The Olasky Interview: Will Inboden


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, January 31st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview.

This time WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky sits down with William Inboden.

Inboden is a Christian, educated at Stanford and Oxford, with a Ph.D. in history from Yale. He also worked at the State Department and the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.

REICHARD: Today Inboden is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation.

OLASKY: What’s the most important thing you know at age 46 that you did not know at age 26?

INBODEN: I would start with the enduring value of family, since I didn’t get married until my 30s and we just had our first child. He turns 4 in few weeks. I’d never been skeptical of the value of family before, but now being well into having a family I’ve just come to appreciate it so much more than I ever did.

I have little to no wistfulness for the so-called freedom of my 20s, although I’m very thankful for the time and experience I had in my 20s. But I rather find, certainly, these family years much more fulfilling.

OLASKY: Did you grow up in a Christian home?

INBODEN: Yes, I grew up in a Christian home.

OLASKY: And how did your Christian faith influence what you did in staff work in developing that International Freedom Act?

INBODEN: My faith certainly shaped quite a few things in that experience, although also, in candor, I was not always living up to my calling as a Christian amidst that time.

First, on the individual level as a Christian I certainly felt it was very important to treat others with kindness and dignity and respect, to maintain my personal witness.

I can think of times when I was too aggressive. Some of the political tactics we were using to get the bill passed were not always honest with others. So I certainly still carry some guilt about ways I did not live up to faithful Christian witness during that time.

But then there was also the level of thinking about Christianity and statecraft and the Christian’s calling in the councils of government to use the power of the United States I think for good is a stewardship question. And we also felt that very acutely in working to pass the bill. Not just that this was potentially a righteous use of America’s powered influence bestowed by God to which our nation is answerable to God, but also that it was incumbent on us to use it effectively and in ways that would produce benefits in the world.

But I think it goes back to our calling to do our work with excellence, to do it with wisdom, to be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves and to think about the outcomes rather than the intentions of what we are doing.

OLASKY: With China really gearing up, expanding its military enormously, do you think 10 years, 20 years, 30 years should we get used to thinking of ourselves as co-leaders with China? What do you project down the road?

INBODEN: The U.S.-China relationship is going to be the geopolitical story of the 21st century. There are volumes still to be written and still to unfold to that, but their future ascendency is not necessarily inevitable. They have a very strong and growing economy, they have a strong and modernizing military, but they also have a very fragile and in some ways weak government.

I’ve said before what Xi Jinping fears most not necessarily the United States, but his own people, which is why he has been trying to accrue more and more dictatorial powers to himself. Again that’s a sign of internal weakness, not strength.

One key measure of a nation’s power is its allies. Does it have allies? I think allies are a source of strength. The United States is rather unique as a global superpower in all the allies that we have—nations that have pledged themselves to assist us in the case of an attack, that share intelligence with us. China has no allies. The closest country that it has to an ally is North Korea, and that’s more their problematic patron state which vexes them more than it helps them.

We are seeing with China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea more and more countries wanting to partner with the U.S. against China. So China is creating its own antibodies there. That also will be a part of the story of Chinese power over the next 20 or 30 years. They may find that if they are not exercising it more responsibly, they will be getting contained by others.

OLASKY: You spoke about the importance of alliances, and Donald Trump he certainly seems to be doing his best to weaken some of the alliances and takes pleasure in doing that, but even though we don’t like the Europeans, we should not be scorning them. Is that it?

INBODEN: This is where I am currently writing a book on President Reagan’s foreign policy. The more I’ve looked into this, the more that Reagan is just the complete antithesis of Trump in every meaningful way in foreign policy.

Reagan was a very committed advocate of free trade. Reagan actually invented NAFTA. Reagan was deeply committed to our allies, not just as a practical matter, but he saw that as a matter of principle that allies are a source of strength.

But he also personally invested so much in building relationships with Thatcher in the UK, with Nakasona in Japan, with Helmut Kohl in Germany, with Bryan Mulroney in Canada. Reagan deeply believed in allies. Reagan deeply believed in human rights, democracy, religious freedom promotion that there had to be a values component to American foreign policy.

So, yes, if one believes in Reaganesque principles in American foreign policy we are unfortunately not seeing those exhibited by President Trump.

OLASKY: So at WORLD, when we moved from implicitly critical of Trump to explicitly saying that he should step out of the nomination before he was elected, I got about 2,000 letters from readers, many more than I’ve gotten on any subject, and 80% of them were negative, sometimes enormously so, which pretty much tracks along with the polls that with 80% of evangelicals being Trump backers. Is that embarrassing for evangelical Christianity?

INBODEN: Each individual American Christian obviously will have his or her own reasons for why they may support Trump, but at large as a community the fact that American evangelicals are seen as being so embracing of Trump, I confess I do worry about what it means for our corporate witness as a church.

And again I understand the political calculations that may go into things, but it seems to have gone beyond that. It seems to have been some of the standards that we should hold forth as a Christian community, whether on personal integrity, honor, honesty—but also even just wise and effective statecraft—those are quite lacking in the Trump presidency.

And I can understand an evangelical who may make the calculation to still vote for him, all that not withstanding, but the full throated support and the excuses that we see some evangelical leaders making for some of his inexcusable behavior—certainly his really nasty treatment of some of the other people that it’s never justified by a Christian—that I cannot countenance. 

I do worry that too many of my fellow Christians are perhaps forgetting the warning from the Psalms to put not our trust in princes. And having worked in politics, I believe in the importance of political power, but our salvation does not lie there.


(Jay Godwin/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “The Olasky Interview: Will Inboden

  1. Richard Day says:

    I completely disagree with Will Inboden’s statement in this article that Ronald Reagan was the complete antithesis of Trump in every way in foreign affairs. I recall Reagan calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and telling Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. I would say that he was classier than Trump, but I see a lot of similarities. They both showed a willingness to buck the politically correct view of the culture. Both were considered outsiders and were ridiculed as stupid by the media.
    Regarding Trump’s performance in foreign affairs, I look at the appointment of Nikki Haley as UN ambassador and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State as Trump knowing what was needed in those critical posts and assigning capable people to push against the corruption and injustice of the current world system.
    Among what I consider Trump’s other foreign affairs accomplishments are opening talks with North Korea, pushing back forcefully against China and beginning to get results, getting out of the ridiculous Iran nuclear deal, moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, getting out of the Paris climate accords, trashing NAFTA and getting the USMCA signed, and getting NATO members to start paying their dues. Early in his presidency Trump gave a speech in Poland that I thought was a good attempt at casting a vision for the west and how separate countries can join together to defeat their foes. He was very well received by the Polish people.
    He has ruffled some feathers in doing some of these things, but previous Presidents (since Reagan) appeared to be too timid to get these things done.
    Both Inboden and Marvin Olasky also implied that Christians should not have voted for Trump. While I did not vote for Trump in the primary, I will never vote for anyone like Hilary Clinton or anyone who represents the Democrat party and seeks to push their social agenda. I do not understand how you can imply that we should have voted for Hilary or not vote and allow her to win.
    Given what Mr. Trump has done in many areas, he has my full support as President. I voted for him in 2016 and will gladly do so in 2020 if he runs then. From what I have seen, he genuinely seeks to serve this country and her people. This is in great contrast to many in the opposition, who seem to be interested in lining their own pockets and bending to the winds of popular culture (for instance, one of my state’s senators, Kirsten Gillibrand, changing from conservative positions she took as a state senator). Trump wants to make this country into a country that is as Reagan quoted, “a shining city on a hill.”
    I found it interesting that in Joel Belz’s column in the most recent World Mag he states that many do not understand that “what is happening God is doing.” I believe that god arranged to have Donald Trump be our President. I struggle to accept that God would also allow Barack Obama to be President, but that is my problem. I am thankful that God has allowed President Trump to be there. I see him as a tool that God is using for good. I see this as a respite from the progressive onslaught that the opposition wants to inflict on us. I pray that we will wake up.

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