The Future of Political Islam

May 22, 2003

The Future of Political Islam by Graham Fuller

Introduction

JOANNE MYERS: On behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to welcome our members and guests and thank you for joining us as we welcome Graham Fuller. He will be discussing his book, The Future of Political Islam.

Since the events of September 11th, many books have been written about the Middle East and Islam, but few have focused on the subject of how the Islamic faith serves as a subtext for the ordering of society and its powerful appeal as it calls out for responsible and ethical government based on the basic principles laid out in the Qur’an and traditional Islamic culture.

With the writing of this book, Mr. Fuller has attempted to fill the gap in our understanding of the diversity of political Islam and its place in world politics. It is a central thesis of his work that political Islam is not an exotic and distant phenomenon but can be understood in the context of the universal struggle by both liberals and authoritarians as they try to make sense of a troubling and rapidly modernizing world.

Mr. Fuller sees political Islam as the one organizing principle that pervades the daily life in the Muslim world more profoundly than any other single ideological or conceptual force in that society. Therefore, one could argue that political Islam is also part of a drive to restore the identity and dignity of a world where a once glorious past has somehow led many to see only a bleak and future-less present.

The Future of Political Islam reflects not only the author’s thoroughgoing examination of Islam but also his personal experience, having lived in five different Muslim countries in the span of fourteen years and having traveled to many other Muslim countries, including the Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union and China.

Graham Fuller was Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA with overall responsibility for all national-level strategic forecasting. He served twenty years in the foreign service. After leaving government, he joined the Rand Corporation where his work focused on the Middle East, Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and ethnic problems of the former Soviet Union. His work there resulted in a series on Islamic fundamentalism published by Rand.

In addition to The Future of Political Islam, other books by Mr. Fuller include The Center of the Universe: The Geopolitics of Iran; A Sense of Siege: The Geopolitics of Islam and the West; Turkey’s Kurdish Question, and The Arab Shi’A: The Forgotten Muslims. Mr. Fuller’s articles have appeared in many journals, including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, World Policy Journal, and The Middle East Journal.

If you have not read his published works, perhaps you have gained insight by listening to his commentary on such news shows as “Nightline,” ABC News, CNN, PBS, “News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” and Fox Television News. His comments can also be heard on the BBC and Voice of America.

Mr. Fuller is a regular op-ed contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor.

Although our guest offers no forecast about the future of the Muslim world, he does offer a number of hypotheses on how to approach the problem.

Please join me in welcoming Graham Fuller.

Remarks

GRAHAM FULLER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I have lived a long time in many different parts of the Middle East, not just the Arab world but in Afghanistan and Turkey. I became fascinated with the phenomenon of Islam as a living force that one confronts daily, constantly, in the course of living in these countries and, increasingly, during a period of a rise of political Islam as a phenomenon.

If it were not for Osama bin Laden, you would not all be here this afternoon to hear me talk. I wrote the book before Osama bin Laden, but clearly it was the events of 9/11 that brought sharp American focus on to the question, because it was no longer a distant academic issue but something that affected our daily lives.

It is easy to talk about Muslim grievances, many of which are not well known in the West. Many are very legitimate; others are partial truths about some things that happened; and there are yet other issues that concern Muslims that are often the product of conspiratorial thinking or anxieties that are perhaps rather distant from reality. These three elements are mixed together -- real realities, real grievances and concerns; partial stories; and fears and paranoia that amplify the rest.

As a result, political Islam today is the major political opposition movement across most of the Muslim world. We can say that it is partly good/partly bad.

It is imperative that we understand why and how this phenomenon comes about, why a great deal of Islamist thinking is not some exotic belief that could only come from a strange reason, but in many ways is reflective of the anxieties, concerns, and problems of the entire developing world. It perhaps has a different garb in the Middle East, some of it not fully familiar. But at a closer look, you can see elements that resemble Chinese angers and frustrations at their former eclipsed greatness; you can see it reflected in India or Latin American or Africa. It has local characteristics, but it also has some very broad, general characteristics.

When some people talk about political Islam or Islamism, they have bin Laden or the Taliban in mind. Both of those are part – but on the fringes – of what is a very broad movement of political Islam. They cannot be excluded, but they are simply violent and extremist parts of the spectrum. This spectrum is growing and diversifying all the time as events proceed in the Middle East.

I define political Islam as anyone who believes that the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet -- what the Prophet said and did during his lifetime in an effort to apply his best understanding of the Qur’an -- have something important to say about the way politics and society should operate in the Middle East.

On this spectrum we have, on the one hand, violent radicals or non-violent radicals or moderates. We have rather totalitarian-minded individuals, but a much greater number of Islamists who increasingly see benefits of democratic process. We see traditionalists who believe that somehow the old, glorious days of the golden age of the Islamic world is the goal to return to. The greater majority would say, “No, we are moving on into a new world” and would be more modernist in their interpretation. So you can be traditionalist, you can be modernist, you can be anywhere along the spectrum which is broadening as any number of people consider themselves driven in one way or another by their concern with linking Islam and politics.

There are several reasons why political Islam today is very successful, particularly in opposition.

First, saying “in opposition” is an important statement in itself, because it is much easier to be in opposition than it is to be in power anywhere. We can criticize what is wrong with any number of governments and regimes, but to say what we would do if we were in power and had to assume those problems is rather different. So right away Muslim Islamists, like any other opposition group, have that advantage.

Secondly, most regimes in the area help the Islamists, wittingly or unwittingly, by eliminating most other political opposition. So you can take the socialist party and close it down, or the nationalist party, or the communist party, or the liberal party.

But with Islamists it is much harder, because they are operating out of mosques and neighborhoods. Islamist movements have deep grassroots, much more than any other movement. I regret to say that because my bias would be to see reforming liberal movements as dominant. But the reality is you can get a mass of crowds into Liberation Square in any Arab or Muslim city in the world and you could not fill up any square in any part of the Muslim world with liberal democrats. It is simply not a vibrant tradition, at least so far.

So with legal or illegal elimination of other rivals, Islamists win by default, or they gain by default, in this position, including both the extremists and the others.

Extreme conditions generally produce extremist results. Many of the situations now in so much of the Arab world are negative conditions: oppressive governments, incompetent governance; un-elected, and hence you might say illegitimate, governance in many cases; violent governance; brutal and destructive governance, of which the late and unlamented Saddam Hussein was the supreme example. These regimes produce the frustration and anger that ultimately pushes people towards political Islam.

There are many reasons why someone would join an Islamist party, or even want to turn to Islam even for political belief. For us in the West we wonder: Why would you go to the Qur’an? Why would you turn to a religion for political thought?

In the West our great documents, the sources of our philosophical and political ideas, are, say, the Magna Carta, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution. These are some of the great documents and movements in the development of modern Western history.

But for the Muslim world those events are not part of their tradition, and if you are looking for a moral source to describe what kind of social and political morality you might have, you turn to the Qur’an. The Qur’an talks much more about the nature of a good society, and the nature of governance than either the Old or New Testaments, which are much older documents. Neither of those documents had much to do with building a modern state, whereas the Qur’an was in the full light of history and was involved in state-building from day one.

There are many general thoughts within the Qur’an about what is a moral and virtuous ruler, that the ruler should consult with the people. There is a key element, shura in Arabic, consultation or a council. Many Islamists or Muslims today will say, “Sure, in those days shura meant that the ruler consults with his people; today that means parliament, period, it’s that simple.”

There is discussion of social justice, the good society, fair distribution of wealth. These are very general principles and nothing that we’re not familiar with in the West. But in Islam they are religiously derived.

So this brings you back to the Qur’an inevitably and why religion tends to be the source of much political thought.

Muslims, like everyone else, are human beings in the way they operate. Politics is very much a human art; it has human weaknesses. Many Islamists, practitioners of this, exploit this to their own ends. They use the Qur’an or quotations from the Qur’an highly selectively. They will choose certain passages that support their position, and not others, to make radical, even violent positions. Others will choose texts to justify other positions, much more moderate, democratic, that encourage coexistence, conciliation among peoples.

And it is like the Bible, Old or New Testament -- you can find whatever you want to justify almost anything. All of these documents have some horrendous, bloody-minded passages which talk about what you do to enemies of your faith and your religion. And in other parts we find ideas that are filled with wonder and delight and glory and compassion. The Qur’an is very much in that category, and it is both used and abused by Muslims.

Political Islam, in part, appeals to people who want to go back to their own traditions. Muslims have had a great tradition for upwards of a thousand years, surpassing anything the West had for a very long time, up until the fifteenth/sixteenth century.

But something happened. The West, which had been a rather crude and backward place, especially northern Europe, suddenly began to surpass Islam and become the great power of the world. Muslims anguish over: “What happened? What went wrong? Did God avert his face?” And here we see echoes of the Old Testament prophecies about why God seemingly averted his face from the people and how you have to get back to righteousness. There is a lot of similarity to this type of thinking.

Some Muslims say, “We must get back to the traditions. We don’t have a moral society anymore. Some of this immorality is homegrown, but some of it comes from the West, or the West took away our traditions in the imperial period or the colonial period.” There are some elements of truth to this. The French went into Algeria and banned the use of even Arabic for any official use, so you have entire generations growing up ignorant even of their own language and of their own traditions, and now you have this French-speaking elite, and then an Arabic-speaking class.

You cannot blame the West by any means for everything that has happened, but there are some legitimate grievances that go back to the Crusades or imperialism or Western intervention.

Political Islam is partly harkening back to those old days. But religions serve many functions. If you are an Islamist and you feel that your government is illegitimate, incompetent, or brutal, you will find the best justification for critique from the Qur’an or from the traditions of Muslim about political values. No Muslim leader wants to be criticized from the point of view of Islam because this would seemingly be the most devastating critique that could be set forward. This is precisely one of the reasons why Muslims, Islamists in particular, offer critiques of their regimes or others on the basis of Islam. It is a very convenient instrument against other states.

With new communications and media, the Muslim world is becoming ever more aware of itself as a totality: Indonesia to Morocco, Tatarstan in the former Soviet Union all the way down through multiple countries of Africa, and now large Muslim communities in Western Europe and indeed in this country. The Uma, the international community of Muslims, is becoming more self-aware.

Chechyans can say, “Aha! We see sufferings of Palestinians in Israel and therefore we see our Chechyans” -- and then Kashmiris pick up on this, and so you now have a whole litany of groups. And Muslims will tick this off and say, “Muslims are under oppression in Palestine and Bosnia and Kosovo and Kashmir and Chechnya and Xinjiang and the 8 million Turkish Weigers in western China and the Moros in the Philippines.”

The question is often asked: Why is it that there are many grievances in Latin America or Africa that we don’t hear about so much, or there isn’t necessarily the same degree of terrorism? What’s the matter with Muslims that if they have problems, it ends up being terrorism or a huge international movement?”

One reason is because you do have Muslims, from Indonesia to Morocco, and north and south in those areas, so there is almost an echo effect, especially today. You turn on any television in the Muslim world and they are talking about issues of other Muslims elsewhere.

This echo effect suddenly makes the Uma, the Muslim world, become a very powerful force attracting the equivalent of international adventurers or French Legionnaires, who are willing to go and fight in Chechnya, Bosnia, Palestine, Kashmir or Afghanistan.

I want to emphasize greatly the multiple functions that Islam or political Islam performs in this world. We can’t simply look at it as an ideology, but need to recognize the functions that it serves. If there were no problems, there might not be much of a political Islamic movement. Political Islam may ultimately inevitably, decline. It is not about to right now. On the contrary, it is growing, and since 9/11, the war against terrorism and the war in Iraq, I am afraid that the intensity, if anything, is rising. But the story is obviously unfolding even as we speak.

Political Islam will begin to decrease under one of two or three circumstances.

The first would be that it does gain power in one or another places and fails fairly palpably. We can point to Iran. If we were talking seven or eight years ago, I would probably say virtually a total story of failure. But in the last five or six years we begin to see very interesting politics emerging in Iran, perhaps more political progress in Iran towards opening up of the system and transparency than we see anywhere in the Arab world in that same period.

The Islamists in Iran have made a lot of mistakes. They have partly learned from this, as have others. But Iranians today are not terribly open to the idea that we should have more Islam in politics. They want less Islam, want to fine-tune this, and there is great discussion about what is the proper role. They don’t say “no Islam”; they say, “What is the proper role?”

So Islam coming to power and failing is certainly not a good advertising for elements of the ideology.

Secondly, political Islam talks about problems that have nothing to do with religion. If you look at the agendas of these movements, they talk about corruption in the country, bad leadership, police brutality, police state, unemployment, lack of social services, imperialism, weak rulers who kowtow to the United States because they want protection from their own people more than they want to bring good governance.

But you don’t have to be an Islamist to talk about these things. You can be a socialist or a nationalist or a communist.

The minute that these societies start to open up and you do have socialists, nationalists, liberals or others who are talking about these same problems, the Islamists will lose the monopoly over the critique of societies as they exist.

In some way or other a new ideology will come along. We wouldn’t have been sitting in this room some twenty-five years ago talking about Islam except as some exotic academic exercise, talking about a religion. In those days Arab nationalism was the great bugaboo. It was Abdul Nassar in Egypt, it was the great “put the fear of God into the West about the force of Arab nationalism, rallying mobs and masses.” That is gone for multiple reasons, and today it is political Islam.

Political Islam will never go away altogether. In Turkey we have a very interesting new movement in power. For the first time in the history of Islam, we have a political party that has come to power through free elections and is doing what it can do -- making mistakes, doing some good things. This is normalcy.

Since these movements are not going to go away and cannot be defeated by the sword, I would hope that gradually, by allowing more moderate elements among these Islamists into the system, into parliament, they will learn the rules of the game, of compromise. Then through that process, we may begin to tame what is otherwise a powerful movement that can be both very dangerous and can possibly bring change to the region in the garb of a nativist ideology rather than something imported from abroad.

Thank you.

Q&A

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you. We’ll open the floor to questions now.

QUESTION: Is democracy the answer to this situation? And if democracy comes, will the political Islamists take over? Would it be very likely or possible in all of the Arab countries if democracy took place, given the intensity of political Islam? I am reminded of the beginning of the Russian Revolution, where the Mensheviks were the moderates and they took over, but they didn’t make it, and it was the Bolsheviks who did. What is your thinking in this regard?

GRAHAM FULLER: First, is democracy the answer? I’m an ideologue. I would have to say that in principle I do believe that some form of democracy is a better answer than most. As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of governance except all of those that have ever preceded it.” The ability to get rid of lousy rulers like Saddam Hussein or other autocrats or dictators in the region is a good start. The absence of democracy and freedoms or rights in the Middle East is corroding these societies.

If you were sitting in these countries and you have incompetent governance, no social services, and you feel weak, incompetent, your past glory is gone, you have no voice over what your government does to you or with you or in the country, and foreigners come in and dictate to you what is going to be done, it is humiliating. You are ultimately left with a sense of impotence.

Impotence is a very dangerous word because you end up lashing out in some way, or becoming more extreme, or looking for a hero. And guess who the heroes have been for many deeply frustrated and embittered people in the region? Very sadly, you have Saddam Hussein, because at least this man stood up and said “Hell no!” to the United States, and to people who feel weak, this is an affirmation.

The second figure, even more sadly, is Osama bin Laden himself, who was willing to do something to show that even weak peoples can strike back at the world’s only superpower.

You raise the question: what happens if we do have elections? Islamist will win the initial elections in most Muslim countries.

In Turkey I have no fear whatsoever. In the next elections, if the Islamists lose, they will leave office, because that’s the way Turkish political culture works today.

But in Algeria, when the Islamists won the elections in 1991 and then were banned by the army from taking power -- people said, “Well, what would have happened if the Islamists came to power in 1991?” We don’t know, but could it have been as bad as what has happened since then? And more to the point, would I have trusted the Islamists to have left office after whatever their term of office was? Probably not. But I don’t know that I would have trusted any Algerian party because there is so little experience in that area.

You get democratic by experience and practice. It’s not a plug-in module, it’s not an appliance. The Turks have been at this for fifty years, so they are learning, and it is coming along very nicely.

In some other countries there is back-and-forth democracy. But the only way to do it is to do it.

To say, “Gee, we cannot have elections” is like saying, “I don’t want my eleven-year-old son ever to get a day older, because we know what the next few years are going to bring and we’d just as soon skip from eleven to eighteen in terms of development of a teen-age boy.”

So while Muslims are hardly children, we will go through some rough periods.

QUESTION: A number of people have made the point pretty strongly that many of the Islamic fundamentalist leaders have had significant ties with education in the West, so they are not necessarily the poor and oppressed people who have tried to lead the Islamic cause. And some of the strongest opponents of the Islamic cause have been our dear friends in the Middle East, Mubarak and the like, who have done a great deal to repress the Islamic organizations.

So to what extent at this point can you ask, “What will this bring and where will democracy take hold?”

And to what extent does the Central Intelligence Agency understand what is going on over there? We had a problem in Iraq. Bill Doherty, when he was one of the captives in Iran nearly twenty-five years ago, said there was nobody in the CIA who was studying the problem. Has it improved?

GRAHAM FULLER: Probably the majority of Islamist leaders have been educated in the West. These are not people sitting out in the desert under tents drinking camel milk. These are people who are, ironically, especially engineers and doctors. These are the two highest-ranking professions amongst Islamists. Osama bin Laden is an engineer. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a medical doctor. The former leader in Turkey was an engineer.

I do believe that Islamists, or Muslims in general, will be able with time to move towards democracy. But you have to practice it, you have to work at it. There is no reason why Muslims should inherently be incapable of expressing democracy.

Furthermore, Islamists, interestingly, themselves are increasingly outspoken about the need for democracy and human rights. Why would they talk about that? Very simple: because they see themselves as the primary victims of the absence of democracy and human rights. They feel “If there were elections, we would win; if there were more human rights, our fellow party members would not be in jail being tortured to death or arrested or disappearing.”

You could say, “That’s all instrumental, they’ll just use this to get power, and would they then honor democracy?” You find some Islamists who have said some not-so-great things. The number two man in Algeria, Ali Benhadj, said that democracy was incompatible with Islam. That was not a smart thing to say. If you wanted to give the military any excuse for intervening, that was it.

Quite a number of years ago, the leader of the present Turkish Islamist party said that democracy is like a bus: you get on and you go along until you get to the right stop and then you get off. I’m not terribly enamored of that statement, but this guy has learned something in the last few years.

There are excellent grounds within the Qur’an to explain why you should have democracy, that the ruler must consult. Some Islamists, more radical ones, say, “No, no, you can’t, because God is the ultimate sovereignty.” Antonin Scalia also said the same thing, that God is the ultimate source of sovereignty, or legislation.

Even if we assume that God is the ultimate sovereign and not the people, still God gave mankind the ability to think and to process rational thought; therefore, you must interpret these religious directives if you are going to implement them. There is great debate about what the Qur’an means, as there is about the Bible today in this country: do you take it literally, do you take it metaphorically?

Does the CIA understand it? If there is any institution in Washington that does understand it fairly well, I’d have to put them at the top of the list, because that’s their sole job, in principle, until Bush decided that they should get into the assassination game, which I am very uncomfortable with on many grounds.

The State Department does very well, except that they have some other tasks to do as well. There is no lack of understanding, but it’s just a question of how much does it filter through to the policy level. The problem is that very few policymakers are willing to take risks. And, as always, not just about political Islamists, the short-term policies are the enemy of the long-term policies.

QUESTION: I agree 100 percent with your comments about Turkey and the current government and how they came to power. The Turkish electorate is so disgusted by all the corruption of the other parties that have come to power that they thought, “Let’s try them as our last chance.”

I am to be on a panel with the wife of the Egyptian Ambassador soon on women and Islam. In doing some research, I discovered that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States. Why is it becoming so popular among Christians in a country like the U.S.?

GRAHAM FULLER: A good question which I can’t fully answer because I don’t spend a lot of time looking at U.S. Islam. A couple of quick thoughts.

First, one of the reasons why Islam is growing very rapidly is immigration, with greater numbers of Muslims coming into this country -- most of them at a professional level, which is very good for the Muslim community. This is quite different from England, where many of them have been at the working-class level.

Secondly, I don’t have figures, but a large number of those who are converting to Islam tend to be from the African-American community.

And here we come to identity questions again, with African-Americans feeling their own very legitimate grievances for the past in this country, searching for an independent identity. In the search for an independent identity and culture of which you could be proud there are links between African-Americans and Islam.

And now Latinos. My guess would be that again it is a search for an alternative identity.

QUESTION: In the last 2,000 years there were two outstanding social reformers -- I’m trying to simplify this -- one was Jesus and the other was Mohammad. They each gave the lowest person on the totem pole some hope that his life would become better.

How can you study political Islam without also studying Christianity’s record, which is shameful in many respects, and one of the most brutal histories of the last 2,000 years?

GRAHAM FULLER: I decided that it was useful to look at Christian history in looking at why and how Islam developed. The Reformation is particularly fascinating.

If you go back and read about the Christian Reformation in Europe, there are astonishing parallels with political Islam -- attacking and critiquing the old Catholic Church for having corrupted the message and the corruption of the institutions, and getting back to the pure faith and creating the pure community, and attacking political authority and its corruption. There were even communes -- Calvin set up a community of God in Geneva

I don’t want to suggest that Islam is 500 years behind the times, but I am suggesting that every religion has gone through these stages, and Islam’s progress has been in part retarded by imperial control that took away self-responsibility. Perhaps if they had been responsible for themselves totally and without external intervention, they might have identified these things a little better.

If you were an Iraqi where Saddam Hussein takes your first son, sends him off to die in Iran in a feckless war that Saddam began, and your second son gets sent to Kuwait and gets killed, then the father protests and is hauled off to jail, tortured to death and the body is thrown on the doorstep with a bullet in the head and a bill for the bullet, and then American B-52’s come in and bomb your house, what kind of control do you feel that you have over your life? There is not much that some of these people can do.

I don’t want to take the blame off them. Muslims have to do it for themselves. But that’s where we come back to democracy again: “You take the responsibility; you choose the person; get rid of the person if you don’t like him; talk about what’s wrong;” in most places, you’re not allowed to talk about what’s wrong.

So we get into a very ugly cycle.

QUESTION: There is a qualitative difference between the striking back I was used to hearing about growing up -- Castro in Cuba striking military installations, or the NLF in Vietnam striking our military installations – and guys blowing up teenagers and pizza parlors, or in the case of Saddam, rolling over a tiny country next door. Why is it admirable to strike back?

GRAHAM FULLER: First, I am horrified by the level of violence that has emerged, and particularly among some of these very extreme Islamist movements in recent times.

If you look back 100 years, one of the great fears internationally was anarchy, the anarchists, who were at the turn of the twentieth century very much a feared movement, or “communists behind everything.”

Again, if you are weak, you use whatever weapons are available, and it’s an old cliché that terrorism is the weapon of the weak.

I don’t know if there is a huge moral difference between blowing somebody up from 20,000 feet or from twenty feet, when civilians in both cases are killed.

The frustrations are there on both sides. Muslims in many cases are likely to prefer to go down or be shot down in the act, rather than do nothing if they feel that there is no other recourse. Is there another recourse? That is the debate.

QUESTION: You alluded to a number of the external causes of the frustration both in your analysis of what went wrong and in your projections, but you didn’t elaborate on that. You are right in putting the blame on Islamic societies and movements. But could you also reflect on the role of the external community and its role in future engagement with the Islamic world?

GRAHAM FULLER: Ultimately, the problem is for Muslims to work out themselves. There is no imposed solution. We can remove Saddam Hussein, but still we cannot impose a functioning society on Iraq; the Iraqis have to do this themselves.

From the point of view of the West, we need to address some of the highest concerns, grievances and source of problems. The first problem that must be attended to now is that of Palestine. It has become a symbol of everything that is wrong.

I am even optimistic that, given different leadership among the Palestinians, a solution is possible.

Avoiding interventionism in the Muslim world is extremely important, but in general I am anti-interventionist if possible. Latinos are very unhappy about constant American interventionism, especially during the Cold War, when we intervened endlessly, either covertly or overtly.

Problems in globalization are extreme. Globalization is a wonderful thing, but terrorism is part of globalization, globalization brings winners and losers everywhere, including in this country inevitably. If globalization is a good thing, what do you do about the losers? What do we do in this country when there are losers within the capitalist system?

I would love to see Americans be a little more aware of the rest of the world. As the world’s only superpower, we are lousy at understanding anyone else. We are born with an inherent disadvantage, which means growing up American guarantees that we do not have a feel for the politics of most of the rest of the world. If you are born in Chile or Burundi, you have a better sense of the problems of Iraq or Vietnam than you do if you grow up in America, because the problems and difficulties of life in the developing world are very common, but to us they are incredible or unknown or exotic or boring.

Because we’re the world’s only superpower, we don’t need to worry about what others think. But if you go overseas, they are incredibly informed about what we are doing in fine details. But for us, unless they bomb the World Trade Center, do we care what they think?

JOANNE MYERS: I thank you for joining us.

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