Q&A with Herbert Meyer Special assistant to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Reagan Administration, Herbert Meyer, comments on the turmoil in Egypt in this Q&A from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College:
V&V – Herb, do you have any thoughts about what’s going on in Egypt?
Meyer – It’s good to hear from you! I could write a 2,000-word essay on the
turmoil in Egypt. Come to think of it, I did write a 2,000-word essay on the
turmoil in Egypt more than two years ago. To the best of my knowledge,
absolutely no one read that piece.
V&V – You are a tremendous analyst, Herb, and we’re not surprised that you saw
this coming. After all, you were way out front in forecasting the demise of the
Soviet Union for President Reagan and CIA Director Bill Casey. Are our
intelligence services in regular contact with you? Have you had opportunities to
mentor young analysts?
Meyer – No one in our intelligence service has the slightest interest in
checking in with me from time to time. I’d love to help teach an entire new
generation of analysts how to do it. When I was there we ALWAYS stayed in touch
with those who came before us – we always figured we could learn from them, even
if we disagreed with them from time to time – but apparently the current crowd
doesn’t do that. There’s always tomorrow….
V&V – Recently, and before the lid came off Egypt, you had a fascinating
conversation with Rush Limbaugh. Please share some of the insights that you
shared with him. They seem remarkably relevant right now.
Meyer – As I said in that conversation with Rush, the world is becoming modern.
This is really what "the war" is all about. Islam is finally starting to do what
Christianity and Judaism did centuries ago: figure out how to reconcile faith
with the modern world. In effect, the Islamic world has started to write the
code for Version 2.0. This is a momentous development in world history. Remember
that it took us a long time to get it right, so to speak, and we shouldn’t
expect the Muslim world to accomplish this overnight.
For 30 years, Hosni Mubarak kept Egypt from becoming modern. He and his military
took control of the economy, and they wrecked it. This is a country of 90
million people, half of whom are illiterate, 70 percent of whom live on the land
– and which imports half its food. This was okay with U.S. policymakers, because
in return for keeping Egypt from moving forward Mubarak kept the peace with
Israel. At some point the lid on this pressure cooker had to blow off, and
that’s what happened last year. It was idiotic for all of our (self-proclaimed)
professional conservatives to say we should have urged Mubarak to put the lid
back on. That cannot be done; at least, not without gunning down 20,000 or
30,000 protestors and then explaining that the U.S. said it would be okay….
V&V – An apology to you, Herb. We followed your analysis about the Muslim world
going through convulsions on the way to becoming more modern, that is to say,
more liberal and free in the classical sense. Frankly, we thought you were
wrong. You called the February 2011 Egyptian revolution, just a
"half-revolution." You predicted that the Egyptians would seek more freedom than
what they would get under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Meyer – Apology accepted, and thank you! Morsi did absolutely nothing to make
Egypt "modern" and, in fact, was taking it backwards. Moreover, Egypt now is on
the verge of mass starvation. The country is dead broke – its only successful
industry, tourism, no longer exists. It’s this prospect of mass starvation that
brought 20 million Egyptians into the streets this month. They’re running out of
food, and also fuel. I don’t know if they’ll "get it right" this time. But if
they don’t – well, they’ll try again and keep trying until Egypt is finally on
the road to modernity. It’ll probably be a mess for a while, but as I keep
pointing out, in the real world there’s no rewind button. You can only go
If U.S. policy would focus on "modernity" we would have a global framework on
which to base our policies, and on which to decide which groups we support in
other countries and which we oppose.
V&V – By modernity, you mean liberal government in which the state serves the
individual while the institutions of church and state allow for the unleashing
of human creativity and economic freedom. Is that correct? If so, are you
calling for a U.S. global framework that includes more military intervention in
support of Islamic factions moving toward modernity?
Meyer – You’ve got it precisely. We want the world to become "modern" for
several reasons. First, modernity will bring a massive reduction in poverty.
Second, societies that are modern and increasingly prosperous become
middle-class societies. And middle-class societies are less likely than failing
societies to start wars. Human nature is imperfect, but we’ll be safer when the
overwhelming majority of people in the Islamic world would rather have a
Starbucks on the corner than a car bomb; when they’d rather see a Wal-Mart or an
IKEA being built in their neighborhoods than another radical mosque.
Keep another point in mind: As the world emerges from poverty, it means the
total customer base for every product and service American and other
Western-based companies can provide will grow enormously. And that will create
the jobs we need in our own countries for our young people.
So, if our policymakers in Washington would start to see the world through this
prism of "modernity," they’d have a clear idea of what we want to happen, of
whom we support and whom we oppose, and of when to just let events run their
course and when our interests require us to intervene, either with money or
— Mr. Herbert Meyer was special assistant to CIA Director Bill Casey in the
Reagan Administration from 1981 – 1987. He also served as the vice chairman of
the CIA’s National Security Council. Meyer is the author of "How to Analyze
Information" and "The Cure for Poverty."
© 2013 by The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The views &
expressed herein may, but do not necessarily, reflect the views of Grove City
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