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A Conversation With Guiliani Foreign Policy Guru Charles Hill

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The New York Sun described Yale Professor Charles Hill as Rudy’s foreign policy brain today.  In an interview with me today Professor Hill was quick to counter the idea that anyone thinks for Rudy, but here’s the transcript of that conversation:

HH: Special guest now. Professor Charles Hill has long been around foreign policy circles in the United States at the very most senior levels, having been a senior advisor to George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, indeed Ronald Reagan. He now teaches at Yale a couple of courses which are widely known. And today, he is the subject of a story in the New York Sun by Eli Lake, “Meet Giuliani’s New Brain On Foreign Policy.” Professor Hill, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. 

CH: Hello, glad to be here.

HH: Now Professor, in the article in the New York Sun today, it seems like you’re putting some distance between Rudy Giuliani and Norman Podhoretz. Was that the intent in your interview with the Sun? 

CH: No, it wasn’t. The intention to the questions that were being asked was simply to clarify that Mayor Giuliani has a lot of advisors, and Norman Podhoretz is one of the senior advisors. And we really admire the work that he’s done, the thought positions that he’s taken, deeply felt and well worked out. We want to hear from his, and we do on a regular basis. But he’s one of many advisors that are part of the process that we go through. None of them speak for Rudy Giuliani. None of them advise him directly. That all goes through a process that we have, and which is very structured. What needs to be looked at, if you want to know what the Giuliani campaign and the Mayor stand for, is Rudy Giuliani’s words himself. So that was the point of trying to clarify that in that interview.

HH: Now the Mayor’s been a guest on this program a number of times. We always enjoy talking foreign affairs with him, But we’ve also had a number of foreign affairs experts over the last six months, from Thomas P.M. Barnett and the Pentagon’s New Map, and Walter Russell Mead just on Friday for a couple of hours, to Norman Podhoretz, and of course, Bernard Lewis of Princeton. And they’re on a spectrum concerning the central challenge of our time, the Islamist threat. Where do you fall, Professor Hill, among that sort of constellation of advisors in assessing that threat from radical Islam, both Sunni and Shia? 

CH: Well, I don’t know enough…I mean, I know something about, I guess, all of those people. But I don’t think of myself alongside one or another of them. But I think that the threat from Islamist terrorist attack from particularly the ideology of the Islamist is the number one challenge that international order, world order, and of course, the United States at the forefront of maintaining that, faces now and in the foreseeable future.[# More #]

HH: Now I don’t want to be too compressing of their theories, but Walter Russell Mead and Mr. Barnett believe sort of in connectivity, in that the maritime system will eventually bring radical Islam to heel as it’s brought communism to heel. But then you’ve got Norman Podhoretz and Bernard Lewis saying no, the hour is late, the need is urgent. How do you figure between those two sort of we’ll be fine, and we’ve got to act poles? 

CH: Well, we have to act. And I think it’s in that order we have to act. And if we act, and if we act with strong will, with a plan, knowing what we’re doing, then in the longer run, we will be fine. The problem, I think, is that as you see the kind of debates and discourse that are coming out of Washington, that’s not the way it’s being couched. It’s more that well, there’s this problem and then that problem, and Iraq is a standalone problem. And if just sort of solve that, that things will be much better. That is not at all the way I see it. I think this is not a matter for disaggregation, but for aggregation. We have to look at this in terms of the connections between the various fronts in this war that we are in, whether that’s Afghanistan or whether it’s Londonistan, and realize that this is world-spanning challenge.

HH: Professor Hill, has progress been made, in your view, within the kingdom of Saudi Arabia towards turning off not just the money, but the export of radicalism? 

CH: I think that if you want to call it progress, there’s been some change, and it’s when there’s some change, we want to try to do what we can to enlarge upon that. I think it comes from primarily the Saudi’s awakening to the reality that the path they’ve been on for a long, long time is not serving them, their own interests well, and in fact, may be endangering their own rule. So I can see some shifts in mentalities there. The shifts in actual practice are much slower to come. But it’s not what it was two or three years ago. The very fact that in 2003, I remember very well back then reading the New York Times one morning, I think it was about this time of year, and seeing a little, tiny box way up back on Page A-22 that said that there was yesterday a firefight going on between Saudi military units and al Qaeda. And it was taking place in Mecca. 

HH: Wow. 

CH: And I said wait a minute, you’re telling me that a firefight between al Qaeda and the Saudi army in Mecca yesterday, in the year 2003, isn’t worthy of being on page one? Well, I don’t know why the media does this, but they do it. But I think that if that didn’t get our attention, or the attention of the New York Times, it sure got the attention of the Saudis. So that’s when I begin to see some slight opening of the eyes there.

HH: You know, the parallel to that is I often have guests on from the world of Congress, not one of whom has yet read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. And so I wonder, is this country willing to be aware of this struggle? Or is it just counting on the good guys to keep the bad guys away? 

CH: Well, this is the American way, in some sense. We think that we’re good guys, and we think that if we’re good guys toward the other people in the world, that it’s all going to somehow come out right. You know, if we just listen to them, or we talk to them, then they’re reasonable people, we’re all human beings here, and it’s the way to do things. I had a conversation yesterday out in front of my office with a faculty member here who was saying just exactly that approach. Why don’t we just drop all the sanctions on Iran, why don’t we just don’t do any kind of threat, why don’t we simply go to them and say let’s just sit down and have a nice chat, and then things will be better. It’s an American, it’s a trusting American personality trait. And we’re in a world that is much tougher than that, and we’ve got to realize it.

HH: If candidate Giuliani became President Giuliani, would advisor Hill advise him to be tougher in public and in speech on the Saudis, or keep that pressure to the private side of the conversation? 

CH: We have to be tough and clear, and we have to see the openings that are taking place, and I think that there are some. We do not, this is a difficult, sensitive territory. And the approach of Rudy Giuliani, first of all, is to get results. What is the way…if you look at the…at anything you want to look at, when you look at a company, you look at the city of New York, you look at the international system, there’s a system everywhere that you’re looking. And the point is, is this system working, is this system in the Middle East as it applies to the system of world order working? And the answer is no. And so what we’re going to do is get results, and that may mean that sometimes, you’re going to be doing things in private, and sometimes, you’re going to be doing them in public.

– – –  – 

HH: Professor Hill, looking forward to Barry Rubin, he wrote a piece two days ago that elements within Fatah had attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Olmert on a recent, planned visit to meet with President Abbas. And he further goes on to argue that look, this Annapolis thing is doomed. Do you agree that basically, we’re in a situation where Israeli-Palestinian politics are frozen for the foreseeable future? 

CH: Well, the Israelis don’t seem to think so, and so we have to let that go forward. They are in discussions with the Palestinian Authority. This is something that we’ve got to realize is extremely risky. We have to be very concerned about it, because the possibility of real trouble if it fails, the likelihood that it will fail is very high, or even dominating just would mean more hideous violence. And we’ve seen this again and again when people push the process too far and too fast trying to make a big breakthrough. Expectations are aroused, they are not fulfilled, somebody uses that as an excuse to start the conflict again at a high level, and we just have a disaster on our hands. So this is something to be very, very wary of, and very suspicious of. On the other hand, it is going forward, there are changes in the region, those changes are potentially monumental, and they have to do with the rise of Iran, Iran’s use of terrorism, Iran’s movements toward nuclear weapons, the recognition, as we’ve talked about a little earlier here by some of the Arab regimes that policies they’ve been following in the past are not the right ones for their own interest, and their willingness to perhaps reach out a little bit in directions they haven’t done so before in order to try to shift gears a bit. So I can see that the prime minister of Israel would want to go forward with this very carefully. We have to sort of watch it, but we very, very wary.

HH: Now Professor Hill, I mentioned Thomas P.M. Barnett earlier. He has bluntly stated look, there’s a clash coming between Sunni and Shia, and we’ve got to get out of the way. And when the bloodletting is over, we can help pick up the pieces. What’s your assessment of that rather fatalistic approach to Middle Eastern tectonic plates hitting each other? 

CH: Well, that’s one of the civil wars in the Middle East. There are two civil wars in the Middle East. The other one is between those forces and elements that do not want to be part of the established world order, and those that do want to be part of it, they do want to be states, legitimate recognized states in the international system, and have been in the past, and trying to play both sides of the fence. What we’re seeing now, and those two have been at war with each other, and they are today, one is al Qaeda, and the other would be Saudi Arabia. What we’re seeing on that front the Saudis and some others changing a little bit, as I said. But that tie in with the Sunni/Shia matter, and I think what we may be seeing here is the Shia, the colossus, and that’s what Iran wants to be with its connection to Shia all across what might be described as an archipelago across the Middle East, beginning to create a coalition of Sunni regimes to confront it. And those Sunni regimes are turning toward the U.S. as they begin to think this through again. And in some strange way, they even seem to be getting into more of a different attitude toward Israel itself. But between the two, we’ve got Iraq, which is a Shia-run government, and that’s going to be in some sense the buffer between the two. That buffer may, if it’s done correctly, if the U.S. conducts its policy correctly, Iraq will be on our side of the fence, and there will not be necessarily a Sunni-Shia war.

HH: I appreciate your time, Professor Hill. One last question with about a minute left. If Iran cannot be deterred from its nuclear ambitions, vis–vis these sanctions, would you counsel Mayor Giuliani, if he becomes President Giuliani, to use force if necessary to stop them? 

CH: Well, Mayor Giuliani will make those decisions. He knows that, he doesn’t need my counsel. He’s a guy who doesn’t need advising. He has his views very well worked out on this. But I think it’s pretty clear that Iran must be stopped, and there are sanctions that have to be put in place, and if they can’t be multilateral, and it looks like that’s stalled out, then they’ll have to be unilateral, and there may be more, there must be more that we can do on that. But the time is going to come, if Iran does not turn back, and there’s no signs that it is turning back, when we have to find some way to nullify that nuclear weapons program one way or another.

HH: Professor Charles Hill, I appreciate the time. I look forward to having you back as soon as is possible. I appreciate it very much.

End of interview.


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