About the speaker
Clifford D. May is the founder and President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan policy institute focusing on national security created immediately following the 9/11/01 attacks on the United States.
Under his leadership, FDD has become one of the nation’s most highly regarded think tanks and a sought-after voice on a wide range of national security issues. He has helped assemble a staff and advisory board of the most compelling scholars and experts whose research, ideas, and recommendations have shaped important policies and legislation on terrorism, nonproliferation, human rights, Islamism, democratization, and related issues.
Cliff has had a long and distinguished career in international relations, journalism, communications, and politics. A veteran news reporter, foreign correspondent and editor (at The New York Times and other publications), he has covered stories around the world, including datelines from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, the U.A.E., Bahrain, Oman, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Chad, Mexico, Argentina, Northern Ireland, Kazakhstan, China, and Russia.
From 2016 to 2018, Cliff served as a commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress in order to advance the pivotal right of religious freedom around the world, and integrate religious freedom into America’s foreign policy.
Robert R. Reilly:
It’s a particular delight to welcome Cliff May here, whom I’ve known for some years. He as you know is the founder and President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a group which has become one of the most important public policy think tanks in Washington through its articles, through its policy papers, through its seminars, through its conferences. Just an example from today one of the senior scholars, Reuel Marc Gerecht, had a piece in the Wall Street Journal, a very insightful piece, about whom we should wish to have win in the Iranian presidential election [unintelligible].
I would say that it is a measure of what Cliff May has achieved that Foundation for Defense of Democracy has one of the best lineups of scholars in Washington and I think [that’s] why this organization hits over its weight class compared to some other public policy groups that have far larger staffs and budgets but a lot gets done in FDD.
One reason is because of Cliff’s background. He was for quite some years a New York Times reporter. He’s in recovery. But it gave him intimate knowledge of the world. He covered events in- had his dateline from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, West Bank, Jordan, Turkey… You get the general picture there. He has a weekly column in The Washington Times called Foreign Desk.
Cliff is serving as a commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which just had an important meeting today in releasing their annual report. He was appointed- nominated to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors but I just told him how lucky he was that he was never confirmed. Someone laughed who knows why. And he has served on the bipartisan advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion. He was appointed a senior advisor to the Iraq Study Group. I don’t know whether I- I should-
I was in the [unintelligible].
Robert R. Reilly:
You were at the [unintelligible].
There were three of us.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, that’s- that- that recommends you. Can I- Can I tell the joke about the baggage claim in Yemen?
Robert R. Reilly:
Okay, so in 2009, at the end of 2009 Cliff May suggested releasing the detainees from Guantanamo to Yemen and then sending missile strikes to the baggage claim area. This- this caused some acute criticism from other areas of the press whom Cliff then characterized as humorless. So please join me- please join me in- in welcoming Cliff May, who is speaking on, “Islamism and Jihadism: The Challenge and the Threat for President Trump.”
Well thank you, Bob. I’ve been a great admirer of Bob’s for so many years and we’ve known each other not as well as I’d like to but thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me. Thanks to to all of you for coming out to see me on a warm night. There are more fun things that you could do but you decided not to. So I’m pleased that you’re here.
I really do appreciate that fine introduction. I gotta- It’s interesting that you started with a joke because I have to say when I get up on a podium, I tend to feel like you got to break the ice and relax people a little bit and so you should kind of- tell some kind of joke. And I- I shared this with a guy I happen to know who is trying to make a living as a standup comic and he said that is really strange because every time I get up to do a standup routine, I feel like I should start with a policy brief. Which does remind me of a story.
Hopefully, I hope this is not apocryphal but I- you may or may not have heard. It was a meeting between John Major, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Boris Yeltsin, just after he had become President of the Russian Federation. And John Major said to Boris, “Yeltsin Boris Nikolayevich, you know now that there’s not a Soviet Union, I’m curious could you describe in a word, how are things going in Russia?” And Boris Yeltsin said, “Good.” And John Major felt a little awkward about that. He said, “Yeltsin Nikolayevich, you know the phrase ‘in a word’ is a figure of speech. I wonder- Perhaps you could elaborate just a bit.” And Boris Yeltsin said, “Not good.” So similarly, if you ask me to summarize how the United States is doing a hundred odd days of the inauguration of a new President and they have been kind of odd days, right? That’s- that’s not a criticism. It’s just an observation. I would say good.