William McGurn

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William McGurn

William McGurn was a White House Assistant to the President for Speechwriting, under President George W. Bush, for which he was paid $261,000, the same as Karl Rove.[1]

Formerly he was an executive in the Office of the Chairman at News Corporation, parent company for the New York Post, Fox News, The (UK) Times, the Weekly Standard and BSkyB.[2] He was also the speechwriter for News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch[3]. Previously he was chief editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal and a member of the Journal’s editorial board. From 1992 to 1998, he served as senior editor for the Dow Jones-owned Far Eastern Economic Review in Hong Kong. Prior to joining FEER, McGurn worked in Washington as bureau chief for National Review and had spent five years with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages overseas: first in Brussels and then in Hong Kong.[4]

McGurn is the author of Perfidious Albion: The Abandonment of Hong Kong 1997, published five years before the British handover of Hong Kong to China. More recently he co-authored Is the Market Moral? A Dialogue on Religion, Economics & Justice published in March 2004 by the Brookings Institution Press. During 1992 presidential elections, McGurn wrote a column for New York Newsday. His articles have been published in a variety of periodicals including Newsweek, Esquire, The Spectator (of London), the National Catholic Register, The Sunday Telegraph, The New Criterion, The Washington Post, The South China Morning Post and others. A graduate of both the University of Notre Dame and Boston University, he is a member of the University of Notre Dame’s Asian Studies Advisory Committee, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. He is also a Hoover media fellow.

Supporting and then not supporting islamist political violence

During his first tour in Hong Kong, McGurn edited a volume on the territory’s post-colonial future entitled Basic Law, Basic Questions: The Debate Continues and wrote what his White House biography calls "a prescient monograph for the London-based Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies entitled Terrorist or Freedom Fighter."[5]

This 1987 IEDSS pamphlet asserted it was "inconstestable that groups such as the Provisional IRA and the PLO are terrorist", but the Mujahedin resistance in Afghanistan and other groups supported by President Reagan, are not. McGurn argued:

"They cannot easily be categorised as terrorists, because they have generally demonstrated discrimination in their choice of targets and their conduct of operations. [...] Even in the case of the Contras, hard evidence is thin and often indistinguishable from the profusion of Sandinista propaganda. By contrast, the duplicity of the Sandinista government; its own attacks on innocent civilians, and the use of its soil as a base for Salvadorean rebels are well documented."[6]

After 9/11 thislineof argument sharply changed. In November 2001 McGurn wrote in Crisis Magazine:

"My children always want to know, 'Is this the good guy?' or 'Is that man the bad guy?' As they get older and come to look back on the atrocity of September 11, the one thing I would like them always to retain is the understanding that what hit their schoolmates was evil itself, even in the most explicit sense of nothingness: the nothingness that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen put in place of the flesh-and-blood fathers of children they go to school with."[7]

Crisis magazine's advisory board contains key neoconservatives and US foreign policy hawks such as Richard V. Allen, William J. Bennett, Daniel L. Casey, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., Alexander M. Haig, Paul Johnson, Peggy Noonan, Vin Weber, Paul Weyrich (who set up the Heritage Foundation), and James Q. Wilson. In exploring how Conservatives came to be so badly mistaken in their support for Islamism, critics have pointed to the Heritage Foundation's line:

"...they paid only the slightest attention to the ideology of the mujahedin. And, when they did consider political Islam, they didn't treat it as a serious doctrine but, rather, the expression of noble savages and epic warriors. In 1982, the Heritage Foundation's James Phillips wrote, 'The Afghans' courage is fortified by traditional Islamic beliefs: if he kills an enemy in the jihad (holy war) and he is revered as a ghazi (Islamic warrior) and if he falls in battle he becomes a shaheed (martyr) who reaps great rewards in paradise.' After the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, it became clear where this eschatology could lead. But conservatives didn't want to ask the kind of questions that might tarnish their heroes. In lieu of an honest evaluation, they remade the Afghans into foreign versions of themselves, religious victims of secular zealotry. William McGurn, now The Wall Street Journal's chief editorial writer, described the mujahedin as 'simply ornery mountain folk who have not cottoned to a foreign power' that 'attacked their faith.'"[8]

Noam Chomsky cited McGurn as an example of someone who attempts to pretend that there is no cultural gap between the general population and educated elites. Using the example of Robert McNamara's memoirs, that included revisionist reflections on the Vietnam war, Chomsky suggests the war might have been "fundamentally wrong and immoral," not "a mistake". Noting that opinion poll data supports this position, Chomsky contrasts this with McGurn's view:

"The preferred picture of public attitudes is different. Thus senior editor William McGurn of the Far Eastern Economic Review, writing in the Wall Street Journal, harshly condemns President Clinton and others who 'feel vindicated' by McNamara's defection to their side. It is this 'liberal establishment' that is responsible for the 'national humiliation' in Vietnam and all that we have suffered since, because they 'believe the whole enterprise "immoral"' and thus abandoned the 'decent America' that continues to support the war as right and just, if perhaps a mistake because of the lack of 'hardheaded assessment' of the costs to us."[9]


On the Market see also Is the Market Moral? A Dialogue on Religion, Economics & Justice a 2004 debate featuring McGurn where he expounds as follows:

"Genesis, at least in the Christian interpretation, gives us one other hint: we believe in a good God, and from Aristotle on down, we have recognized that though people are fallen, society is better when we all do the right thing, i.e. it's not just an individual who is better off when the neighbor doesn't cheat, lie or steal, it's the whole society. Francis Fukuyama wrote a whole book on this called Trust and if you've ever been in some non-trust societies, as I have, in Asia and the Philippines or Lebanon or China, you know immediately what I'm talking about when you don't have it."


  1. John Byrne, "Top White House staff, including Rove, get annual raises", rawstory.com news, 27 July 2005, accessed October 2008
  2. "William McGurn -- White House", The White House website, accessed October 2008
  3. Dennis K. Brown, "From the Golden Dome to the West Wing", University of Notre Dame Newswire, 8 June 2005, accessed October 2008
  4. "William McGurn -- White House", The White House website, accessed October 2008
  5. "William McGurn -- White House", The White House website, accessed October 2008
  6. Peter Murtagh, West charged with hypocrisy on terror, 21 April 1987, The Guardian
  7. William McGurn (2001)Aftershock: Something Out of Nothing, Reflections on September 11, 2001], Crisis Magazine. See also the [presidential speech September 6, 2006 http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2006/09/post_38.html] on the torture of Abu Zubaydah.
  8. Franklin Foer (2003) Founding Fakers, The New Republic
  9. Noam Chomsky (1995) Memories, Z Magazine'Italic text, July-August.