On September 11, 2001, hours after planes crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Yale professor Charles Hill stood in front of a lecture hall and put the events in context for his students, recounting the history of modern terrorism since the 1970s. As a former diplomat who worked behind the scenes for both Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, it was a subject with which he was intimately familiar.
“This was an act of war, and that requires you to go to war,” he said, former student Molly Worthen wrote in her biography The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost: The Grand Strategy of Charles Hill. “Some generations of Americans — thank God not every one — have a war. My war was the Vietnam War. This is your war. I believe it can be fought honorably, and it can be fought for good reasons, and it can be fought with minimal civilian casualties. You have to decide to fight it, and decide that you can win.”
Nearly six years later, Hill spoke with The American Spectator about that war, only this time it was in his capacity as the chief foreign policy adviser to Rudy Giuliani, a man who entered the national stage on that fateful day, and whose rational for seeking the presidency is rooted in his determination to keep America “on offense” against terrorism.
While candidates often choose advisers with sterling resumes to add symbolic heft to their campaigns, it is pretty apparent in talking with Hill and listening to Giuliani’s speeches that their connection goes deeper. From the broader questions posed by the terrorist threat, to specific challenges such as Iran, their way of looking at the world is eerily similar. Hill said the campaign reached out to him earlier this year, and in discussions with Giuliani, he noticed that their views were very compatible.
“I found that he had a broad credibility and outlook on the world situation,” Hill said of meeting with Giuliani. “I was especially impressed with the way he understood what is happening now.”
When I listened to Hill describe how Americans are just beginning to comprehend the terrorist threat that has been with us since at least the 1970s, I was reminded of Giuliani’s speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention. “Terrorism did not start on September 11, 2001,” Giuliani said at the time. “It had been festering for many years. And the world had created a response to it that allowed it to succeed. The attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics was in 1972.”
TO HILL, ONE OF THE BIGGEST challenges we face in fighting terrorism is that the international mechanisms that we have established to deal with past threats are not applicable to it. This is one of the key differences between the War on Terror and the major ideological conflict of the 20th century.
“The Cold War was of course a long war,” Hill said. “It was an ideological war being waged against the international system by a communist ideology that opposed every element of the international system, starting with the state. But the communists did in some sense participate within the system. They did conduct diplomacy. They did have embassies. They did have a professional military. What we are facing today is a war being waged on us by an ideology that is just as virulent, just as vitriolic as communism, and maybe more so, in its views of the international system, and its determination to undermine it and to destroy it and to replace it. But it has none of the attributes. It does not conduct diplomacy. It doesn’t apply by the laws of war. It has no professional army. It regards the state as an abomination. It regards democracy as an abomination.”
What is needed, said Hill, is “an adjunct to the established international system that will deal with enemies, or combatants, that simply don’t fit the kind of mechanisms that have been developed for decades and generations to deal with international conflicts.”
While he doesn’t believe the conflict against terrorism has yet reached the “scale and the danger” of the Cold War, he warns that it has the potential to get to that point. “It will be there if the Middle East is lost,” he said. “And that means that we have got to do something in the next three to five years, and it means we have to get the job done in Iraq. If Iraq goes, then that’s the lynchpin and the whole thing can collapse.”
Hill is dismayed by the defensive posture in Washington regarding Iraq, and said that there is a certain eagerness among the media to see the U.S. defeated. He traces the origins of this defeatism all the way back to the initial invasion, when U.S. tanks stopped en route to Baghdad and the media reported that they were “bogged down.”
WHEN HE WORKED UNDER under George Shultz in the Reagan State Department, Hill was one of the voices opposing the decision to pull U.S. Marines out of Lebanon. He supported changing the mission, but feared that leaving in the wake of the Marine barracks bombing would send a dangerous signal to terrorists. His fears ended up being validated more than a decade later, when Osama bin Laden pointed to the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon in making his case that America was a paper tiger.
“From their point of view, they can see it in Beirut in 1983, Somalia in 1993, that when they inflict harm on American forces, the American government of the time will go away, pull our troops out,” Hill said. “To them, they’re on the winning road here to success. In Iraq, that’s been stopped, because we haven’t left. But if we do, under these circumstances, as the voices in Washington are calling upon us to do, we will once again prove bin Laden correct.”
One of the biggest foreign policy questions all Republican candidates will have to grapple with in the coming election is to what extent they will embrace President Bush’s new Wilsonianism, which sees spreading democracy throughout the Middle East as necessary for our own security. Giuliani, whose foreign policy team also includes neoconservative icon Norman Podhoretz, is unlikely to abandon the idea of promoting democracy. But the way Hill describes it, Giuliani’s approach will be rooted in realism and focused on measuring tangible results. “America stands for democracy, and it always will,” Hill said. “It has to stand for democracy. We can’t turn away from that, but we have to do it in a way that’s realistic and Rudy Giuliani has talked about the realistic piece.”
Hill speaks not in terms of seeking to establish “full blown” democracy suddenly, but in terms of helping to initiate a process of democratization. And Giuliani, who as mayor made the use of statistics a central part of his strategy for combating crime in New York City, has promised to use similar methods of measurement to confront challenges domestically and overseas.
“So it’s not saying democracy is some kind of ideal up in the sky,” Hill said. “It’s that democracy is a necessity if you’re going to arrive at some point at good governance.”
AT YALE, HILL IS A LONELY conservative voice in a bastion of liberalism. Worthen’s biography describes how in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Hill pushed back against the popular narrative among much of the faculty that American foreign policies were to blame. A similar debate over the “blowback” theory triggered the heated exchange between Giuliani and Ron Paul this May that has remained one of the most memorable moments of the election season.
“Our domestic political complaints are almost always focused on the present, and they’re almost always focused on some assertion that we brought it on ourselves,” Hill told TAS. “That something we did caused this. And if we would just change our ways, that the problem would disappear. And that’s simply, for anybody who has paid any attention to the enemy and the enemy’s statements, and how long it’s been going on, it simply isn’t so.”
Hill points out that while many people now say that Britian is a target of terrorists because former Prime Minister Tony Blair supported U.S. policies in Iraq, statements by bin Laden and Al Qaeda more than ten years ago demonstrated that the terrorists can come up with all sorts of reasons why Britain is a major target, dating back to Britain’s war against the Mahdi in Sudan in the 1890s and the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
“The list of grievances goes back 40, 50, 60, 80 years, and even more than that, so our adversaries have got a lot of good reasons that they’re perfectly ready to tell us, why they’re after us and why they’re after the British,” he said. “So making up these reasons are just concoctions by which they hope to get us to stop defending ourselves.”
Hill, who also worked as an adviser to former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is under no illusions about the institution.
“The U.N. is all the things that everybody always says it is in terms of being ineffectual, and ailing, and avoiding the worst problems, and bureaucratically mismanaged, and in many ways corrupt, but the U.N. can be used in an effective way if you’ve got the right kind of leadership and determination,” Hill said. “But it has to be done in the sense that if you go to the U.N. and you expect it to take its part in international security, it should respond, and if it doesn’t respond, then we’ll just have to go around it.”
But he also thinks that we shouldn’t devote too much energy to lamenting its impotence. “The U.N. is not that important,” he said. “We should not exhaust ourselves in grousing and carping and complaining about the U.N. because it is a mechanism that’s there for us to use on our side of this war, and we’ve got real enemies out there that we need to give priority and attention to.”
WHEN IT COMES TO HANDLING nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran, Hill believes that the threat of military action has to be on the table to conduct diplomacy. “Strength and diplomacy have got to go hand in hand,” he said. “If you try to do diplomacy without strength, you’ll get nowhere.” He said that with Iran in particular, there has been progress on the sanctions front, but Europe has to put more financial pressure on the Islamic state, which depends on loan guarantees from European countries. He sees this as all part of the process of “moving the walls in on Iran, step by step.”
Critics of Giuliani have questioned his credentials on foreign policy, pointing out that the only elective office he has held is mayor. But having somebody with the stature and seriousness of Hill as the leader of his foreign policy team should go a long way in countering those critics. In addition to Hill and Podhoretz, the list of advisers includes Steve Rosen, Martin Kramer, S. Enders Wimbush, Peter Berkowitz, and Kim R. Holmes.
“I don’t think there’s anybody running for president in either party that has an understanding in a comprehensive way of the world situation that Rudy Giuliani does,” Hill said.
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