Sometimes the number of guest speakers and events at Villanova hosted by various groups, clubs, and organizations seems overwhelming and repetitive. From a student’s perspective, it is easy to ignore the barrage of advertising emails practically pleading for attendance to this event or that speaker. But occasionally a group gets it right, and brings a speaker with an unprecedented story, unmatched credentials, and the ability to leave a lasting impact on the listeners who sifted those emails and chose correctly. This was the case with Villanova’s Matthew J. Ryan Center who brought Dr. William “Dutch” Daugherty.
Dr. Daugherty is a unique speaker on our campus because of his service to his country as a CIA field operations officer and the endurance he demonstrated as a captive of Iranian militants from 1979 to 1981. Dr. Daugherty is now a professor of politics and foreign policy at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia. He visited Villanova and gave a short talk on Freedom vs. Captivity which was followed by a question and answer session discussing topics ranging from his imprisonment to modern questions about torture and the current Iranian regime.
In his talk, Dr. Daugherty mentioned that his captivity abroad reinforced several American values at home. When pressed to describe these, Dr. Daugherty thought that his imprisonment united the country during a difficult time. It also served to reinforce the average American’s awareness of the price and cost of freedom. It reminded those comfortably going about their lives at home that there are numerous Americans abroad that put their lives in harm’s way to protect and serve their country. Dr. Daugherty stressed that it is better that these costs are shared by all Americans out of national unity, not just the few that pay the price directly. He felt that this occurred during the hostage crisis, that people in America really shared the hardships with the captives.
This was a difficult concept for the Iranians to grasp because the structure of their government is very autocratic and has no connection with the people. In the United States, however, our government is our people; therefore, there is no distinction made between a covert operative, a soldier, and a citizen. Each citizen of this country has a direct stake in its decisions and governance, says Dr. Daugherty.
Another effect of the hostage crisis as described by Dutch was that it taught the Iranians the nature of Americans. Our presidents come and go and our political climate is constantly changing, but the fundamental fabric of this nation is unmoved: we stand united and will not tolerate hostile action against our citizens. Dr. Daugherty warned that this is a lesson Iran has not taken to heart.
Dr. Daugherty was asked about the nature of freedom, does it mean different things to different peoples and nations? Yes, it can, Dr. Daugherty admitted, but there are certain things about freedom that are universal for all mankind. Cultural personalities will always be different, and in many ways a country can be a prisoner of their culture and history. But it is important to be sensitive to unique and varying cultures. Dr. Daugherty emphasized the importance of learning about cultures before we attempt to influence them. He lamented that the United States does not do this nearly enough in its foreign policy and this often renders our actions counter-productive.
But should the United States even be trying to influence other nations and cultures? A well known tool of foreign policy is known as soft power, which is the ability of a country to indirectly influence another political entity through cultural or ideological means. Many nations have a strong desire to emulate America based on what we do right because we can offer a standard other countries cannot. Dr. Daugherty gave the example of “rule of law,” a basic tenet of our political system to which many other democracies do not adhere. Just as we do not study cultures enough, we do not use this soft power capability nearly as much as we should.
Many modern discontents wail about how disagreeing and practically opposing your government and its decisions is real patriotism. While that definition is dubious, the American citizen is called to a level of critical thinking concerning the way their country behaves abroad. This should be taken into the perspective that the average citizen, or newspaper editor, or activist is largely ignorant about the nuances of foreign policy and the real effects of those types of decisions. Dr. Daugherty is not the average citizen. His years at the CIA grant him a unique point of view and certainly give him plenty of room to offer constructive criticism.
Dr. Daugherty described U.S. politics as very short term, only concerned with the next election cycle and its results. There is rarely a long term outlook. This can be true of the citizens, the President, and even Congress. Legislation is typically very narrowly focused, and is for a particular time and purpose, Dr. Daugherty says. As we seek to correct a deficiency of cultural studies and insufficient exercising of soft power, Americans should give significantly more consideration to the lasting effects of foreign policy.
This lack of vision is exemplified in the current election process. Those in power in the Senate and House have expressed strong desires for the immediate withdrawal of all American presence in Iraq. They have pressed for mandatory timetables in terms of months. Both Democratic candidates for President advocate withdrawing from Iraq, from the muck and mire of “Bush’s War.” Proving Dr. Daugherty’s point, little intelligent consideration is given to the effect of these decisions. What will happen a year, 5 years, and 10 years after a complete American withdrawal? These are questions politicians, as those in power, should not only be well equipped to answer, but should prove that they thought about the continuing effects of their decisions and statements.
As a government by the people, there is no action this nation takes that is independent of its citizens. That means we each have a responsibility to work towards the changes that a veteran public servant like Dr. Daugherty readily observes are necessary. Complacency is a characteristic of citizens of a nanny state where everything is handed to you. American citizens should not be so: study cultures, study freedom and the many costs involved, think about the lasting effects of your decisions and the stances you advocate. It is only through the active participation of informed citizens that this great nation can improve and build upon its proud history to continue to be the source of freedom in this fragmented world.