March 5, 2003
An Interview with Robert D. Crane
Question: Mr. Ambassador, the staff of our journal, Al Mujtama’a, wants to thank you for agreeing in this interview to give us some of your expertise on forecasting the global future, especially as it relates to the Middle East in the post-Iraq period. This month the Middle East Affairs Journal introduced its new issue with your lead article, a 30-page policy paper entitled “The New Pagan Empire: An Ideological Challenge to America and the World.” If President George W. Bush is a born-again Christian, how can you claim that his major goal in life is to counter evil in the world by imposing a pagan Pax America.
Answer: First, you are only technically or legally correct in addressing me as “Mr. Ambassador,” because I was fired before I could take up residence in my post. President Ronald Reagan appointed me to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates in 1981 with a dual mission. This was to serve as his representative to the emir of Abu Dhabi and to pursue two-track diplomacy with the Islamist movements in Southwest Asia and Northern Africa, including the movement headed by Imam Khomeini in Iran. I went through all the training that American ambassadors receive prior to their posting, including a course to improve my Arabic, but I was fired when Secretary Haig learned from bugging a conversation between me and Saudi Ambassador al Hegelan in his private office that I was a covert Muslim.
This highly classified intelligence led Reagan’s best friend, Judge William Clark, who was then the Director of the National Security Council in the White House, to comment that it is about time to have Muslim ambassadors representing America to Muslim countries, as the British have done on occasion. At Clark’s initiative, and with the solid support of the professionals in the State Department, President Reagan then fired Secretary Haig for insubordination. When Haig refused to leave his office, the Seventh Floor principals in the State Department physically escorted him out of the building in order to prevent his arrest by federal marshals. But, this is one of those war stories that probably are best left to memoirs after the principals in the drama have retired or died.
Now to your question. Bismi Allahi. First, we should ask what is a born-again Christian before we say that President Bush is one. A born-again Christian is merely a person who acquires taqwa or loving awe of God as an adult, rather than from childhood. He may or may not be a narrow-minded, bigoted, and even violent “fundamentalist.” When I decided as a Russian interrogator at Eighth Army Headquarters during the Korean War to become a Franciscan priest in order to convert Russia, I was a born-again Christian, though I always prayed to what I later learned had a name, Allah. Many Christians pray to Allah as Muslims understand Him, despite the official doctrines on the trinity, simply because this is part of the human fitra, which includes infused knowledge in the human spirit or ruh and the power to respond to this through the human soul or nafs.
In my opinion, at least before 9/11, President George W. Bush was an excellent representative of America because he and President Reagan, as well as President Jimmy Carter, were the best twentieth-century representatives of the traditionalist or classical thought of America’s founders. The ideological foundations of America crystallized almost 250 years ago at the same time that Imam Muhammad ‘Abd al Wahhab and the Al Sa’ud family were embarking on a similar great experiment to base human governance on divine guidance.
America’s principal ideological founders, Jefferson, Mason, and Madison, reflected the thinking of their time when no-one anywhere on earth could conceive of human governance without awareness of and reliance on a higher authority than mere human reason and human contracts. In his first presidential campaign in 1802, the year that Napoleon invaded Egypt, Jefferson was viciously attacked by Christian fundamentalists as an atheist because he did not accept the divinity of Jesus, ‘alayhi wa al salam, nor did most of the other founders. Jefferson’s phrase, “the separation of Church and State,” has been exploited by modern neo-atheists as a code-word in a culture war to rewrite American history in order to exclude all awareness and reference to religion in public affairs. Jefferson clearly wanted to avoid theocracy as inherently incompatible with representative government, but he was very clear and insistent that he did not want to eliminate from governance and public life the wisdom that comes reliably only from enlightened religion.
Jefferson taught that the balance among order, justice, and freedom, which is the core teaching in every major religion, can be maintained only if the people are educated, that the core purpose of all education is awareness of virtue, and that commitment of an entire people to virtue is possible only within a framework of enlightened religion. In his twenty volumes of private letters, which only recently have been made available to the public and now are being published, one volume every year for twenty years, he taught that a consensus on basic values, which is essential to political unity and to any civilization, is possible only when the wisdom of religiously committed people pervades all public life, so that the human polity at whatever level from the nuclear family to the community and nation is governed by people who are governed by God.
Incidentally, America’s founders never called for democracy and, in fact, vehemently opposed it, because for them raising the demos or people to the level of ultimate authority, as evidenced in the French Revolution, inevitably will bring the chaos that results from worshipping a false god. The founders of America called their great experiment in self-government a republic, which by definition acknowledges that all law comes God, though it is the human responsibility, fard kifaya, to translate revelation (wahy) and natural law (the sunnatu Allahi) into specific legislation as the Creator’s stewards (khulafa’a) of Creation.
Question: If President Bush is an enlightened Christian and even Islamic in much of his thinking, how can he be presiding over the imposition of a global pagan empire?
Answer: In other words, you are asking how is such a metamorphosis in Bush possible from a fervent isolationist in foreign policy, who swore never to become involved in the morass of “nation-building,” to the world’s preeminent interventionist committed to rebuilding both friends and enemies in his self-perceived image?
The answer is that within American ruling circles an axis of evil is waging the mother of all battles in an all-out effort to hijack America, the same way that Osama bin Laden tried to hijack Islam.
President Bush’s highest personal priority when he campaigned for office in the year 2000 was what he called his “faith-based initiative,” by which he meant governmental assistance to faith-based or private, religious organizations that are engaged in rescuing the marginalized in society by infusing in them self-respect and purpose in life. The opponents of religion in public life have managed to defeat any enabling legislation in domestic affairs, so President Bush is now carrying out a new faith-based initiative. As Henry Kissinger explained in a full-page Washington Post editorial on August 12, 2002, the new highest priority is to use an attack on Iraq as a revolutionary first step to institute a new system of international law that would legitimize unilateral preemption as the basis of American foreign policy toward the world. President Bush is now totally committed to waging a global war against evil, and has stated that he now knows what his mission is in life.
The most compassionate explanation in answer to your question is that Bush is a compassionate conservative who has been hijacked by reactionary conservatives and radical nationalists, together often known simply as neo-conservatives, whose highest purpose is to secure the power of secular Zionism, in a unique alliance with Evangelical millennarians, all dedicated to the pursuit of imperialist policies totally incompatible with President Bush’s natural instincts.
Not satisfied with presiding over the world’s only superpower, the neo-conservative coterie around President Bush are determined to turn America into a “hyperpower” committed to global aggrandizement under the cover of alleged threats to the survival of human civilization. One might well ask, is America at a great and awful hinge moment of history, when the governing premises of its policy architects are launching an emerging and irreversible trend with fateful portents for itself and for the global future.
The current issue of the Middle East Affairs Journal, of which I was the volunteer Managing Editor from 1997 to 2000, contains a nine-page editorial, entitled “Why American Muslims Oppose the War on Iraq.” It states that, “The principal contribution of America to the world is its commitment to the rule of law. This includes commitment to strengthen the international institutions that serve this purpose, which American leadership helped build up over the past half century. … The major casualty of the current U.S. strategy for unilateral preemption is trust in America’s good intentions, because leadership in bringing the enlightened values of America’s founders to the world scene is possible only if America is seen to be practicing these values both at home and abroad.
“Jefferson’s introduction to America’s Declaration of Independence called for ‘a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.’ By dismissing as ‘irrelevant’ international institutions dedicated to the pursuit of conflict resolution and both political and economic justice, the American Administration is undermining the role of law as normative guidance for human affairs in the pursuit of human responsibilities and rights. In this sense, it is undermining the legal systems of all the great civilizations of humankind and thereby is turning the United States into what the elites in almost every country of the world now consider to be a rogue state.”
The concern of American Muslims, especially those born in the United States, is that their own country is being hijacked by the same people who have waged a diabolical war to hijack their religion. American-born Muslims, both those second-generation from immigrants, and the native born, as well as their second-generation children, have no other national identity than America. They are committed to reviving the best from classical American and classical Islamic thought to build a global civilization of unity in diversity based on the common wisdom of the world’s religions. But, now the evil axis in Washington of pagan imperialists, secular Zionists, and Christian fundamentalists is trying to hijack their identity and brand them as enemies of their own country.
Question: This raises two questions. How does one persuade a deeply religious person to abandon morality? And how does one co-opt a president to oppose the enlightened interests of his own country?
Answer: The first part of the answer lies in the weakness of human nature, the nafs al ammara, the commanding self that is free to oppose what one knows to be true and good, and the enormous effort it takes to raise one’s nafs to the level of self-criticism, the nafs al lawamma, and even to the highest level of complete submission to God, the nafs al mutma’ina.
Lord Acton expressed a relevant truism, which I have experienced in my own life when I have had power over people and policy. Lord Acton put it in the memorable adage, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Only a saint can resist it, and President Bush does not claim to be a saint, at least not yet.
One’s vulnerability to being hijacked by “the whisperers of evil” comes from arrogance, which the Qur’an again and again informs us is the root of all other evils.
In its extreme form such arrogance is what the philosophers call solipsism and psychologists call autism, which is the inability to relate to other people or to understand anything from another person’s point of view. This is almost the definition of a fanatic, who follows a single purpose or goal and thereby lacks balance because this necessarily excludes all other objectives and perspectives.
Solipsism was the principal charge against the Bush Administration brought on March 1st, 2003, by the first American diplomat to resign since four career foreign service officers resigned a decade ago in protest against American refusal to permit the Bosnians the right of self-defense. After twenty years as a professional, John Brady Kiesling, the political counselor in Athens, finally gave up trying to explain American foreign policy. As the State Department’s newest hero, he will now start a new career in “loyal opposition,” which is a peculiarly American career choice. In his letter to his boss, Colin Powell, and Powell’s boss, President Bush, Kiesling wrote: “We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the United States to drift into complete solipsism.”
This word should enter our diplomatic and political vocabulary. It comes from the Latin words solus, meaning “alone,” and ipse or self. In combination it refers to the theory that the self can be aware of nothing but its own experiences and states, i.e., that nothing exists or is real but the self. In extreme cases of autism, the person who suffers from this malfunction of the brain and heart cannot relate to anything outside oneself, including even the love of one’s own mother, and eventually must be institutionalized, because the profoundly autistic person is dangerous to himself and others. This malady or disease in milder forms is spreading rapidly among American children and threatens American society. One might argue that it has spread from the extreme wings of the Republican Party to the president himself. Unfortunately, as in schizophrenia, the schizophrenic is the last person who can admit to being its victim.
Question: Are you suggesting that President George W. Bush is schizophrenic?
Answer: Certainly not, at least not in a clinical sense, and not in comparison with a previous Republican president, Richard M. Nixon. As Richard Nixon’s principal foreign policy adviser from 1963 until Kissinger took over in 1968, I noticed two distinct personalities totally at odds with each other. The first was a humble, very religious person, but certain triggers, like challenges in the political jungle, brought out the beast. This no doubt was why a distraught Pat Nixon told me in December, 1966, after her husband had decided to run again for the presidency in 1968 that it would destroy him.
President Bush also expresses two personalities, but they are both powered by religion and therefore are really not in conflict with each other. President Bush’s disorder, if one wants to call it that, is perhaps best described by the Reverend Fritz Ritsch in his article, “Of God, and Man, in the Oval Office,” first published in the Washington Post on March 2, 2003. He analyzes the religious references, both overt and subliminal, in Bush’s speeches after 9/11, which only a Bible scholar would appreciate.
Pastor Ritsch’s conclusion is that, “Bush’s religious supporters are his greatest cheerleaders. Rather than his spiritual guides, they are his faithful disciples. He is the leader of the America they think God has ordained. Contrary to popular opinion, the religion that this group espouses is Triumphalism, not Christianity. Theirs is a zealous form of nationalism, baptized with Christian language.”
The greatest German theologian of the twentieth century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Hitler in 1944, termed this disease “joyous secularism.” This form of covert secularism, masquerading as religiosity, results when arrogance and hypocrisy combine to deny the sovereignty of God.
In psycho-analyzing the American triumphalist phenomenon, Ritsch writes, “When people were searching for meaning, the president was able to frame that meaning. In a nation of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In a secular society, a president who can confidently quote scripture is that man.”
Fritz continues, “[This dualism] that views war as a kind of redemptive purgative … is characterized by a stark refusal to acknowledge accountability, because to suggest accountability is to question American purity, which would undermine the secular theology of ‘good versus evil’ inherent in present U.S. policy. … With God on our side, there didn’t seem to be much need for self-examination and humility.”
Question: But, would you go so far as to say that current American foreign policy is pagan? In your book, The Grand Strategy of Justice, published by your Islamic Institute for Strategic Studies in April, 2000, Part III from pages 49 to 83 is entitled “Ecumenical Justice Versus the Pagan Empire. You suggest that a pagan culture in America is in the process of hijacking America for its own purposes in order to eliminate the very concept of justice from the human mind. Now you seem to think that President Bush is the chosen instrument to carry out this grand strategy. How does one go about hijacking a president for such a purpose, particularly an admitted born-again Christian.
Answer: Entire books have been written on the dynamics of politics in Washington in order to answer such a question. The levers of power range from academics who influence policy research centers and think-tanks, and think-tankers who shape the agenda of both the media and government, to kitchen cabinets, which are the personal friends upon whom any president relies, some much more than others. And, of course, we have the special interest groups, who are funded privately to lobby both the legislative and executive branches of government for agendas that may be grossly inconsistent with good policy. These various players may all work together secretly in competing networks far below the radar of public knowledge and opinion.
In Washington today, however, we have an example of networking perhaps more powerful than any combination in American history. Traditionally, there has been competition between the so-called Wilsonian idealists and the realists of the Morgenthau and Kissinger schools. Today, however, they have combined into a single front in possession of the White House, leaving most of the adherents of both schools on the outside wondering what has happened. As Anatol Lieven wrote in the December 2000 issue of the London Review of Books, “The dominant groups in the present administrations in both Washington and Jerusalem are realists to the core, which, as so often, means that they take an extremely unreal view of the rest of the world, and are insensitive to the point of autism when it comes to the character and motivations of others.”
The position papers of Henry Kissinger, published in The Washington Post as guidance for the permanent foreign policy establishment, allow one to trace the evolution of in-group thinking, because he has almost always been successful in judging the state of the play in Washington and co-opting the winning position as his own. His full-page op-ed piece on August 12th, 2002, explained why an all-out attack on Iraq was inevitable. Ever since then the debate has never strayed beyond the question of when.
The message became unusually blunt in his op-ed piece of February 10th, 2003, after France and Germany failed to knuckle under, when he clearly stated that American policy in the era of post-9/11 is to impose an American empire on the world and that all of America’s allies better wake up and shape up.
No longer would the United States rely on a balance of regional powers, and especially not on the role of each core state to police its own region, because the United States no longer needed to balance anything when it could rule directly by its sheer military and economic might. He stated, perhaps for the first time, that the United States had made a grievous error in failing to support and, in fact, by vigorously blocking, the British and French empires when Nasser challenged them in 1956 by nationalizing the Suez Canal. The fundamental error, he says, came from American naivete in trying to resolve the conflict “with methods essentially of conciliation,” and from the error of insisting that “recourse to force was admissible only in strictly defined self-defense.” This failure to support America’s allies effectively ended their empires. Now he says that the shoe is on the other foot.
In this February 10th position paper, Kissinger admits and in effect apologizes for America’s stupidity, and concludes that it is now the turn of the Europeans to support the new American empire. “Otherwise,” he asserts, “The credibility of American power in the war on terrorism and in international affairs will be gravely, perhaps irreparably, impaired.” He chastises Germany and France for showing “an amazing lack of understanding of American realities.” Of course, Kissinger’s chutzpa, and that of the Republican Administration, in insisting that others recognize the inevitability of the new American global empire is precisely why efforts to use an attack on Iraq as the first step to impose it has run into so much opposition.
The threat of terrorism to a newly vulnerable America prompted Vice President Cheney on February 19th, 2002, at the Richard Nixon Library and think-tank in Yorba Linda, California, to call America’s policy of global offense “the defining struggle of the 21st century.”
Now comes the question about the pagan empire. I first drew attention to this new trend in my essay, “Ecumenical Justice Versus the Pagan Empire,” published as Part III of my book, The Grand Strategy of Justice, The Islamic Institute for Strategic Studies, Washington, Virginia, Policy Paper no. 3, April 2000, 83 pages. After 9/11, this new global paganism has moved front and center as the most powerful force in American policymaking. The Mein Kampf of this new force is Robert D. Kaplan’s newest book Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. More alarming and more open even that the writings of Henry Kissinger, who is notorious for pooh-poohing morality in anything, this book is known as the “hottest item in town.”
This brilliant apologia for scrapping morality and ideals and anything that might interfere with the imposition of American imperial power comes garlanded with effusive praise by Henry Kissinger, Newt Gingrich, two former secretaries of defense, Perry and Cohen, as well as the former Director of the National Security Council, Bob (Bud) McFarlane, who for years has been the gray eminence behind American policy toward Afghanistan and his protégé, Karzai. According to Ken Ringle’s article in the Washington Post of February 21, 2002, entitled “Oracle of a New World Disorder,” Kaplan’s book has taken Washington by storm and is required reading for all policymakers and their staffs.
As early as March, 2001, before 9/11, Kaplan spent an hour with President Bush to brief him on another of his books, published in 2000, entitled The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War. Kaplan says that he has sold his pagan prescription by convincing the president that the world faces a “Lord of the Flies meltdown,” that America’s dominance is tenuous, and that “the most important moral commitment for America is to preserve its power.”
Some observers claim that Kaplan is a one-man Ministry of Truth, the evil force in Orwell’s novel, 1984, which imposed mind control so that all citizens believed that “War is Peace” and thereby made war a permanent state of being.
Perhaps from his experience in the Israeli army for a year in 1980, Kaplan writes that, “Our moral values … represent our worst vulnerabilities.” Translated into Bush-speak, this means that civilian casualties can be seen as a necessary by-product of the war against evil, because the greater goal is to drive the barbarians away from the gates of the civilized world.
In the prologue to his book, The Coming Anarchy, Kaplan quotes Thomas Hobbes: “Before the names of Just and Unjust can have any place, there must be some coercive power.” He adds, “Physical aggression is part of being human.” Bud McFarlane calls this book “an intellectual tour de force expressing the enduring relevance of ancient principles.” The new element in the world, according to Kaplan, is that barbarians have exploited a global ideology – Islam – to give them a bottomless pit of recruits and allies in a global war that has now struck at the heart of the empire.
Doomsday paranoids see in America a twenty-first century Ghenghiz Khan, who murdered eight million people alone in Persia and Iraq, then a sizeable percentage of the total population. Less alarmist people see merely a worrisome trend and are waiting to see the results of an American attack on Iraq and any stages three and four. No-one can doubt, however, that awareness of America’s sudden vulnerability to inchoate global forces of chaos has triggered a crisis. A crisis mentality has forced opinion elites and even the man in the street to question whether America can survive intact as the nation envisaged by its Founders.
Question: One final question. What can we do about this global threat from America to the self-determination of peoples and to both political and economic justice?
Answer: My answer to the economic threat is detailed in my lead article published at the beginning of March, 2003, on the pagan empire as an ideological challenge both to America itself and to the world. My thesis is that there can be no political justice without economic justice, because political democracy is impossible unless the defective financial institutions of the world that cause the growing inequalities of wealth are repaired. Our problem is not bad people but a bad system.
As Principal Economic and Budget Adviser to the finance minister of Bahrain a generation ago, I recommended that the entire system of money and credit be fundamentally reformed in order to save it from itself so that private ownership of the tools of production by individuals would be recognized as a universal human right in accordance with the doctrine of haqq al mal, which is a pillar of the maqasid al shari’ah, the universal purposes or principles of Islamic law.
A secondary question involves military strategy. In the aftermath of any attack on Iraq, and even in the absence of an actual attack, the military options for self-defense against American hegemony may assume primary importance. I am talking about whether or not separate regions of the world can police their own rogue states in order to avoid the temptation for the United States military to do it for them. Can an Arab league, not necessarily the present all-purpose Arab League, manage intrusive inspection of a country that their consensus deems a clear and present threat? Since cooperation with Western nations, and especially with the United States, would be necessary in order to apply the latest in technology, who would pay for it?
More importantly, can the Arab countries deter an attack by a country that acquires weapons of mass destruction in order to use them for what I have called psycho-strategic warfare against the others? And if so, how? Would it not be necessary for other Arab countries to acquire at least sufficient capabilities to deter attack? In order words, do we need the proverbial “Arab bomb”? There is no such thing as an “Islamic bomb,” but would not the would-be global hegemon use a crusade against Islam as an excuse to freeze technology and ingenuity or even to attack more countries after Iraq as stage two or three or four?
The key issue from the point of view of the current global hegemon is the security and power of Israel. What threat would an “Arab bomb” in the hands of responsible countries pose to Israel. The answer is none, because no Arab country or coalition of countries with a few bombs would dare use them in a first strike against Israel, which has hundreds of them.
As Gwynne Dyer writes in the internet edition of Dawn, November 15, 2002, and reprinted in Geopolitics Review, a publication of Marghoob Quraishi’s Strategic Research Foundation in Palo Alto, California, vol 4, no. 1, January-February 2003, the only significance for Israel of Arab possession of weapons of mass destruction would be that, “It would substantially narrow Israel’s military options by creating an Arab deterrent to an Israeli first strike.”
Would deliberate proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, however, which will occur inevitably anyway, promote stability? Or might leakage of such technology to non-state actors threaten the very stability that the “Arab bomb” would be designed to sustain?
Or is it enough simply to rely on the protection of Allah? Real success in any major earth-shaping and earth-shaking undertaking can come
only from reliance by large organized communities of people on the power of God. Every sacred scripture reveals the same wisdom in this regard. In the Qur’an we read:
Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed a plan, He but says, “be,” and it is (Surah Ali ‘Imran, 3:47). Also Surah al Nahl, 16:40, and Miryam, 19:35, “Kun fa yakun.”
And the [the unbelievers] plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah (Surah Ali ‘Imran, 3:54). Also Surah al Anfal 8:30, and Al Rad, 13:42.
Say: “Oh Allah! Lord of Power, You give power to whom You please, and You strip off power from whom You please. You endow with honor whom You please, and You bring low whom You please. In Your Hand is all good. Verily, over all things You have power” (Surah Ali’Imran, 3:26).
We all know, however, that reliance on Allah requires us to become the hands of Allah through purposive action in this world. But, again, what kind of action?
The best case scenario for shaping the future may be ideological in the good sense of open national discussions. This would envisage what enlightened Muslim scholars call the revival of spiritual and intellectual jihad, designed to address issues of conscience in both domestic and foreign policy by focusing on causes rather then merely on effects. It must focus on the inner rather than the outer, on the spiritual dynamics of change rather than merely on their result in current events.
A truly “grand strategy” of Islam and of all faith traditions need not exclude the jihad al saghir or lesser jihad of employing physical force in the defense of human rights. It should begin with the spiritual jihad, the jihad al akbar, but it should focus also on the intellectual jihad, the jihad al kabir, which is the only jihad mentioned in the Qur’an, wa jihidhum bihi jihadan kabiran. This requires Muslim initiatives through intellectual centers or think-tanks to leverage the power of paradigms and ideas in shaping human affairs in the hope and prayer that, in future decades and centuries, peace through justice will become a paradigm whose time has come.