In this episode of High Noon with Inez Stepman, Inez interviews Rebeccah Heinrichs. Heinrichs is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and an adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school for national affairs. She specializes in national security, international relations, arms control, and missile defense, and she has served as an expert in that capacity in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Heinrichs and Stepman discuss the impact of our incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan on the future of American foreign policy and on our relationships with our allies. They also search for a middle ground between isolationism and nation-building around the world, and what a hard-headed, realistic foreign policy might look like. Ultimately, Heinrichs argues, our foreign policy success is dependent on us reclaiming what it means to be American here at home.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11, just behind us, I wanted to bring on Rebeccah Heinrichs here to High Noon to do a little bit of a retrospective on American power, both in the world and at home. Rebeccah is the perfect person to discuss this with because she’s a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She’s an adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, which is a grad school for national affairs experts and she specializes in national security, international relations, arms control, missile defense, and all subjects of that nature. She served in that capacity in the U.S. House of Representatives and she’s been engaged on these issues for many years. So it’s a pleasure to have you Rebeccah, welcome to High Noon.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
I want to start off with the anniversary that we just went through, last weekend. I mean, it really felt, I think for a lot of people I know for myself it felt… It was a really heavy, difficult anniversary, and it’s really difficult not to look at that anniversary as a depressing bookend on the last two decades, considering that the Taliban marked the occasion by formerly instituting their government in Afghanistan, after U.S. withdrawal, after 20 years of U.S. presence. What does that mean for American power? What does this moment mean for American power in the world? And what does it mean for us going forward? What are the challenges we’re going to face in this new world where we are so uncertain of ourselves in our ability to project power?
So if I could I would… Just to zoom out to kind of see where we are relative to other powers, and this is something that the Trump administration did a great job at pushing this to the fore and forcing a lot of analysts and think tankers to grapple with this. Which is that, we are no longer the… I mean, we’re not in a unipolar world anymore. We haven’t been for some time, but even just the United States still has the strongest military and strongest economy, but only by a hair relative to what China can do to contest the United States. And so our country inherited a much stronger America relative to any other power after the Cold War and so it’s really been a bi-partisan squandering of that relative power since.
So that’s not to say that there’s been good things that have happened along the way to keep Americans safe, but our focus almost solely on the Middle East and these counter-terrorism efforts, the nation-building that all of us are all too painfully familiar with that failed in Afghanistan, that all of this drained the United States, but that’s not the only thing that we should point you to blame. So you see some of these folks who are more in favor of U.S. disengagement broadly, constantly point at the wars in the Middle East, but what they fail to point out, which I think is equally, if not more important, is it really is progressive ideas that are being implemented in the foreign policy establishment. Idealism, naivety about how to actually carry out and use American power smartly to defend the American people and defend our interests and our interests are, I would say making sure that the United States remains the preeminent power.
That’s how we can shore up our sovereignty. It enables us to not be under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party and to move and act in the world on terms that are most favorable to us and those things we can debate. We can talk about what those are, what we should be doing in various countries, but you don’t even have that option to do that if China becomes the world’s strongest military power and economy, which is what they’re doggedly determined to do. That’s a long way of saying, so what do we do about Afghanistan at this point? I mean, I’ve been in favor over the last four or five years of drawing down in Afghanistan, meaning going all the way down to a minimum force so that we’re only doing what the military can do and can do well, which is kill terrorists and support the Afghan army, but don’t do any of the other nation-building stuff.
Don’t act like a mediator in between the Taliban and the Afghan government; leave that stuff alone, kill terrorists, providing close air support and continue to have the Afghan army doing a lot of the ground operations and then keep that Bagram Air Base. I forget the exact, it’s like 30 square miles, the whole air force installation. It’s just massive. It’s massive and it’s right there bordering China and you had NATO forces that could operate and cooperate with the United States too. So now we can, we can shift our mission to having a China-centric mission, keeping China out to from accessing rare earth minerals, that kind of thing in Afghanistan. And also just busting up these terrorism cells while we had sources and methods in the country.
Of course, it’s not what Joe Biden did. He went through with a precipitous withdrawal. A really quick withdrawal when, when we saw things were going very badly and that what we thought was going to happen wasn’t happening. He was so ideologically rigid about getting out that he wouldn’t adapt and change what he was doing. I think that ideological rigidity is the same kind of ideological rigidity that you had in the people who thought we could build this progressive liberal democracy with the pride flag flying at everything from our embassy and in Afghanistan, it’s just for different ends. You have to have a dedication to principles and prioritization, and then willingness to adapt when the facts change, which is not what the Biden administration has done and then my last point, I’d say, before we move on, you see a lot of Biden defenders say, look he got out of Afghanistan so that he can focus on our primary threat, which is China, but we keep hearing that but again, this is still mostly rhetoric.
I mean, it’s mostly rhetoric about taking on China in this very soft-toned way in which our secretary of state communicates. It has not been backed up by moving military forces into the Indo-Pacific region that we would need to, to deter China. It’s taking the foot off the gas, on going after Chinese spies in the United States that have infiltrated our higher education system and then, of course, you have all the domestic politics where the Biden administration is just being extremely divisive domestically, which is directly incompatible with what we need to have a whole of society approach to deterring China and bolstering our own country to meet the threats that we have today. So I’m afraid that the Biden administration has really sort of embraced this managing decline, rather than fighting for American preeminence, which is what the previous administration to my mind was determined to do.
Let’s talk about the fact that there does seem to be a lot of, for the last 20 years, there seem to be a lot of overlap between the experts and the people who were working in, with perhaps some exceptions under the Trump administration, because Donald Trump did come from the outside. Some of the people he hired were sort of typical Republican hires for every Republican administration, but a few of them were not. So I think you know more than I do, it probably did result in a foreign policy that in some ways was different. At least Donald Trump rhetorically was different on foreign policy than previous Republican presidents, but that aside, it really seems like for the last… Since the end of the cold war, really American foreign policy hasn’t had sort of a grand strategy.
Obviously, we went into the Middle East in response to what happened 20 years ago on 9/11. And initially that seemed like a very obvious national interest to defend Americans and to go kill the people who had struck our Homeland in such a terrible way, but we’ve even seen that obviously over the last couple of decades, that clarity there completely dissipate. What should American strategic… You mentioned one, which is to keep our preeminence, but how should we do that going forward? For a moment, and we will get to the fact that we’re domestically a mess. And I think there’s no way to talk about foreign policy anymore without talking about our own confidence in ourselves as a people. But if we pulled together if things turned around at home, what kind of moves would you be looking for from an administration that was interested in rebuilding American dominance?
Yeah, I would say it’s a great question. A few things. One, first of all, I would say that the Trump administration actually was a serious break from what we have seen over the last several decades and it’s really because, I’ve never argued that Donald Trump was a grand strategist, or he had this, even this fully formed, developed view of America’s role was. [crosstalk 00:10:01] Right, but the thing that Donald Trump had going for him that was a useful tool for breaking a lot of glass that needed to be broken was, he approaches foreign policy with a Team USA Jersey. And so, the old arguments like, Mr. President, you can’t do that because it’s going to upset our allies in part, for instance, think of pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, or some of the best things he did, just ending this arms control treaty that we had with the Russians that the Russians have been cheating for years and years and years on it’s called the INF Treaty.
I mean, that treaty prevented the United States from building the range and kind ground launch missiles that we would need to be able to hold the Chinese at risk. If we’re going to defend Taiwan for instance, and defend Guam. We weren’t able to build those things because of this treaty that we had with the Russians. Well the Russians have been cheating on it. So, you can imagine sort of this very conventional bipartisan Republican Democrats would both make this case. Sir, you can’t pull out of this treaty right now until the Germans want you to, and until the Europeans want you to. And Donald Trump was like, it doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would we stay party to a treaty when the other guys are cheating on it and we need to build those systems?
And I’ve heard some people say, “oh no, any Republican would have done that.” But when you look at the whole menu of things that Trump took that approach with, what’s in the interest of the United States, I’m tired of being taken for a sucker. We don’t have time to just maintain the status quo. We need to be doing things to change. And so that was just one example. He pulled out of that treaty and, actually, he just went to our allies and privately, something that I think was really good instead of some of Trump’s more public kind of brow-beating that he did with our allies, but he went privately and just told our NATO allies, we need to do this. We need to get out of this treaty and let’s get all on the same page.
And so NATO actually came out and supported the Trump withdrawal, which was amazing, but it had to do with pressure behind the scenes. So what I would love to see is more, taking into inventory our agreements and treaties, what are we doing that’s old and dated for the sake of this international order, that’s actually harming American sovereignty and power? And then shore up our military in a way that matches up with our rhetoric. That really the focus is the Pacific. We need to be a much more substantial Navy power then than what we are, and so we need a larger Navy. We need the kinds of missiles deployed now to the region. We need to be pressuring our allies to contribute more to collective defense. That’s something the Trump administration did. Biden came in saying, “I’m going to treat our allies better.”
And what that has essentially meant is, he took his foot off the gas on pressuring our allies to do more, but we need them to do more if the United States is going to be the one at the helm of the west—really, of the free world. Even just from our strictly realist view, meaning a clear-eyed assessment of the threats and U.S. interests and a very intentional eschewing of this very idealistic, liberal notion of sort of having this, international world order or an international government and relying on international institutions, I’m saying we’re still going to put American preeminence first. Our allies and partners have to understand that it’s either going to be the United States that throws around more weight, or it’s going to be China.
And that directly impacts them, and they need to do more to help and make sure that it’s the United States and not China. So I would love to see that, and I can go through the whole, I mean, there’re all kinds of examples domestically, shoring up our industrial policy to make sure that we’re not reliant on China for producing the things that this country needs to survive and to thrive, lots of things, but it’s going to take… I mean, the team that we have in the government right now, I mean, I think that they’re just really are ideologically progressive. And so they really do believe that they can achieve, even if they agree that we need to focus on China, the way they’re going about it is just not realistic and relies too much on just asking people to do things rather than using pressure and using the tools that we still have to get people to do what they need to do to help the United States deter China.
Yeah. I mean, I guess the depressing thing is, I wonder a lot of countries after this Afghanistan pullout, not just the fact that we left, but the way in which we left, the total incompetence on display at the top levels of American foreign policymaking and even military. Obviously not talking about people in the field, commanders in the field who did the best they could with the mission they were given, but on the highest levels of our military, I guess I’m wondering what a lot of countries… If you were a country, let’s say preparing for a bipolar world between, an essentially a cold war atmosphere between the U.S. and China, it’s no longer clear to me that the United States is the safe bet or ally that we were, at least even 15 years ago or 10 years ago it seems like. If you’re a country who obviously doesn’t like the way that… I mean, China is much less fair than the United States, and the way that it throws its influence around, they ask much more in terms of getting domestic concessions from countries to basically fall in line with the Chinese Communist Party propaganda.
They do that even in the United States. They try to anyway but between the power, that’s probably quote unquote, nicer the United States, but now seems in the decline. I mean, I guess the depressing thing to me is it’s no longer clear for me what the obvious call should be for a lot of other countries in the world. I mean, do you think that they’re looking at it that way, or am I being too depressed? Are there major American assets that I’m not you know, not taking into account when I’m looking at sort of the psychology of this?
No, I think that you’ve hit onto something that is… Which I have been very frustrated because I still consider myself, if I had to choose, are you an idealist or a realist? I would say, well, I’m a realist. Meaning that countries are going to act in what they perceived their own interests and that we need to have a realistic understanding of what human beings and human government can achieve and that it’s really the drivers in world affairs are countries. It’s not going to be this multinational organization. It’s not going to be multinational courts. It’s going to be countries that are very different, culturally, very different in the kinds of systems of government they have and how they have determined is best for their own citizens. Okay. But even within that school of thought, one of the things I’ve tried to convey to my friends who think, oh, just, bare-knuckle interests are going to are going to come into play.
And so our allies are going to look at Afghanistan and think, okay, that was terrible, but bottom line, we’re still going to work with the U.S. to deter an act of aggression against democratic Taiwan. The reason I think that is foolish: human beings are not purely logical. We’re not a bunch of Vulcans; we’re people, and so there’s a psychology involved here when you look at how the United States and, frankly, just even Joe Biden himself in not taking a call from Boris Johnson for like 30 hours when he kept trying to get through to him, when Afghanistan was just unraveling disastrously, when you see that happen and by the way, we still have Canadian citizens. I know at least Canada, I’m sure we have other allies who still have citizens in Afghanistan too, who are still trapped, American citizens, SIVs, and then other religious vulnerable groups who we still have ties with that certainly would qualify for asylum and who would be worthy of it in a variety of other countries.
I mean, this was bad, this was really bad, and it definitely tarnishes the United States’ reputation and the political capital that we have to go to these countries and then make these arguments that we are a reliable partner. We’re here to cooperate with you, we’re not going to make rash decisions that endanger your own citizens. When things start to go south, we’re willing to adapt to changing facts. I mean, all of those things are hugely important to make the argument that we are going to lead the way forward to a better reality for the free world. So I mean, the UK rebuked the president of the parliament. You have other allies speaking out about what a disaster it was and other countries? I’ve had Democrats even admit to me privately, no, Rebeccah you’re right where there’s going to be an Afghanistan effect, diplomatically.
And my hope is that, that we recover some of this by a different team of people. I mean, I don’t have hope for the Biden administration to be able to do it. Secretary Blinken is going to testify tomorrow, I think before the Senate. And he just had… I don’t even know how I would advise him to explain this away. President Biden was still defiant and defensive about the way he handled this and I think our allies are justified in being very concerned about how the United States is going to lead and be a cooperative partner. That’s not to say that there’s not things that they need to be doing and can be doing there. Absolutely, but it does seem like this administration is unable to have a clear-eyed understanding of what needs to be done and nor do we have a president who has the ability to speak and act in a way that we need for this time in history.
So we’re not in a good situation. My hope though, is that the situation isn’t dire, things are going to unravel further in the next three years that we can somehow skate by this in such a way so that we can get a different administration that might have a more realistic view of what needs to happen and more tact and ability to cooperate and make these arguments to our allies and partners that, what you just witnessed in Afghanistan and we’re going to continue to witness for, I think, years and years to come is not the new mark of the United States. And in that, we can do better than this.
You teach grad students, and I only took a couple classes in poli sci before I switched my major and I’m wondering how the next generation of foreign policy experts coming up are thinking about these problems, because what we just talked about has an element of psychology in it, right? It has an element of ideology and understanding that people are coming. They’re not necessarily always coming from some kind of like bloodless rational calculation but that was very much, at least in my sort of undergrad, poli sci courses. One of the reasons I decided to switch out majors was because they didn’t seem at that point, that the thing that I was thinking about the most in foreign policy to the extent that I was thinking about foreign policy was obviously, basically a post 9/11 world and our wars in the Middle East.
And they seemed incapable of factoring in, for example, genuine religious fervor into their calculations. And we saw that again, in some of the reports after Afghanistan, that some very high-level folks in the state department and in the military were like, we didn’t realize they really, really meant it. The inability to understand that there are factors in play in foreign policy, that aren’t just a calculation of numbers. I mean, do we have a core of young diplomats and people who are going to staff a state department that aren’t, for example, fully bought in to this progressive vision of international institutions being the most important or who understand that most people have an ironic attachment and an unashamed attachment to their own country self-interest and they don’t think about it in terms of this kind of bloodless global thinking. I don’t know, I’m not articulating myself particularly well but, are we producing people who can even play in the kind of world that you imagine or hope that we will be playing? Do they even understand the game, I guess is my question?
I would say yes. I would say one of the things that I have been surprised by and why I like teaching grad students, is my experience has been… Grad school can be where your thinking is ruined, and so I can get ahold of them and just talk to them about nuclear deterrence and strategic stability and geopolitical interest and what that looks like, and allies and partners. A lot of the progressive ideology is actually very counterintuitive. You really have to jump through all sorts of things to come to this position where you think like the Taliban really cares about the LGBTQ agenda. I mean, for you to get to the point where you’re like, oh, we should definitely shame them so that they are respectable international actors.
I mean, most just normal people who have normal jobs and normal lives coming from normal America, they go to college, they go to grad school can recognize that’s crazy. Now, assuming that these students don’t get totally ruined in undergraduate, one of the things I start off doing the first couple of classes is we spend a lot of time just studying the lead-up to the United States, dropping the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the reason that I do that is because I want them to take a hard, close, detailed look at Imperial Japan at the time. What was their culture doing? How they were they behaving because of their almost religious fervor and dedication to the emperor? How did they think about warfare? How were they using their women and children?
And we just stare at that, we kind of get out of our current cultural context and the political issues we deal with today and kind of go back and look at that. And then you have students who, even if they disagree on the decision, ultimately drop the bombs. They can totally understand why we did it, because you can understand that this is a country that had a completely different culture, different understanding of warfare, what they were trying to do. All of these things that went into their way in which they were fighting a war with the United States, the number of casualties, the risk that they’re willing to take the pain that they’re willing to take and continuing to fight. And so regimes, countries, governments, and regimes behave in the world in a way that matches who they are as a people, and that applies to the United States.
And so our challenge for Americans is also to make sure that we are not projecting on what we think other countries are going to do and how they’re going to behave based on how we would or what we think is rational and makes sense and so I do see a lot of grad students. I have a lot of grad students who come from former Soviet countries and, man, they get it. You try to explain this stuff to a Polish student, and it’s very obvious to them. And they burst out laughing a lot when I read aloud articles by some more progressive think tankers on some of this stuff, because it’s so obviously dumb and won’t work when you’re dealing with the Russian government. And so, I do think that there is great opportunity as long as we have enough people who are willing to spend the time and investments in these younger generations of people who are going to be influencing U.S. policy.
And then if there are nationals from these other countries going back and what they would expect, and how they would talk to Americans in a situation in which they’re dealing diplomatically with us. That’s why it’s so important that you can’t just divorce. If the United States just starts to act like this, just utterly callous. I mean, this notion that, that Biden just thought, hey, we did pretty good. Only 13 Americans were in my kill box that I set up and died. I mean, he almost has this like, I thought that was pretty good all things considered. That is atrocious, it’s atrocious and it was a disaster and a catastrophe of the U.S.’ own making.
And so we have to be constantly looking and making sure that we as a nation, one that we are behaving as we ought as the American character and how the United States, should, and not to behave with other countries with our adversaries and our allies and our dedication to protecting our own citizens and doggedly doing what is necessary to protect our own citizens. So yeah, I still have hope, but it takes a lot of investment. It takes a lot of investment. And my hope constantly is that we are cultivating enough professors and other people and mentors to spend the time that the next generations, they can see that. We need to have a clear-eyed assessment of what it means to be American. And then also how to interact in the world and deal with really bad guys who would love to harm Americans in the United States. And then also how to actually engender a desire among these other countries who would be much more favorable to the United States, still remaining at the helm and not turning it over to China. And frankly, their little brother Russia, because Russia and China are increasingly cooperating militarily because they have a shared interest in weakening the United States.
You really hit the nail or hit the problem on the head here, which is, I mean, you said we need a clear-eyed understanding of American national character. It’s not clear to me at all that we do have a shared understanding of what it means to be American and therefore how America should use its power and perhaps we were always a bit of a reluctant empire, right? I think we suffer a lot from this contradiction of being a former colony that became a preeminent global superpower. For example, I think the British, even though they’re in many ways to the left of us, they still kind of understand how to administer empire. They have a little bit less of… That kind of progressivism has seeped a little bit less into their understanding of dealing with other cultures, maybe because they did have this huge empire all over the world and unlike the United States, they at one point were completely the opposite of reluctant in terms of imposing administration on other cultures.
So perhaps this is sort of inevitable for the United States that we have a contradictory feeling about being an empire at all, or many of us don’t consider ourselves even an empire. But it does seem like our domestic crisis is now precluding our ability to deal in the international or geopolitical world. Given that’s the case. I mean, what can we hope for domestically, because we don’t want to make the same mistake that I think the left is making now, which is, they just pretend that the half of the country that disagrees with them politically doesn’t exist and they can either shut them up or they have no plan how to go forward as a country living alongside, for example, 75 million Trump voters. [crosstalk 00:31:09] How do we win this battle for our national character at home, I guess, is the difficult question that I’m asking you?
Yeah. Well, I would say, first of all, the rising politicians and influencers, for lack of a better word in policy who do what you do and who are writers and who are out on TV, making the argument for defending the heartland and the working-class Americans, I would just warn people that you cannot abandon the foreign policy conversation. There is a weariness that I’m sympathetic to. It says, listen, I don’t even trust our own FBI. I think that our own CDC is totally been hijacked by a left-wing ideology. Our public schools are rotten to the core. I mean yes, yes, yes. I can embrace and I understand all of that, but we can’t afford to hold the line. Or I would even just say shore up the line in foreign policy, because it’s all happening at once.
And you better believe as bad as the United States is at understanding our enemies. Our enemies are much better at understanding the United States. And so the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians, I mean, they’re all looking to some degree to take advantage, to exploit this political turmoil that the United States is really, it’s an identity crisis that our country is going through right now. And I really do see that we’ve got a severe problem where we have to, we have to get to retake what it means to be an American and how the government interacts with and treats, and frankly respects the sovereign, which is the people. And so we have to get through that, but that doesn’t mean that we can retreat from the world stage. I mean, that’s just going to accelerate our doom, so I cannot emphasize that enough.
I’m very sympathetic with a lot of the more eloquent, populous voices. But what tends to happen is those folks who are focused on the domestic part then say, and we don’t need NATO anymore. And we don’t need to be focused on what’s going on with Taiwan, forget Taiwan. That’s a very, very fast accelerated way for American decline. The United States and the American way of life will not be preserved if the United States is under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party. And so we have to, we have to be able to walk and chew gum. Fight these fights domestically with these government institutions that frankly need to be just, walked away from, and re-established in some other way but, we need a bunch of politicians and every day at the local levels of government getting involved and doing what needs to be done to protect American families, which of course, first things first, that’s why we care about American power.
It’s why we care about American military power and American economic power and our own sovereignty, is because we want to preserve the American way of life. And so you have to be able to understand both things and then articulate both things. And we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us. So, it can be something we can say, oh, we, we just have to do all of these things and it’s going to be incredibly difficult, but I’m not one of these people who have given up hope because decline is always going to be the result of what the American people accept and what they simply refuse to accept. And I’ve been actually encouraged at least. I mean, the Afghanistan disaster has been just horribly deflating for me, but what has been encouraging as you have seen, some of those individuals who have been more sympathetic to American retreat from the world stage has major buyer’s remorse for jumping on that bandwagon.
And they understand that, even if we can change, adapt, figure out how we can narrow our emissions, reduce what we’re doing, lean more on our allies and partners, American leadership is still indispensable. And it still matters how we go about doing this. And so it’s my hope that we can figure out this prudent way forward, where we care about the domestic issues. And frankly, think tankers, national security people hate getting involved in the culture wars. They hate it, but I always remind them it directly impacts, we need to be able to say, is the American regime or the American government, if you’re uncomfortable with the word regime, is the American government that you understand and that you want to protect it, does it make sense, for your understanding of what we’re trying to do here, that we are putting the pride flag on U.S. embassies in Muslim countries and in European countries, frankly the Vatican against the beliefs and values of people, it’s antagonistic.
Is that the same thing as representing the American flag? The LGBTQ flag, I would argue, it’s not, that represents a faction of the democratic party. It doesn’t represent what the United States is. Of course Americans want all individuals in these countries to be treated equally and with respect and have due process. Nobody supports how the Iranian regime treats homosexuals in Iran. That’s not the same thing as the LGBTQ flag, which represents this advocacy and glorifying and celebrating this sort of woke view of humanity. And so we have to have those hard conversations and we need to understand what it is we’re trying to do that works and then actually puts forward our own national interests. When our chairman of our joint chiefs of staff is defending White Fragility, the critical race theory book that in our military academies, we are in a bad place because that is going to be horribly divisive to our military, but not just divisive and bad, it confuses them about what it means to be an American and frankly it wastes time.
And when they should be focusing on how do we become the most lethal, effective, unified fighting force to defend the American people. And so we cannot just keep sticking our head in the sand because we just want to focus on national security. And that applies to people who just want to focus on domestic policy. You’re going to have to care about the national security foreign policy piece.
I guess I have to ask the unpleasant question. What if it is who we are? What if the power that America is still able to project, not just militarily, but culturally around the world is completely controlled by our institutions or cultural institutions in the United States that have been completely taken over by, let’s call them… there’s no real good word for them. I really hate the word wokes, but I keep using it on this podcast because I don’t have a better word to describe this ideology, but what if the apparatus of American empire is functionally controlled by the woke? Because that’s certainly how some of our allies are starting to feel, I mean, in France, you mentioned Poland, increasingly American influence is synonymous with the pride flag. And I don’t want to narrowly focus on LGBT issues. It’s actually much broader than that, but it is a representative but it’s increasingly like the more American influence is in a country, the more that’s synonymous with wokeism.
Right. No, I mean, I would argue that… I think this point deserves some clarification to the American flag. Should, if you understand it properly, represent due process, equal opportunity under the law, the dignity of the human being. So you don’t need this add-on pride flag to represent those things. So if what you care about is the dignity and of all individuals in Iran, they execute gays. We think that’s bad. That is a bad thing. It’s inconsistent with what we want the Iranian regime to do, but the American flag represents that. And so whenever you see this new ideological push, they actually think the United States flag does not represent that anymore, that they need a new flag, which is why you’re even seeing some of these crazy, critical theory advocates, public educators on these TikTok videos, teaching elementary school kids that really, they’re pledging allegiance to the LGBTQ flag rather than the American flag.
It actually is a takeover of the American regime, this new idea that’s just represented by the pride flag. So you’re right to point out it’s much larger than just how do you treat gay people in your country? That flag has become representative, which is why you saw BLM had strong statements about LGBTQ issues on their website, I think before that was taken down. And so it really is this…it’s identity politics breaking people up into these groups of people, but in ranking. So they’re born into… You think the American experiment was about how it doesn’t matter what you’re born into, that you have the ability to govern yourself and to make what you will out of your life and this new identity politics is saying, actually, you’re born almost like into this caste system. If you’re a white male, you’re here. If you’re a white woman, you’re here. If you’re a black woman, you’re here, if you’re a trans black woman, you’re like at the very top and it breaks people up into this, into all of these groups, it’s directly in contradiction to what the American experiment is and it’s supposed to be.
So I think we have to grapple with it. So the question of our time for conservatives intellectual conservatives. I think that the debate is, how far gone are we? To your question, how far gone are we? Do we Balkanize and just everybody move. I jokingly call them West Berlin, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee, and these other states, but do we do that?
Do we just splinter off that way? And then just try to govern ourselves basically in these separate countries where we just happily share the kids on the weekends, but we’re divorced or do we press into this and say, absolutely not. I am not going to surrender this stuff. We need a government that’s going to go in there, get rid of these institutions that need to be reformed, stop giving the teachers’ unions, all of this influence over our organizations. I mean, when you saw a lot of the progress that the Trump administration was able to get done, I’m actually hopeful that we still have a lot of chance here to be able to make some reforms, get rid of some of these institutions and have these fights, do some defunding, but it’s taking some time for the members who were sympathetic to fixing things, to understand that they need to stop being afraid of their shadow.
They need to, they need to start playing the same kind of hardball that the left has been willing to do. People on conservatives need to be willing to do the same thing, and it’s against the conservative sort of constitutional small c, inclination because conservatives tend to be, we don’t like a lot of change, but now we need change. We need major change. And so now we need to figure out how to push together in ways that can actually reform these, these institutions or get rid of them all together and get people in places of power and influence to take over these. But your point is the one that everybody should be grappling with. What does the United States actually represent this new identity politics, really civil religion it’s been replaced by Judeo-Christian understanding of the good and the right and how people ought to behave.
What a virtuous human being is that we’re supposed to be using our Liberty for the pursuit of the good that actually exists. It’s not just, this self-actualization mission in which we turn against each other, because we all have different ideas about what that is. Now, there is a truth that exists apart from us and that we need to be pursuing the good you, we have to fight those who are actually on a determined mission, to change what it means to be an American. So like you pointed out, I mean, even our allies are like over it. I mean, the French are like, I don’t want to have anything to do with this woke stuff. I mean, it’s divisive. I mean, why are there African Americans in Europe with white citizens, marching for BLM in their own countries during the George Floyd riots in the United States.
I mean, what is happening there? And it’s really the importation of this new ideology that’s counter what’s in the interest of these countries that want to have these peaceful tranquil lives. And so you have the French pushing back. Obviously Poland, Joe Biden put Poland in the same category as authoritarian countries because they’re still a Catholic nation. I mean, that’s just crazy. I mean, it’s crazy when we need Poland to be able to deter and weaken Russia. And there’s certainly not a country that should be in our sights for one that we should be focused on changing, or certainly not offending and insulting. So I’m so hopeful, I’m an American. So I always have that optimism, realistic optimism is how I define it, but a lot of work to be done in a lot of people, I respect very, very much who have a different view than I do. And they just think, it’s time to sort of separate geographically in the United States and do the best we can with Republican conservative governments in, in some of these other, Southern states.
Well I’m in New York City, so I haven’t, balkanized myself ideologically yet. But I can’t let you go without asking you about a piece that you wrote for the American Mind. So I usually hate talking about things in this way, but in your case, it’s really true. You are, for example, a woman in a field, missile control treaties is… My guess is that most of your peers and your colleagues are male that you do work in a male-dominated space as we’re always hearing from the left and feminists. And so you’ve had the opportunity as a teacher for grad students to come to you and ask you about their future careers, including your female grad students. And some of them asked you how you’ve balanced your life as a mother of five, I believe, right?
No, that’s right. And I know people are like, did I lose track? Have you had any babies since the last time I checked in? [crosstalk 00:46:45]
And you wrote in the American Mind about a very unusual piece of advice in our current culture that you gave them. And I was wondering if, if you might want to speak about that advice to an audience who might not have the opportunity to be your grad student?
Well, I actually see it as related to everything we just talked about. I will often go in and have the opportunity to speak to a batch of interns who have come into the Washington DC area to spend the summer doing work and I give my briefing on America’s role in the world and what it takes to shore up our military strength. And then some brave student will ask a question related to what I just said. And then somebody else will raise her hand and say, I really actually want to know how you have five children. That’s actually what I’m most… And then the whole rest of the conversation is about this subject. So what I tell people, because women, I mean, I talked to women of all sorts of political stripes who would still want to talk to me about this and what I have found in my experiences.
I would say most of them want to have children. They want to be a mother. They want to have children, but the conventional wisdom that they have been given is that you want to get your career started first and then, once you are established and you’re more successful and you’re more financially stable, then you can think about getting married, or if you are married, then you can think about having kids and you do all the traveling and everything you want to do first. I don’t give that advice. I say having children requires an enormous amount of time and energy, and there are biological limits. And if you are married to someone, if you find the man that you want to marry, you should marry him and then you should have children and you should not put off having children because all of it is hard.
All of it takes an enormous amount of energy and so you just kind of have to throw your hat over the wall and then go after it. And you won’t regret it. And then what I tell them is, and then work as it fits with your family. So you want to prioritize that. The reason that I say that it has to do with everything I just said is because this gets back to the question about what is the purpose of government and what is the purpose of our national security? Is it so that we can just have a bunch of cheap goods at Walmart? And every American is part of a cog where we’re all just trying to monetize our talents to the maximum ability. And that was this idea. This is what I attribute to this idea of the Clinton administration.
Thinking that, as long as China was brought into the WTO, we would all get along because everybody would just maximize this idea of consumerism and that consumerism would win the day. And then all these other differences would sort of just dissipate and go away. And then you really had the follow on administrations that sort of understood this. And so you have this, I think, a wrong view of capitalism. Capitalism, like anything else is great. It is good, but for what purpose and it’s so that the American family can thrive. And that we can pursue happiness. And what is that happiness? It’s not necessarily going to be monetizing yourself to the maximum ability, but maybe it’s just making enough and doing enough so that you can provide for your family and have a great life and contribute to society in a positive way.
And so I think we really do have to reevaluate how we talk about these things. I mean, one of the things I was trying to punch back on in that American Mind piece, too, is Joe Biden was like, after this pandemic, what we have to do is we have to have nationalized preschool where we pay so that every women woman can get back into the workforce. Well, the last few research study shows that women still more than men would prefer to have a flexible job or a part-time job or no job while their children are very young. Studies show again and again, that children do better when they’re primarily around their mothers, especially when they’re under five years old, under four years old. So these are just natural limitations that exist, kind of going back to this idea of having clear-eyed understanding of human beings and the way we are.
And there are some things that are fixed. It’s not just this sort of, we are who we think we are. It’s just not true. There’s a book, The Rise of the Modern Self. You got to remind me who the author is there. I commend this book enough, it explains a lot of this new woke ideology and where it comes from, but my piece was sort of pushing back on this and saying, look, we need to start from, what are we doing for the American family? And how are we talking to young women and young men about where their happiness might come from and it is not necessarily, in fact, I would say for most women, it is not going to be primarily just going out there and spending 50 hours and 60 hours and 80 hours in some cases in the office, just trying to get that promotion and trying to make sure that they’re pushing papers enough so that they can make more money at the end of the year.
So you have to prioritize the most important things and then you just take time as it comes and do the best with it and make good decisions that are prioritizing your family, and you’re not going to regret it. It doesn’t mean there aren’t tradeoffs. There’re things that I’ve not done in my career, but I’m thrilled that I have these five grade kids and it’s a privilege to be their mother. And so I think we need to be bolder as professional women who can tell them that, tell young women that, and that their life is not going to be less fulfilling because they decided to prioritize motherhood over maximizing their professional potential.
So basically capitalism is great, but money can’t buy you love. [crosstalk 00:53:08] I thought they knew that back in the ’60s, but anyway, Rebeccah, thank you so much for coming on High Noon. It was a real pleasure to have you on here, to discuss not only the future of America and the world, but the future of America at home and the future of America’s homes. So thank you so much for coming on.
Thanks so much for having me.
And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button, leaving us a comment or a review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.