. He came close to negotiating comprehensive immigration reform in 2001 — “the whole enchilada,” as he called it — but was derailed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the hostility it engendered toward immigrants. He’s open to another cabinet post, but the offer from President Felipe Calderón never came.
“It was fun, interesting, and tremendously gratifying to get things done,” he says of his stint as foreign minister. “Power,” he adds, “is all about having an idea and transforming it to a reality.” π
Dan Grech ’99 is the Miami-based Americas reporter for Marketplace, the public-radio business news show produced by American Public Media.
Robert Bernstein ’08 contributed research assistance for this article.