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Robert R. Reilly: Diplomacy in the Modern Era

Thank you, Katie, and thank you- and- and-
Patrick and John more for your very kind remarks about my book, “The Closing of the
Muslim Mind.” I can really sum that up for you. The central thesis of that book in
one sentence the kind of Islam about which Stephen Ulph and Patrick Sookhdeo
were speaking, is a spiritual pathology based on a deformed theology that has
produced a dysfunctional culture a spiritual pathology based on a deformed
theology that has produced a dysfunctional culture well that’s about
it any questions actually my job today is not to talk about the subject of my
book but about the war of ideas in public diplomacy and you have already
heard some remarks about it I actually in the course of my 25 years in
government not done successful the success of port neither done
successfully or successively I spent most of it in public diplomacy in the us
information agency in the Reagan White House in the state department oversees
at the voice of america for more than 10 years and with the Defense Department
both here and in the Middle East so I’ve seen public diplomacy work and I’ve seen
it not work unfortunately most of my experience has been in the latter
category and this our failure in the current war of ideas by the way it seems
to be unanimously proclaimed upon consider this recent statement quote we
are losing the war of ideas because we are not in the arena the way we were in
the Cold War just at the moment when there is this ferment for democracy
breaking out,” unquote. Guess who said that? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in
her recent congressional testimony. It’s worth listening to a few
other of her words which I shall quote here. “We invested so much money and
effort over so many decades to get behind the Iron Curtain to talk about
what democracy was, to keep the flag of freedom unfurled in people’s hearts, to
get our messages in through every means of shortwave radio and smuggling bibles,
and we did all kinds of things just to give people a sense that they weren’t
alone and that maybe their ideas about the human spirit were not subversive.
Well, we don’t have those messages going out,” unquote. When’s the last time we
smuggle a Bible anywhere? Well, what- We don’t have those messages going out
anymore. Why is that? Well, there are two possible answers. We’ve lost the means to
get the message out and we’ve lost the message. Unfortunately, both of these
things are true and in the little time we have remaining I’m just going to have
to radically telescope my remarks here. John Lenczowski mentioned the
elimination of the U.S. Information Agency in 1999. Why do you
suppose that happened? Why would we eliminate the principal U.S. government
institution responsible for fighting our side in a war of ideas? Why would we do
that? …the what? The principal because we won,
right, and part of this was supposed to be part of the peace dividend. In fact, it
was expressed most powerfully in those days by Francis Fukuyama and the title
of his book, The End of History. History had ended in the sense that for a
democratic constitutional form of government with the free market stood
uncontested morally throughout the world as the model and all we would see is
more quickly or slowly this model being implemented throughout the world
depending upon local circumstances, right? What’s the logical conclusion if that
view prevailed? Well, you dismantle your institutions designed to fight in that
war of ideas. I remember Dr. Joseph Duffy, the last director of U.S.I.A. I was at VOA
at the time and he testified on [the] hill about our international broadcasting and
he said I’m not sure we should be broadcasting to the world. We should be
listening to it. Oh, the appropriators got out their red pens and there went a lot
of the funds for broadcasting. However, there was another version of the end of
history that wasn’t Hegelian. It was written in an article by Salman al Aude,
a Saudi who saw history culminating in a slightly different way not with the
triumph of free-market democracy but with the destruction of the United
States and surprise, history resumed on 9/11 at least for the Hegelians. For
the rest of us it had simply continued but now guess what? We were bereft of the
institutions that we once had to fight our side in that war of ideas and thus
the means had been destroyed. Now, there is- I was- The Voice of America- The
USIA was gone. Some of its functions were assimilated into the State Department.
Broadcasting was brought under a broadcasting Board of Governors,
including the Voice of America where I was and in my last year there I was the
director of the Voice of America and we were in the process of eliminating our
Arabic service, which was 12 hours a day of content rich discussions, reviews,
editorials on U.S. policy to a pop music station called Radio Sawa, which began
with 50 minutes in the hour broadcasting a melange of American pop music, JLo,
Eminem, Britney Spears, and Arab pop music. The chairman of the Board of
Broadcasting and the chairman of the Mideast Committee of the board both paid
the same remark to me separately to explain why we were doing this and this
was the remark: MTV brought down the Berlin Wall. I waited a beat because i
thought this has got to be a laugh line and- and they didn’t laugh. They were
serious. MTV brought down the Berlin- MTV didn’t- didn’t leak over into East
Germany. I mean even that part of it was wrong but having been a foot soldier in
the Cold War myself, I seem to remember John Lenczowski’s account of who won
the Cold War. John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. And how was the Cold War
won? I remember distinctly in 1990 I used to read the Soviet press every day
through FIBIS. I had prior met Alexander Yakovlev in Moscow, a member of
the Politburo principally in charge of the promotion of and offensive Soviet
ideology. The chief ideologue of the Soviet
Union and in the Soviet press in 1990 I read a statement by Yakovlev saying, “I
have come to understand that Leninism is based upon class struggle and class
hatred and that this is evil. It was in 1982 that President Reagan made his
courageous statement to which John Lenczowski referred about the evil empire
over which so many people in the West became apoplectic. Less than 10 years
later semantic unanimity was achieved when the chief of Soviet ideology used
the same term to describe that ideology as had Ronald Reagan. Semantic unanimity:
applying words back to reality, achieve the end of the Cold War and I sent that
statement around Washington by fax in those days. That’s how primitive things
were, saying it’s over and indeed it was. We just witnessed over the following
year the collapse of the Soviet Union, so what we need to achieve in this new war
of ideas, ladies and gentlemen, is the Yakovlev moment. I remember Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put out this famous snowflake message, “How do we know
when we’re winning? How do we know,” you know, are the number of terrorists we’re
killing- is that creating more terrorists than the number we’re killing as if
there could be some kind of quantitative standard by which you find out when you
win a war of ideas. Well, ideas aren’t quantitative. They’re qualitative and
they’re spiritual, so i use the Yakovlev moment as the means by which you could
come to judge when you have won a war of ideas. John Lenczowski made a
wonderful remark about the fact that it is we today who are seen as evil.
Who could have imagined during the Cold War when we used religion so effectively
against the Soviet Union whether it was Jews in Russia, Muslims in Afghanistan,
Catholics in Poland. It was any religion against the Soviet Union because it was
atheistic – that now we would see religion turned against ourselves. We
are now the ones defined as evil. I use this little remark in some of my
lectures at the military academies with some of our seasoned officers all of
whom have been in one or two wars and I asked them to tell me who made the
following remark. Quote, “This great America: what is its worth in the scale
of human values and what does it add to the moral worth of humanity and by
journey’s end what will its contribution be? I fear that a balance may not exist
between America’s material greatness and the quality of its people and I fear
that the wheel of life will have turned and the book of time will have closed
and America will have added nothing or next to nothing to the account of morals
that distinguishes man from object and indeed, mankind from animals,” unquote. Who
said that? I’ve had- I’ve had some of our officers say well that sounds like
Churchill or I get in- The answer it is from Sayyid Qutb, the principal ideologue
of the Islamist movement written in his Reflections: What I saw in America in the
Early 1950s. I have much of this sort of material, which I won’t read to you this
afternoon because we don’t have time but the point- let the point be made that-
that this is a moral attack on the United States. It’s not a policy critique.
There’s no policy that we could change- that would- that would render, say, Sayyid Qutb’s judgement of us superfluous. In the early 50s, we weren’t known [as]
supporting the Arab autocracies, Israel was not such a big issue back then, but
you can find reflections of Qutb’s critique of us daily in the Muslim press.
It is what animates and outrages the Muslim world against us, which has now
successfully equated the United States with unbelief and we have reinforced
that impression of ourselves by officially embracing and endorsing
American pop culture as our own view of ourselves. How would you like to have an
adolescent superpower in your neighborhood? Well, let me move on here to-
The first duty of our public diplomacy therefore ought to be to answer this
moral critique and that’s what we ought to be focused on, and of course we’re not-
we don’t have the institutions with which to do that and nor do we have the
message. And let me move on now to the message. Since we don’t have public
diplomacy anymore we can more or less just refer to the themes that President
Obama has been offering the Arab and Muslim world about this new war of ideas.
As he said in his inaugural address our security emanates from the justness of
our cause, so how is he presenting that to the Muslim world? Well, his initial
outreach as you know was in June of 2009, the famous speech in Cairo, which he gave
immediately after having been in Accra, Ghana where he gave a very tough love
talk about African despotism and corruption and what needs to be done to
have a true rule of law, democratic, constitutional order. It was a very good
speech. It was a very tough speech. However, immediately after he goes to
Cairo and he gives it a completely different kind of speech. Why did he do that? These hard truths
were absent from his Cairo speech. In other words, he spoke powerfully to the
poor and meekly to the powerful or truth to the poor and fantasy to the powerful.
The differences were pronounced. The only rhetorical strategy that can make sense
of the Cairo speech is this. Instead of confronting the unreality of the world
in which most Arabs live, Obama decided to embrace it, enter into it, and then
try to change it from within by changing the meaning of some words. As Egyptian
writer and businessman Tariq Hagee said in reaction to the speech, quote, “It is as
if he, Obama is a magician,” unquote. This magical approach produced [Obama]’s absurd
claim that Al-Azhar, instead of being an intellectual backwater retarding the
Muslim’s ability to enter the modern world, was a light to the world and laid
the foundations for the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. There were
other such gaffes. For instance, his praise of Muslim tolerance in
Andalusia and Cordova during the Inquisition. However, the Muslim presence
in Spain in the period of the Inquisition did not historically overlap,
making the comparison ludicrous. There were other such examples, which I don’t
have time to go into and of course he lauded Bangladesh, Turkey, Pakistan,
and Indonesia for having elected women heads of state and said we here in the
United States are still struggling for women’s equality. He proclaimed that quote, “In ancient
times and in our times Muslim communities have been in the forefront
of innovation and education.” As Stephen Ulph and Tawfiq Hamid know the
translation for innovation is bida’ah, which means heresy. I don’t know how they
translated it in his speech but it’s a very amusing… As the Arab Human Development
reports from the UN written all by Arabs point out, the Arab educational system in
the world today is the second worst. Next- The worst is sub-Saharan Africa and- and
next comes the education in the Arab world and- and they are a ‘leader’. These
distortions and fantasies were received with understandable enthusiasm by the
audience. Despite the absurdities of the remark obviously delivered is obsequious
to the Arab world, the president did try to express and advance principles of
equality and democracy within the Muslim world. However, he never mentioned any
obstacle to those that might emanate from Islam itself. It is after all the
dignity of all human beings to which he spoke, in which he vigorously
espoused, that is at question in Islam, according to its own revelation and
legal doctrines, which are inimical to the proposition that all people are
created equal. Why not simply say this? Well, one reason he didn’t say it is
because he holds the United States responsible for the problems within the
Middle East. We are the victimizer. You are the victims. Once you enter the world
of unreality in which Arabs live, accept it, embrace it, you then pretend that the
United States is the problem and that none of these problems are indigenous
and this was reflected throughout his policies: look away when the Iranian
people are in the streets, demonstrating against a stolen election in hopes
they’ll out of gratitude reach a nuclear compromise. The Iranian regime- The nature
of the Iranian regime is irrelevant, so long as it does not possess nuclear
weapons. This ignores the fact that it’s the nature of the Iranian regime which
makes its possession of nuclear weapons a problem. Pretend that Syria is not
subverting Iraq, your ally, and is implicit in killing American soldiers in
that country and to merely turn away in hopes that by doing so Syria will give
you a deal to stabilize Iraq and Lebanon. Pretend that Syrian President Bashar
Assad is a reformer and perhaps he will become one. This mistaken mission of
giving Arabs a new vision of themselves from within their own delusional world
was reflected in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent extraordinary
remark about President Assad that what, quote, “We had tried to do with him is to
give him an alternate vision of himself,” unquote. Apparently, he has not embraced
his doppelgänger and is perfectly content with his old self, which he
maintains in power at the cost of hundreds of [thousands of] Syrian lives. In other words,
magic does not work in foreign policy. It is, in fact, just another version of
realpolitik, which was exposed in the president’s most recent speech to the
Middle East in another famous example of his having led from behind in his
belated endorsement of Arab revolutions. He did finally give a version of the
tough love speech in Ghana, acknowledging the corruption and despotism in the Arab
world and he also imagined that the Arab Spring means that the ideology of bin
Laden is now obsolete it’s true that bin Laden’s name was not chanted during any
of the uprisings. However, neither was the United States’s nor were there any
statues of Liberty constructed as was famously the case in Tiananmen Square in
1989. In fact, the case could be made that the Arab Spring demonstrated the
irrelevance of the United States more than it did Al Qaeda’s. Obama’s leading
from behind did not impress this one Arab Muslim who said he should have said
something from the beginning but we’ve been waiting most people have realized
that what the United States does or does not do is no longer important
because people took matters into their own hands and decided their own future,
so why should people care what he says? America is no longer an issue and
perhaps President Obama failed to notice that these uprisings have come close to
achieving one of Al Qaeda’s principal goals: the elimination of the apostate,
authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. What is to replace them
is still very much up in the air. That is why bin Laden, in his posthumously
broadcast audio tape, saw in the Arab Spring such potential for the achievement
of Al Qaeda’s aims. That this might be the case did not seem to occur to
President Obama other than by his saying that the changes made may not be to the
immediate tactical advantage of the United States, which would never
nevertheless accept them if they were produced democratically. This is
confusing process for substance Obama characterized the uprisings as
democratically inspired and therefore deserving of American support what will
happen however will very much depend on how Islam is understood in the
respective countries of the Arab Spring curiously though the word Islam did not
appear once not once in President Obama’s Winkley speech Obama said that
this is quote a chance to pursue the world as it should be unquote rather
than as it is but what the world should be is exactly what is an issue within
Islam itself the President’s speech assumed that Egyptian aspirations are
identical to our own however one must ask whether the desired freedom is truly
based upon the proposition that all people are created equal how many
Egyptians actually believed that cops and Muslims men and women believers and
non-believers are equal to say nothing of Jews and Muslims where is the
underlying support in their culture for this truth the truth of this proposition
if it is not there it will be freedom for some and oppression for others I
recently was watching an interview with abu jahn doll who was Osama bin Laden’s
former bodyguard he now lives in Yemen this is such a wonderfully revealing
remark he said that politics is illegitimate quote for one reason when
you accept the other as he is then you are in agreement with his infidelity and
lowliness if you accept the other as he is then you are an agreement with his
infidelity and lowliness unquote I think that means he doesn’t believe
all people were created equal I understand that remark right well
pretending that this is not a problem does not make the problem magically go
away assuming that the Arab Spring was a rejection of bin Laden does not
necessarily make it one doctor tell fake hameed sitting with us here today in
egyptian physician and penetrating analyst of Islamism did an analysis of
several thousand readers comments on the web pages of al-jazeera and Al Arabiya
in response to the announcement of bin Laden’s death what did it reveal
60-second quoting calfee sixty-seven percent support for bin Laden nineteen
percent against bin Laden unclear answers fourteen percent unquote bin
Laden after all was just another product of the Muslim Brotherhood whose
spiritual leader Sheikh Yusuf al-qaradawi was recently welcomed in
Tahrir Square by a gathering of millions speaking of current events in Egyptian
knock weeps aware us one of the founders of free Egyptians party had this to say
they have substituted the dictatorship of Mubarak with the dictatorship of the
Muslim Brotherhood that’s where Egypt is going now unquote what’s Obama doing
about this he proposes some economic programs I don’t mean to gainsay though
those because the price of wheat has doubled in the last year and that by
itself could derail any democratic transition in Egypt in other parts of
the Middle East however Obama listed in his speech a litany of human rights of
assembly of a religion of expression of press and so forth which i believe is
entirely inadequate to achieve the establishment of those what is required
is a natural theology to undergird them any
sincere examination of whether that natural theology is compatible with
Islamic revelation if it is not it is not of course for a non-muslim to answer
the question as to whether it is or not but it is perfectly appropriate indeed
vitally necessary to pose it Muslim writer Ishod mangy author of the trouble
with Islam today writes that quote bin Laden and his followers represent a real
interpretation of Islam that begs to be challenged relentlessly and visibly as
Patrick and Stephen told us this morning Obama chooses not to do this preferring
to pretend that it has gone away he seems to believe that speaking of it
brings it into or at least sustains its existence while not speaking of it
denies it existence this nominalist or magical approach is reflected in the
tortured rhetoric of the Obama administration used to portray the
current conflict is I don’t have to go through this you know about wars are now
overseas contingency operations terrorist attacks are man-made disasters
according to mr. clapper the Muslim Brotherhood is a secular organization
according to mr. Brennan jihad and this is worth quoting jihad is a holy
struggle an effort to purify for a legitimate purpose conceding the
legitimacy to your enemy in a war of ideas is not a good move performing a
lobotomy on yourself in a world ideas it’s not not a good move don’t do these
things well why the semantics obfuscation well it exists today for the
same reasons it existed during the Cold War so I won’t go into an analysis of
that because it’s been spoken of so brilliantly by John Moore and john Lynch
offski and it is also based upon that the same problem of moral relativism
that’s reflected in Obama’s own writings where he said that the idea to
of liberty is that there are no absolute truths truth does not free truth in
prisons it’s rigid it can’t be changed therefore there are no absolute truths
so it’s it’s confusion over these matters are a sure sign that the United
States is suffering from the same kind of conflict within itself over the
nature of the threat that it was facing during the Cold War there exists the
same reluctance to name things for what they are and therefore to do the things
that are necessary how do you fashion a public diplomacy strategy based upon the
belief that the United States does not represent any permanent truths during the Cold War when we were
suffering from this syndrome we were a form of relativism fighting a form of
absolutism it’s always the form of epilepsy lute ism that has the upper
advantage who wants to die to prove that nothing is absolutely true how exactly
is one supposed to promote this idea by playing pop music and hoping the walls
come tumbling down in the current war of ideas we have lost the means and we have
lost the message we won the Cold War because we developed the means and we
recovered the message if we still have something to tell the world if we still
stand upon the embrace of a universal truth as the foundation of the justness
of our cause then we will be impelled to find the means to reach others with this
truth if not we will have lost ourselves for reasons having nothing to do with
the challenge of Islam public diplomacy should aim for a new yakovlev moment of
semantic unanimity a point at which the moral legitimacy of the radical Islamist
vision is self-confessed a point at which its adherence admit that its
central tenants are evil we cannot expect them to use this vocabulary if we
do not thank you

One Comment

  1. WestminsterInstitute
    WestminsterInstitute March 4, 2019

    What do you think? What did you learn about diplomacy in the modern era?

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