Remarks by John Lenczowski at IWP Commencement

The following remarks were made by IWP President John Lenczowski at The Institute of World Politics Commencement Ceremony on May 16, 2015.  More videos of the ceremony can be found here.

Good afternoon everyone. Let me first thank all those who have made this school possible:

Trustees, benefactors, faculty, staff, friends and helpers, the spouses and families of those who work for this cause, and ultimately, our students.

Today, as we celebrate our graduates, I want to talk about the challenges they face as most of them go on to serve the cause of peace, freedom, and national security.

America’s foreign policy today is in a crisis. The crisis is different than the challenges we faced in our recent wars which provided some measure of focus and energy. Today, it is a crisis of leadership concerning America’s values, principles, and purposes, which has resulted in the absence of coherent foreign policy goals and strategy.

One cannot have a strategy without goals. And one cannot set achievable goals unless they are consistent with our country’s values, principles, and purposes.

American foreign policy today is a welter of confusion. In some cases, it is marked by appeasement or an isolationist desire to withdraw from the world. In other cases, it is characterized by willful blindness toward unpleasant strategic realities or a reluctance to engage with the world in an energetic way. Much of this is born of the fatigue of flawed, utopian military and nation-building interventions of the past decade.

Our current leadership can neither deter Russia’s war of subversion against Ukraine nor help others resist it. As Russia seeks to demonstrate that NATO’s security guarantees are hollow and that the bonds of civilization that tie the West together are fraying, our leadership is unable to inspire confidence and unity among our allies.

Although our leaders talk about “soft power,” they fail to use it. They are unable to compete against ISIS for the hearts and minds of young Muslims. Although we are in a war of ideas, they have deployed no warriors of ideas, nor do they seek to recruit any.

They are afraid to identify the enemy ideology for what it is. They are incapable of favorably comparing a civilization grounded in human rights and freedom of conscience to an ideology of false martyrdom and self-destruction. Our governing elite has so thoroughly cut itself off from the Judeo-Christian roots of Western civilization that it is incapable of comprehending a challenge framed in explicitly religious terms.

hen it comes to Iran, our government is pursuing an arms control agreement with a hostile regime that has callously disregarded its other international obligations. This is wishful thinking.

Our current leadership does not acknowledge the rising threat from China. It says nothing to the American people about China’s enormous military preparations. Just one example: is anyone here other than our students aware of the Underground Great Wall — three thousand miles of navigable tunnels which are concealing China’s growing nuclear arsenal?

China has over 50,000 spies in our country as well as a massive propaganda and covert political influence apparatus here. Its cyber espionage is perpetrating the greatest theft of intellectual property in history. Where is the sense of alarm about all this from our national leadership?

What lies at the root of today’s leadership crisis is an alienation from the fundamental principles of our country and civilization and a widespread view that our country may even be is a malevolent force in the world. This alienation derives from the regnant philosophies of multiculturalism and moral and cultural relativism that undermine the necessary dedication to the values, principles, and purposes of America.

Too many Western intellectuals compare America with heaven when it should be compared with the other actual governmental systems out there. A truly honest comparison requires realism about the world and the human condition.

Too many members of our intelligentsia and governing elite also fail to appreciate what IWP students learn — namely, America’s capacity to acknowledge our failings and to work to prevent them from recurring. In contrast to other civilizations, America is the greatest experiment in social, political, and economic self-improvement in history.

It is a civilization that is rare, precious, and worth defending. IWP graduates understand something about America’s exceptional character and heritage.

The genius of the American system is the realism about human nature that underlies our Constitutional order. It is precisely the recognition of the fallibility of human nature combined with respect for the dignity of the human person that enables our system to endure and prosper.

That recognition of the flawed nature of man impelled our Founding Fathers to set up a rule of law, knowing that we will always be tempted to follow our baser instincts. To prevent power from concentrating in the hands of a single evil-doer, they set up a diffusion of power, a separation of powers, and checks and balances.

Understanding the foundations, purposes, and traditions of the American political order is the prerequisite for establishing foreign policy goals. That understanding should inform us that there are alternatives to utopian military intervention and nation building projects, other than isolationism or appeasement.

If one has coherent values, principles, purposes, and goals, then what must be done to keep the peace is to use all the instruments of statecraft to handle every contingency that this world can throw our way. This is what we teach at IWP.

Our students learn these various arts, including military strategy, intelligence, counterintelligence, the art of diplomacy, the many arts of public diplomacy, political action, political warfare, and economic strategy.

When our leaders are aware of all the instruments in this orchestra, they have a greater range of options than only diplomacy or war. But a number of these instruments, such as counterintelligence and the many aspects of public diplomacy and strategic influence, have long been neglected by our foreign policy establishment and the academic world.

Of course, as any IWP student will tell you, this is not because the United States can’t use these instruments of statecraft — it has, numerous times, from the War of Independence to the Cold War.

Our counterintelligence community once used various methods to counter hostile foreign agents, disinformation, and covert influence operations — but then it mostly lost its institutional memory of how to do this. IWP grads are restoring that memory.

We used the many instruments of public diplomacy during the Cold War. We fought the war against hostile propaganda with the U.S. Information Agency, the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

We waged the war of ideas with American libraries abroad, the Congress of Cultural Freedom, subsidizing foreign journals of opinion, and supporting free trade unions, whether in Italy after World War II or the Solidarity Union in Poland.

We were unashamed of American ideas. The ideas we promoted catalyzed the revolutionary changes that liberated hundreds of millions of people. We won that war of ideas!

From history such as this, IWP students have learned arts of statecraft that directly apply to current and future threats. They then fan out throughout our government and are raising the standards of professionalism in so many of these fields.

While these instruments of power must be used in our country’s defense, they also have the potential of being abused. So they must be exercised by people of character, virtue, and patriotism. That is why we at IWP care so deeply about what kind of people our students turn out to be.

True statesmanship is not only a matter of knowledge and skill, it is a matter of good character.

  • It means doing the right thing when no one is looking.
  • It involves cultivation of conscience.
  • It requires cultivation of the will and self-control.
  • It requires the development of good habits — because habits become destiny.

Character — especially when it applies to leadership in statecraft — begins with consciousness of certain necessary virtues.

First, there is the essential virtue of personal and intellectual honesty. This means commitment to the truth.

Here courage is essential — having the courage of one’s convictions — the courage to see the truth when all about you are willfully blind, and the courage to tell truth to power.

We teach our students that there are two kinds of people — mission oriented people and those who are interested in power, position, glory, and the satisfaction of one’s ego.

We want our students to be mission-oriented. And when they are tempted to intrigue to gain personal power and glory, we want them to resist the temptation.

So IWP teaches that humility is another essential virtue. And so is acute sensitivity to the dangers of hubris.

Humility keeps people on track to achieving a mission, because the mission is the cause higher than oneself.

Hubris derails you from putting the mission first.

Finally, there is prudence, the essential virtue of statesmanship. Prudence is the ability to exercise wisdom, reason, caution, and discretion in the conduct of policy. It is the application of universal moral principles to particular situations — which presupposes knowledge of those principles in the first place.

With prudence, one can discern good ends, achieve good ends, and ultimately be good.

With the education that you graduates have received both intellectually and, we hope, in developing your character, we expect great professional achievements from you, and especially the exercise of those virtues that make for statesmanship. With leaders like you, we really can reform the way America conducts foreign policy.

I am grateful for having had the chance to be your professor and to see how seriously you have taken your studies and your vocations. Congratulations for persevering and God bless you in your service to your family, your neighbor, your customer, and your country.

John Lenczowski
The Institute of World Politics Commencement
May 16, 2015

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