Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript of the panel America Besieged at the Freedom Center’s West Coast Retreat, held at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, California from March 21-23, 2014:
Larry Greenfield: Only two U.S. presidents in modern times never wore the uniform of the United States, draft dodger Bill Clinton and the current commander in chief, who repeatedly called our troops “corpse-men.” In 2008, when the completely inexperienced Barack Hussein Obama ran to the far left edge of the Democratic Party, with a single foreign policy idea and constituency, anti-war, and won his nomination and then beat a long-time senator from the Armed Services Committee, a Navy veteran and honored POW, John McCain, we knew we were going to be in for a rough time in global affairs.
Obama told 200,000 cheering Berliners he was a citizen of the world. And then he told the American people that the U.S. was not particularly exceptional and that he would make us more popular, perhaps, by using what the 2004 Democratic candidate, John Kerry, now the secretary of state, called a global test for U.S. action and leadership. Early signs in the first term were not promising: offense to the British with the removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the oval office, a gift after 911, apology tours and mugging with the likes of Chavez, pandering to Arabie with lies about the Muslim role in the founding of the U.S., bullying of Israel, dismissal of allies, such as the Poles and Czechs, missile defense. Essentially, the Obama Doctrine: hug thugs and offend our friends. For this, the lovely lefties of Europe gave Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shares with the godfather of modern terrorism, Yasser Arafat.
The first term saw red lines, unenforced reset buttons, dithering, leading from behind, moral equivalency, failure to complete missions, alliances ignored, withdrawal. The second term has been far worse, including the Benghazi disaster. I’ll leave it to our distinguished panel to document the current state of international crises and concerns and the readiness of the U.S. military and public to engage in a dangerous world under Barack Obama.
Michael Ledeen: Last night, listening to Glenn Beck, I said to myself well, this is a great routine, and what’s great about it is that it’s upbeat, is that the bottom line is we can win this thing if we just do the right things. So, I thought to myself why should I join the chorus of doom and gloom as we always do? These panels, we always pound our chests, and we always say oy, oy, things are terrible and things are getting worse and then, probably, they’re going to get worse, still.
So, I thought I would try to lift your spirits a little bit this morning and start by giving Larry his glasses back just to show that we’re really on good terms.
Okay. Let’s look at the Middle East for a minute. You all know all the bad news from the Middle East. We get it all the time. Man, we’ve analyzed it to death. By now, if you look at the polling on Iran, which is my particular compulsive obsession or obsessive compulsion, whichever it is, the American people know perfectly well all about Iran, and they’re quite well oriented on Iran. They think Iran’s a big enemy, they don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, they know Iran’s the world’s biggest supporter of terrorism and on and on. So, they would like to see us have better policy toward Iran, and so do I, and we’re not going to have it under this president or this administration. It’s not going to happen.
Why? Because we have with Obama the first not post-American president, we have the first anti-American president. And, and it is very hard for people around the world to come to grips with the fact that we have twice elected a president who does not like America and does not like Americans. And he says that, it’s no secret, he believes we are responsible for most of the world’s basic problems, and so the way to cure the world’s basic problems is to rein us in, is to deprive us of the capacity to act. And so a weaker military and so a weaker economy and so don’t support Freedom Fighters even verbally, et cetera, et cetera. So, he’s done this now for, what is it, going on six years, and the results are clear. Our enemies are encouraged, our friends tend to be discouraged and so forth, and yet, that’s the good news, of which there’s quite a lot if you look at the world from the standpoint of our enemies.
Suppose you’re in charge of Iran and you look around the Middle East. Just a few years ago, Mubarak fell with Obama’s help and support, and the Muslim Brotherhood took over Egypt. Now, where I live in Washington, every Egyptian expert that I know, without exception, said well, that’s it for Egypt for at least a generation because these people have prepared to take over Egypt for 80 years. The Muslim brothers have been waiting 80 years to get that, and they know what to do. And it reminded me a lot of what I always used to say, as it turned out wrong, about the Italian Communist Party when we were living in Italy. And I would say well, the difference between this leftist party and various others is that they have real contracts, and they come from the real thing. They’re trained by the KGB. They go to Moscow every summer. They know how to do it, and if they ever take over, they’ll be in for a generation or two or three or whatever.
So, in the fullness of time, the Berlin Wall fell, the Italian Communist Party or its successor did take over Italy and it was a catastrophe. They made a total mess of it, and it lasted, more or less, four or five years, and they were gone, humiliated, laughing stocks and so forth, and really not return again, at least in that form, speaking that way. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt lasted one year, and it produced not the total takeover of Egypt that all the experts told us was going to happen. It produced, according to the BBC, the biggest demonstration in the history of the world, which is quite a statement, right? And the aerial pictures of it were really quite spectacular. Okay, so they failed, and they failed in the biggest way possible, and now, they’re getting purged in Egypt. They’re getting thrown out and in prisons and executed and all of that. It’s a miracle, you may say.
Well, the Arab Spring, after all, started in Tunisia, and they took over in Tunisia, the Muslim radicals. And the leaders of Tunisia would tell their Western friends forget it, it’s over for at least a generation. You’ll hear that phrase a lot, at least a generation. They have failed. Tunisia now has a largely secular constitution. They have largely free elections. They have women increasing their influence, power and prestige in Tunisian society. Things are improving, et cetera. Things are improving. They have not succeeded. My favorite line in the history of military history, and I hope Victor will agree, was Moshe Dayan at the end of the Six-Day War was interviewed by a bunch of very enthusiastic journalists, and they said well, how great is the IDF? How wonderful is the Israeli military? How does it compare with the great armies of history, with Alexander, with Caesar, with Patton? And Dayan said, “Nobody knows, we only fight Arabs.” Which you can’t say anymore. Right? But he said that. And so, the bottom line, it pays to be lucky about your choice of enemies, and our enemies are, by and large, incompetent.
Look at Iran. Iran is a completely wrecked society. It’s got the highest per capita level of drug addiction in the world. It has the biggest drop in the history of birth rate in the history of birth rates. Right? Nothing like it has ever happened. It went from, what, nearly eight in the days of the shah to under two. It’s under replacement now today under the mullahs. It’s a failed society. In fact, one is tempted to say that Muslim civilization is a failed civilization, but it verges on that. I don’t believe that, but it’s close to it, and in many places, they have a lot of failed states.
So, these are our big enemies, and back when I was in the government, I used to tell people when we assess the strength of our enemies, Soviet Union and so forth, I said you have to calculate the screw-up factor. That’s central to dealing with evil. How good are they? How effective are they? How coherent are they? How well do they lead? What kinds of decisions do they make? And the great thing about Gorbachev, when the Soviet Union was headed into history’s dustbin, was that he made consistently terrible decisions. Well, our enemies all over the world make a lot of very bad decisions. They’ve ruined places, and we are facing a global alliance that runs from North Korea, which is the quintessential failed state, all the way across the world to Vya, China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Nicaragua, Cuba and so forth. And as you list all these places, they are all pretty much failures. People don’t like them. They’re ready to be had, and their leaders all know that their people hate them, and they know that their greatest threat and their greatest enemies come from inside, from their own people and so forth.
And what must drive Obama crazy is that hard as he tries to support our enemies and to give them hope, and hard as he tries to demoralize and weaken our allies and would-be allies, the damn people in those enemy countries keep on causing trouble for the leaders and the tyrants. And we are now in a phase really quite amazing where it doesn’t seem to matter how many of them the tyrants kill, the people have decided that they don’t care, and that, I would say, is the single most amazing development in recent history. I never would have expected. I don’t know about you, but I never expected that the Syrian opposition, those people who started and broke with us, the Free Syrian Army and started fighting against the regime, I never though they would resist six months if they didn’t get outside help, if they didn’t get real help.
Well, they didn’t get real help, and they’re still fighting, and it’s four years. And the Iranian opposition keeps on demonstrating and keeps on sabotaging pipelines and blowing up military bases and so on and even assassinates the occasional Iranian nuclear physicist. And they won’t stop, even though they know they’re getting rounded up and tortured and executed and so on. They don’t care.
If we had real news reporting in this country, we would see that today, the demonstrations in Venezuela, in downtown Caracas, are as big as the demonstrations were in Ukraine and Maidan just before the fall of Yanukovych. People aren’t told that, but that’s going on, and that’s been going on for many weeks, and they keep showing up, just as they did in Ukraine. What’s going on? Well, I don’t know exactly. Gordon will explain it to us.
Because the Chinese have my favorite theory of history. The Chinese argue, one school of Chinese historians anyway, argues that the way to understand what’s going on in our world is not by a series of causally linked events, which is the way we look at it. Something happens, this leads to something else and so on. No. They believe that the best way to understand our world is to look at the unique characteristics that define this moment, and that enables us to see exactly what’s going on. Well, of course. What do you expect from people who give you year of the serpent, year of the dragon, year of the tiger and so on?
So, we’re in the era of who knows what. We don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, but one thing that we can say – and remember that I started by saying we all know the bad news. So, I’m not denying the bad news. I’m not saying that everything is wonderful. I am saying that if you look at this world from the standpoint of our enemies, it doesn’t really look good at all, and they’re right to be worried, and Obama’s right to be frustrated. Thanks.
Bruce Thornton: I’m going to talk about European foreign policy, but I want to do so from a broader philosophical perspective because every policy, including foreign policy, is the result of an idea. And our foreign policy under Obama, as Michael said, is a result of bad ideas. So, I’m going to run through that very quickly. And this started really to gel and become apparent in the ’90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and you may recognize some of these clichés that were coming from Europe about foreign policy.
One was Kantian, all right? This is a Kantian foreign policy. Immanuel Kant in 1795 wrote an essay called Perpetual Peace, in which he envisioned a confederation of democratic states that would eliminate war because since they all had the same interest, they could create institutions that would adjudicate conflict, and we’d go beyond war.
Postmodern. Any time anybody starts using the word postmodern, grab your wallet ’cause something bad’s going to happen. What this meant really was, Europeans, we have progressed beyond national ethnic loyalties and identities. Those are religion, it’s tradition and other superstitions that are not modern, and we can transcend that into a global sort of international community.
You also heard a lot multipolar. There used to be a bipolar world in the Cold War. Now, it’s multipolar, and this was all just envy and dislike of the United States, right? But there’s not going to be one hegemon that everybody’s going to be involved in running the world.
Another one this administration particularly likes, soft power and smart power. Oh, we don’t need cruise missiles and battleships, et cetera. We have culture. We have cuisine. We have the example of our tolerant societies, and the rest of the world will see that and admire it, and they’ll all want to aspire to that.
And all of this was predicated on a very flawed assumption, and that’s that the human race is progressing to where Europe and the United States is today. All people have the same goals, the same aspirations, the same values. They all want peace. They all want prosperity. They all want to live with tolerance, diversity as well call it, of religion, et cetera. And that directed a lot of European foreign policy. It also created a lot of the transnational institutions in the world today, such as the International Court of Justice, the International Court of Arbitration, the EU Court of Human Rights – and our Supreme Court has a bad habit of citing them as a precedent for how they interpret our Constitution – the Genocide Convention, on top of these sorts of institutions that were created back in the 19th century, such as the Hague Conventions and the Geneva Conventions, et cetera. So, these were the kinds of institutions that were going to run the world, make it orderly, promote peace and prosperity, and Europe is going to take the lead on that.
So, what was wrong with that? Well, I only have a little bit of time, so I’m only going to tell you five reasons what’s wrong with it.
One, there’s no such thing as the international community. We say this all the time. There is no such thing as the international community. Not by any coherent understanding of the word community, there’s no such thing as international community. There is no universal set of goals and principles, et cetera. Say well, sure there is, everybody wants peace. Really? The Arabs don’t want peace. All sorts of people don’t want peace. If they wanted peace, there wouldn’t be so much war. Or they want tolerance. No, they don’t. Or if they do want something like, let’s say, political freedom, well, everybody wants political freedom. Sure, but they want a lot of other things at the same time. They want to be faithful to Allah. They say well, those contradict. So what? That’s human nature. It’s not the rational, coherent world that the West thinks it is. It’s a world of conflicting goods and conflicting aims. So, that’s No. 1. We’re basing the whole foreign policy on something that doesn’t exist.
Two, what do we have? We have sovereign nations, and sovereign nations are sovereign because they run their own affairs and they establish their interests and their goods and pursue them by whatever means they feel necessary. What we can create with sovereign nations are treaties. All those other things, the U.N., International Court, all of that, that the consequence of treaties. A nation signs a treaty because the nation thinks it’s going to advance its interest by signing that treaty. And when it no longer advances its interest, they can either drop out, they can subvert the treaty, they can do what Russia’s been doing with the arms control treaty, cheat, lie, right? A famous person said, “Treaties are made to be broken.” So, those treaties don’t represent some universal shared values. They represent a means of pursuing an interest.
Three, its utterly and completely hypocritical. The West, also including Europe, for all their talk of postmodern Kantian foreign policy, when it gets down to it, they become French and they become German and they become Greek, and they pursue their own interest. I’ll give you two quick examples I think are good.
Do you remember in late 2002 in the run-up to the Iraq War and the shameless behavior of the French, who were going around to the non-permanent members of the Security Council, subverting them to vote against the United States? There was already 11, I believe, U.N. resolutions justifying that, but George Bush thought I’ve got to be diplomatic, et cetera, I’ve got to go and get an outlet. And why did France do that? In service to the great principles of postmodern foreign policy? No. France had long done good business with Saddam Hussein, with his oil and selling him weapons, and as the sanctions were dissolving, they saw the opportunity to do more business. And they didn’t want him taken out because it wasn’t in their interest. Or think about the financial crisis started in 2008. Wasn’t it amazing that the EU suddenly was filled with Germans, who were different from Greeks and had no intention, being thrifty and hardworking as they were, to subsidize the café, Dolce Vita lifestyle on their Euro? I started to say on their deutschemark, but I just dated myself. No. All of a sudden, there are French people, and there are English people, and there are Dutch people, et cetera. So, it’s all sort of a smoke and mirrors at one level.
Another one, and we see this in this past administration. All of this international community, diplomacy, international institutions provides great camouflage for leaders and people who don’t want to act when they’re supposed to act. When they don’t want to take the risk of military action, they don’t want to pay for it for political reasons or whatever, what do we do instead? We have summits and conferences, and we send the secretary of state over to talk to genocidal thugs, like Mahmoud Abbas, and sit down and have photo ops. And it seems like something’s being done, but what’s being done is to provide cover for not doing what needs to be done. And that’s what’s made it dangerous, and we’ve seen this particularly in the last – that’s how North Korea got an atom bomb. That’s how Iran is going to get nuclear weapons.
Finally, all of this sounds great. Going back to the League of Nations, to the Hague Conventions, all of these, this international law sounds great, but there’s one important question. Who enforces it? Who’s going to enforce the rules and punish the people that break the rules? The U.N. has been an utter failure at that, obviously. Don’t even go to what happened in Kosovo in the ’90s or in Rwanda because they don’t have the military resources to do that.
So, it proves the truth of Thomas Hobbes’ adage that “Covenants without the sword are mere words and will not keep a man safe.” If somebody’s not willing to step forward and say this is the punishment for breaking this treaty, for breaking this international law, and if the other side doesn’t believe that you will do that, if there’s not a credible threat of force, they are going to break it. Why not? And this is what’s happening right now with Iran, with the whole Palestinian Arab, and that’s been going on for 60 years, that whole tragic farce has been going on because nobody believes that somebody’s going to use mind-concentrating lethal force to get people to think clearly about where their best interests lie.
Now, let me finish by saying what’s all this got to do with Russia? You want to understand Russia’s foreign policy? It is 19th century. 19th century? It’s 5th century B.C. It’s the way states have always acted going back to Babylon and Sumer, right? It is the determination of national interest reflecting values important to those people, that all Slavic peoples, Russians, need to be together, right? They are a unique people. They have a unique history. They have a sense of their destiny and their greatness and how that has been tarnished in recent years. They are what we call irredentist. They want to bring those stranded beyond their borders back. They will use force to do that. They will use diplomacy to do that. They will use whatever means possible to achieve the aim, and they have no problem doing that. And we, on our side, said well, that’s irrational, and that’s not forward looking. That’s not the future. That’s not progress. You’re going to regret that. Victor talked about that this morning. And right now, it’s like well, maybe we will, but right now, it looks like a pretty good bet. We’ll go ahead and roll the dice and see what you guys do about it. And they do this because they simply do not believe, any more than the Iranians believe, that the West or the United States is going to unleash a really, really hard lesson about why you shouldn’t act like this.
Again, it’s a mistake to say well, but that doesn’t make sense. Why do we think that human beings want to make sense or that they’re rational the way we understand rationalism when five minutes on Wikipedia and world history will show you that it has been dominated by people behaving irrationally and violently. And that’s the flaws in human nature that really are where you have to look to understand why people behave the way you do.
So, does it seem like we’re going to be able to delay Iran until it collapses from the weight of its own dysfunctions that Michael detailed? Are we going to take that chance? Are we just going to keep our fingers crossed and wait for it to happen? Right now, it looks like we are. Maybe we’ll get lucky, but maybe we won’t. And I don’t think foreign policy ought to be conducted on the basis of hopes and wishes, and that seems to me what we’re doing. Thank you.
Gordon Chang: Bad things happen when your adversary does not respect you. Washington has been trying to engage a militant state, and as we do so, we have not been supporting our treaty allies and friends as we promised to do. And as a result, that militant state now believes that it can intimidate us and do anything. Anything it wants.
There is something very wrong in Asia at the moment. What is it? It is Chinese expansionism. Beijing leaders believe that the People’s Republic of China should be larger than it is today, and Chinese flag officers are comfortable in public urging their country to initiate armed conflict to seize territory from neighbors, as one general, Liu Yazhou, did at the beginning of this year.
So, why are the Chinese becoming so hostile? China, I believe, has just passed an inflection point. Until recently, everything was going its way. Now, however, all the problems are catching up with the Chinese state at the same time. And when we look at these problems, we should start with the motor of China’s rise, its economy. We all know that the Chinese economy is slowing, but what is not obvious is that it is slowing so fast that the country could fail. When we ignore official statistics and look at independent data, we see a country that is growing, but it’s growing only in the very low single digits. Yet even if China were growing as fast as it claims, which is 7.7 percent for the last two years, that would be insufficient. Well, why? Because of debt, every province in the country is a Greece. The country is creating debt at an extraordinary pace, 20 to 30 percent a year, in order to keep the economy going. China is building ghost cities and high-speed rail lines to nowhere by accumulating debt at least two times faster than it’s growing, perhaps seven times faster. China is in an impossible situation as arithmetic tells us that there has to be a debt crisis soon. How soon? Well, this month, there have been high-profile defaults in China, so the inevitable correction, the debt crisis, could take place this year.
And why are China’s severe economic problems relevant to us? Because for three decades, the Communist Party has primarily based its legitimacy on the continual delivery of prosperity. And without prosperity, the only remaining basis of legitimacy is nationalism. China’s militant nationalism is creating friction in an arc of nations, from India in the south to South Korea in the north.
For instance, in the middle of 2012, Chinese vessels first surrounded and then seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. Washington, not wanting to antagonize Beijing and hoping to avoid a confrontation, did nothing to prevent the Chinese from taking the shoal, despite our 1951 defense treaty with Manila. Well, the Chinese were not satisfied with their seizure. As soon as the Chinese took Scarborough, they ramped up pressure on Second Thomas Shoal, also in the South China Sea. Beijing, with its infamous nine-dash line, claims about 80 percent of that international body of water as an internal Chinese lake.
And at the same time, the Chinese are trying to grab the Senkaku Islands from Japan by using forceful tactics, regularly sending its ships into Japanese sovereign waters around those islands and some times flying its planes into Japanese airspace there. Now, many people ask why should the Japanese care about eight barren outcroppings in the East China Sea? The answer is the Chinese are acting like classic aggressors. They were not satisfied with Scarborough, so they ramped up pressure on Second Thomas Shoal and the Senkakus, and they will not be happy if they take the Senkakus. Already, Chinese policymakers, backed up by state media, are arguing that Beijing should claim Japan’s Okinawa and the rest of the Ryukyu chain, as well.
To dominate its periphery, Beijing, in November, declared its East China Sea air defense identification zone. Now, China’s declaration of this zone, by itself, is a belligerent act. The zone not only includes sovereign Japanese airspace, it not only includes South Korean airspace, but it also impinges on notions of freedom of navigation, which Americans have been defending for more than two centuries.
Now, there’s been a noticeable increase in the tempo of China’s belligerence during the last year, and this uptick has generally coincided with the elevation in November 2012 of Xi Jinping as China’s new ruler. There are two theories what’s going on. First, some think that Xi Jinping has quickly consolidated political control and that he really is an ardent nationalist, that he is the one pushing the military to act provocatively. Second, other people, including me, believe that the political transition has not been completed. And people who share my view, which I admit is a minority one, are concerns that China’s flag officers are making their own policies independently of China’s civilian leaders or are essentially telling the civilians what policies to adopt.
In short, I believe that the People’s Liberation Army is now the most powerful faction in the Communist Party and that the generals and admirals are calling the tune. Xi Jinping became China’s supreme leader because he appealed to all factions, in large part because he didn’t have a faction of his own. In other words, he was the least unacceptable choice and because now he still has no faction, he cannot afford to offend the flag officers of the PLA, who, in my view, have been driving this bus for quite some time.
A militant China under the military is lashing out, and that is not a good sign. My guess is that Chinese leaders, seeing all the problems in their country, believe that the window for them to accomplish their goals is closing, and that’s why they’re acting more aggressively. A turbulent China could lash out and shake the world.
We’ve talked about what is wrong in Beijing. We should also think about what is wrong in Washington. Our fundamental mistake is that we fervently believe that if we just try hard enough, the Chinese will have to respond in kind. This is a product of our thinking that we are people, the Chinese are people. We respond to gestures of friendship. They will respond to our friendly gestures. Unfortunately, they don’t.
Now, take the dynamic evident in the beginning of 2009 when President Obama took office. In February of that year, the first month after the inauguration, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly announced that we were downgrading our emphasis on human rights in order to continue a dialogue with China. Now, she intended her words as a signal of cooperation.
Beijing, however, took it as a sign of weakness. Chinese officials were ecstatic because, in the words of one Beijing analyst, the Chinese leaders thought that Hillary Clinton “had finally succumbed to the full kowtow.” So, in the following months, Beijing leaders pressed what they perceived to be their advantage. Chinese military planes and naval and civilian craft harassed and interfered with the Impeccable and the Victorious, which are two unarmed U.S. Navy reconnaissance vessels, in international waters in the South China and the Yellow Seas. In one of those incidents, the harassment, which was an attempt to sever a towed sonar array from the Impeccable, was so serious that it constituted an attack on an American vessel. In other words, an act of war. President Obama and Secretary Clinton issued only mild protests when the smiling Chinese foreign minister showed up in Washington just a few days after those provocative acts.
And then in April, and you won’t believe this, President Obama sent America’s top naval officer and a destroyer, the Fitzgerald, to China to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese navy. Well, that show of friendship proved to be another mistake because in May, the Chinese, again, harassed the Victorious in the Yellow Sea. But this ever-hopeful administration did not give up.
In November, Jeffrey Bader, who was then on the National Security Council, attempted to flatter the Chinese by making a speech in Washington and saying that there was no issue in the world today that could not be solved without Chinese cooperation. Beijing, obviously, heard those words as a veto that we had given them on American policies. They reciprocated by humiliating our president when he went to Beijing later that month for the summit and then, also, the following month in Copenhagen at the Climate Change Summit.
And then, in the first months of 2010, Chinese officials and military officers started to make direct threats against the United States in public, some of them talking about waging war against the U.S. And those belligerent comments have continued to today. Just in October, Chinese state media, without provocation, bragged about how Chinese submarines could launch nuclear-tip ballistic missiles at the United States and kill tens of millions of Americans.
Maintaining feeble policies has consequences. Today, we are still having trouble calling out the Chinese in public for its hostile actions against us and for its aggression against our treaty allies, neighbors of China and friends in the region. If we can’t speak to Beijing clearly, the Chinese will think we’re afraid of them. If they think we’re afraid of them, they will act accordingly. Asia is aflame and America is besieged because, I repeat, bad things happen when your adversary does not respect you. Thank you.
Bill Cowan: Larry gave me a number of topics to cover, and I’m going to try and cover all of them, but let me start quickly by saying we’re all in agreement about this administration, where it’s going, but it’s very interesting, to me at least, that the Washington Post – not really the bastion of conservatism – this month would have two pretty glaring editorials written by the editorial board against the Obama administration.
The first one is a – bear with me while I dig it out here – is a foreign policy based on fantasy. And bear with me. Well, that was the title of it. Bear with me while I read it a little bit, if I may. “For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which the tide of war is receding” – those were Obama’s quotes – “and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders in this vision would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great power gains and shifting alliances, those were things of the past.” That’s the Washington Post. Quite interesting.
They followed up less than a week later with an editorial titled A Defense Budget Based On Hope, and they concluded that article with “In sum, the new defense budget is a patch constructed on the hope that funding needed to sustain even this administration’s constrained strategic objectives can be found in future years, looking for money in the out years. And what if Mr. Obama is wrong and the United States is forced into a large land operation in Syria, Iran, Korea or maybe Eastern Europe? The chances might be small, but if the worst occurs, the United States will not be ready.” To me, to hear that, I live in Washington. To see that come out of the Washington Post gives a dramatic indicator that even some people on the left understand this trouble’s in country now. Are their editorials going to change everybody votes? Probably not, but at least they’re paying attention and may make other people to think a little bit more.
Larry asked me to talk about military and budget a little bit. One of the issues was military readiness. Our readiness is in bad shape right now. Does that mean we couldn’t conduct a war?
No, but there have been people on TV within the last month, credible people, saying we only have one combat brigade in the Army that’s really fully combat ready right now. One combat brigade? That’s not very much.
I think our strength in military readiness is our officers, our young officers and our staff NCOs who are combat trained. I made many trips to Iraq during the war. I’ve been to Iraq 13 times since U.S. forces pulled out, but I have to say in my trips to Iraq, I talked to hundreds of young men and women. I’m a Vietnam veteran. I remember the morale, the charge, the go get ‘em, the patriotism of our Vietnam vets. There were a lot of guys that didn’t have it. They didn’t want to be there, and they always exhibited it, either in garrison or in combat. In contrast, in Iraq, every last young man and woman I spoke to, hundreds and hundreds of them, had a good attitude. I saw some who had just gotten there a few days before on their second or third tour. They were totally committed to what they were doing and convinced me that the strength of our military is in our young men and women.
I don’t think it’s in the strength of our military leadership these days. I’ll try not to be too critical of them, but I am, as I know some other people are. We have terrible failures in senior ranks of military leadership. Some of them, if they had any character at all, would have resigned a long time ago as this administration – incidentally, none of them did resign, but they should have if they had any character to stand up and oppose some of the things that this administration, the great social experiment, the U.S. military, has pushed down on them. But our young men and women, our young officers, our young staff NCOs, our young troops, they are unbearable.
I’ll tell a quick story without taking too much time. I was in Sadr City during the height of the worst part of the fighting in Iraq. Sadr City, as you all may know, was where Muqtada al-Sadr, his people were. This was totally a Shiite area, very dangerous and in the middle of this area was a battalion from the 82nd. My son, incidentally, is on his fifth tour overseas right now. 82nd was in this building. I was in the Marine compound in Beirut a number of times before it was blown. When I was in this building in Sadr City, it reminded me totally of the building that went down in Beirut. And here we saw a reenlistment ceremony, and here was a young soldier who was there for his second Thanksgiving. We were there Thanksgiving Day. He was there for his second Thanksgiving. He knew he was going to be there over Christmas, which meant his second Christmas. His squad had lost five squad mates that week, killed or wounded in an attack in Sadr City, and he was standing there reenlisting. It can’t get any better than that when you see young men going through all the things that he had gone through, and his devotion and dedication to his unit and to his country was to stand there and reenlist, knowing that he’d be back many times. I saw that so many times over. So, our strength of our military is our military readiness, our young men and women right now who are committed to do things.
Now, strategy. And, again, I’m going back to the list that Larry gave me. We have a national security strategy that the White House comes out with that kind of lets Congress know what the White House, what the executive plans to do. The last one came out in 2010, and in it, in the national security strategy, the words – let me look for the right words, again. I don’t like to say things. Susan Rice said that it was going to be a dramatic departure from previous national security strategies. The strategy advocated increased engagement with Russia, China and India, and you’ve heard some of that from our other guests here, and it also identified nuclear nonproliferation and climate change as priorities. Now, nuclear nonproliferation, okay, we can understand, but, indeed, we’ve seen that dramatic shift. We’ve seen it play out over the last few years.
I’d like to go back quickly to say that when I talk about the budget issues and we talk about the national strategy, the foreign policy, they’re a convergence of things that can be shifted and changed a little bit. We can always play with the budgets. We’ve heard all the talk here about how budgets are decreasing. In fact, they’re not decreasing. The growth is decreasing. The budgets are staying fairly level and going up a little bit. The administration is hoping for some extra monies in the out years, but even at that growth, that growth can’t keep up with our military the way it’s currently configured. And I’m sure all of you have heard about how the troop strength is going to go down, how we’re cutting Navy ships, we’re cutting Air Force programs. We’re really downgrading the ability of the military to conduct the kinds of operations abroad that we might have to do, not that we know we’re going to do but we might have to do.
Does all of this matter? Well, budgets come and go. Budgets can be changed. Things can be altered quickly. We can’t ramp up our manufacturing process, but we can do things that change the budget, that bring more people in, that give the troops the kind of benefits. But our national security strategy? Our foreign policy? Those things don’t change on a dime. We are setting in place, through the Obama administration, a foreign policy that we’re going to have to live with for a long time. Putin’s not going to change his mind tomorrow because we change ours a little bit, nor are the Chinese and all the things that they’re doing. So, we are living with what we have, and we have to find a way to do it.
Remember, listening to Glenn Beck last night, the Chinese, they used to say, and perhaps they still do, Lord knows, the Chinese used to be operating under Mao on a thousand-year plan. The thousand-year plan, that was one of their phrases out there. They looked out a thousand words and say how do we achieve the objective at the end of a thousand years? Look at Putin. He’s operating on whatever the years are that he’s going to maintain power over there, and he probably expects to be there for a long, long time. He’s on the whatever-year-it-is year plan. Here, in the United States, we’re on the four-year plan, and if a president gets reelected, we’re on an eight-year plan, but the fact of the matter is we don’t have the ability within our structure to take the long-term look, decide what our long-term objectives are, decide how we’re going to get there, what resources it’s going to take and get on that path and stay there. We change it, and we’ve certainly see how Obama can change things when he gets there.
Quickly, I’ve been to Egypt once in the last few months, and I find it so interesting that in Egypt, where there were about 26 million people that voted after Mubarak, who, incidentally, as all of you know, did everything we ever asked him to do. Was he the perfect leader? No, but he was our leader, and then peace in the Middle East and the relationship, the security and safety of Israel in large part was because of Mubarak. And we had no problem, this administration, no problem in making sure that he was ousted. We had no problem in helping the Muslim Brotherhood gain power. Morsi was elected, 26 million voted out there. They had more voters could’ve voted, 26 million voted. About 13.2 million people voted for Morsi, and by the time he had been in power for about nine months, the same students – and I met with these students on my trip – the same students, different groups, activists, went back, had been going to back to social media, which they used to oust Mubarak.
They went back and social media, through their words, got 22 million people to sign a petition for the ouster of Morsi, asking him to step aside or have a referendum to show that really the country is behind you. He refused to do it. He consistently refused to do it. And when 33 million people went to the streets to actively protest against him and violence erupted, thanks to the Muslim Brotherhood, the police and the military, although it’s always characterized as only the military, stepped in, arrested him, handed the government reigns over immediately to an interim president, immediately put together a constitutional committee to write a new constitution and went through the process of reforming a government that was all inclusive. Incidentally, the Muslim Brotherhood was asked to participate in rewriting the constitution, and they refused to do it.
Now, when we met with the student leaders over there, who weren’t necessarily in favor of anybody, but they were in favor of democracy, they said they felt that they had an ample opportunity to get their feelings before the constitutional committee that was writing the new constitution. So, in terms, generally speaking, of democracy, the ability of people to get in what they want to say, they felt they were being represented.
Against that backdrop, this administration continues to coddle the Muslim Brotherhood, to refuse to give the necessary military aid that Egypt is asking for, most recently, the Apache attack helicopters, which Israel has encouraged the administration to give to the Egyptians. We met with General Morsi. I asked Morsi about the relationship with Israel. He said, “Our relationship with Israel is better than ever. We are working behind the scenes, our intelligence service and their intelligence service, to undo what the Muslim Brotherhood allowed to happen with respect to the Sinai and the ability of weapons to be snuck in to Gaza.” He said, “Our relationship is as good as it goes.” I said, “What about the Suez Canal?” He said, “The Suez Canal is our No. 1 priority. The Suez has to be secure for international shipping.” The guy is saying all the right things, I think. By virtue of Israel standing up and saying please give them those Apache helicopters, the Israelis would certainly agree on some level. And against that backdrop, this administration, coddled by the Muslim Brotherhood – and I hope those of you who pay some attention realize that the Muslim Brotherhood is thick in Washington, D.C., thick in politics, thick in this administration, unfortunately thick in the previous administration. They present a real, viable and visible threat to all of us, and they get very little attention in the media for the threats that they pose.
I also – and I asked Gordon about this – I went to India a couple months ago. I’m going to go back. And before going to India, my first trip, I hadn’t thought an awful lot about India as the counterbalance to China. And I don’t think this administration thinks about India as the counterbalance to China, and as Gordon just pointed out to us, China is a threat. It’s always been a threat as far as I’m concerned and I know as far as he’s concerned. And why this administration or certainly the next administration isn’t reaching out, we need to be. We need to actively engage with India because the more we engage with others to take the pressure off of us, the more we can concentrate on things that are important to us here in this country.
And I’ll add one final thing, if I could. We’ve seen with all these the Arab Spring, revolutions, Ukraine, what have you, social media is the key. I wish, and I know others that I’ve spoken to in the Tea Party wish, that the social media here in the United States could stand up and we could oust this guy, just like they ousted Morsi, in a peaceful revolution in the streets.
Anyway, just my thoughts. The IRS has already come after me two times on the basis of things that I’ve said on Fox, so.
Larry Greenfield: What is, in your opinion, each of you, an appropriate balance between prudential concerns, not all war all the time everywhere – we don’t have the money or the will – and a deterrent resolved U.S. national security posture? How do you analyze the conservative piece of the puzzle? Hopefully, a 3:00 a.m. wakeup call will be answered at some point in our republic’s future by a conservative, not a leftist.
Bruce Thornton: Well, personally, I’m isolationist because of the way I grew up out in the country where we were isolated, and we liked it that way. And at night, we locked the gate and loaded the gun, and that was fine. So, my inclination is towards the hell with the world. Unfortunately, the world has developed an interconnected global trade that only functions if there is somebody who enforces the rules, somebody who keeps, for example, the Persian Gulf open to oil shipments. We don’t depend on it that much, but Europe does. If it’s not us, who? If it’s not the Sixth Fleet, who’s going to do that? And if that global trade doesn’t function, our economy isn’t as strong, and it’s not as productive, and we don’t have as many jobs. That’s just the reality.
I don’t think we chose that role, but this is where history has put us, and I think we have to shoulder that responsibility because we are the pretty much only power that could be trusted with that responsibility because we’re not going to use it annex territory, to create colonies. Whatever our bad behavior has been, when you compare it historically to other great powers, it’s been exemplary. And if we do not fulfill that role, a vacuum will be created, and then there will be all kinds of nations that we don’t want trusted with that power who are going to compete for that role, and it will be a much, much more disorderly world than it is today.
So, like it or not, we have to engage and we have to be engaged because we’re the indispensable nation.
Gordon Chang: We’re in a stage where, whether we like it or not, the international system is changing. There may be no international community, but there certainly is an international system, and what we have right now are two very large authoritarian states that are working much closer together than they have in the past. Many people say China and Russia because of historical antagonisms will never form a durable partnership, but what we have seen, especially since 2001, is that they are, in fact, doing it. They’re doing it on many levels, economic, geopolitical, diplomatic. They are supporting a range of actors in the international system that do threaten what some people call the international community. Clearly, they’re supporting Syria, they’re supporting Iran, North Korea and some of the worst actors elsewhere.
So, I know that it’s something that is really out of step with the times, but, nonetheless, we do face what could very well be an existential challenge. We have seen this in many periods in last couple hundred years where the international system changes, where there is this chaos and turbulence that is very difficult to understand at the time, but clearly, right now, we have China and Russia willing to take territory from their neighbors, and if the western democracies do not respond, as difficult as it may be for them, then we will find a replay of the 1930s when the western democracies were not united and eventually were pushed against the wall and ended up in a conflict that cost 75 million lives. Today, the most destructive weapons in the world are more widely dispersed than they were in 1945. And so, if we just get by with 75 million lives, we very well may be lucky. That’s how bad I believe the situation is right now.
Bill Cowan: Well, just quickly, it’s a peace-through-strength thing. And walk softly and carry a big stick. We need to have a strong military. We don’t have to use it all the time, but what happened in Crimea is a good example. If Barack Obama, in my judgment, had the first day sent some ships into the region, a reminder to Putin that we are a military force and put some troops into the Ukraine to do some training, put some equipment in, as Dr. Hanson said this morning, the very first day, we should’ve just said we’re going back to talk to the Poles and Czechs about putting in the missile defense shield, all the things we could’ve done to at least demonstrate that we are a world power. But I think it’s arguable whether or not we are a world power, not on the basis of our military capabilities but on the basis of our leadership or lack thereof.
Michael Ledeen: I just quickly want to point out that this question is invariably posed in terms of economic or military power. Should we get economically militarily engaged against our enemies, would-be enemies and so forth? Our greatest weapon is political. If you read your Machiavelli, you will find, contrary to what an awful lot of intellectuals say, tyranny is the most unstable form of government. The most stable form of government is ours. No system of government in the world has lasted as long as ours in the modern world, and it is our existence that threatens these tyrannies. It’s not our action. And so, they’re compelled to come after us, and our example is what threatens them most and undermines them. I think that we are morally and strategically obliged to help the internal enemies in hostile tyrannies, and so, I think that we should be supporting the Iranian people against the mullahs, the Venezuelan people against the Chavez and Maduro regime, the Russian people, the 50,000 who turned out to demonstrate against Putin the other day. We should have been supporting the people in Maidan and Kiev and so forth. And we don’t do that, and the longer we fail to do that, the stronger and more aggressive our enemies become, and the more likely it is that we’re going to be thrown back on the use of military power, which, as we all know, is now shrinking deliberately. So.
Bill Cowan: May I add quickly, if I could? Following up on what Michael just said, that’s where social media comes in. We should have a policy in the U.S. government of engaging with countries where the population is trying to make a change that we support. We ought to have a policy of money, equipment, training, what have you to get the social media activists up and moving and working in a direction. We can do that. Doesn’t cost us any money militarily, doesn’t put any of our forces at harm but makes an impact on the country we’re trying to do things with.
Larry Greenfield: One question, maybe, for Michael. What is the status of Voice of America supporting the dissidents in Iran, diplomatic and political strategies to support dissidents?
Michael Ledeen: Oh, Voice of America, more often than not, supports the regime in Iran and criticizes any American president who is critical of Homani or Rouhani or so forth. Voice of America is largely run by Iranian immigrants to the United States, most of whom have family back in Iran and are terribly vulnerable to pressure from Tehran, and a lot of the stuff that goes on VOA, especially their TV, which is the biggest part of our broadcast, and it used to be radio, now it’s TV, would shock you if you saw it. It’s just shockingly proIranian and anti-American. I remember a Bush state-of-the-union speech, and the next morning, the VOA was on the air just condemning every aspect of it, attacking it because it was so anti-Iranian and so on. Now, VOA, see, if it were my VOA, I would fire all the Iranians and let Americans run VOA. I think it’s crazy. These people are uniquely subject to pressure, and the whole Iranian-American community is heavily infiltrated by Iran, just as captive nations people, Cubans, et cetera, were heavily infiltrated by the Soviet intelligent services and so forth during the Cold War. So, that’s normal. You should expect that.
So, you have to have Americans do this stuff, and we will invariably come back to the basic problem we’re all facing, which is we have a failed educational system that raises children to be anti-American and to blame America for the world’s problems, and I don’t think that we should be surprised that we’re getting people like Obama and Valerie Jarrett and Hillary and so forth in high positions of government. They are products of those schools. That is what we should expect. We should expect leaders with those views because that’s what they’ve been trained to think that over the journalists. We complain about journalists all the time. They go to the same schools. They don’t know anything about anything in the world.
What was it? A few years ago, they did a poll of students at the University of Texas, and half of them didn’t know what country was to the south of them. Well, Americans have always been bad at geography, but we’re reaching new limits right now.
Larry Greenfield: A tease for later, I see the great Caroline Glick is here, somebody who knows how to fight in the world of ideas and propaganda. So, that’s a foreign policy genius. Yes?
Audience Member: My question is for the lieutenant colonel, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Internet about the purging of the upper levels of the military. Could you please comment about that?
Bill Cowan: Thank you for asking me that question. I get asked it fairly often. Some of those people who were put out of the military were put out for legitimate reasons, misconduct of some sort. The list is pretty big. Some were put out because it was time for them to retire. Carter Ham’s a good example. There’s always been accusations that Carter Ham was fired. No, Carter Ham, his time was up. He might’ve left a month or two early. But the reality is, I have a friend – I don’t have much association with the Pentagon – I have a very good friend who retired, a two-star general, who has a lot of friends inside the Pentagon, and they have told him – he told me this last month – they’ve told him that whereas in the old days you could sit around with your colleagues and complain about policy or the White House or this or that somewhere else, these days, you say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and you are out. You are out.
So, I believe, indeed, that there are people in that list that you’ve seen who went out because of something they said, and again, the despicable military leadership that we have right now, they’re representative of the problem. The other part of that problem is those are the guys, the guys in there now, are the ones that are going to select the ones that replace them. So, we’re going to see this cascading effect of getting people in there who are really butt boys – excuse my language – to the White House. And that’s why we need people like Congressman Gohmert back there and members of Congress to get in there and clean that place out. Excuse my language.
Larry Greenfield: It is a little disheartening you may have a 30- or 40-year career after your military service as a flag officer. There’s a lot at stake, a lot of pensions, a lot of glory, a lot of glamour. It’s not the same senior leadership of the military we used to have. Yes, sir?
Audience Member: You guys were talking about social media. A week before last, I read on Drudge that what’s the Internet, we’re giving up the Internet? I haven’t heard that at all since I’ve been here. I know this might be a strange panel to ask, but I have not heard it mentioned once today, and it sounds fairly important.
Bruce Thornton: Well, it’s another example of what I was talking about. It’s the idea that we’re not worthy. We shouldn’t hog it all up. We’re probably unsavory for our alleged historical crimes and then we should open this up and let all the whole world get in. But, of course, all we’re going to do is allow more censorship by nations like China, who will get on whatever or have their minions on whatever ends up taking the place, and it’ll just be another might as well hand it over the U.N.
Audience Member: Bill, this is for you. You were talking earlier about what’s happening over at the Department of Defense with the flag officers, and my question sort of goes back then to Petraeus and what happened to him during the Benghazi hearings and when he knew that this video was not the cause of what happened over there, why in his testimony before the congressional committee he, in fact, said that’s what had happened? Now, was it the Paula situation? Were they holding something over his head? At that particular point, his honor and his duty should have been, maybe just to say that doesn’t matter. I don’t understand why he did that.
Bill Cowan: I think, unfortunately, that anybody in government these days, if they want to keep their job, and they all do, is going to say whatever they’re told to do. And irrespective of whether it’s the truth or not, they’re going to walk in there and they’re going to say what it is that is expected of them to be said.
Audience Member: But these were military. These were people that he had –
Bill Cowan: Should have been a totally principled man, and I think, again, by the time people get to a certain rank or level – you know what? George Bush did a terrible thing, in my judgment, when he made Colin Powell the secretary of state. For a number of reasons, not the least of which – I’ve got plenty of criticisms of Colin Powell, but here was the real problem. The problem is they told every four-star general that there’s something beyond four stars if you do it right.
And so, they all go up there now getting their four stars, thinking well, when I’m all done here, I can be the secretary of something or the director of the CIA or something else. This is the ambition-driven people that want more and more and more, and then because of that, a lot of people who may otherwise stand up and say this is – there’s a rumor floating around about three weeks ago that one of the members of the joint chiefs was going to resign. A service chief was going to resign because with the new budget. Well, it hasn’t happened because he probably reflected well, wait a minute, why would I want to resign when I can be the secretary of whatever? It’s a sad situation, and Phyllis, you know somebody who I know who probably has more insight into all of this than I do, incidentally, one of the most principled people. I served with this guy, a friend of Phyllis’, Bill Garrison, who was one of the commanders of Delta Force at one time. I served with him at a very, very highly classified unit, clandestine unit. Finest military guy ever had who was the commander of all the U.S. forces in Somalia, who ended up being pushed out of the military because he was honest. Was totally honest with Congress and in the letter he wrote on paper and he paid for it with his career, which is one of the reasons why he’s probably the finest person I ever served with. You like serving with admirable, honest men or women of character, and some times it’s hard to find them these days.
That’s why I always say, if I can say real quickly, when we talk about having a panel that wants to talk about defense budgets or changes in the military, whatever, you don’t want to have generals on that. You want to have the sergeant majors. If I wanted to know how the staff in the Pentagon ought to be dramatically reduced, which would be a good idea, we want to save some money, I’m not calling in the generals and service Gs. I want a bunch of sergeant majors. They tell the truth. Sergeant major, what do you think we ought to do? Well, let me tell you, colonel. And they do. And that where we ought to get a lot of our decisions driven by those guys.
Larry Greenfield: So, we come to our last two standing questioners. Can I take both questions at the same time? Sir? Okay. We have, I understand, an active-duty captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. Thank you.
Audience Member: So, I think everyone in this room would agree that a lot of the disintegrating international situation we see is because of an absence of leadership, but I think good leadership is not just the posture you present to the world or even the strength of your military. It’s a vision you have for what the world should look like 10, 20 years from now. Ronald Reagan built up the military, but he also had a vision for a world without the Soviet Union. So, in the panel’s opinion, what would a good vision be for the world 10, 20 years from now, considering the threats on the horizon, cyber warfare, transnational terror networks. What should America be promoting and bringing the world towards, as opposed to just posturing in the world?
Larry Greenfield: Thank you for that. I’ll take the last question, as well.
Audience Member: Got to move the mic here a little bit. Listen, I wrote a few things, but I’m not even going to go there. I think he just covered a bunch of what I kind of wanted to say, as well. Ultimately, let me ask this question to you all, and I want to say to everybody in here, understand what the power of social media can do. If you don’t know how to use it, get someone to show you because it’s the voice that we need to express. I just wanted to say to you all what do you think we can do as patriots – this is part of the military that no one talks about. The patriots in this room, what can we do to offset some of the treason-type mentality that we see in our military leaders today? What can we do to make an impact on the direction of our military and our national forces today?
Larry Greenfield: So, why don’t we just go down the panel. A question about a call for vision and a call for action.
Michael Ledeen: First obligation is to defeat the leftist jihadi alliance, which is waging war against us. And that starts with a recognition that we’re at war. We’re not responding, and so you have to go after them. Jihadis and leftists share this kind of messianic vision whereby every time they win something, they proclaim to their followers and to those people who are in the middle you see, history’s on our side or Allah’s on our side, that’s why we win and that’s why our opponents lose. So, that kind of movement is particularly vulnerable to being unraveled by defeat. Defeat does terrible things to messianic movements because it enables us to ask them well, if back when you were winning, that was because Allah was on your side or history was on your side, how do you explain it when you’re defeated in Iraq or when the Muslim Brotherhood’s thrown out of Egypt and so on? What’s up with that? Has Allah changed his mind? Has history suddenly changed course? What’s going on? So, we have to beat them, and they’re beatable. They’re not particularly tough enemies I have to say.
So, the first thing is to win that war, beat them, and the second thing is to what end? Well, to the end of advancing American objectives, and the basic American objective is democratic revolution. That’s what we are. We are the only truly revolutionary country in the world, and we have to advance democratic revolution. That’s what we stand for. If we stand for anything, it’s that.
And so, whenever I hear people talk about the desirability of stability and how bad some event is because it destabilizes something, my teeth get set on edge because we should be opposed to stability. We don’t want stability. One thing that Obama is right about is the importance of change, not just because we want to but also because it’s the basic rule of life. Things don’t remain the same. Things change all the time.
And then, finally, remember Machiavelli, the great, ignored, greatest political philosopher in history. Machiavelli’s basic rule, Machiavelli 101, Line 1, Chapter 1, man is more inclined to do evil than to do good. Give up all that nonsense about all men are the same and all men are basically good. They’re neither. Men are different, and men are basically evil, and the reason why you need great leaders, great statesmen and great military is because we’re going to be facing evil men most of the time.
Larry Greenfield: So, we got Michael Ledeen to move from his glorious optimism?
Bruce Thornton: I think the first question, I don’t like to say what should be our vision. People with visions is what’s got us in part of this — If we just pursue our interests and our security, all will be well. If we actively do that and follow the advice that Michael just gave, we don’t really need to have a vision. Our vision is that we are the best political-social order on history, that we exemplify the possibilities of flawed humans and if we live up to our ideals and support them whenever they are manifested in whatever way is necessary, we’ll be fine. And I forget the second because I don’t want to leave out the –
Larry Greenfield: Action plan.
Bruce Thornton: Well, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? The action plan is when we see a truly democratic, all right, not a Potemkin democratic movement, a truly democratic movement that we support it in any possible way and by all the means that have been talked about today. We don’t say well, gee, we can’t say anything about human rights in China because we want to cut some deal with the Chinese and they might get angry. We have more spine and we are more aggressive and take actions that follow from that. And when necessary, when our interests and our situations are genuinely threatened, then we take military action.
But let me just make one last point what we’re talking about here because we always focus on leaders and leadership and we have bad leadership, which we do right now, obviously. The bottom line, in this country, they’re all elected into office, and every few years, we have an election that can change the course. I’m hoping that this year, there will be an election that changes course and another, but we can’t let the people off the hook completely for this because if they don’t want to pay the price, if they don’t want to take the risk, then the risk isn’t going to be taken and the price isn’t going to be paid. And this was another great political philosopher people need to read, de Tocqueville, talking about American democracy way back in the 1840s, said that democracies are better at domestic crises than foreign policy because foreign policy requires consistency over time, and when you have an election every two years, it’s very difficult to have that consistency.
So, again, we just can’t project it out onto some bad leaders and say it’s their fault and if we change. I don’t think it’s that simple.
Gordon Chang: Yeah, the emphasis on Tocqueville is interesting because only authoritarian states have consistent foreign policies. But, nonetheless, in this country, in republican administrations and democratic ones, there have been ideologies that have been essentially unshakeable.
So, for instance, in the 1970s, the ideology of the United States was that we were going to have to accept the Soviet Union as a given because the Soviet Union would never fail and that we would always be confronting in some way the Soviet Union, so we might as well be nice to it. Well, today, that has sort of become different. It’s an engagement policy where we take the Chinese state as a given, and the Chinese state, as Michael might appreciate, is actually quite weak from any number of different perspectives.
So, I think the important thing for us to recognize is that our engagement policies today in trying to work with hardline states is absolutely wrong for all the reasons that we just heard from Michael and Bruce. And it’s important for us to remember that the engagement policy of today is in substance the same as appeasement was in the 1930s. We have generous motives. We have very good visions for what we want to do, but, unfortunately, we have forgotten the ideals that Bruce was talking about because this is absolutely critical. Because these authoritarian states hate us, not because of who we are but because of what we stand for and that they view us as a threat. And it’s unfortunate that most people don’t understand that, but that’s they way that China and Russia look at the United States. And until both Russia and China are real functioning democracies, there will not be peace in the world.
Bill Cowan: Most of the things we talk about here are, indeed, nation states. We look at a vision, what would we like the world to be like in 20 or 30 years. The nation states things will be worked over from all angles, what have you. To me, I’m a terrorism guy. The real issue continues to be all these disparate terrorist cells here and there. Look what 911, one incident, look what that did to us. Look how it changed America. Look at the trillions of dollars. Look at the bureaucracy. That one incident because it terrified all of us. So, to me, the big issue is how do we make things look different in 20 or 30 years with respect, in large part, to terrorist organizations, terrorist entities, mostly Islamists, and we have failed miserably in the Bush administration and his administration. There are thousands of moderate Muslims out there who don’t like those radicals any more than we do. In fact, in Egypt, when we met with businessmen, one of the key businessmen said, “We have just woke up from our worst nightmare. We realized who the Muslim Brotherhood is.”
We, as a nation, the United States, have failed to put together policies and programs that gave voice to the moderates, to those who will go after these radicals in every way, shape and form they can. And if we want to have some success in the long years, not that we can eradicate all of it, but if we want to have some success, we need to make sure that moderates have a voice that can be heard and can have an impact and start dragging more moderates to the moderate side instead of radicals to the radical side.
Social media, real quickly, Buddy, to go on your question, Buddy’s from North Carolina. So is my wife back there. My wife is a hardcore social media activist. She and a couple other women get credit for getting the lieutenant governor or North Carolina elected, a conservative republican elected against all odds. He was not the favorite. He was at the bottom of the line, and I bet right now, this whole time we’ve been here, more people in North Carolina know about everything that’s happened here over the last two days than they do right here in California. So, social media activism absolutely works. If you’re not engaged, if your kids aren’t engaged, your friends, your neighbors, all those things make a difference. It’s not a world I grew up in. I’m not even comfortable in it, but it’s a world that makes a difference, and it’s shown itself to make a difference around the world.
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