June 6, 2011


Message to US State Dept: evil is evil is evil: How do you fashion a public diplomacy strategy if you do not believe that America stands for true human dignity? (Robert R. Reilly | Monday, 6 June 2011, MercatorNet)

We might pause here to reflect more accurately upon what exactly it was that did bring down the Berlin Wall as, actually, MTV broadcasts did not reach into eastern Germany. We are so far into the global war on terrorism that the conflict that defined most of the century that preceded it has almost receded from view, along with the role ideas played in bringing it to an end. As a foot soldier in the Cold War, I did not think I would live to see its conclusion.

I vividly remember the day in 1990 when I read a statement in the Soviet press by Alexander Yakovlev, the Politburo chief of Soviet ideology, that he had come to understand that Leninism was based upon class struggle and hatred, and that this was “evil.” The chief of Soviet ideology had used the exact same word to describe the Soviet system as had President Ronald Reagan. Excitedly, I faxed his remark around Washington. Yakovlev’s words meant the end of the Cold War and the Soviet empire. The actual deeds of its dissolution soon came in their wake.

Words and the restoration of their relationship to reality were critical to the Communist collapse. This was no small thing since, for many in the West, words had lost their meaning. Therefore, the huge lie about humanity in Communism remained undetected by them. A recovery of meaning was essential before a real challenge could be presented to the East. No single individuals did more for this restoration than John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, who insisted upon calling things by their proper names. Naming Communism for what it was required, first of all, the refutation of modern nominalism and radical skepticism. You cannot use “evil” as an adjective until you know it as a noun.

Everyone now celebrates “our” victory over Communism, conveniently forgetting that the struggle was not only with Communism, but within the West as to what Communism meant. The anti-anti-Communists in the West were frightened by the Pope’s and Reagan’s vocabulary for the Soviet Union because they feared it might lead to war, but also because the use of the word “evil” had implications for themselves with which they were extremely uncomfortable. As English writer Christopher Derrick once said, the only real iron curtain runs through the soul of each one of us. If we can know what “evil” is, how then does that apply to our own lives? Rather than face up to the answer to that question, many preferred to attack the people using it and to explain the Cold War away as just another variation of power politics and realpolitik. Communism was simply a mask for traditional Russian imperial expansionism and could be dealt with similarly. Power dealing with power can reach an understanding.

So long as this view was regnant in the West, Communism was a form of absolutism fighting a form of relativism. As such, Communism had the clear advantage, and gained it on the field with stunning geographic advances in Central Asia, Africa, and Central America, and strategic advances in both conventional and non-conventional weaponry. So great was the progress of the Soviet Union in the 1970s that anyone looking at these factors alone would have expected it to win. Those expectations were defeated by a factor outside of those calculations.

Reagan was the first political leader to use the moral vocabulary of “evil” to describe the Soviet empire in the recent era. The reaction was hysterical. How reckless could Reagan be? Yet the President calmly responded that he wanted them, the Soviets, to know that he knew. This acknowledgment inspired great hope behind the Iron Curtain. Then, finally, the Soviets used the term about themselves. Once the proper vocabulary was employed, it was over. Semantic unanimity brought the end not in the much-feared bang, but a whimper. Truth turned out to be the most effective weapon in the Cold War. Truth set free the imprisoned peoples of the evil empire.

Part of that truth was expressed religiously. The religious alliance against the Soviet Empire could be broad because the contest was between atheism and religion of any kind. The US Cold War strategy used religion to undermine the Soviet bloc – Jews in Russia; Muslims in Afghanistan; and Christians in Poland, for example. Who could imagine during the Cold War that religion could be turned against the United States, not so much within it, as in alienating Muslims in large parts of the Islamic world key to US strategic interests? Unlike the Cold War, the contest with Islam is in terms of one kind of religion against something else, either secularism or another religion, or, in Islamic terms, between belief and unbelief.

The Islamist vision of America

It is essential in a war of ideas to understand the ideas one is at war with. This includes an understanding of how we are seen from the Islamist side. What is it about United States or the West that so repels the Islamists that they are driven to destroy it? Read the following statement and then guess who said it.

"This great America: What is its worth in the scale of human values? And what does it add to the moral account 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."

When I was recently lecturing to a group of mid-career American officers, one of them guessed it was Winston Churchill. Wrong. The answer is Sayyid Qutb, the chief Egyptian ideologue of the radical Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks our destruction. In Arabic, qutb means the pole around which the world revolves on its axis. The entire Islamist world revolves around the thinking of this man, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966, but whose thought has spread from the Philippines and Indonesia to Morocco. You can be sure to find his writings at the foundation of any radical Muslim group today, including al-Qaeda.

The value of Qutb’s quote is that it so clearly illustrates the moral judgment on America that is behind the Islamist movement. [...]

Confusion over these matters are sure signs that the United States is suffering from the same kind of conflict within itself over the nature of the threat that it is facing that it suffered from 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.

One reason for this reluctance resides in President Obama's relativism. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he discussed the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He wrote, "Implicit in [the Constitution’s] structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism,’ and any tyrannical consistency that might block future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition..." In other words, truth leads to tyranny.

Truth does not set you free; it imprisons. This statement would have amazed the American Founders, including John Adams who, when reflecting back upon the principles of the American Founding, claimed that “those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature. And I could safely say consistently with all my then and present information that I believe they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles.”

How do you fashion a public diplomacy strategy based upon the belief that the United States does not represent any permanent truths? As was mentioned earlier regarding the Cold War, a form of absolutism fighting a form of relativism always has the upper hand. Who wants to die to prove that nothing is absolutely true? How exactly is one supposed to promote this idea?

Why would anyone expect the Left, which does not believe in the basic tenets of our Founding, to seek to defend and extend them abroad?

Posted by at June 6, 2011 6:04 AM

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