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Chelsea in Oxford | The Nation

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Chelsea in Oxford

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In his Oxford days, Bill Clinton was famously antiwar. Since her arrival at the university to study international relations, his daughter, Chelsea, has been waging war from behind the newly reinforced bullet-proof glass windows of her Oxford dorm room. She and her Secret Service guards disrupted an antiwar rally in the town hall, heckling the speakers and waving American flags. And then there's the piece in Talk magazine.

See also "The Afghan Humanitarian Crisis," by Matt Bivens.

About the Author

Daniel Swift
Daniel Swift has written for Bookforum, the New York Times Book Review and the Times Literary Supplement.

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In the most recent issue of the glossy New York mag--the cover is dominated by Gwyneth Paltrow's shiny décolletage--Chelsea complains that "every day I encounter some sort of anti-American feeling. Sometimes it's from other students, sometimes it's from a newspaper columnist, sometimes it's from 'peace' demonstrators only a few blocks from where I live." This anti-Americanism has led her to avoid English students and spend her time with other Americans in Oxford.

The inverted commas around "peace" suggest that Chelsea has little time for the antiwar movement. She goes on to explain exactly what she thinks of these demonstrators:

"Many question whether the evidence pointing to Osama bin Laden is accurate and conclusive. Others wonder whether America has any genuine concern for the plight of the Afghan people. I bristle at these suggestions. The idea that anyone believes America would enter into this conflict capriciously boggles my mind, and the notion that the United States is acting without regard to the Afghan people is offensive. Finally, the suggestion that America was too quick to respond, or that the United States should for some reason not employ its right to self-defense, is an assault in itself."

At the risk of bristling Ms. Clinton, there are many who doubt America's new war on terror. She suggests that questioning the bombing, or even debating the merits of US policy, is the same as an attack on the United States. But the debate is already open. More than a month ago, the Britain-based charities Oxfam and Christian Aid called for a pause in the bombing so that humanitarian supplies could get through. The UN has estimated that there are seven and a half million Afghan refugees dependent on aid to survive. The New York Times has reported at length on how the bombing has disrupted critical relief effort. Chelsea's tortured scheme of moral equivalency doesn't seem to recognize these factors.

The English school of IR theory is more skeptical however. It's typified by Hedley Bull's famous statement in The Anarchical Society, which has become a textbook for English IR: "I believe that inquiry has its own morality and is necessarily subversive of political institutions of all kinds, good as well as bad." This doubting voice underpins the classical model of IR taught at Oxford.

Chelsea is going to have a tough time at Oxford if she bristles at skepticism toward US policy. According to the syllabus, in her first year she is required to take a course on "the origins and course of the Cold War" and "the place of law, of rules generally, and of moral concepts, in international relations"; in her second year, she will choose an optional subject from a list that includes "The International Relations of the Middle East," "The United States in International Relations since 1945" and "The International Relations of Latin America." These courses won't make much sense without mention of Nicaragua or El Salvador, of America's special relationship with Israel, of America's disregard for the UN or even of America's support of the Taliban.

Ms. Clinton has been widely feted in Britain. Tatler magazine named her as one of England's ten most eligible women. But the anti-Americanism she has found in Oxford is not simply snobbery. There have been antiwar demonstrations throughout England in the last month, including one in Hyde Park on October 13 which drew more than 20,000 people. The bombing of Afghanistan has been regularly attacked in the English media. Oxford may be anti-American, but no more than the rest of world: like Paris, perhaps? Or Teheran? If, as has been widely suggested, this is the first step of a run for office, we should watch her words.

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