From Vision and Values:Egypt confronts modernity – Q&A with Herbert Meyer

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July 9, 2013 | by  | Topic: The Global ChallengePrint Print

In light of the turmoil in Egypt, The Center for Vision & Values contacted its longtime friend Herb Meyer. Mr. Meyer was special assistant to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Reagan administration. He also served as vice chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. Mr. Meyer is the author of two eBooks, “How to Analyze Information” and “The Cure for Poverty.”

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 forward.

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 military power.

*Herb Meyer served as special assistant to CIA Director Bill Casey from 1981-87. He was Casey’s right-hand man at the CIA in the 1980s, where he joined Casey and Ronald Reagan as a central player in the take-down of the Soviet Union. He is the author of “How to Analyze Information” and “The Cure for Poverty.”

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