Leaving government service in 2001, I returned to an earlier love, the university classroom. At Georgetown, I teach one course a semester, alternating between graduates and undergraduates. At the beginning of each course, I explain to my students that the main purpose of foreign policy is to persuade other countries to do what we want. To that end, a president or secretary of state has tools ranging from the blunt instrument of military force to the hard work of backand- forth negotiations to the simple use of logical argument. The art of statecraft consists of finding the combination that produces the best results. That, in turn, requires a clear grasp of what matters most to those we are trying to influence. For businesspeople, this translates into "knowing your customer." In world affairs, it means learning about foreign countries and cultures; at a time when religious passions are embroiling the globe, that cannot be done without taking religious tenets and motivations fully into account.
Increasingly, in the classes I teach and in discussions with friends and colleagues, I have solicited thoughts about the impact of religion on current events. At first most people are surprised, as if uncertain what to think; then they open up. My request leads not to one set of debates, but to many. It is a Rorschach test, revealing much about the preoccupations and anxieties of those who respond.
My students tend to equate religion with ethics and so frame their responses in moral terms. They want to know why the world is not doing more to alleviate poverty and disease, prevent genocide, and help developing countries compete in the global economy. After 9/11, quite a number were eager to join the military or the CIA, feeling a powerful urge to volunteer; but in most cases the feeling did not last. The war in Iraq created confusion about the wisdom of U.S. policy, and about whether America's goal was to lead the world or try to dominate it. The foreign students I teach are an eclectic group and therefore offer a mixed bag of opinions. They are most divided, not surprisingly, by questions of right and wrong in the Middle East.
My friends who are experts on foreign policy -- a somewhat older group -- are focused on the threat posed by religious extremists, including the possibility that terrorists will gain access to weapons of mass murder. They are alarmed, as well, about the gap in understanding that has opened between predominately Islamic societies and the West. Arab leaders to whom I have spoken share this concern. They are upset, too, by the spread of what they consider to be false and damaging generalizations about Islam.
The religious scholars I have consulted are passionate about the need for political leaders to educate themselves in the varieties of faith and to see religion more as a potential means for reconciliation than as a source of conflict. Political activists, not just Democrats, are agitated about the influence of the religious right on the White House and Congress; this is a subject also weighing on the minds of foreign diplomats.