Greg R. Lawson's
Greg R. Lawson's Blog

Does Fear Prevent Peace?

When looking at the likely future pathways for world order, the fundamental question is this: does fear prevent peace?

I spoke highly of Thomas PM Barnett's book, Great Powers, in a recent post.  I concluded by saying his vision was quintessentially American and optimistic to the core.  I admire that.

However, I concluded with this,

"We are an ideal.  Beautiful and aspirational.  The world is tragic.  America sees hope around every corner.  History is tale of zigzagging progress, dizzying heights and precipitous falls.  Americans assume that tomorrow will be better than today and much better than yesterday.  Despite our periodic bouts of self doubt, hope and optimism are baked into our DNA. 

Barnett taps this deep reservoir and offers a grand vision of a world that could be.  The problem becomes whether what could be will be.  Has America allowed the world to finally break the cycles of rise and fall?  That would be a gift too exquisite to articulate in mere words.  Or is America living on the fumes of its past greatness at just the time where disorder re-enters history on a scale not seen since the beginning of the last century?

Hope vs. tragedy.  American, New World idealism vs. Old World pessimism.  We may not face such a clean, binary situation, but it is on the horns of these perceptions that I find myself touching ever so gingerly hoping not to become fully impaled by falling on the wrong side."

Today I read this interview with John Mearsheimer.  He is a famous International Relations theorist most famous for his pre-9/11 book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

He concludes the interview with this,

"The sad fact is that you can have a situation where two countries are satisfied with the status quo and have no interest in using military force to alter it, but they still are doomed to compete with each other for power.  The reason is that neither side can be certain about the other side's intentions.  Therefore leaders on both sides have to assume the worst case; they have to assume the other side is a revisionist state, not a status quo power, and compete for power with the other side.  That is the tragedy of great power conflict."

While that comment is specifically about US-Chinese relations, it has a universal quality to it with which one must intellectually grapple.  A lack of trust breeds fear and fear breeds a vicious cycle.  Ultimately, this is what drives international relations.  While agreements can be reached and peace secured under certain circumstances, usually under balances of power, it will all crumble.

Every nation seeks to secure itself against this inevitability even if those efforts are exactly the actions that make such an undesired outcome come to fruition.

Ultimately fear prevents peace by destroying the needed balances and shredding idealism.  

Can that be conquered?  That continues to be mankind's most pressing question.

American Idealism vs. Old World Pessimism

I have just completed reading one of two books I recently won as a contributor to the new global, multi-player geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat.  It was their Chief Strategist, Thomas PM Barnett's Great Powers.  Barnett is a defense intellectual who gained great fame in Pentagon circles with his 2004 book, the Pentagon's New Map.

It was one of the most refreshing reads I have had in a long time.   Indeed, it made me more optimistic about the future of the world than I have been in a long time.  It is filled with an overwhelming spirit of American "can do"ism.  Barnett believes very strongly that "Globlization" is America's gift to the world and that it can help facilitate, actually that it must facilitate, a massive new global middle class unprecedented in the history of mankind.  He sees the challenges of the future as being more the problems of abundance than some neo-Malthusian struggle.  

To Barnett, our grand strategy is to shrink the "Gap" of nations that have yet to fully plug into our global economic system while helping rising great powers like China and India become even more full fledged stakeholders in the system.  In essence, the "West" and now East Asia are the "Core" of a new global economy while Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa are still struggling to plug in and as they do, traditional societies will suffer a great amount of tumult that must be managed so as to mitigate backlash like 9/11.

This is a vision everyone should in many ways hope for.  It is as optimistic as most any vision that you are likely to encounter.  Yet, I find myself not quite believing.  

As I finished it, I also was reading Ian Bremmer's new book on the so-called G-Zero world which largely mirrors much of what I have written about previously on a neo-Middle Ages of global non-polarity, regional multipolarity, national angst, subnational turmoil, and proliferating WMD technology.  Indeed, I walk a more Morgenthau inspired classical realist path with sprinklings of Kissingerian and Spenglerian pessimism. 

The brilliance of Barnett's work is he almost made me escape that mindset.  Yet once I distance myself from his skillful and playful prose, I find myself ever drawn to the melancholy ruminations of Kissinger and the great 20th Century cyclical historians.  Throwing in little of Niall Ferguson's new kick on rapid collapse due to cascading systemic failures (as opposed to long-term Spenglerian or Gibbonesque decline) and even some Kurzweil Singularity based concerns and Barnett's vision begins to seem more like a wonderful aspirational hope, but also a chimera.  

At some level Barnett believes all men will eventually be satisfied with some form of the American lifestyle.  While he agrees that it may take a long time for this to happen, he is ultimately very much in line with Fukuyama's End of History.

Yes, Barnett is quintessentially American and this is a wonderful thing.  Yet, America is so used to not experiencing the deep tragedies so pervasive throughout world history.  It is not surprising Americans are pragmatists and, typically, though not always, optimists, if not outright idealists.  Our history, with the obvious exception of the Civil War, has been predominately one of upward ascent from little colonies to unprecedented global superpower.  

We have not tasted the bitterness wrought by the fall of Rome, or that of Byzantium, or that of any number of Chinese dynasties, or the Incas, or the Aztecs, or the Harrapan civilization India, or the Minoans, etc.

We are an ideal.  Beautiful and aspirational.  The world is tragic.  America sees hope around every corner.  History is tale of zigzagging progress, dizzying heights and precipitous falls.  Americans assume that tomorrow will be better than today and much better than yesterday.  Despite our periodic bouts of self doubt, hope and optimism are baked into our DNA. 

Barnett taps this deep reservoir and offers a grand vision of a world that could be.  The problem becomes whether what could be will be.  Has America allowed the world to finally break the cycles of rise and fall?  That would be a gift too exquisite to articulate in mere words.  Or is America living on the fumes of its past greatness at just the time where disorder re-enters history on a scale not seen since the beginning of the last century?

Hope vs. tragedy.  American, New World idealism vs. Old World pessimism.  We may not face such a clean, binary situation, but it is on the horns of these perceptions that I find myself touching ever so gingerly hoping not to become fully impaled by falling on the wrong side.

Statesman as "Ubermensch?"

"When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."

Friedrich Nietzsche

From a fascinating outline of Kissinger's writings I stumbled on this statement which I think encapsulates Kissinger's views of statecraft and also raises interesting questions about statesmanship, artistry and a Nietzschean conception of order.

"The heroic figures are those who construct new worlds for themselves, who look into the abyss and choose t try to bring order out of chaos or die trying.  Yet, even those who successfully establish new codes, new laws, new orders cannot truly overcome the fundamental purposelessness of the cosmos.  The tragic element of human life is that there is no cure for humanity's condition."

The implication here to me is similar to one I have long thought about Kissinger, namely that he had a perception of the statesman as an almost Nietzschean, "Ubermensch" like creature that has to create new values after staring into the proverbial abyss.  They must confront the chaos of disorder in international relations which, not surprisingly is the core of "realism" as an intellectual idea (the very school Kissinger is so often considered the grand master of).

This is a fascinating concept, that a statesman is must have artistic inclinations or as Nietzsche says,

"I tell you: one must still have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star."

Think about that for just a moment.  

To give birth to a dancing star, a rhetorically extravagant way of saying one is creating an art, philosophy, or even a religion, means one must be chaotic.  Is it through a sense of the chaotic and tragic, that one can understand how to create?

Kissinger, in his doctoral thesis, A World Restored, stated this:

"But the claims of the prophet are sometimes as dissolving as those of the conqueror. For the claims of the prophet are a counsel of perfection, and perfection implies uniformity. Utopias are not achieved except by a process of leveling and dislocation which must erode all patterns of obligation. These are the two great symbols of the attacks on the legitimate order: the Conqueror and the Prophet, the quest for universality and for eternity, for the peace of impotence and the peace of bliss.

But the statesman must remain forever suspicious of these efforts, not because he enjoys the pettiness of manipulation, but because he must be prepared for the worst contingency."

In his first set of memoirs, the White House Years, which I quoted in my post on History knowing no plateaus

"History knows no resting places and no plateaus.  All societies of which history informs us went through periods of decline; most of them eventually collapsed.  Yet there is a margin between necessity and accident, in which the statesman by perseverance and intuition must choose and thereby shape the destiny of his people.  To ignore objective conditions is perilous; to hide behind historical inevitability is tantamount to moral abdication; it is to neglect the elements of strength and hope and inspiration which through the centuries have sustained mankind.  The statesman's responsibility is to struggle against transitoriness and not to insist that he be paid in the coin of eternity.  He may know that history is the foe of permanence; but no leader is entitled to resignation.  He owes it to his people to strive, to create, and to resist the decay that besets all human institutions."

I think those are windows into his views and I think they paint a portrait of a person long struggling to find meaning in life and a sense of transcendence.  Yet, if all human existence is transitoriness, or as Kissinger says in his undergrad thesis (The Meaning of History: Reflection of Spengler, Toynbee and Kant), 

“Transitoriness is the fate of existence. No civilization has yet been permanent, no longing completely fulfilled. This is necessity, the fatedness of history, the dilemma of mortality.”

does not a man become quite mired in the muck of human experience?  Can he escape?  Nietzsche tried through creativity.  So, in his way, I posit did Kissinger through the canvas of geopolitics and grand diplomacy.

Kissinger attempted to connect philosophy and statesmanship in a meaningful way, something that many policymakers do not do in an age where empiricism and technicism seem paramount. 

Yet, even if this is tragic, the wise statesman, the true "realist", understands the limits of what he alone can do and hopes to follow Bismarck in waiting "until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment."

A statesman is an artist, not a technocrat.  Temporary as his work might be, it remains his duty to create anew structures and patterns of relative peace and stability despite the vagaries of historical contingency.

So even if haunted by the specter of no transcendence, trudge along like Nietzsche's Zarathustra they must.

Beyond the Reset: Reverse “Nixon Goes to China”

Based off some work I have done over at Wikistrat, the editor of the Atlantic Sentinel suggested I do an op-ed on some policy changes that the US should consider vis a vis Russia.  I modified my Wikistrat work and came up with the below work.  Here is the link to the Atlantic Sentinel piece too.

When President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger opened up relations with China in the 1970s, it was done in the context of needing a new lever in the Cold War, especially when the United States was still mired in Vietnam. The goal was for the United States to be closer to both China and the Soviet Union than either was to each other and to be able to swing back and forth between the two powers as needed depending on what the exigencies of the balance of power dictated.

At that time, China was clearly the lesser power and required bolstering. The time for the United States to consider an inversion of that policy may soon become ripe.

The strategic environment today is vastly different than when Nixon met Mao. The Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more and China is rapidly ascending to the position of a global superpower. Under these conditions, the United States are struggling to manage a multiplicity of strategic interests in every major region of the world. Paramount among those are relations with China.

While no one disputes outgoing World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s statement that it would be advantageous for China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in global affairs, the prospect of this not happening means that the United States need additional levers to balance against China in the soon to be economically dominant Asia.

The Obama Administration’s vaunted “pivot” shows Washington’s recognition of this need. To fully embrace this strategy, though, the United States must secure its Western flank from instability. This means securing Europe.

Inconveniently for the United States as it seeks to shift its focus to Asia, the ongoing European fiscal crisis opens the door to all kinds of medium to long term challenges. It also opens the door for Russian mischief under the nationalistic president Vladimir Putin.

Left unattended and unresolved, the Russian question could become a significant enough distraction that the United States find themselves unable to be decisive in Asia.

To the extent that the Obama Administration realized building better relations with the Russians would be essential for European stability, it should be commended. Yet, its much vaunted “reset” looks set to run aground as Putin reassumes his undisputed position on the top of the Kremlin’s power pyramid.

This can be confirmed from recent news of Russian threats of preemption against NATO missile defense sites in Europe. If the United States are not to be squeezed by a perennially dissatisfied Russia in Central Asia and Eastern Europe while trying to deal with China, they are going to have to move beyond the “reset” and seek a more comprehensive engagement.

This entails opening the door to a legitimate and wide ranging understanding with Russia that can finally deal with the lingering aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and President Putin’s taste for revanchism.

Discarding the mere symbolism of the “reset,” the United States should consider a broader and deeper outreach to Russia in order to pull it into a far less bellicose attitude vis-à-vis the West. In essence, much as Nixon and Kissinger sought the “dragon” to balance against the stronger “bear,” the United States must consider the reverse.

Doing so could minimize Russian aggression toward Europe. Even more important, having Russia ensconced in the West will offer the United States an additional lever it can employ to force China to divert its military focus from Asia.

Such a move could also expand the economic base of the West by capturing the huge hydrocarbon wealth of both Russia and Central Asia while having more ability to squeeze China’s energy supply if it is ever seen as necessary due to geopolitical tensions with the Middle Kingdom.

Such a policy has many possible pitfalls.

First, distrust pervades Western and, particularly, NATO relations with Russia. Moscow continues to believe that NATO expansion in Central and Eastern Europe violates promises made in the George H.W. Bush Administration and during the immediate aftermath of the Soviet implosion. It is essential to address this substantively, through mechanisms such as American support for NATO opening missile defense cooperation to Russia rather than insisting on two separate systems.

In addition, the United States should reduce funding to nongovernmental organizations in critical countries such as Ukraine and Georgia and quietly move from supporting the mercurial Mikheil Saakashvili.

The United States should also encourage President Putin’s push for a “Eurasian Union.” This would entail the United States no longer hectoring Russia over the slow pace of political reform. By contrast, it should simply argue for an “eventual transition to genuine multiparty democracy founded on generally liberal principles.”

Other policy options over the longer term could include an expansion of a free trade zone to encompass not only the traditional “transatlantic” partnership with the European Union but also an eventual “Eurasian Union.”

Finally, a real invitation for Russia to join NATO should eventually be considered but not made contingent upon the domestic political evolution of the Russian state.

Fundamentally, this is about changing Lord Ismay’s comments on NATO and changing its raison d’être from “keeping the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down” to “keeping both the Americans and Russians in and the rest of Europe quiet” while Asia rises.

In light of current headlines, these policy proposals seem fanciful. Yet, it is important to recollect the arc of Russian history.

Russia has long been torn between its desire enter a more Western orbit, something Russian modernizers since Peter the Great have desired, and its Byzantine based Orthodox Christian heritage, as well as a tendency towards “Oriental Despotism” as inherited from its time under the Mongol Yoke.

With its current demographic challenges and the return to great power status of multiple Asian states, Russia faces several choices: attempt to compete with China and maintain an independent pole of power based on Central Asia, embrace China and become a junior partner, or join the West. Each of those options appeals to one of Russia’s historical self images while also raising fears in certain segments of Russian society.

The jury is out as to which direction Russia will ultimately choose. It is up to the United States to incentivize Russia to make the final decision of tilting toward the West, which will also enable it to more fully realize its Central Asian goals.

A new global reality demands creativity and flexibility as opposed to rigidity. Moving to bring Russia into the West could be the most dramatic diplomatic move in a generation. Such a policy clearly runs against many American traditions. Yet, so did the Nixon policy when he traveled to Beijing in 1972. That move is now considered a powerful triumph.

Will Communism be Recycled from the Ash Heap of History?

Walter Russel Mead continues to write provocative blogs concerning the decline of what he terms the "Blue State model."  They are always insightful even if one does not necessarily subscribe to every component piece.

On his latest regarding a "Crisis of Civilization," I left the bellow comment.  Keep in mind this comment is meant to initiate a dialog and does not mean I subscribe to any particular outcome posited, just that we have to be open to various potentialities.

"There are many paths the developments WRM discusses can take. One thing that concerns me is the potential renewed rise of Marxist thinking. I think a case could be made that “Communism” was never really tried. Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Castoism, the Khmer Rouge; these were not what Marx predicted. None of these regimes we think commonly of as “Communist” were the result of the mechanistic laws of history as Marx described them.

Rather, they were “accelerated” by revolutionary vanguards who just then happened to be authoritarian in order to impose what was supposed to happen inexorably and without necessarily the application of force, or at least force of the kind those murderous regimes utilized.

Communism was only supposed to happen once capitalism made labor superfluous and bounty abound. Under present trends, we are closer to that vision than when Lenin led the Bolsheviks.

I am not saying it is inevitable for Communism to make a renewed appearance on the historical stage, but it cannot be discounted.

In essence, “Communism” as properly understood is an experiment that actually has yet to be run and could only be run as we get nearer to the plenty we are now becoming fully capable of achieving'

Of course, Communism seems to forget human nature and human acquisitiveness. So it is possible that capitalism will be a perpetual whirlwind of Schumpeterian “Creative Destruction” so there will be no period where people will stop to partake of the fruits of their machines labor, because new machines will need to be built for new products. As Kissinger says, “History knows no plateaus” and Communism would, in theory, be a plateau.

I just wonder if there is more of an ideological battle to emerge than we think, which could lay question once more to Fukuyama’s “End of History” as that which was consigned to the “Ash Heap of History” recycles itself a bit in a new age."

How About Non-Polarity?

I commented over at the Lowy Institute's blog regarding an outline one of their authors is putting together for a possible academic piece about the return of global bipolarity.   I suggested we are entering a phase of non-polarity instead.  Here is my comment and here is the article prompting it.

"Great idea regarding bipolarity, but looking at it from a larger standpoint than individual nations. You are right that Asian conceptions of Westphalian norms are far more rigid than 'Western' ideas.  The whole 'Right to Protect' is very much a Western conceit that is destabilizing and deeply worrisome for many, obviously with China being the most concerned.

The interesting long-term question about this is whether Europe will eventually fall into constituent pieces in a de facto as opposed to du jure sense. If its internal problems lead to a two-track Eurozone or to a slow and partial, but nonetheless real, reintroduction of internal European animosities, bipolarity could turn into something closer to Richard Haas' notion of 'non-polarity'. Even Brzezinski has begun sounding the alarm about non-polarity in his new tome 'Strategic Vision', as have authors like Gideon Rachman from the Financial Times with'Zero-Sum Future'.

Personally, I think signs are pointing more and more in that direction. Watch also Chinese counters to the American pivot. Will China begin buying Euro Treasuries to diversify away from America as it gets more concerned about encirclement? Obviously, that may make little economic sense currently, but it could make strategic sense over time and could enhance these non-polar type trends by peeling 'Western' nations into strange power configurations."

Psychology and the Persian Puzzle

I commented on this great article over at the Atlantic Community.  This particular piece was great by showcasing a different angle than much contemporary commentary on geopolitical events.  Here is the main thrust of the piece,

"Considering the confrontation between Israel and Iran in the present, we have a highly traumatized people on the one hand who are scared by the idea that their enemies might use an opportunity to annihilate as many of their group as possible. Taking the emotional perspective of the descendants of a Holocaust victim, it seems "natural" to assume that if the enemy acquires nuclear weapons, it will not miss the opportunity to eradicate Israel and as many Jews as possible, regardless of the consequences.

Considering Iranian psychology, we have a proud nation on the other hand that in the distant past ruled one of the greatest empires of the world but has suffered repeated humilitations from Alexander over the Romans to the colonial powers of the modern age. For many Muslims, the emergence of Israel resembles (at least emotionally) a resurrection of the Crusaders. Last but not least, the fact that Iran is mainly Shi'a means that Iranians are sometimes treated as underdogs in the Muslim world. In summary, many Iranians may feel they are being humilitated again although following all laws and staying on the path of justice. A matching survivor myth is present as well, as this time the Mahdi may finally return and restore justice after the armageddon."

My comment below,

"I like this piece a great deal. All too often I think our policymakers fail to understand the full context within which policies must be constructed. In the case of the actual conflict as it presently exists, and the larger looming potential one as well, between Iran and Israel, it is impossible not to appreciate the psychological aspects.

I agree that Israel will remain traumatized by the Holocaust. Who can reasonable blame them? Anti-semitism precedes Hitler, but its ultimate virulence can only be fully understood when when feeling the coldness of Auschwitz or Treblinka. 

For the Iranian/Persian mindset, which I think undergirds much of the Shiite ideology, how could one not appreciate leaders like Cyrus the Great or Darius (perhaps, Xerxes a bit less)? 

These self-images and perceptions are what drive many conflicts throughout the world and, in my estimation, transcend economics and all the varying deterministic strands that flow from those that focus too much on economics. Thucydides still matters and you intimate that well here.

The only problem is... what can be done? Do tragic circumstances force tragic outcomes? How do we cut this apocryphal- like Gordian Knot (since we are not Alexander)?

I once wrote here this article and though much has changed due to the intervening Arab Spring, I think there is still something here to consider:

'Should an aggressive sense of deterrence be established psychologically where the concept actually resides, then a "deal" can be possible allowing Iran a certain degree of security within well defined limits. The regime can be assured that no external forces or externally supported internal forces will overthrow it. It may even be possible to envision allowing it to openly develop nuclear power (and even a limited weapon) capability.

Conceptually, this is no more shocking an idea than having the arch-anti-Communist Richard Nixon work with Mao in order to balance the Soviet Union. That Nixon-Kissinger policy of triangulation is generally considered to have paid handsome dividends. While this diplomatic gambit would be different in many ways, it would operate similarly by opening the door to flexible diplomacy in the region.

If the US and Iran can come to some terms, the ability to tilt between the Sunni Saudi regime and the Shia ascendancy in Iran and Iraq will be possible. Additionally, this flexibility will have to be taken into consideration by a resurgent Turkey which currently appears as though it is attempting to regain influence within the region.

Today the US is stuck trying to contain Iran without the military flexibility to be serious, thus looking a bit like a paper tiger. Tomorrow, it could seize the geopolitical initiative by being the decisive weight on the scale of Sunni-Shia relations. Both would be forced to cultivate relations with the US in order to maintain its support.

Obviously, for this to work the US must allay the most pressing fears of present allies in the region, notably Israel. The US's stance on deterrence must be clear enough that Israel understands that any attack upon it by Iran would be answered with the most aggressive of responses. Additionally, continued missile defense and other technology trade with Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as with Israel should be enhanced.'"

The Cardinal and the Slaughter

David P. Goldman who writes the psuedonymous "Spengler" columns I have frequently cited, recently wrote an article for Asia Times that is simultaneously over the top, amusing, cold and erudite.  In it, he conjures the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu.

Other than those who read Alexander Dumas' Three Musketeers story, Richelieu probably means little to most people.  And even those readers see him as a laregly one-dimensional villain.

The real Richelieu, however, is considered the main power behind the creation of modern France.  He is considered the man who paved the way for the "Sun King", Louis XIV.  He is the man who made the phrase "raison d'etre" meaningful.  He has even earned high praise from the grand master of realism, Henry Kissinger as the founder of the modern state system.

The point here is that Richelieu is a big figure who might be obscure for many but played a significant role in the creation of the Europe, and by extension, the world we now know.  His diplomacy aided by the original eminence grise, Father Joseph (whose biography by Aldous Huxley I am currently reading) prolonged the Thirty Years War.  

That conflict which left a what would eventually become Germany, a loose batch of rather weak principalities.  It also, upon its conclusion, led to the current "Westphalian" order of international relations which asserted the primacy of nation-state sovereignty.

Yet, for all these accomplishments, the Cardinal was largely responsible for a slaughter that left 15-20 percent of the German population dead as well as up to an estimated third of Czech lands.  In percentage terms, it was actually comparable to WWII.  Consequently, the Cardinal and his accomplishments can never be divorced from its costs.  

Yet there is a lesson here for statesmanship.  Often, there are consequences for pursuing one's interests.  

Richelieu was French through and through and pursued its interests to the exclusion of other considerations.  Only a true believer in one's nation could stomach what he apparently stomached.  But we must always ask whether we may become less than human if we acquiesce to this.

As Goldman's piece argues, he seems to be willing to embrace this mindset in the contemporary miasma of opaque Middle Eastern politics and looks, ironically it might seem, to Richelieu for guidance.  

Are we willing to follow?  Should we follow?  These are the questions of high statescraft.

Battling Complacency to Reinvigorate Trans-Atlanticism

Below is the text of my op-ed for the Atlantic Community on the need for reinvigorating trans-Atlanticism.  

You can also read it here as well as a thoughtful response from a reader and my subsequent follow-up.

Henry Kissinger once said, "the statesman's duty is to bridge the gap between his nation's experience and his vision." This remains a truism today.

There are many conversations about the need to confront proliferation of WMDs, trans-national terrorism, global warming, health pandemics, and even economic pandemics but the one unifying challenge that exacerbates each of these threats is complacency. A newly reinvigorated transatlantic partnership must focus on banishing post-Cold War complacency. Unfortunately, so much focus is spent on these other international agenda items, that it is often overlooked and papered over. The end of the Cold War did not usher in a purely cosmopolitan, quasi-Hegelian "End of History" as postulated famously by Francis Fukuyama. Rather. Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" thesis has been more on target for describing the new era of both unprecedented international cooperation as well as a new era of competition.

Unfortunately, many in the U.S, and Europe, the twin pillars of the transatlantic alliance, have not found ways to cooperate as fully as when they were confronted by the Soviet leviathan. Instead, the alliance has been allowed to become too much of a "talking shop" where grandiose rhetoric and economic competition displace a strategic vision for confronting the real evil of global order- the "anarchy" at the heart of the international system.
The United States is an offshoot of Europe. Its founding fathers were avowed disciples of thinkers like Locke and Montesquieu.

The United States was founded predominately by European immigrants. This means there was, is, and should be a cultural affinity between these two regions that transcends the transitoriness of mere geopolitical advantage. In fact, the true geopolitical advantage is to understand that as economic power shifts from its Western locus to the East; the U.S. and Europe must truly hang together or hang separately. Not appreciating this fact is the core reason for transatlantic complacency.

While technology has facilitated instant communication and long-distance travel, it has not eliminated geography as a highly influential factor in economic and political relations. Culture also, as Huntington made clear, also matters. Indeed, geography and culture could well be the defining characteristics of a new form of regionalism. It will be up to the next generation of transatlantic leaders to realize that globalization could easily devolve into a world of competing regionalisms.

To confront this possibility, a reinvigoration of cultural exchange programs would be wise. Yet, ultimately, a Transatlantic Free Trade Zone (FTZ) should fix the advantages of size and scope while underlining cultural ties. Additionally, NATO member states (with the possible of exception of Turkey) should set aside a set percentage of the revenue growth achieved after the adoption of the FTZ for NATO hardware and training. Such an effort would show that complacency is dead and that the transatlantic relationship is prepared to recognize its truly existential challenges.

The next generation of transatlantic leaders need not reinvent the wheel, but they do need to dust off the old one. If a statesman must bridge the gap between experience and vision, for Americans and Europeans; the collective vision is of an experience that has already taken place, it just needs rejuvenation.

Two Days that Shook the World

Today, February 21 is the 40th anniversary of the day President Nixon met Chairman Mao in China.  Clearly, geopolitics had a tectonic shift on that day and we still are living with the ramifications today with the rise of China and the feelings of concern so manifest in daily American life.

Tomorrow, February 22, will be the 66th anniversary of George F. Kennan's famous "Long Telegram" which is generally considered one of the founding documents of the Cold War's "Containment" policy that would guide the U.S. for over 40 years.  It, and Kennan's famous "X" article in a 1947 edition of the journal Foreign Affairs, are two  documents that any aspiring State Department hand or geopolitician hold in high regard and hope to at some point emulate.

Wikistrat's Ten Paths to Israel-Iran War

As a researcher over at Wikistrat, the world's first multiplayer strategic risk and geopolitical forecasting firm, I have participated in several collectively written articles that run on the popular website of CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Given the tit-for-tat assassinations that seem to be happening between Iran and Israel along with the multiple pressures being placed on Tehran by the US and the West in general, forecasting war scenarios seems like a worthwhile exercise.

Here is the final article over Zakaria's site.  I largely came up with Path #4.  

Essentially, it has the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt breaking the Camp David Peace Accords and threatening a second front (Hezbollah as Iran proxy in Lebanon being the first). By the way the MB has already threatened to break the Camp David Accords if the US refuses to keep throwing aid its way...

The Tower of Babel Remains Unbuilt

There may be no final, best form of governance as per Fukuyama.  I don't think all people want the same "recognition."  That was the core of his message in the End of History.

Rather, as per Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations thesis would argue that perceptions of recognition differ based on culture which ultimately triumphs over universality.  To that end the Tower of Babel remains incomplete.  

Just read this on post-Qadaffi Libya as one small example of the point.

American Order and Anarchy

Robert Kagan is a big name in foreign policy circles.  This op-ed, which I assume mirrors much of the tenor of his new book, outlines a full throated endorsement of the American backed international order of the day.  I have long written that absent American power, the order will atrophy and we will be in a "neo-Middle Ages" where no power is stabilizing.  This would be a world of "non-polarity" to use the CFR President Richard Haas' phrase.  Kagan seems to think this.  So should a lot of others.  Great power peace is not pre-ordained. 

Check this quote,

"But international order is not an evolution; it is an imposition. It is the domination of one vision over others—in America's case, the domination of free-market and democratic principles, together with an international system that supports them. The present order will last only as long as those who favor it and benefit from it retain the will and capacity to defend it.

There was nothing inevitable about the world that was created after World War II. No divine providence or unfolding Hegelian dialectic required the triumph of democracy and capitalism, and there is no guarantee that their success will outlast the powerful nations that have fought for them. Democratic progress and liberal economics have been and can be reversed and undone. The ancient democracies of Greece and the republics of Rome and Venice all fell to more powerful forces or through their own failings. The evolving liberal economic order of Europe collapsed in the 1920s and 1930s. The better idea doesn't have to win just because it is a better idea. It requires great powers to champion it.

If and when American power declines, the institutions and norms that American power has supported will decline, too. Or more likely, if history is a guide, they may collapse altogether as we make a transition to another kind of world order, or to disorder. We may discover then that the U.S. was essential to keeping the present world order together and that the alternative to American power was not peace and harmony but chaos and catastrophe—which is what the world looked like right before the American order came into being."

How well does this dovetail with what I wrote over at the Atlantic Community over a year and a half ago?

"However, we are entering an uncharted time where new powers are rising and America's star seems to be fading.  It is in this contextual milieu that the recent speech by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, at the United States Navy League's "Sea, Air and Space" Exposition, becomes deeply troubling. While he certainly does not indicate an abandonment of American naval supremacy, one of the keys, along with nuclear weapons, to America's post-World War II military dominance, it is evident that he is willing to allow a relative decline based on the assumption that Great Power conflict is a thing of the past.

This policy, combined with President Obama's almost pollyannaish vision of a nuclear-free world, is a toxic view to maintain at a time of great uncertainty.  It also takes for granted that the relatively peaceful conditions of the present day can be projected into the future. Sadly, this is misguided. A lack of knowledge about the future means one should hedge their bets.  Today's prognostications of what types of threats will emerge and where they will emerge from can look decidedly myopic within a matter of moments, much less years or decades. The U.S. cannot allow itself to become tired of its global responsibilities.

Credibility matters. If the US is perceived as  declining, we really cannot be sure what will happen if others test our resolve. This could pave the way for the destabilization of the regional balances of power.  It is through that door that renewed Great Power conflict could step and shock a world that has forgotten that relative peace is secured through strength."

I riffed on this in an op-ed I wrote called "Beyond the Great Illusion" as well,

"Every generation thinks itself the one to "end war" for all time and create a "just" world order.  Each generation is disabused of these notions as reality stares them in the face. 


The current American generation needs to become disabused sooner than previous ones for the storms brewing beneath the surface of our false tranquility (even after the economic crisis) are real and will not be tamed by rhetoric, resolutions, and vague concepts of hopeful cooperation.  They will be tamed by eternal vigilance and recognition that even as the world undergoes profound transformations, fundamentally, man is still man. The old emotions, so well described by Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, of envy, fear, and greed are just as present now as love, respect, and humility. 


While more of the latter is to be hoped for, more of the former should be prepared for.  We must move beyond our own “great illusion” and defend order rather than expecting it to spontaneously emerge through economics and international treaties that are unable to be backed up."

These are the stakes when we vote.  Elections may seem to be glorified beauty contests these days, but look above, there are real stakes when we vote.  History seems to indicate oscillations between order, or at least relative order, and chaos.  When even elites like Kagan and Haas start talking this way, it is time to pay attention.  Especially, as the Syrian situation and the Iranian situation morph into one potentially Sarajevo 1914 type moments...

Tradition and the Road to a "Brave New World"

I recently blogged about how technology and the rampant increase in tis capacity may lead to a long-term structural unemployment challenge.  In many ways this is already happening.  For all the gnashing of teeth regarding outsourcing and illegal immigration, the greatest long-term challenge to employment is the simple fact that machines and computers will, overtime, obviate the need for typical employment.

The recent numbers showing a decline in unemployment are positive but hide the fact that the labor pool itself has decreased.  This is serious and could well be an indicator of the future of employment.  Rather than the temporary result of an economic crisis, it might become a new structural feature of our entire economic landscape.  I suspect a major reason for this, paradoxically, is technology advances.

When robots can act as waiters and baristas, you'll realize that even the service economy is no longer safe.  Indeed, computer programs are already being using to do certain legal tasks and "Watson" an IBM supercomputer (the one that beat a whole bunch of human Jeopardy champions) is now being used by a major insurance company to facilitate plans of care for clinical patients.

Think about it, drones are now expected to be deployed in the US cities (not just killing terrorists overseas).  These changes are happening at an ever rapid pace and while this is advantageous for many, it is not so good for those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.  To be blunt, those with lower educational attainment levels are simply going to be passed right on by.

With the contemporaneous breakdown of union and public sector jobs, traditional careers for blue collar workers simply won't be there in the same way to pick up the slack for the other areas where displacement will take place.

If this sounds increasingly dystopian, it is.  It is not inconceivable that there will be a day where the iPhone and Droids will be a harbinger not of instant communication and accessibility, but will have been the pivot to where man as man is no longer really necessary.

Of course, these were the same arguments used by Luddites against the Industrial Revolution and, up to this point, it would seem the Industrial Revolution, despite its early pains, was an unambiguous success for helping humankind achieve unprecedented and even unimaginable standards of living.  The question now, however, is- will history largely repeat itself, or are we at a fundamentally different point.  

There are many reasons to be thankful for all of this achievement.  It is a testament to human ingenuity and it has made our lives incomparably easier than it has been for any other generation.  Yet, there is also plenty of reason for unease.

I have argued that tradition is the brake we apply so we can look both ways before we cross the street.  It should not stop all movement, much less should it be reactionary and drive us backward to an imagined utopia of days gone by.  Yet, it SHOULD stop us from hurtling headlong into the future with no real cognition of what consequences may be confronting us.  

I think many who advocate for technology and progress for progress sake seek to dive into a black hole without appreciated how the gravity of a black hole may crush us on the way through.  We must be careful and prudent.

So I submit tradition is the needed brake so we can catch our breath before fundamentally changing what it means to be human.  The possibility of a Brave New World is real.

The Once Again New Specter... War

The specter of war in Europe is certainly off stage for now. Time will tell if it raises itself yet again, however. For not all specters banished by light one day are gone forever, they tend to return when the light (in this case economic growth and stability) fades...

This article describes how what seems impossible today is far from impossible under the right set of circumstances.  This is why the wheel of history keeps turning,

Rome as Past, Present and Future?

Given that I have made this analogy many times myself, I can admit that it s a bit tired, but the America/Rome analogy is not just the product of a feverish imagination infected by too much historical innuendo. 
This National Review piece paints a picture of what such an analogy could indeed look like. Essentially, Michigan shows how this may look with governor appointed "emergency managers" taking over for elected officials to get bankrupt cities on track.  Are these akin to the elected position of "dictator" that the Roman Republic allowed to confront dire circumstances?

And who was the last "Dictator or Life...?"  Julius Caesar.  

"The Clash at the End of History?"

The immediate post-Cold War period proved fertile for imaginative scholars looking to set the terms of the debate over what the future world order would look like.  From Charles Krauthammer's "Unipolar Moment" to Robert Kaplan's "Coming Anarchy" and John Mearsheimer's "Tragedy of Great Power Politics," each tried to forecast what the world could expect.

Would it be a colossus unleashed in Krauthammer's vision?  A neo-Hobbesian state of nature in Kaplan's?  A resumption of great power conflict amidst a world of renewed multipolarity as Mearsheimer envisioned?

However, the two theses that attracted by far the most attention were Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations"and Francis Fukuyama's "End of History."  These were the defining texts and chances were that which one you gravitated to would pigeonhole you as either a "liberal capitalist triumphalist" or a "pessimistic cultural determinist."  

I have blogged on this at length over the years because these two ideas cut to the core of where we see the world evolving.  Is it towards a universal political culture (even if it takes a myriad of detours over time) or is it towards a cacophony of differing perspectives jostling around the world with varying degrees of intersubjective penetration?

Quite frankly, no one knows.  It could even be a strange combination of the two, at least in the short to medium term.

Personally, I started off a believer in the Fukuyama vision, not necessarily over night, but as an eventual end state.  Over time, I have become far more enthralled by Huntington.  Again, I don't think he got it 100 percent right, but I think he captured in broad brushstrokes some very accurate ways for seeing the future.

Of course, Huntington is now deceased, while Fukuyama just published the first of what promises to be a magisterial two volume history on the foundations of political society, the Origins of Political Order.  Consequently, Fukuyama will continue to be able to defend and update his thesis.  It is too bad Huntington can no longer do the same because these two competing visions represent the battle for the soul of the future of mankind.  From which perspective you view the world flows so much of how one will respond to the challenges one faces.

This is especially true of policymakers.  Granted, few leading politicians are likely have read either of these books or wrestled intellectually with them, but they should.  Both are incredibly nuanced (unlike the critiques of both), but are so important.

I find myself struggling internally at all times.  Much like the struggle that Kissinger says with respect to George Kennan,

"The debate in America between idealism and realism, which continues to this day, played itself out inside Kennan’s soul." 

The outcome of this struggle in each person will determine our world.

Wikistrat and Obama's "Pivot"

First, let me say, I am very pleased to be a part of Wikistrat.  This is a new type of consultancy that is best described as a combination of Facebook and Wikipedia merging with geopolitics.  Eventually clients, which will include governments, think tanks, and private corporations will be able to suggest scenarios for the consultancy to game out for them as they look to uncover potential outcomes.  In fact, it is my understanding there will be a lot of interplay where clients can even introduce "shocks" into a scenario.  So a group could be analyzing the outcome of the North Korean power transition after Kim jong-Il's death and a client could ask the group to game out the impact of an assassination attempt on successor Kim jong-Un.  

The potential is limitless.

There are many truly talented people involved in producing great analysis on a myriad of possible major geopolitical issues.  

To give an idea of the talent assembled here-  Wikistrat's chief strategist is Thomas PM Barnett.  Barnett is a well known Pentagon consultant and has columns and blogs that are read in the geopolitical community on a regular basis.  Examples include:: a regular Vanity Fair column on foreign policy, a regular column at World Politics Review, an occasional blogger for Time, has written numerous books including the well regarding "Pentagon's New Map."

That's just one.

Anyway, the power of Wikistrat is just now at the first stages of being harnessed.  CNN's Fareed Zakaria (and the well known author of books including the controversial "Post-American World") recently asked Wikistrat to outline ten trade-off's resulting from the much ballyhooed Obama "Pivot" to Asia.  The Wikistrat opened the question up to us and then Barnett synthesized the information for this piece that ran on Zakaria's CNN webpage to devoted to his TV show, GPS.

I was one of the numerous analysts that contributed ideas for the article and while I think my more "realist" take is a bit of an anomaly among the group, I think my contributions added some value and I am very much looking forward to continuing with this.

In the meantime, I urge anyone interested in geopolitics to check out Wikistrat.  I think this is a model that will catch fire over time in terms of helping decision makers in many different arenas navigate their way through the complexities of our globalized world.

Technology and the Future of Jobs

This is no time to call out a bunch of neo-Luddites, but this article from Technology review points to a potentially problematic trend- technology is displacing employment.  Check out the following,

"Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have feared that new technologies would permanently erode employment. Over and over again, these dislocations of labor have been temporary: technologies that made some jobs obsolete eventually led to new kinds of work, raising productivity and prosperity with no overall negative effect on employment.

There's nothing to suggest that this dynamic no longer operates, but new research is showing that advances in workplace automation are being deployed at a faster pace than ever, making it more difficult for workers to adapt and wreaking havoc on the middle class: the clerks, accountants, and production-line workers whose tasks can increasingly be mastered by software and robots. "Do I think we will have permanently high unemployment as a consequence of technology? No," says Peter Diamond, the MIT economist who won a 2010 Nobel Prize for his work on market imperfections, including those that affect employment. "What's different now is that the nature of jobs going away has changed. Communication and computer abilities mean that the type of jobs affected have moved up the income distribution."

There is a real silver lining here.  Eventually people will become trained in the new technologies and that will likely mean more fulfilling, probably better paying jobs for many people.  This is very similar to how the Industrial Revolution displaces so many farmers, but yielded incredible enhancements in quality of life (after awhile at least).  

The problem is, however, that in the interim period, long bouts of displacement breed resentment, sociological disturbances and (as we seem to see all the time), political volatility.

Consequently, the transition is going to be painful for the majority of people as they change their lifestyles and workplaces.  Hopefully, the tumult of this will soon start to be offset by what should be the inevitable gains.  But the timing is important. Long-term, perceived structural unemployment will create that unpleasant and tumultuous backlash.  

If that gets out of hand, then all bets could be off.

Neo-Middle Ages, Here We (Hopefully Don't) Come

In the past I have posted extensively on what I think will be the most likely outcome of a retrenchment by AMerica from global affairs.  Here are several representative pieces:

Will Atlas Shrug

Welfare at Home, Weakness Abroad

Forget Utopia

Why do I mention these pieces.  Because now Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the foreign policy establishment (and for those that believe in Black Helicopters, one of the founders of the dreaded Trilateral Commission), is writing about it in Foreign Policy magazine and is soon having a new book come out on the subject.  

While he appears not to be alarmist, his warning should be sobering.  Brzezinski, despite the opprobrium heaped upon him as President Carter's National Security Advisor and an early supporter of President Obama, is a man of intellect whose opinions are widely sought.  Indeed, much like Henry Kissinger (whom he is often compared as the Democrat's version of), he as close to a "wise man" as the establishment has.

This may turn some off, even among the less conspiratorial he is controversial, for the more conspiratorial, just Google him and you'd think he was a real life "Dr. Evil" complete with the Blofeld cat. 

Yet, those who dislike what he represents should still take seriously his fears that we may soon be descending back towards a Hobbesian world order rather than the Kantian cosmopolitanism one many internationalists perceive.

Note this,

"For if America falters, the world is unlikely to be dominated by a single preeminent successor -- not even China. International uncertainty, increased tension among global competitors, and even outright chaos would be far more likely  outcomes...

...No single power will be ready by then to exercise the role that the world, upon the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, expected the United States to play: the leader of a new, globally cooperative world order. More probable would be a protracted phase of rather inconclusive realignments of both global and regional power, with no grand winners and many more losers, in a setting of international uncertainty and even of potentially fatal risks to global well-being. Rather than a world where dreams of democracy flourish, a Hobbesian world of enhanced national security based on varying fusions of authoritarianism, nationalism, and religion could ensue."

Not a pretty picture is it?  These are the stakes in politics and policy.  Very serious.  I hope those who select our leaders take note.  This is more than a popularity contest.  It can be about life and death and on a large scale.

Intelligence, Catastrophe and Politics

Charles Krauthammer is probably my favorite columnist.  I have long thought him to be the most cogent writer critiquing President Obama.  He was scathing, but respectful which is something many who dislike the President seem to refuse to be.

However, his latest column is truly great because it makes a compelling case for why we must engage in politics.  He does this in a round about way that touches on the search for sentient life beyond our own planet.  This may seem a strange segue into a conversation about the need for politics, but it is, in fact one of the best.

Here are several relevant sections,

"...Modern satellite data, applied to the Drake Equation, suggest that the number should be very high. So why the silence? Carl Sagan (among others) thought that the answer is to be found, tragically, in the final variable: the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves.

In other words, this silent universe is conveying not a flattering lesson about our uniqueness but a tragic story about our destiny. It is telling us that intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, nearly instantly so.

This is not mere theory. Look around. On the very day that astronomers rejoiced at the discovery of the two Earth-size planets, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity urged two leading scientific journals not to publish details of lab experiments that had created a lethal and highly transmittable form of bird flu virus, lest that fateful knowledge fall into the wrong hands.

Wrong hands, human hands. This is not just the age of holy terror but also the threshold of an age of hyper-proliferation. Nuclear weapons in the hands of half-mad tyrants (North Korea) and radical apocalypticists (Iran) are only the beginning. Lethal biologic agents may soon find their way into the hands of those for whom genocidal pandemics loosed upon infidels are the royal road to redemption."

He concludes by waxing lyrically on how politics, for all its grunginess and stupidity, at the core, is the necessary precondition for surviving and channeling our intelligence, if we can, in a way so as to avoid true catastrophe.

"We grow justly weary of our politics. But we must remember this: Politics — in all its grubby, grasping, corrupt, contemptible manifestations — is sovereign in human affairs. Everything ultimately rests upon it.

Fairly or not, politics is the driver of history. It will determine whether we will live long enough to be heard one day. Out there. By them, the few — the only — who got it right."

So haunting and so potentially prophetic.  This is why anyone who engages with politics, and does so for the right reasons, is worthy of respect.

History Knows No Plateaus

I once was engaged in an interesting e-mail exchange with someone whose opinion I valued a great deal.  It went back and forth some as we discussed democracy and its future prospects here in the United States.   We touched on the "Tytler Cycle" and many other items.  I thought this discourse useful for those who want to consider our current state of affairs.  By the way as a side note, apparently the Tytler Cycle is a bit of a misnomer as it appears to be an amalgamation of two different quotes not originally from the purported author.  Nonetheless, the concept is what is more important than that technicality.

The exchange begins below:

I think the Tytler cycle is largely accurate and that it does reflect on the flawed nature of humans.  The striking thing is that because democracy is a product of flawed humans, it contains within itself the seeds of its own demise, so that even though it may well be better than alternatives, its aspirations are ultimately somewhat utopian.  


Unlike Marxism and those who like any form of millennial apocalypse, the utopians of democracy may be a bit more tempered in their enthusiasms.  It seems they think it possible that while they have not necessarily "solved" the flaw of man, they have at least tamed it enough that it can be sublimated into other pursuits- like seeking wealth and recognition in the context of community. The Alexanders, Caesars and Napoleons of a democratic age are more likely to be a Bill Gates or, at worst, a Rockefeller than the military conquerors of old.  That was, if I recollect, a significant element of Fukuyama's thesis about "recognition."

Yet, it seems that even the balances of power brought about  through the separation of powers in the Montesquieu sense, though very wisely devised, still cannot overcome human nature's desire for power and/or ease.  Those seem to me the Scylla and Charybdis through which a form of government that would be permanent would have to sail.  The desire for power of those who feed off of it and the general sloth of the many in the so-called "masses."  Those two very human traits unwittingly conspire together to overthrow the only form of government that can bring a modicum of meaningfully peaceful recognition to the human condition.  But they always do conspire and set the Tytler cycle (or, depending on one's taste, the Toynbee or Spengler or even Gibbon cycle) in motion.  

So I do think it is the human condition that is the fatal flaw, unfortunately, I think that flaw overwhelms even the best efforts to compensate for it.  The best we can hope for is a constant shifting between various poles of the condition in order to walk the tightrope that gives us the best possible life.  In that sense its a constant and noble pursuit.

Navigating a world filled with flawed humans requires a great deal of dexterity.  Institutions, even the best, atrophy and require someone like a "statesman" to reinvigorate them.  Each cycle of atrophy and resurrection plays out over a long period of time but those are the oscillations that comprise History.  The Tytler Cycle is inescapable.  We don't have any Pericles, Ciceros or Washingtons available to us.  Democracy will fade, only to return.  Its just I fear we are living in the waning time of one great period.  

Again, though, we have no choice but to struggle mightily, even if we fail.  I know Teddy Roosevelt would not be your favorite, but this seems very appropriate,

"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." 

After I wrote the above, I began reading Kissinger's memoirs ( believe it or not I have never read them, but have most of his other works).   I came across this and while not entirely surprised at its similarity to my own thoughts, it was interesting how much I seem  to relate to his tragic sense of the human condition.

"History knows no resting places and no plateaus.  All societies of which history informs us went through periods of decline; most of them eventually collapsed.  Yet there is a margin between necessity and accident, in which the statesman by perseverance and intuition must choose and thereby shape the destiny of his people.  To ignore objective conditions is perilous; to hide behind historical inevitability is tantamount to moral abdication; it is to neglect the elements of strength and hope and inspiration which through the centuries have sustained mankind.  The statesman's responsibility is to struggle against transitoriness and not to insist that he be paid in the coin of eternity.  He may know that history is the foe of permanence; but no leader is entitled to resignation.  He owes it to his people to strive, to create, and to resist the decay that besets all human institutions."

Economics and Values

I don't always like David Brooks, but his op-ed in today's New York Times hits on some very interesting themes regarding the unique challenges America and America's economy face today.  He attempts, and I think he does so very well, to debunk the notion that was so popular at the beginning of the Obama Administration that we are in a new "Progressive Era."

He does this in ways that would both appeal and, quite possibly terrify conservatives.  In my mind the most searing line in the piece is the following,

"One hundred years ago, we had libertarian economics but conservative values. Today we have oligarchic economics and libertarian moral values — a bad combination."

He goes on to say,

"In sum, in the progressive era, the country was young and vibrant. The job was to impose economic order. Today, the country is middle-aged but self-indulgent. Bad habits have accumulated. Interest groups have emerged to protect the status quo. The job is to restore old disciplines, strip away decaying structures and reform the welfare state. The country needs a productive midlife crisis."

Many, if not practically all, self described conservatives would declare the Progressive Era as a very bad thing, something almost like an "Original Sin."  So to ever say anything positive about it at all would strike them as heretical.  However, one thing to keep in mind is that when there is too much stratification in society, that society becomes unstable and prone to overact to both internal and external shocks.

We may be nearing a tipping point in America from which we cannot return.  It is incumbent upon leaders to be far more aggressive than they have been and it will require major changes in our own personal self-indulgences too.  

We should certainly should not hold the Progressive Era up as our be all and end all model, but neither should we entirely discount the inexact analogies it may offer for our own increasingly troubled times and much of it has to do with our values.  No technical tweaks to our system can overcome a degenerated value system, because a value system unable to hold its own will succumb to every stray gust of wind that blows its way.

Suggested Readings for the Next Century

Below is a list of suggested reading to help understand the pending, potential "Asian Century" as outlined in the post below:

On China by Henry Kissinger
Contest for Supremacy by Aaron Friedberg
Monsoon by Robert D. Kaplan

Training Oneself to Think "Eastern"

This is a great summation piece on multiple trends playing themselves out is Eastern Asia and any serious student of world history should at least peruse it.

Here is the bottom line for the 21st Century.  It is difficult to envision that the traditional Atlantic-centric mindset of the 19th and 20th centuries can prevail as we move forward. 

Europe, as is terribly obvious from an even casual review of headlines, is undergoing significant internal stresses.  Its future atop the pyramid of global power came to an end in the ash heap of World War II and Hitler's failed designs.  Europe's continuing geopolitical importance for the period from 1945-1989 was largely due to it being the main chessboard on which the major Cold War struggle was played.  While Europe is still a massive economy and still will play an important role  in world politics, that role will be more of a hinge role that can shift between the consolidated "West" of the U.S. and the new (or, probably more accurately, the newly reacquired) decisive role of the "East."

Meanwhile, Asia had to recover from WWII as well.  It also had to contend with the Communist takeover of China and multiple post-colonial and peripheral Cold War conflicts like the Korean War and Vietnam (which started as post colonial with the French and became a Cold War proxy battle with US involvement), along with multiple internal challenges for India.

Now, however, Asia has arisen.  Actually, as I alluded to above, it has "re-arisen."  Don't forget as recently as the 1820s, China accounted for nearly 30 percent of global GDP.  At America's height of economic dominance post WWII, it was only around 25 percent or so (and this is when we did the Marshall Plan and were rebuilding Japan).  Check out this graph to understand.

Europe and America jumped ahead during the Industrial Revolution, but now, things seem to be settling back into a more normal range from a historical perspective.  

It has already become a cliche in the opinion of much of the foreign and economic policy cognoscenti that the shift in global power has occurred from the Euro-Atlantic to that Asian-Pacific.

But what will this mean over time?  How will America respond?

Already President Obama has "pivoted" to Asia as it attempts to partially divest itself from its long conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is smart and in this area, President Obama deserves credit.    The US continues to retain huge advantages that no other nation in the world possesses (two enormous coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific), great navigable rivers, a huge heartland filled with perhaps the best farmland of any single nation, and a still entrepreneurial spirit.  These advantages quite frankly give the US enormous room for error.  But those margins, while large, are not infinite.  We must become attuned to the future and that future is in the East.

While we cannot ignore Europe and its travails, nor can we leave the explosive tensions of the Middle East completely on their own so long as oil still powers the engines of economic growth,  it is in Asia that the next chapters of history will largely be written.  This brings us back to the article mentioned above.

There is no sound way to offer prognostications about the future with any degree of certainty, but, there are various prisms through which we can analyze.  Training yourself to think this way will be of paramount importance to the next generation of American statesmen.

The Future of "History"

Francis Fukuyama of "End of History" fame raises some intriguing questions in his latest Foreign Affairs article (Warning: subscriber alert).  He raises the prospect that liberal democracy may be unable to survive the decline of a middle class.  Coming from the former high prophet of neoconservative triumphalism this is a sobering, dark, though not entirely surprising position.

Even at the end of his purportedly triumphal tome, Fukuyama raises a mournful speculation as below,

"The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again."

So is history linear, or cyclical.  Should we follow Hegel, the Bible, Spengler or Toynbee?

Virtue and Soft Despotism

I read with interest the many comments elicited by Walter Mead's blog post that I riffed off of yesterday.

I left the below comment down and thought it useful for further explicating my point on virtue,

"...As Benjamin Rush said,

'The only foundation for... a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.'

There is much that can be debated about that point.  However, there seems to be something for it in an age of increased secularism. 

The bottom line though is virtue.  The 'politicians' are mirror images of ourselves.  We create them and they ultimately cater to us.  Sure, there are factions and special interests galore.  Yet, are not each of those made up of a certain number of 'us' despite the fact that each individual grouping obviously differs in composition?

We all want our piece of the pie and support those that will feed it to us.  We can't just blame 'them,' we really must blame ourselves too.

Over time we voted for Tocqueville's 'soft despotism.'  It has come into existence in a myriad of small and trivial ways that cumulatively add up to what Tocqueville describes below,

'It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.'"

The Wages of Lost Virtue

This is a great blog by Walter Mead (probably my favorite blogger besides David P. Goldman).  

He paints an ugly picture of what could almost be called "kleptocracy."  He states, eloquently, and I believe accurately the following,

"Ultimately no laws can protect a republic when the people have lost their virtue. If we can’t throw out these bums and find some better people to replace them, American democracy will slowly turn into something very unattractive."

I immediately thought that this is where the Roman analogy plays a large role.  There is a reason Caesar rose to power.  He was a populist who essentially overthrew an aristocratic kleptocracy.  Remember, those who assassinated him on the floor of the Senate were aristocrats fearful of what Caesar would do as "Dictator for Life," but the general masses were so angry by his killing that the conspirators essentially had to flee and lost in a subsequent civil war to the inheritors of Caesar's mantle (Mark Anthony and his ally, albeit temporary, Octavian- soon to become Augustus).

History teaches by inexact analogy, but it it teaches nonetheless.  

Whatever one thinks of the "Roman Empire" vs. the "Roman Republic," it didn't just die because of the "Man on Horseback" in Caesar.  It was engulfed in internal decay long before, he simply dealt a death blow to a corrupt regime that lost touch with the virile virtues that led Rome to depose their last King and establish a republic in the first place.

Another Chapter for the "Golden Age of Proliferation"

I have written many times on the "Golden Age of Proliferation" and see nothing that has changed in recent times to alter my view that contrary to a world of "Global Zero," we face the increasing likelihood of multiple additional powers obtaining at least rudimentary nuclear weapons capability.  Who will give them up now with the lesson of dead Qadaffi (who withdrew from the nuclear sweepstakes in the early 2000s) fresh in their memory?

With the death of Kim jong-Il, the prospects of destabilization on the Korean continent, while not preordained, is a distinct possibility.  We simply do not know enough about the new, "Great Successor," Kim jong-Un to be confident of stability during the transition.  Who knows what factions there are between the military and civilian leadership or within the military itself.  After all, North Korea is unambiguous in only one way- the fact that it is defined by opacity.

However, as this blog mentions, North Korea has already become a central cog in a global system of proliferation.  While it is all necessarily murky, North Korea seems, as with the Khan network out of Pakistan, to be very important in to the future of whether we can limit proliferation.  Things like the former Bush Administrations, Proliferation Security Initiative is a strong step at mitigating proliferation, though it seems hard to imagine that it will avoid all prospects for smuggling or the losing of nuclear material.

We continue to travel a dangerous path here.

Bad Year for Bad People

Who would have thought at the beginning of 2011 we would see Osama bin Laden dispatched, Muammar Qadaffi overthrown and killed and Kim jong-Il pass from the scene?

Fascinating times and in the wake of the "Dear Leader's" passing,  I thought I'd pass along a reading list from Foreign Affairs that discusses possible future trajectories for North Korea.

Germany and Italy Decoupling- New EU Taking Shape?

This is a great piece by David P. Goldman, the psuedonymous "Spengler" over at his economics focused Inner Workings blog.  It is very interesting and highlights the likelihood that Europe will split and the EU will be largely a northern affair.  Something, I surmise, like the Hanseatic League of the 13th-17th centuries.

The real, long-term question for Europe is whether the Franco-German relationship can remain relatively close.  Historically, this has not been the case.  Indeed, it is one big reason that they became so very tied together during the creation of the EU project, namely to overcome the past with a new history.  This now seems dubious as Germany, in many ways, is now "winning" in a way that Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler might only have imagined.  Germany is becoming THE cog of  all of Europe.  

The backlash against this will determine the future of the European's Kantian notions, but it seems that "history" is back in vogue in Europe.

By the way, I am currently reading Goldman's "Why Civilizations Die," it is very good and riffs off of much of what he has previously written.  A couple of years ago I even blogged on his themes myself and encourage all to read it.

It certainly makes the old, "Demography is Destiny" line seem quite appropriate for our times.

Global Security Needs a Regional Focus

Finally another op-ed I did for the Atlantic Community that was cross posted at Eurasia Review.

"There is a constant drumbeat on both sides of the Atlantic that we must enhance NATO and make sure its up to the multifarious challenges of a globalized world. This is a questionable assertion by its advocates. By contrast, it seems increasingly likely that the new global security infrastructure should be built on a foundation of regionalism.

As I have previously argued, the US, for as long as it remains the single most powerful nation in the world, should play a pivotal role in each of several key security institutions. Yet these institutions should remain regional, focusing on their own neighborhoods so that they can be more effective, rather than morphing into grandiose institutions with ambitions far exceeding their capabilities.

For the trans-Atlantic world, NATO is, unfortunately, becoming a prime example of an institution that is flailing about in the globalized post- Cold War world. Its most recent attempt to maintain relevance above and beyond what it should be is its relatively ill-fated Libya intervention.

This sideshow theater has done much to advertise both Europe’s incapacity and America’s unwillingness to do what is necessary to win in a small-scale conflict. Additionally, there are serious questions why this was ever done in the first place. If it was really engaged in due to the hazy concept of "Right to Protect", then it is really quite embarrassing to see what is happening simultaneously in Syria.

Indeed, one can make a cogent argument that the Assad regime crackdown in Syria is of far more strategic importance to the region than whatever Colonel Qadaffi has been doing. However, the point is, if one is to engage, they must engage fully. This, NATO has emphatically not done and it is visible to other nations and growing power centers in the world.

The take away from this sorry state of affairs is that NATO should remain focused on European stability, not out of theater operations. Efforts, like Libya, to use NATO outside of Europe leave much to be desired. Fundamentally, it is making the Atlantic Alliance look weaker not stronger.

Meanwhile, though it is true that threats in the new, globalized world are vastly different than those previously confronted in the pre and post World War II eras, their amorphous nature does not lend itself to having to create institutions that are all things to all people. It makes little sense why NATO should be involved in Asian security competition for the long run. By contrast, something akin to the old SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization), would make perfect sense in the region.

Yes, the old SEATO disbanded due to the fractiousness of its members. However, with the rise of China and threats like terrorism, piracy off the Somali coast, Indo-Pakistani tensions and a nuclearized North Korea, there could be renewed interest in a security system for the region. Overlapping membership with the ASEAN and APEC would be guaranteed.

It could also serve as a useful balancer to the Shaghai Cooperation Organization, but not necessarily make membership contingent upon the domestic political structure of various interested states. Though it would probably need to exclude China as a direct member, it should certainly look for something akin to the NATO-Russia council to assuage legitimate Chinese concerns.

Also, given the importance of East Asia to the future economic order of the world, a "Quadrilateral Commission" comprised of the U.S. China, India and, possibly Japan should also be sought out for both additional economic discussions and, peer-to-peer military exercises.

Meanwhile, the U.S. should pursue more robust engagement with Brazil in South America and seek a "South Atlantic Treaty Organization" that might deal not only with Marxist revisionists like Hugo Chavez, but also drug cartels.

Certainly, this is all very rough in conception, but the point is, there is an increasing need to become focused on regions. By making security architectures appropriately focused, they can avoid becoming empty hulks that do little more than offer superficial comfort."

European Stability, Not Global Power Projection

Another op-ed I wrote that was cross posted at the Atlantic Community and at the Young Transatlantic Conservative Alliance.

"The key for the future of NATO is to once again establish a clear strategic rationale for its existence. This was a relatively easy task during the Cold War, when the threat of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was very real and perceived as existential. In the years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, this is obviously no longer the case. NATO's actions since that time, in terms of its use of military force against Serbia during the Kosovo crisis in the 1990s and its extensive work in Afghanistan, illustrate how NATO can work and how it really cannot.

The key question is this: Should NATO in the twenty-first century be used primarily to defend Europe from external aggression while also facilitating intra-European stability, or is it to be a platform for external stabilizing missions in other geographic regions, such as the Middle East or East Asia? 

The answer is that it should remain focused on what it can do and do well. 

If NATO was largely created "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down," as stated memorably by the Alliance's first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay, this should in large measure be maintained as a raison d'etre. The questions of Russia and Germany continue to be, as they always have been, of paramount importance to European stability. NATO can and should deal with this. The Alliance should remain a serious player in Europe, capable of defending against any potential external aggression, especially coming from Russia (even though this scenario seems highly unlikely any time in the foreseeable future). It should also retain the ability to maintain a sense of order in the continually tumultuous southern side of Europe, especially the Balkan tinderbox. 

That being said, NATO must re-examine its capacity to engage in missions outside of Europe, and should probably scale back any extra-European ambitions. The fiscal and military resources are not available to engage in global operations, and the scarce resources that are available are better spent in the European neighborhood.

Referring again to the Kosovo air campaign, it appears that NATO can use force effectively when deployed against malefactors within the general European area. By contrast, although NATO has played a significant role in Afghanistan, the ambiguities of general policy towards that nation and the larger issues pertaining in particular to stability in Pakistan have made it a far less successful endeavor. Granted, much of this is due to internal policy divisions within the United States, which is quite evidently the largest player in the Afghan theatre. However, the projection capabilities of NATO are not all that impressive when looking outside of Europe. Attempting to bolster that in order to essentially become some kind of global constabulary force seems unwise.

At the end of the day, each region of the world will require its own multilateral (though not pan-global) institutions.

The US will, for as long as it remains the single most powerful nation in the world, play a key role in each of these regional institutions. Yet these institutions should remain regional, focusing on their own neighborhoods so that they can be more effective, rather than morphing into grandiose institutions with ambitions far exceeding capabilities. That is a sure-fire recipe for ineffective institutions that spend more time talking than acting on the imperatives of the moment."

China's Rise is But the Latest to Breed Fear in Anarchial World

The below is an article that was posted in several places including the Atlantic Community and Eurasia Review.

"There is a great deal of fear emerging in both the United States and East Asian nations such as Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam over a recently assertive China. Barring a fundamental transformation in the way international relations has always worked, the anarchical "state of nature" described by Thomas Hobbes and the theory of Realism indicate that conflict with China is virtually inevitable.

There are also those that dismiss these fears.  They indicate China is unlikely to ever engage in overly dangerous behavior and that any current bellicosity will moderate in time as China becomes further enmeshed in the global economic order.  These dismissals, however, miss a key point.  The point is not what China will do in the immediate future.  The real point is what will China COULD do in the future.

Fear is not based upon a certainty of what will occur, but upon the uncertainty of what might occur and make no mistake; fear and interest are perpetual drivers of human activity.  They are the stuff of which history is comprised.

The fundamental problem of international relations is its anarchical nature. Whether one is a "classical realist" in the Morgenthau mould or a "structural realist" in the Waltz mould, anarchy is the core problem that frames how all states interact with each other.  At the end of the day, there is no transnational, "global cop" or global Leviathan that can enforce international law. Indeed, force is the ultimate arbiter of international relations. Always has been and always will be.

Law and the "institutionalization" of law by embedding states into a legal framework is effective only so long as more interests are served than harmed and a real balance of power is achieved. When the balance shifts, institutions atrophy and become largely irrelevant from a practical standpoint.  While they may manage to retain some amount of symbolic value, their inability to act in a concrete fashion fundamentally inhibits their usefulness.  This is because law is an agreed upon code of conduct.  When agreement falters and compromise is no longer possible for one side or both sides, what is left to enforce a given claim?  As Mao himself bluntly stated, "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." This is truly a Hobbesian State of Nature.

As a given nation's economic clout grows, interests inevitably expand and run into those interests of others once they become large enough.

China’s interests are now quite large. While it appears that it seeks to negotiate outcomes within the current global trading order for the most part, China’s aforementioned actions in the South China Sea showcase a more "Westphalian" as opposed to "Kantian" notion of international relations.

These actions are most likely taken for the same reason analogous actions have always been taken.  Namely, because at a certain point, a once advantageous law will become a straitjacket.  At that point, law takes the back seat and interest is pursued by whatever is the most efficacious means.

This process ALWAYS happens. It happened to Athens. It happened to Rome. It has happened every time a European power sought hegemony in Europe. It happened as the U.S. expanded its continental territory long before engaging in World Wars. It happened to a certain degree already with various previous dynasties in China.

This brings us full circle, for this same process is now happening (again) with China. The fears mentioned at the outset are thus not overhyped. It doesn't matter what the present leadership of China wants, or even the next generation. China’s capabilities are what count. As various military capabilities are enhanced, subtle hedging becomes essential.  Fear begins to begat further fear and the vicious cycle of the past reasserts its seemingly inexorable logic.

History teaches by inexact analogies, so the future could be different, perhaps, amazingly different from the past.  Yet, a reasonable statesman must, by virtue of their position, assume that the vicissitudes of fortune will impact them in ways similar to their predecessors.

China’s rise is but merely the latest rise to instill fear due to the very nature of the world we live in."

Returning to the Blogosphere

I have not updated my blog recently as most can tell.  Largely, this is due to having a second son earlier in the year (Alexander, with Augustus our first) and some of the time constraints that creates.

Additionally, I have been blogging at my job, an analyst with the Ohio based free market think tank, the Buckeye Institute on a wide range of Ohio specific issues.

Indeed, I have long watched the Buckeye Institute and can honestly say that working here since February has been a true pleasure.  Our outgoing President is an excellent policy mind and a true "go-getter" that wants to make a difference.  There is much to be said for this and I am pleased to have had the chance to learn a great deal from his experiences in DC and other arenas.

Additionally, I am working part-time as an "Intern" at a new geopolitical forecasting group called Wikistrat.  The best way to describe this is as Wikipedia meets geopolitics and is essentially a crowd-sourcing endeavor with a pretty elite "crowd" providing scenario simulations and analysis for potential clients.  Particularly, interesting to me is that the Chief Strategist at Wikistrat is Thomas PM Barnett who I written about on this blog in the past.  He is a long-time Pentagon consultant and writer of regular foreign policy columns at Vanity Fair and occasionally a Time magazine blog.  His books, especially the Pentagon's New Map, are highly influential in defense circles.  

I am a bit more pessimistic in general than he is, but engaging with both him and the community at large is truly a pleasure.

Recently, we did a fascinating simulation of China's growing economic role in China.  Many different scenarios were explored and the interests of actors as varied as India to South Africa to to the EU were considered.

I will be part of a team that distills the results of the simulation into a single client-consumable document.

For now, I anticipate only a few blogs here and there due to my other commitments, but I have felt strongly that there things to be said and when the opportunity presents itself, I intend to still write.

I hope for those that have followed in the past, you will consider following once again and I thank you for your interest in some of my ruminations.

Ethanol Leads to More Hunger

Even the World Bank pretty much admits the push for biodiesel in developed countries, most importantly the US, has lead to a rise in cost of food which leads to more hunger in poverty stricken nations.  This is because as foodstuffs like corn are diverted to the production of ethanol, less is available for food consumption for people and for food for livestock (which increases meat and dairy costs too). 
So, we have a problematic paradox.  By trying to reduce emissions, we are helping, basically, to increase starvation.  This may or may not be a worthwhile trade off, but it is quite telling that the global warming crowd never mentioned this potential to the general public.  Its a pretty important question that should be examined from multiple angles.  That the debate has not happened is unforunate, not least of all to those who are struggling to live on a day to day basis.  The Wall Street Journal explores.

Mongols, Mao, and the Dalai Lama

Interesting article on the historical background to China's claims on Tibet and Tibet's (especially the Dalai Lama's) view on its independence.  Historical manipulation seems to be evident on both sides for their own reasons, though it would seem Tibet was never formally a part of China (though it does seem it was a vassal state under at least two dynasties).
This shows just how history drives events.

Turkey on the Edge?

A fascinating article that compares current Turkish politics and how the possible arrival of a significant theologian, living in the US at the moment, could turn Turkey definitively away from the secularism enshrined by Ataturk.  This theologian, Fethullah Gülen, is compared to Khomeini.  I do not know enough on this to know if these postulations are anything more than some mere rumblings, however, I do know that the party in leadership in Turkey, the AKP, and led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Islamist and does seek much more religious "freedom." 
It seems overblown to say that Turkey is on the verge of a revolution akin to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  For one thing, there is no strongman Shah who has been reviled by the local populace for a long period of time.  However, watching the gradual shift from secularism and the conflicts with the military leadership and AKP gives one a sense that real cleavages between them can expand and it is not clear which way the population will go.  In the wake of Europe's continual stonewalling of considering Turkey a candidate or entry into the EU, Turks seem to be looking for other, attainable alternatives.  America clearly doesn't want an Islamist shift, even if it is not remotely as radical as the Iranian Revolution. 
This bears watching.  Turkey has long been hailed as a Muslim majority success story.  Nothing happening yet indicates that it will cease to be so, but the rumblings under the surface also, do not give a lot of comfort that it is firmly anchored to the West in the way America has long hoped for.

Bolton Slams Bush

From the Wall Street Journal, former Bush Administration official and UN Ambassador, the irrepressable John Bolton, severely rebukes President Bush for "appeasement" with respect to a soon to be released agreement over the North Korean nuclear program.  I largely agree with this critique.  However, it is difficult to envision how to eliminate this threat absent military action which we do not currently have the ability to do with our Middle East concerns (not to mention the likely devastation that would be visited on South Korea when the North retaliated).  This is as thorny as it gets.  Only China has real leverage, but they have little incentive to do anything that could cause a weakening of the Kim jong-Il regime given their legitimate concerns over a titanic refugee crisis in the event of a regime collapse.
Consequently, we play word games with interlocutors who enjoy yanking our chain.  Unfortunately, even with some serious economic sanctions we have put against North Korea, our options are limited to uniformly bad choices.

Paradigms in the Dark

I spend so much time talking of the future and the debates between academics as well as policmakers because, in truth, we are all stumbling in the dark.  Different intellectuals point out bits and pieces of what seems to be a potential framework for understanding, yet no one is able to fully articulate a completely plausible future.  If history has a design or teleological destiny, we will never understand it in its totality.  To do so would make us God.  No one is God and even some of the greatest critiques in history (Nietzsche on modern society and the Last Man coming to mind) only cast a ray of light on the whole, penetrating though that singular ray may be.
All great thinkers bring needed insight, but it is always, at best, a partial illumination.  Much like theoretical physics, the more we understand, the more we know only that we really don't know that much.  If Socrates was the wisest man because he understood that limitation, then many abstract thinkers are as far from him as possible as they seem convinced of their knowledge and the validity of their prognostications.
We all seek truth, at least those of good repute.  Yet, we need to be able to act on incomplete information because the world of action compels us to do so.  Yet we can never be mistaken that when we act, we really "know." 
Nonetheless, here are several articles looking at outlining the geopolitical contours of the 21st Century.  Here and here are two interesting pieces and I suspect each has some kernals of the whole embodied within.  In 10 years, it will be interesting to see what makes the most sense, if any do by then...   Maybe they are all just paradigms in the dark. 

The Age of Nonpolarity

Another interesting piece, this time in the new issue of Foreign Affairs and written by the Council on Foreign Relations President, former Bush Administration official, Richard Haas.  I previously posted an article he wrote in the realist journal, the National Interest that essentially said the world we are entering is "Palmerstonian" and that alliances will be less formalized and much more ad hoc.
This article continues that and more fully fleshes it out.  Unlike the Unipolar Era (of Charles Krauthammer) and multiple interpretations of a new multipolar environment where several great powers will be in charge (US, EU, China, India, maybe Japan, maybe Russia), the "nonpolar" age will be a fairly chaotic time.  This is because while the US and other powers all have certain strengths (the US remaining the overall strongest for the forseeable future), none has enough strength to enforce their will on numerous smaller states.  Haas is optimistic that ad hoc coalition building can work on certain global issues like terrorism and global warming by focusing on smaller, more achievable goals (as opposed to global agreements where universal agreement will be practically impossible).  This will allow incremental positive change.  This quote encapsulates the overall argument,
"Nonpolarity will be difficult and dangerous. But encouraging a greater degree of global integration will help promote stability. Establishing a core group of governments and others committed to cooperative multilateralism would be a great step forward. Call it "concerted nonpolarity." It would not eliminate nonpolarity, but it would help manage it and increase the odds that the international system will not deteriorate or disintegrate."
I do not think this is necessarily the correct vision.  As I argue below when referring to paradigms in the dark, this really is but one more conceptual framework.  It clearly has the latent potential to be prophetic, but decisions made today and tomorrow can alter this. 
I remain convinced that the unipolar era is not necessarily closed.  America is losing its way through mismanagement, political stalemate, and fear of acknowledging the consequences of domestic profligacy.  It is possible to get this in order, but it takes the will to do so.  For a nation that grew territorally and economically at breakneck speed after becoming independent, that overcame its own original sin of slavery through what amounted to a bloody purification, that faced down fascism, Japanese imperialism, and Soviet Communism to not be capable of this challenge defies our potential.  Perhaps, we are not capable anymore, but to believe that is to believe in a dismal place indeed, a place and world of nonpolarity.

The End of Nonproliferation

Charles Krauthammer hits the nail on the head when he says in this piece that we are entering the post non-proliferation age.  While arms control experts and various activists will insist on disarmament, the truth is (as I have posted before), once the genie was out, it could never be put back in.  I know of the examples showing a nation did forgo nuclear weapons programs after starting them, South Africa being one of the most notable, however, it is increasingly unlikely this will continue.

The argument that we must disarm so as to appropriately incentivize other nations to not pursue nuclear weapons as an equalizing force has more merit than many on the "conservative" side usually ascribe, yet there is a fundamental flaw.  Even if we were to be "good faith" actors, how could ever guarantee other nations weren't cheating?  To assume they won't seek such weapons in the abscence of a threat ignores the nature of geopolitics throughout history.  Nations have always sought to maximize their power in the best way they can because, despite "international law", at the end of the day, in the abscence of a "Global Levaithan" no one can count on another Whie Knight to save them if one of the neighborhood bullies gets out of hand.  They have to be able to take care of themselves with the most potent defense they can muster.  Today, nuclear technology is no longer prohibitively expensive nor is the necessary knowledge base locked away within the heavily industrialized world.  This is the anarchy of international politics (and a fundamental tenat of realist thought).

Would Iran ever trust America is "really" dispensing with its arsenal?  Would Russia?  Would China?  How could we "know" definitively that any of them are?  Just look at all the challenges getting a petty regime like North Korea to "open up" and "disclose" their nuclear programs.  Consequently, we would always have to be prepared for the undesired.  For a leader to do otherwise is to be derelict in their responsibilities to preserve the nation they lead. 

Sadly, the only way to stop proliferation was to never create nuclear weapons in the first place.  Now it is inevitable that it will remain a permanent feature of global life.  Wishing it away is an exercise in futility.  Krauthammer makes it clear that deterrence once more will be a needed feature of international relations.  Brutally honest explanations of consequences is necessary to be sure that pragmatic leaders retain control over such weapons as opposed to fanatical (or apocalyptic) leaders.  Naturally, as nonproliferation advocates assert, this is till unstable, miscommunication can lead to poor decisions even by the most rational of leaders.  However, what alternatives remain open?  Disarmament is now as utopian as "perpetual peace."  As Krauthammer states unequivocally,

"We have entered the post-nonproliferation age. It's time to take our heads out of the sand and deal with it."

Pole Dancing

A provocative title for what is really a rundown of a recent conference on the future of the "western world."  This piece, put together by an editor from the National Interest outlines several various visions of what is becoming fashionably env vogue as the so-called "post- American" intellectual movement. 
Most interesting though is this thought experiment from one of the conference participants,
 "another group of up-and-coming states: “southern democracies” like India, South Africa and Brazil that have developed solidly liberal institutions, but remain suspicious of Western interference in their affairs.  It’s possible that New Delhi or Brasilia could be decisive in an East-West struggle—will they decide to throw in their lot with one side or instead remain nonaligned? The implications could be enormous."
This partially reflects some of recent work by Robert Kagan regarding the alternative views of the western, liberal democratic order and those of the recently (re)arisen "eastern, authoritarian" powers (to put it crudely), ie, China and Russia.  Essentially, will former Third World countries that are now moving up the global food chain align with the western order or the order advocated by nations like Russia and China.  Seeing which way they break could give us great insight into the future of the world. 
I find it interesting how America, Europe, and the west in general are looking outside the traditional Westphalian system and that China and Russia (along with many African nations) are still embracing the supremacy of the state over human rights.  So the question seems to be, how many poles of power will there be in the coming world order? 
There is no question a new international architecture is being put in place.  However, the architect of that order has apparently not been hired yet and may not be for some time to come.

Fighting Pushback

Continuing along the theme of the differences between a Russian-Chinese world order (and to be clear, I do not mean they will form an explicit axis that will work in concert, only that similar outlooks on the world inform their policymaking and offer alternative visions for ordering the world), is this interesting bit I found from last year.
It laments the potential return of an unsentimental realism and does a good job showing why- namely in the modern world, ruthless adherence to national interest is not an adequate enough basis for conducting policy when the people demand something moral.
Here are they key parts,
"So how does one fight pushback? With the falling of a shadow across the Bush Administration’s Freevangelical foreign policy, many have proposed a resurrection of the soberer tradition of realism in international relations, the cool appraisal of what is really in America’s interests — not the interests of Europe or Asia or the Middle East — which Theodore Roosevelt, Hans Morgenthau, and George Kennan advocated. There have been calls for a “new realism” (Bill Richardson), an “American realism” (Condoleezza Rice), a “progressive realism” (Robert Wright), a “higher realism” (Seyom Brown), and an “ethical realism” (Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman).

The most profound student of foreign-policy realism in our time, Henry Kissinger, traced the origins of the realist tradition in his 1994 book Diplomacy, an intellectual tour de force in which Bismarck, Cardinal Richelieu, and Richard Nixon emerge as supreme practitioners of an unsentimental Realpolitik.

But the realism Kissinger and Nixon practiced in the 1970s was grounded in a misconception. Bismarck himself saw that the pure cold analysis of national interests, which characterized Richelieu’s policy, ceased to be practicable in an age of mass communications (one in which public opinion was a force as powerful as standing armies). Great masses of people, Bismarck believed, could never be swayed by anything as gray and prosaic as realism.

Bismarck was on to something. While the leaders of a great power should, he believed, soberly pursue their nation’s real interests in the world, they must never seem to be engaged in so rational and prosaic a pursuit. The cool realism of their policies must always seem to be fired by the deepest furnaces of national passion. For once a rival power concludes that it has to do, not with the fervor of a roused nation, but with mere diplomats, it will pounce. Bismarck succeeded as a realist precisely because he did not appear to be one; rival powers were never quite sure whether they were dealing with an analytical chess player or a mad dog. The bit of foam at the mouth was a wonderful deterrent.

The 1970s bear Bismarck out. The pragmatic realism that underlies the Kissinger-Nixon policy of détente, unnourished by America’s faith in the transforming power of freedom, led many to conclude that America was weak, tame — decadent. Both the Soviet Union and radical Islam were quick to exploit this perceived failure of will: the belief that the U.S. had abandoned its visionary conception of itself as a “city on a hill” was one cause of the wave of anti-Americanism that swept the globe in the late ’70s. The decade that began with détente ended with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran.

Today, with Bismarck’s children hard at work around the world, the U.S. seems poised to repeat the mistakes of the ’70s by falling into a spiritless Realpolitik that will only encourage more pushback. Those who today repudiate the Freevangelical message the president delivered at the U.N. may in time come to rue their short-sightedness

"Realistic Idealism" anyone? 

Old Isolationist Tug

Victor Davis Hanson used to be one of my favorite writers.  I now find him a little bit tiresome as he seems to recycle many arguments.  However, I think is more often right than wrong and this piece on the fairly obvious rise of isolationist sentiment in America is, in my opinion, right on tract.  The nation has grown tired of its global responsibilities and wishes it could just get back to the heyday of the 1990s.  As Hanson observes, history rarely affords us that luxury.  We can't give up what we have built without a far more dramatic downfall than anyone really wants to experience, except for those who are convinced of our inherent immorality.

Father of History

Herodotus, the Father of History, as named by Cicero wrote what many consider the first great western history.  This even before another famous author, Thucydides, wrote of the tragic Peloponnesian War.  This rather long article performs an interesting exigesis on the work within the constext of a review of a newly published translation.  It is well worth reading even if the end is overwrought by attempting a not so veiled analogy between Darius the Great, his son Xerxes and the two President Bushes.

Al-Qaeda vs. Iran?

News accounts are showing that a recently released audio tape from al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri includes aggressive language against Iran.  It appears as-Zawahiri is finally attempting to expoit the growing Sunni-Shiite divide.  This could be very important.  In the past, it has seemed there was what almost seemed a tactical relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda.  While there was no clear evidence of joint operations, there was no obvious acrimony from bin Laden or Zawahiri.  That this is happening now raises interesting questions.

MAD at the Soldiers of Reason?

Given the recent post on a "post non-proliferation era" I thought this book review on a work looking at the history of the RAND Corporation was interesting.  For it is within RAND that much of our nuclear doctrine was first promulgated.  Clearly, the reviewer (and I suspect the author of the book) take a dim view of RAND and the theories it espoused (Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD).  What they fail to realize is that in a world where "trust" is next to impossible to have, what choices did we have?  Could there have been a "peaceful" alternative or is there something about human nature that made the world of MAD inescapable once nuclear weapons were finally created?  That is the fundamental question that still must be asked today.  This is not a technical question, rather, it is both existential and oh so very human.

On Meaninglessness

This intriguing article looks at the philosophical impact of Nietzsche, Freud, and Richard Rorty on the modern world.  In particular, the article examines how each confronted the "problem of meaninglessness."  None believed in God or even in any form of transcendence.  Nietzsche saw this as an opportunity for the liberation of the strong, Freud assumed we all would continue to have an innate need for meaning even if we couldn't find it, and Rorty was rather blase about the whole question.
It seems to me that nihilism is the curse at the heart of modernity, for nihilism is a belief in nothingness which imparts on people no hope for truth.  This leads to relativism and a lack of any objectivity because everything becomes subjective.  No one can be a true nihilist and not go insane.  Nietzsche came the closest I can think of in attempting this feat by attempting to overcome nihilism by imparting meaning only to the immanent.  Given that he broke down and died in a semi catatonic state should make one wonder whether this is possible.  As Nietzsche prophetically said (and Nietzsche was undoubtedly a prophet of amazing, if misguided insight), "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
In a world of meaninglessness, monsters are all that is there staring at one from the abyss. 

Hedge Funds Increasing Hunger?

An article from Der Spiegel that outlines how hedge funds making bets on various agricultural commodities is helping make the current food crisis worse.  While acknowledging various factors such as increasing demand due to rising living standards in Asian giants like China and India, the western world's increasing use of biofuels, and drought in producing areas, the article makes a compelling case that hedge funds looking for profit are exacerbating the problem by bidding up the price of food stuffs.  This clearly raises major questions.  It also will make it harder foor poorer nations around the world to buy into the concept of globalization.  Don't be surprised to see regulation come on this issue sometime in the next couple of years.

North Korea Helped Syria With Nuclear Reactor

US intelligence is now releasing a video that sheds some light on the murkiness surrounding the Israeli destruction of a complex in Syria last year.  For months there has been speculation as to just what Israel had destroyed with most of the speculation being that it was a nuclear reactor being built with assistance from North Korean technicians.  Now, given the move to a new agreement with North Korea on its own program, it appears the US government is trying to air out all of what it knows about North Korea's extracurricular activities.  Officials are making clear the complex was not for power generation, but could produce plutonium for weaponization. 
I suspect we are doing this to pressure the North Koreans into moving forward with new agreements we have been negotiating.  President Bush would like to secure a deal before exiting the White House and he seems to be trying to box Kim jong-Il into a bit of corner by saying cut a deal now, it'll never get easier than what we are offering at the moment.  Given the regime's past actions, I remain skeptical they will adhere to any deal.  However, given that the only alternative to "permanently" end the North Korean program would be military action (that would be far messier than anything we have seen in Iraq), at the moment, this may be the best we're going to get.

China and the West

This story is rundown from a conference hosted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute.  It is a very solid historical survey of recent Chinese history going back to the 19th Century.  It certainly helps to put into context much of China's perceptions regarding the West.  This context is essential in terms of really understanding where the current Chinese Leadership is coming from, especially during an election season in the US where "China Bashing" is popular. 

Oil Prices to Double?

Canadian study estimates that gas prices will double by 2012.  While doom and gloom scenarios run rampant at tumultuous times like these, one must wonder how much supply can be increased given the overwhelming demand for gas coming from Asia.  The post-oil energy future may be well be coming.

Is Democracy Winning?

An interesting exchange between Robert Kagan and Robert Cooper as to whether democracy is winning.  Given Kagan's reputation as a neoconservative, it is interesting that he is the one who is speaking in more Kissingerian, balance of power terms.  That said, I do believe Kagan is more right in this argument that the Fukuyamaesque "End of History" is over and we have reentered a quasi- Hobbesian state of international relations.

Debate on Free Trade

An interesting debate on the benefits vs. the costs of free trade.  While I largely support freee trade and believe that overall it has been good for Americans (it is only because of free trade that consumer goods have remained as cheap as they have and, thus allowed Americans to stretch their dollars).  However, as opponents of free trade point out, there are clearly "losers" in this system.  Free trade does appear to equalize the wages of unskilled labor, which for Americans does not mean a trend up, but a trend down.  This leads to fear and backlash because arguing in favor of the "winners" is much more abstract and difficult to see than those who are clearly suffering.
This is a crude way of framing the debate, I admit, however, the point is, sometime, we will have to find a way to help those who do lose out because of free trade.  A failure to do so, even if the actions are do not fall within the doctrinaire free market libertarianism many conservatives support, will mean a drastic reaction against.  This could kill off free trade which would leave everyone worse off as old "winners" become "losers" and the old "losers" fall even further.  Pragmatism is called for, anyone who espouses unadulterated ideological responses from either side is going to leave us worse off.  A rational center must be found to at least sustain, and hopefully, build upon our gains.

Albright and Brzezinski Paint a Picture of What a Democratic Foreign Policy Will Look Like

A useful review of two books by Democratic foreign policy elites.  Madeline Albright was President Clinton's Secretary of State during his second term and Zbigniew Brezinski was President Carter's National Security Advisor.  I largely agree with the negative critique offered by this review (in candor, I have only read the Brzezinski book and not the Albright one).
Essentially, both policymakers want America to "rebuild" its reservoir of global goodwill by being more deferential to global public opinion.  They also indicate that Democrats really do see the terrorism threat post September 11 as hyped.
While I think it is clearly the case that President Bush's diplomacy has often been ham handed, especially in the first term, how can anyone say we haven't been deferential when it comes to negotiating with North Korea or the Europeans regarding Iran?  Bush's second term bears remarkable similarities to the very policies Albright and Brzezinski seem to promote and to be explicit, this diplomacy has been an abject failure just as much as the previous policy of "isolating" rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran.  Iran is going to soon be nuclear and North Korea has grown (albeit by a small number) its nuclear arsenal.  Yet we have been nothing if not "multilateral" since the inception of Bush's second term.
Perhaps, as I have argued elsewhere, "democratization" is a bad policy to have at the core of our international efforts.  However, that is not really at the core of the pressing issues related to North Korea and Iran. 
In large measure, Democrats seem to think that if we are "nice enough" and "listen enough" the world will appreciate us again.  We will regain our moral high ground. 
The truth is they won't.  States listen when they share interests.  When those interests diverge, policy differences are inevitable.  You might be able to soften some impacts by utilizing tact and finesse, but all the tact in the world can't change underlying strategic realities.  To assume otherwise is almost as naive as they accuse President Bush of being by embracing "gun boat democratization."  A velvet glove on an iron fist is better than just an iron fist, but a velvet glove with no fist is much worse.

Sadness of Jimmy Carter

Great piece from French intellectual Bernard-Henry Levy.  He laments former President Carter's loss of touch with morality on his tour of Syria and discussions with Hamas.  I agree whole heartedly.  I don't doubt Carter's sincerity regarding peace in the Middle East.  But as he proved when President (with the exception of the Camp David Accords), his complete naivity of the brutal realities in the world, makes him susceptible to empty moralizing that sounds wonderful, but is easily exploited by the ruthless and the unyielding.  His trip was a disgrace and his anti-Israel line is also troubling.
Israel is far from perfect and has committed numerous acts that are very harsh.  However, it is easy for intellectuals to be critical when they are not the ones being targeted for annihilation.  Compared to how a Russia, a China, and probably even America would handle a similar situation, Israel has been restrained in its response to terrorism for years.  The media amps every mistake and the international community criticizes them at every turn (much like President Carter), yet I don't see the Israelis committing suicide bombings.
I know all the theorizing about how such acts are born out of "desperation" and are embraced by the "weak" when confronting the jack booted evil of Zionist expansion, but at the end of the day, these acts are explicitly targeting civilians.  I do not believe the Israelis have ever explicitly targeted civilians (though this is not to deny civilian casualties).  This is a distinctive moral point, though often lost amid the self righteousness of so many intellectuals. 
I can support a Palestinian state, in the long run it is clearly the right thing to do.  I do not support the end of Israel.  Until the extreme elements within the Palestinian movement can be reconciled with the real prospect of peace, however, they will not be successful in obtaining their nation and they will only incentivize a bunker mentality amongst the Israelis that will perpetuate the violence.  Someone must break the cycle, whether right or wrong, the only ones who can do it are the Palestinians.  For their sake as much or more than for Israel, they need to do this or nothing will change. 
President Carter, unfortunately, doesn't believe this and offers a fig leaf to the elements that are responsible for the destruction of Palestinian society.  His moralizing obscures his defense of what is indefensible and the irony is, he appears to have absolutely no clue.

Present at the Destruction- the Growing New World Disorder

Harry Truman's Secretary of State, Dean Acheson's autobiography was entitled "Present at the Creation."  This was an appropriate title as he was indeed one of the architects of the post World War II international order.  That order survived many challenges, most obviously the Cold War and its offshoots such as the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Arms Race.  After the end of the Soviet Union, it seemed that some modifications to this order could perpetuate it for as long into the future as imaginable.  This was really the crux of George Bush Sr.'s "New World Order", Francis Fukuyama's "End of History", and even Bill Clinton's "Bridge to the 21st Century."  Those post World War II institutions were anachronistic, but only slightly so.  It was perceived that they could be preserved and indeed enhanced under strong American leadership.  This now seems to clearly not be the situation we are seeing.
As so many articles I have been posting lately illustrate, things are changing rapidly and negatively.  It seems we are witnesses to a truly historical time.  To be blunt, we are seeing the end of the post World War II consensus and the rise of what could be considered a "New World Disorder." The entire framework for international relations is fraying from top to bottom as power diffuses and threats metastasize. 
All of the post World War II institutions are struggling:
the UN seems chronically unable to reform itself into anything more than a talking shop that occassionally can offer peacekeepers and perform some health care services, but cannot address the biggest issues of the day because of institutional malaise, corruption, and great power rivalry;
the "Third World" is battling with fervent intensity the strictures of the IMF and the World Bank, the two titans of Bretton Woods;
NATO is expanding to the point where it no longer is able to really define its mission and can't even adequately address a serious problem of resurgent Taliban activity in Afghanistan (its President was nearly assassinated just yesterday);
Amidst these fraying institutions, America is more unpopular than at any time in recent history.  A seemingly legitimate alternative to the "West" is being articulated by powers such as China and Russia, and the Europeans are ever more insular as they try to finally achieve the promise of the European Union.
Beyond this, other signs of instability are rampant.  Oil demand is soon to begin outstripping supply, not because we are "out of oil" but because the oil producing nations are not investing in adequate infrastructure at the same time as global demand is raised immensely due to China and India's economic growth.  Conflict over resources is very possible because we do not yet have a legitimate alternative to oil that can be implemented on the scale necessary to move us to a post-petroleum order. 
Transnational entities from al-Qaeda to Greenpeace to McDonald's are eroding state sovereignity as the powerful and elite in different nations have more in common with each other than their fellow countrymen.  Yet, at the same time, backlash against globalization threatens to imbue the politics of isolationism with new urgency that may be impossible to avoid.
What this all appears to add up to is the return of global multipolarity, if not nonpolarity (as Richard Haas argues- see below).  Order is dissolving.  Yes, there are countless rules relative to international commerce that tie us all together through the WTO, but the latest round of trade talks (Doha Round) are dead.  The new wave of economic treaties are all bilateral, which by definition cannot be institutional.  What will this mean over time?  Trade wars?  We are already seeing the beginning of that in our relations with China.  So even when we embrace some something resembling "order" it is more illusory than we care to admit.
More worrisome than all mentioned up to this point, is what Charles Krauthammer argues (see below), namely that the non proliferation regime is dead.  North Korea put it on life support and Iran is driving the final daggar in its heart.  What will the "post non-proliferation" era look like?  How safe will the world be when 25-30 states have nuclear weapons?  What about chemical and biological weapons?  If the nuclear non-proliferation regime dies, how long before other vastly destructive weapons also proliferate en masse?
If you really think about it, it seems all indicators are pointing down, think of the phrases being bandied about trying to describe this new shape to global politics: "nonpolarity", "post nonproliferation era", "the post American era."  None of that sounds positive, they all seem to have the common denominator of implicitly recognizing a chaotic situation emerging.  Indeed, chaos is becoming more the norm than at any other time in the last 60 years, ironically, since the end of World War II.
A new era beckons and we are all present for it, whatever it is.  We are Present at the Destruction of the old order and, perhaps, also at the Creation of a new one.  At least let us hope for a new one.  The world has historically survived the rise and fall of empires like Rome and the various Dynasties of China.  But never before has there been such destructive capacity available amidst the ruins of such previous orders.  That this is now so seems to mandate the necessity of stability.  More than in previous epochs, we can't go through a  period of anarchy and expect the outcome to be innocuous.  The stakes are much too high. 

Russian Presidential Change and Demographic Challenges

There will soon be a change in Russia.  President Putin will be stepping down on May 7 and replaced by Dmitry Medvedev.  However, Putin will now become the Prime Minister.  So now we will have to observe along with the new "Kremlinologists" where power resides.  Will Medvedev and Putin really share?  Will Medvedev seek to strike out on his own?  Will Putin still pull all important strings?  I suspect its closer to the latter, but would not be surprised to see Medvedev be less pliable than initially thought.  At any rate, Russia is in for an interesting time.
Meanwhile, it appears pro-natal policies by Russia is resulting in a dramatic increase in births.  This is important given Russia's demograqphic decline over the last decade.  However, as this article notes, the pro birth trend appears to be limited and will not eliminate an overall downward trajectory for the population.  This raises an intriguing question about Russia's long-term power.  With China continuing to grow to the East (thought they too have future demographic challenges that cannot be ignored), can Russia defend its eastern front?  Of course, they won't be invaded by a militant China, but they could be overwhelmed by immigration and the need for labor in resource rich areas.  This could change their complexion as much, and probably, far more than any immigration to the United States.

China intensifies war against splittism

While we are all concerned and excited by the prospective rise of China, they do have problems.  This article outlines a big one, the threat of "splittism."  This could, in the mind of their leadership, lead to multiple provinces and geographic areas seeking to break away from China.  Indeed, this is a palpable fear they have and explains their authoritarian tendencies while also showing them to be ardent supporters of the Westphalian state system at the same time the "West" is moving towards eroding such state sovereignity through "humanitarian interventionism."
This is not a triffling difference, but a major one as it highlights two opposed conceptual frameworks.  By the way, Russia has similar concerns.  These are driving forces behind their authoritarianism, but since so many countries are stuck with similar concerns, their responses to these "internal threats" makes a lot of sense.
Its not too easy to say they are fully wrong.  A breaking apart of territory often leads to more war and violence than the methods employed to avoid the break up.  So, the dichotomy seen by these nations is stability vs. freedom and centralized authority vs. democratic ideals which is often perceived as chaos.  This bears monitoring...

Fukuyama on China's "Weakness"

Coming from a different angle than the piece posted below, Francis Fukuyama indicates that while crushing Tibetan dissent may be the purview of a central government, much of China's challenges comes from the central authority's weakness.  Namely, that much "tyranny" in China is actuall localized tyranny by local elites as opposed to the technocratic elite in Beijing.  In fact, Fukuyama asserts Beijing is "riding a tiger" because it requires blazing economic growth that comes from sometimes brutal local kleptocracies.  Consequently, even as it desires to stamp out corruption, its need for the very growth the kleptocrats offer ties its hands.
Fukuyama actually asserts that "State weakness can hurt the cause of liberty. The Polish and Hungarian aristocracies were able to impose their equivalents of the Magna Carta on their monarchs; those countries' central governments, unlike their English counterpart, remained far too weak in subsequent generations to protect the peasantry from the local lords, not to speak of protecting their countries as a whole from outside invasion."
This is seems to be quite an illuminating was to consider China's internal needs.  If one considers that the European arrival (followed by the Imperial Japanese) in China led to, in many a Chinese mind, to a century of humiliation, a strong state would be necessary to avoid both the tyrannies of myopic local elites and their petty depredations as well as scavenging "outsiders." 

On American Exceptionalism

This book would appear as if it will be quite the tour du force.  Understanding America's perception of itself is not only important for those outside America, but, even more importantly, for those within who all too often have lost the appropriate historical context with which to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly of the American experience. 
Too much jingoism can be a danger, too much self loathing is even worse. 

Israel-Syria Detente?

This piece seems to show that Turkey is playing a significant role as an intermediary (and may help the Turks play a larger regional role).  Additionally, there is a lot of chatter on Middle Eastern news sites about the prosepcts of Israeli disengagement from the Golan Heights and its return to Syria (which lost it during the 1967 Six-Day Warand was the site of Syrian offensives during the 1973 Yom Kippur War).
This could dramatically change the Middle East geopolitical map.  If Syria and Israel remain at "peace", Hamas will lose a small scale sponsor, Iran will lose an ally (though one of convenience), and America will lose leverage over Syria since it can't rely on coercion from Israel.

Some now speculate that the American release of info regarding North Korea's assistance with a Syrian nuclear reactor (that Israel destroyed last year) may be an effort to forestall peace initiatives as much as it is to put pressure on North Korea.  President Bush is denying this and reiterating that the disclosure is meant to be directed at the North Koreans and the Iranians.  We'll see.

Russian Demographic Decline

Good follow up to below piece on Russia.  CIA Director Hayden outlines the challenges associated with Russian demograhpic decline.  Potentially an ugly picture where resurgent nationalism could be quite the problem.

What is the West?

A useful philosophical exercise in asking what does it mean to be "Western."  Given that we all use that word rather casually, it is important to grasp its essence.  This author concludes its more of a mindset as opposed to a geographical concept.  That it is the need for "creative destruction" and the critiquing capacity the West has shown that defines itself.  This is in contrast to other, "non-westerners" who are more tradition bound.
I think this is a good debate.  I do not necessarily have the same feelings on this subject as the author, however, if we are to defend "our" values, we must understand what those values really are.  Too often "values" is used as an amorphous word that can mean anything to anyone, but there must be an underlying unity, otherwise, would not the whole idea of the "West" have become antiquated generations ago?

Rearming the World

Great little piece from the Boston Globe that looks at the possibility of a reignited worldwide arms race and the prospects of a "Great Power" War.  Combine this with an age of WMD proliferation and one can sense the tumult that is coming.  As I said in an earlier post, truly a "New World Disorder."

Robert Kagan's New Book

I have already linked to several stories by Robert Kagan, an advisor to John McCain, and his new thesis regarding the rise of tensions between the liberal democracies and the resurgent authoritarians (China and Russia most prominently).  Here are several items on the book , The Return of History and the End of Dreams, he is soon releasing that goes into more detail on this.  Kagan is, in my opinion the most effective "neoconservative" writer out there.  I may not always agree with him as his theses tend to be somewhat simplified and the real world will require more complex policymaking than is often suggested by him. 
However, he does an important service by creating legitimately debateable frameworks that are provocative and do have substantial elements of truth.  In a nutshell, he is more right than wrong.  One can debate the fine points (of which there is a multitude), but he seems to point in a direction and that is what is most important when trying to organize our approaches to the world.
Here and here are two reviews that are not all that all that friendly, though not brutal either.  The second, however, is the most interesting given that it is expansive in its critique not so much of the new book by itself but the entire process by which political theorists have been trying to impose an understandable order on the world ever since the Berlin Wall fell.  To some extent, that's what I have been doing, but I know full well that we don't really know where its all heading.
Here's a good quote:
"If there was a the unipolar moment it has passed. The US will most likely remain the pre-eminent global power for some time yet, but it is already an insufficient one. The multilateral system designed in the middle of the last century no longer fits geopolitical realities. New powers might be accommodated in a reformed system or they might choose to shun it.
Likewise multipolarity could foreshadow a new era of great power competition that might well have seemed familiar to the politicians of 18th century Europe. But the nature of interstate war changed irrevocably with the splitting of the atom.
Most importantly, nothing is pre-ordained. The shape of the (dis)order that eventually emerges from these tumultuous changes will be determined by the decisions and choices of statesmen and women, peoples and governments. As for history, well, it never went away."
As I said in a previous post,  no matter how momentarily accurate they may depict events, all theories are truly paradigms in the dark because they can only illuminate for a time...  Yet we must try to understand and try to make sense, lest how can anyone attempt to make policy?
Finally, here is an interview Kagan did with Newsweek. 

Medvedev Sworn In

Now that Vladimir Putin will become Prime Minister after the swearing in today of Dmitry Medvedev as the new President, we will wait to see what happens.  This article shows how Putin seems to have consolidated real political power in the Prime Minister's office.

On Chinese Nationalism

In the runnup before this year's Olympic Games in Beijing, many effeorts are being undertaken to explain the different "nationalisms" China is displaying.  This article is  useful in contextualizing China's various nationalisms, both those with xenophobic the cosmopolitan, globalized variant.
Which face shows up most prominently during the Games will have a major impact on the rest of the world's view of the rising Giant of the East.  These games represent a real history making moment and could well set the terms of debate for the next quarter century or more of international relations. 

Israel 60 Years Later

A good opinion piece from William Kristol on Israel at 60 years.  Kristol juxtaposes the 60th birthday of the modern Israel with the event that made that possible- the advent of Adolf Hitler to power.  Ironically while Israel celebrates its 60th anniversay, Germany seems to not look too much towards the 75th anniversay of the rise of the Nazis to power in the beleagured Weimar Republic.
Kristol notes the ruminations of Iran's President who calls Israel a "stinking corpse.'  Given that Israel is facing supreme challenges in its neigborhood and a homegrown political crisis involving its apparently "challenged" Prime Minister (Ehud Olmert who is in the midst of a bribery scandal), what a time to look at the importance of Israel.
Americans should admire Israel and combat both the overt and latent anti-semitism that still exists in the world.  I am constantly struck by the animosity that still exists towards Israel and towards Jewish people by and large.  History should not repeat itself.  If it does, then it is a pox on our morality.

Another great piece from former CIA Director James Woolsey on the contribution of Judaism to the western world.  He makes a fascinating point that the rule of law is derived from Judaism and that this is why western leaders are held accountable (ie, Nixon, Clinton in America) as opposed to allowed unfettered power (ie, Roman emperors and Napoleons).
I think he is on to something here.  How important the rule of law is, though even it has its troubles. 

Keep America Open

An op-ed that ran in the Wall Street Journal drafted by California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger and US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.  Its pro free trade and I think does an excellent job showcasing the academic (and accurate) positive implications of free trade.  The unfortunate thing, however, as I and many have commented before, is that free trade overall is good, but when it harms individuals, it does so in an acute and very painful way. 
Americans are sort of aware that they can buy quality goods for cheaper now than at any other time in history.  However, when a job is outsourced, it hurts a family directly.  The benefits of free trade are hazy, present, but not intense and understandable only when explained in detail.  The pain of globalization requires no complex explanations and is intense.  The long-term challenges to the global economic system are sure to be serious.
Ironically, if free trade continues to get bogged down, the long term implications won't be positive.  Imagine, American manufacturers just closing down due to lack of competiveness.  Think of continued inflation of the costs of goods.  Then extrapolate to imagine political instability in growing giants like China and India.  What unforseen problems will emerge if their economies stop growing and seams that are currently being papered over because of higher living standards blow apart?
We are all wrapped in a web we cannot just disentangle ourselves from.  This is good, bad, and ugly, but it is also reality.

More On Proliferation

Over 40 countries looking at nuclear programs?  That is what this article says.  Granted, many of these programs may well only be used for their purported purposes of energy as opposed to weaponization.  The problem is, which ones will look to divert some plutonium or uranium to less postive purposes. 
The non-proliferation regime is dead, some just keep thinking it can be revived...

The Collapse of Classical Education

A tremendous article by Victor Davis Hanson that laments the amazing decline of the university.  Essentially, classical study is now eclipsed by faddish, postmodernism.  It embraces a "therapeutic" way of looking at the world rather than the appropriate lens of tragedy.
Below I pulled several key sections, but one should really read this full article to gain an appreciation for it.  In many ways it is like Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind (though obviously much shorter and much less detailed).  I would hope the warning signs are heeded. 
"The decline of a classical core in the university also meant that the tragic view was eclipsed by the therapeutic."
"in the new therapeutic mindset, human nature is not, as Thucydides insisted, fixed, but capable of being altered and “improved” in the university by the requisite money, learning, and proper attitude: early death, personal setback, and social unfairness are not innate to the human condition and sometimes to be borne over the generations with courage in the manner of Oedipus or Antigone, but are rather the result of those with power whose necessary dethronement might guarantee a life without such tragedies. Peace and conflict resolution theory classes, not Thucydides and Herodotus, can teach us more about war, since an improved human nature understands that conflict is not caused by evil intent, honor, pride, or fear, and so checked by vigilance, preparedness, and deterrence. Instead the cause of war is the absence of proper counseling, or of money and empathy that might have otherwise prevented genuine miscommunications and misunderstandings between like parties with similar desires for peace. Xerxes, Pericles, Epaminondas, Agesilaos, Alexander — none of these leaders who went to war quite knew what he was doing, and might have prevented the deaths of thousands had he talked with, rather than over, his adversaries."
"The triumph of the therapeutic and the eclipse of the tragic ensured that students’ expectations soared even as their intellectual and mental abilities to handle inevitable setbacks eroded. The result was a weird marriage in both today’s student and professor of arrogance and ignorance — assurance that bad things either won’t happen or can be easily addressed by identifying the right -ism or -ology, but utter confusion when that never seems quite to be the case."
"In conclusion, we can assess the value of classical learning in the life of the university by illustrating how non-Hellenic are the contemporary university agendas of popular culture, therapy, political correctness, and vocationalism. The Greeks remind us that there are rules to acquiring knowledge not found on the street, that the world is not always a happy place, and that we must prepare for a Hobbesian life that is sometimes solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, that our allegiance must be to truth, not to the prevailing politics and fads of the days, and that if we can read, write, and think well, we can do anything — and if not, nothing really at all."
"We, in contrast, have lost all sense of proportion and simply use the self-absorbed yardstick of our own times versus all others. Thus Iraq — not the summer of 1864 or December 1950 — is the worst (fill in the blanks) war, blunder, or quagmire in our history or of all time. A flippant campus slur is the most sexist thing ever heard, as if the frontier woman on the Colorado plains without electricity and with eleven sick children never had it as rough. Wounded Knee is tantamount to Okinawa, the loyalty oaths of the 1950s commensurate to the Inquisition. And why not, when the purpose of education now is not to train young minds in a method of disinterested inquiry supported by historical exempla, but to condition them to think in preordained, deductive fashion — in other words, as Sophists rather than Socratics?"

Burmese Police State

As we watch two simultaneous natural disasters unfold in Asis with huge death tolls, 50,000 in China after their earthquake, and now closing in on 200,000 in Burma (or Myanmar as their junta calls it), its amazing to see the difference in response.  This article showcases why the Burmese response is so horrible.  In fact it is so horrible that the argument in favor of "humanitarian intervention" is becoming increasingly seen in major media, even England is moving in the direction.  This situation may become a watershed for that movement.  Though I suspect the truth is that the "reality" of things will make this just another sad event where we throw up our hands.

The Middle Eastern Cold War

The thoughts expressed here by Thomas "The World is Flat" Friedman are not not novel.  Anyone observing the Middle East today knows that we are in a serious geopolitical struggle over influence in the Middle East with Iran.  Friedman uses the provocative language of this being a new Cold War.  I think that is clearly hyperbolic, though it does provide a framework within which to view this struggle. 
Iraq is now less about Iraq and a whole lot more about Iran.  Think about, the revival of the Sunni-Shiite fault lines in the region along with the less spoken of but ever present Persian-Arab fault lines are here.  Also, traditional balance of power politics is here.  Finally, we even have a possible sprinkling of the eschatological as well (with Iranian President Ahmadinejad's perpetually aggressive rhetoric).
The new struggles in Lebanon are part and parcel of the on aagain off again problems in Iraq with sometime Iranian proxy Moqtada al-Sadr.  This region continues to be the tinderbox of the world.  For the moment, I think we will remain "Cold" and not "Hot" battling through proxies as opposed to directly confronting each other with anything other than bellicose word choices.  However, this remains a problem that could blow up anytime.  With the price of oil continuing to be a dominant source of global economic uncertainty and anxiety, everyone is watching with baited breat to see what happens next.
Here is another great piece that examines the subtle complexities emerging in the region from a veteran Indian diplomat.

More on a "League of Democracies"

McCain foreign policy advisor Robert Kagan offers this clarifying essay in the Financial Times.  It is certainly useful.  I retain some skepticism about the efficacy of such a group, but I do not think it is something that can be dismissed.  Perhaps, there are some positive, even if limited, benefits that could come of this.  The ongoing Myanmar crisis points to a possible use.
Also, the idea is not merely a neoconservative construct as this article explains well.

America as the New Rome

This very long, very deep article is several things.  It is on the face a review of three books that have recently come out comparing America to Rome.  Each of them is polemical (some more than others). 
However, the great part of this article is the examination of many theories related to the Fall of Rome (or in many theories that there was actually no fall but a melting into feudalism).  Obvioulsy, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire receives major billing, but many others are there as well.  It also articulates how conscious the Founding Fathers were of the Roman Republic contra the Empire, Cicero and Cato (heroes to the Founders) vs a Caesar. 
The author concludes that there are many factors that contributed to the Fall and that no exact analogies can be found with America.  However, the "rot from within" theory seems to offer much explanatory potential and is ironic given the prominence in our day of notably left leaning intelligentsia who, according to the author, clamor for America to Fall in order to obtain the bitter fruits of its historical injustices.
Whatever one thinks, this article offers a good challenge to a major question that does haunt America.

Krauthammer of Israel

I agree with this piece 100%.  To me, that is all that is needed to say.  But this sums up my views on Israel.  Krauthammer puts it well.
"You rarely hear about Israel's terrible suffering in that 1948-49 war. You hear only the Palestinian side. Today, in the same vein, you hear that Israeli settlements and checkpoints and occupation are the continuing root causes of terrorism and instability in the region.
But in 1948, there were no "occupied territories." Nor in 1967 when Egypt, Syria and Jordan joined together in a second war of annihilation against Israel.
Look at Gaza today. No Israeli occupation, no settlements, not a single Jew left. The Palestinian response? Unremitting rocket fire killing and maiming Israeli civilians. The declared casus belli of the Palestinian government in Gaza behind these rockets? The very existence of a Jewish state.
Israel's crime is not its policies but its insistence on living. On the day the Arabs -- and the Palestinians in particular -- make a collective decision to accept the Jewish state, there will be peace, as Israel proved with its treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Until that day, there will be nothing but war. And every "peace process," however cynical or well-meaning, will come to nothing."
This is not to say Israel i innocent of all wrongdoing, but I wonder how long Americans would accept unrelenting assaults from displaced native Americans.  I would imagine not long.  I also imagine we would be far less restrained.

China Threat Overrated?

Piece from the preeminent (at least in my opinion) "realist" journal, the National Interest that claims our fears of a rising China are overrated.  I think on some levels the analysis hits some right notes.  China will not be a threat to invade America anytime soon.  However, the potential threat it poses to allies in its neighborhood combined with any attempts (overt or subtle) to push us out of the Pacific is problematic.  Additionally, to be ill prepared for the unexpected always invites criticism after the fact that is worse than the criticism incurred by preparing before the fact.  Consequently, we should continue to be proactive and should follow something along the lines of what Helprin (referred to in the article proposes).  Quibbling over the exact GDP percentage is less important than agreeing with the core concept. 

Bolton Asks to "Bring On the Foreign Policy Debate"

Op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from John Bolton that looks forward to a debate between Obama and McCain.  Key passage (which is 100% accurate) is as follows:
"On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.
Negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique. Saying that one favors negotiation with, say, Iran, has no more intellectual content than saying one favors using a spoon. For what? Under what circumstances? With what objectives? On these specifics, Mr. Obama has been consistently sketchy.
Like all human activity, negotiation has costs and benefits. If only benefits were involved, then it would be hard to quarrel with the "what can we lose?" mantra one hears so often. In fact, the costs and potential downsides are real, and not to be ignored.
When the U.S. negotiates with "terrorists and radicals," it gives them legitimacy, a precious and tangible political asset. Thus, even Mr. Obama criticized former President Jimmy Carter for his recent meetings with Hamas leaders. Meeting with leaders of state sponsors of terrorism such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il is also a mistake. State sponsors use others as surrogates, but they are just as much terrorists as those who actually carry out the dastardly acts. Legitimacy and international acceptability are qualities terrorists crave, and should therefore not be conferred casually, if at all."

The Mythical "Post-American Era"

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I have been posting countless pieces that share the thesis of American decline.  I, myself, partially subscibe to the notion that absent dramatic change, America will inexorably decline.  However, this article challenges this growingly accepted thesis and does so pretty convincingly.
I would add to the following quote a key point that we should keep in mind, however.  America MUST deal with its entitlement programs and mentality.  That is the great threat to our nation.  In fact of the three great challenges I see (WMD attack, Rise of China, domestic spending), it is the latter that is most enervating and leads to cultural decay.  It is also the most difficult to attack due to a domestic political consensus that refuses to realistically examine the problem. 
Here is a useful quote from the article.
"The intellectual fad in the first decade of the 21st century is a "power shift" and post-Americanism. The ground realities are that America's economic dominance will be challenged; however, there is no conclusive evidence that America's decline is "inevitable". Those who make a case for the ineluctable rise of China and India assume that such phenomena would also result in a similarly inexorable decline of the US. Such a description is more a product of the flight of imagination of some strategic thinkers than a reflection of facts as studied through a variety of indicators of economic, political, social and military prowess."

Russian Cabinet Changes

Its becoming a parlor game in Russia to figure out what the recent Cabinet appointments for both new President Medvedev and now Prime Minister Putin means.  Here is a look at what some are saying inside, particularly what is the now perceived influence of the so-called siloviki, or former security officials (many former KGB who acquired great power under the Presidency of Putin.

Nuclear Attack- A Worst Case Reality?

I saw the author of this piece a few weeks back at an event hosted by the Columbus Council on World Affairs.  He gave an excellent presentation.  In fact, I wrote a letter to the Columbus Dispatch that was published online as a result.  Dr. Allison is articulate and convincing in outlining the fears of a nuclear attack.  I suspect, his solutions are going to prove limited however.  I believe we have entered to post non-proliferation age and that a new system of deterrence is irrevocably required.  We can't put the genie in the bottle as I have mentioned in numerous other postings. 
Here is my letter to the editor:
Nuclear terrorism
Thanks to the Columbus Council on World Affairs I was able to attend an invaluable lecture from arguably the leading expert on nuclear terrorism in the United States.  This lecture was given by Dr. Graham Allison, a former Dean of the of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, an advisor to President Reagan's Secretary of Defense between 1985-87, and an Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Clinton.
His message was clear; everyone from our political leaders to each individual must be proactive in raising the awareness of this issue.  The nuclear terrorist threat is very real with consequences that are enormous.  A ten kiloton nuclear device exploded in downtown Columbus would kill everything instantly within one third a mile of where it is detonated and would completely destroy all buildings. Anyone within two thirds a mile of the detonation point would be fatally exposed to radiation with accompanying structural damage to all buildings approximating the damage caused in the Oklahoma City bombing.  Fires would be rampant up to a mile from the detonation point.
For a map to see this visually, go to and enter your ZIP code.  As Dr. Allison indicated, this action would be a "history changer."  To contemplate the "Day After" is to realize that this nation would be fundamentally altered.  Its time to confront this soberly by aggressively pursuing non-proliferation and by coming up with a strategy to deal with the world in case non-proliferation breaks down and "everyone" starts seeking to acquire this capacity.
Unfortunately, we are getting closer to the latter every single day, Iran and North Korea are merely the latest examples.
Greg R. Lawson, Columbus

Europe's Irrelevance?

Great article in the Financial Times that exposes an existential choice for Europe.  Note this section and then read the full article.  I hope America avoids following in these footsteps.
“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Harry Lime’s speech – delivered by Orson Welles – at the end of the The Third Man (1949) is a great cinematic moment. It also poses an interesting choice.
For roughly 500 years, Europe was the political, cultural and economic centre of the world. But bloodshed and suffering accompanied all this power – culminating in two suicidal wars in the 20th century.
Since 1945, Europe has become increasingly prosperous, peaceful and comfortable – and irrelevant. So should a united Europe attempt to reclaim its place at the centre of world affairs? Or should we settle for comfortable irrelevance?
Europe’s political leaders think they know the answer. They are forever swearing to turn a united Europe into a new superpower. But European citizens seem unconvinced: faced with Harry Lime’s choice, most ordinary Europeans would go for the cuckoo clock option."

Kagan on Charlie Rose

 McCain advisor Robert Kagan with talk show host Charlie Rose.  Its over 30 minutes, but good and fleshes out the concept he is articulating in his new book, the Return of History and the End of Dreams.

Greatness in Politics

I stumbled upon this fascinating article from a scholarly journal.  The entire thesis is that "Greatness" acts an integrating agent that brings all elements of the "political" and binds them into a form that we can then use to understand what is actually "political."  It is a bit complex and definitely long, but well worth the endeavor.  Note the distinctions between "Greatness" and the "Sublime."  To whet one's appetite, here are a few introductory passages: 
Is there anything political about politics? This question may well appear nonsensical, yet this is what has intrigued some of the best minds in political philosophy. The most straightforward answer was given by Carl Schmitt, for whom the distinction between friend and foe is definitive for politics. But it may be argued that some of the central concepts of other theories involve similar attempts to capture the intrinsically political aspect of politics. The harmonious working of Plato’s Republic presupposes that every citizen is satisfied with his role in it. This is possible only if each of them takes a part in the task of leadership, i.e., leading and commanding one’s own soul according to the principles of justice and morality.
Reflecting on the Roman political tradition, Machiavelli concluded that without virtú, the key political virtue, there is no solid and strong political community. Rousseau’s struggle with making sense of the general will, as well as Arendt’s idea that promising and forgiving are essentially political actions, seems to betray similar concerns. In this essay I will argue that greatness is the most adequate concept to grasp what is intrinsically political
about politics."

Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem

A thoughtful review of a book that appears to put Leo Strauss into an appropriate context and away from the conspiracy theorists who think Strauss is a sage of empire.  To some extent, the real Strauss is more alarming not because of any claims he has on "answers" but by the very fact that he is only able to raise questions.  Indeed, it seems to me Strauss was the opposite of anything approximating a dogmatist.  He leads us back to the point where only faith exists (though where such faith is placed is an ever open question).
Several useful passages.
"Strauss’s zetetic journey ends where it began, problematically—with the theologico-political problem. Tanguay’s analysis is sharpest when he confronts the political conundrum that Strauss could not resolve, because resolving it would constitute a rejection of his philosophical quest. Dismissing the silly claims that Strauss was a closet Nietzschean, a modern wolf in ancient sheep clothing, Tanguay finds the philosopher’s fundamentally erotic or zetetic way of life to preclude any dogmatic refutation of revelation. Strauss believed that the contemplative life is defined as openness to the Whole (which comes only with some awareness that there is a Whole). Contemplative happiness (that which is peculiar to the philosopher who alone fulfills human nature) is found in the journey that can have no resolution because humans cannot possess knowledge about the Whole, only awareness of that which they search. Since the Whole after which he lusts cannot be known, the philosopher cannot propose a dogmatic atheism and still retain his zetetic search. Incapable of eliminating the possibility of revelation, a genuine philosopher understands that he pursues the philosophical life based on faith—there is no objective grounding (beyond that found in the soul of the philosopher) that justifies his claim that the contemplative way of life is the highest or best. And so Strauss concludes that the theologico-political problem is universal and an insoluble part of the human condition."
I also found these passages from an old Weekly Standard article intriguing as it relates to this issue.
The atheist challenge was on its own terms based neither on a direct, unmediated perception of the essential character of the world nor on a comprehensive philosophical system that answered all questions and solved all mysteries. Rather, even more than the theism it rejected, atheism could not honestly deny that it too was an interpretation and hence uncertain and questionable.

"The atheist challenge was on its own terms based neither on a direct, unmediated perception of the essential character of the world nor on a comprehensive philosophical system that answered all questions and solved all mysteries. Rather, even more than the theism it rejected, atheism could not honestly deny that it too was an interpretation and hence uncertain and questionable.

The question becomes how to choose between an uncertain and questionable religious interpretation of the human condition and an uncertain and questionable atheistic interpretation. Strauss turned to Nietzsche, the greatest skeptic of his age, and came away with a surprising answer. Nietzsche, on Strauss's reading, "made clear that the denial of the biblical God demands the denial of biblical morality, however secularized, which, so far from being self-evident or rational, has no other support than the biblical God; mercy, compassion, egalitarianism, brotherly love, or altruism must give way to cruelty and its kin." But the logic that Nietzsche saw -- that the renunciation of the biblical God demands a renunciation of biblical morality -- is obligatory only if there is a demand placed upon us to confront our condition with intellectual probity. And that demand, Strauss points out, comes to us -- as Nietzsche himself proclaims -- only from the morality taught in the Bible. Strauss's startling suggestion, in other words, is that Nietzsche cannot escape the biblical God because he cannot escape biblical morality -- even his critique of the Bible deriving from the Bible.
Strauss's study of Spinoza was the first step in his reconsideration of biblical religion, because Spinoza had taken religion most seriously and rejected it most emphatically. But after extended engagement with the arguments, Strauss concludes that Spinoza's critique of religion, was, even at its most forceful, inconclusive. It did not prove but rather presupposed the impossibility of miracles. And Spinoza's ethics did not demonstrate the truth of his new account of man and the moral life, but rather proceeded from hypotheses about human nature that were left unconfirmed by the system and so remained open to doubt.

In subsequent books, Strauss determined that the critique of religion developed by Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke was no more conclusive than that of Spinoza. In short, Strauss concluded, modern rationalism is incapable of deciding between belief and unbelief.

This is perhaps no disgrace, but modern rationalism's failure to acknowledge its incapacity is a grave weakness. Indeed, modern rationalism consistently deludes itself into believing that it has decided the issue once and for all against belief and in favor of unbelief. The critique of the delusions of modern rationalism did not lead Strauss, as it led so many intellectuals, to repudiate reason and embrace one of the many brands of modern irrationalism -- from romanticism and historicism to existentialism and postmodernism. Instead, spurred forward by intellectual probity, the very same intellectual probity that in his view was Nietzsche's most precious legacy, Strauss undertook to search for a more reasonable form of rationalism, one that comprehended both the limits of reason and the claims of faith.

Strauss's lifelong search, passed on to his students, is responsible at least in part for the late-twentieth-century revival of interest in Plato and Aristotle as living sources of wisdom about moral and political life. So, too, it is responsible for the renewal of the quarrel between ancients and moderns, the clarification of the fruitful tension between Athens and Jerusalem, the illumination of modern liberalism's dependence on a morality that it has difficulty acknowledging in theory and sustaining in practice, and the demonstration of the powerful support that modern constitutional democracy derives from Aristotelian political science."

The Ghosts of Munich

How we use history for our own ends.  Today, and very often over the last 60 years, the specter of Adolf Hitler has been the ultimate boogeyman to invoke in order to drum up support for not negotiating with regimes we dislike or find dangerous as well as the ultimate justification for military attacks on regimes perpetrating abuses against people.
Hitler and the Nazis have become an almost unique symbol- the symbol of evil personified.  No other leader in world history is evoked with such disdain (or frequency) as is Hitler. 
I think the Munich Agreement where British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated away part of Czechoslovakia (though he only envisioned the sacrifice to be the Sudetenland where there were many ethnic Germans and he never intended it to be the whole country) was a mistake of gargantuan proportion.  I think it is an a very instructive example of how to calibrate diplomatic negotiations and how to recognize those that can be legitimate interlocutors and those whose claims are infinite (see Kissinger in a World Restored).
Hitler was infinite, Chamberlain failed to realize this and was duped as were many other Europeans still nursing grievous wounds after the First World War.  However, not every regime that is difficult has the same univeralist claims. 
I think Iran may be one with universal claims (or at least some portions of its leadership seem to possess such claims), consequently, negotiation with Iran must only move forward with clear lines drawn as to what is the most any eventual agreement might be.  I would also say no President should ever talk to Ahmadinejad, any negotiation must be with the Supreme Leader, Khameini (that can be discussed elsewhere) and only after preconditions are definitely established.  Finally, in no way shape or form can the military option be removed as a precondition to face to face negotiation. 
However, the Hitler analogy is not probably accurate with North Korea.  Kim Jong-il seems more interested in survival not conquest in the name of an ideology that he seeks to spread (as were the Nazis and, it appears, some Iranians).  Though, again, the implicit threat of force must remain on the table and be considered serious for discussions to be fruitful.
Thus, negotiation is a case by case situation where an examination of the motives of the leadership can tell one much of what may be possible to achieve.  Some odious regimes can be reasoned with and/or intimidated.  Some cannot.  Interestingly, I wonder, had Chamberlain made clear that war would be the response to a full scale swallowing of Czechoslovakia (though perhaps still giving the Sudetenland Hitler was asking for) what would have happened?  What if a coalition of England and France had positioned themselves militarily before making concessions so that Hitler would not have been able to consolidate his gains on the road to Poland (which was next and did break open World War II)?  These are counterfactuals, but they offer insight as to how diplomacy, even talking to Hitler, was not ipso facto wrong, but that it was terribly implemented by a leader who was naive regarding the nature of his negotiating partner.  Consequently, the Ghosts of Munich and the lessons of "appeasement" may be murkier than is usually admitted, but remain a good guidepost for assessing what the correlation of forces in a given situation should be. 
In the end, the Hitler analogy is appropriate in certain circumstances, not all.  We should take care to use it when it is most true lest it lose its rare power to elucidate legitimate diplomacy from illegitimate diplomacy. 

Olmert Proposes Naval Blockade of Iran

This would up the ante in a hurry and drive oil prices way beyond the $135 per barrel we're currently paying.  Is this a good idea?  I have mixed feelings as to such an idea's efficacy.  I understand the desire to put extra pressure on the regime, but I think its unlikely to make them yield.  This doesn't even include the high possibility of retaliatory acts and attempts to circumvent such a blockade. 
I am coming to conclude we will either have to go all in with regime change which is not practical, or we will relent on their domestic uranium enrichment and threaten the severely if a weapon is ever used.  In other words, we will will be returning to deterrence, unfortunately, the cascading effect of proliferation will happen as well.
Welcome to a dangerous new world- the soon to be Golden Age of Proliferation

Medvedev's Missile Pledge

Medvedev follows Putin in guaranteeing Russia will maintain modernization of its strategic missile forces.

Iran Could Lead to Middle East Nuclear Arms Race

This is exactly why I think the non-proliferation regime is dead and we are entering troubled waters as it relates to the long-term threat of nuclear terrorism.
"The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) noted that 13 countries had announced new or revived plans to pursue or explore civilian nuclear energy over an 11-month period between February 2006 and January 2007.
"This upsurge of interest is remarkable, given both the abundance of traditional energy sources in the region and the low standing to date of nuclear energy there," said the London-based group's chief executive John Chipman.
"If Tehran's nuclear programme is unchecked, there is reason for concern that it could in time prompt a regional cascade of proliferation among Iran's neighbours," he added."

Imbalances of Power

Tom Friedman with an articulate and troubling message regarding America's simultaneous decline in multiple areas where its strengths used to assured.  I do think he is right that we need to deal with energy comprehensively, not only through fear of Global Warming, but also because of the obvious security linkages. 

Great White Fleet 100 Years Later

A good take on one of President Theodore Roosevelt's lasting achievements (though there were many).  The beginning of our world class Navy.  In many ways, while this wasn't what made us arrive on the grand stage (that was our industrial capability), this moment did mark our arrival on the global geopolitical stage.  100 years later where we?

Manson Prosecutor Outlines Case Against Bush?

I can't believe I am reading what is in this link.  Vincent Bugliosi, the famous prosecutor of Charles Manson and writer of "Helter Skelter" is actually laying a case for prosecuting President Bush for murder.  Since this is only a snippet of his apparently forthcoming book and is posted on the Huffington Post, I do not know if this is a "going through the motions" kind of thing to sell the book or if he is actually serious, so I suppose I'll reserve judgement on his sanity. 
However, I just have to say, foreign policy is NOT domestic policy.  The same rules don't apply.  We can debate about those that do, but it seems to me asinine to claim we can use anything remotely approximating our domestic legal system to deal with international issues up to and including war. 

This does not mean there are no laws whatsoever (though that is a debateable subject depending on how you conceive of the world, Kantian vs. Hobbesian), but that they are clearly different.  Conclusive proof of guilt, which we prize, rightfully so, in our legal system is not necessarily something we have the ability to embrace in foreign relations.  In the cases of a domestic crime, the worst that happens if we fail to prosecute because of a lack of substantial and overwhelming evidence is that a criminal may be free to committ a series of additional criminal acts prior to being stopped.  This is bad and can lead to shocking incidents but the damage is likely to be relatively limited while offering protection to those that are in fact innocent.
In foreign policy, waiting for proof could mean thousands of lives lost if an "incident" or a conflict is taken to its ultimate extremity.  This modifies the calculus immeasurably as to when and if an action, particularly military action is justifiable. 
Domestic policy and foreign policy are related through the medium of politics, but the consequences are of such an order of magnitude greater in foreign relations that we must look to flexibility as a prime mode of operation.  Tying our hands by applying domestic standards is just foolish.

Lunch With Henry

Given that I just had my 30th Birthday this past Friday, May 23, I was struck that a mere 4 days later it is the 85th birthday of Henry Kissinger.  As anyone who reads this blog knows well, I am in constant admiration of Dr. Kissinger.  Though I may not always be in agreement with him, there are few practioners of statecraft that I have a greater respect for.  Here is a thoughtful reflection by a friend of Dr. K from a recent lunch they shared.
Certainly, he has his flaws and may have been a greater tactician than strategist, though this is debateable (as is everything concerning his legacy).  At the end of the day, however, his grasp of history is quite strong and it is the prism of history through which we humans judge the actions of men.  Therefore, few former statesmen will ever have the right kind of lens to gain the appreciation necessary for how history's ebbs and flows shape and reshape the world.  No "It" theory of the moment will ever explain better how the world is what it is than a tussle with the challenges and questions posed by history.  For history is the mirror that reflects what happens and has happened.  Even in this postmodern age of deconstruction and Foucaldian interpretations of "power", history still beckons those who wish to understand. 
If history and philosophy are guides to at least partial understanding, Kissinger stands as a titanic figure who looms over the second half of the 20th Century.  He offers no easy answers, but he constantly offers edification.

Coming Energy Wars

 A little uplifting reading regarding the potential for conflict over energy resources as the price of oil continues its upward ascent.  This is sobering.  Again, taking these realities into consideration with a resumption of great power rivalry and proliferating WMD technology and one can easily see storm clouds gathering.

History of Histories

A book review in the New Republic.  While I am sure the book is no doubt good, the review is itself educational and puts western perspectives on history into perspective.  The extended section on comparing and contrasting Herodotus with Thucydides (the first two that are generally credited with being historians) is fascinating.  From Herodotus' "storytelling" to Thucydides' clinical dispassion, each helped create a style that we see over and over again as we review the events of yesterday.
Though in the end the review is negative in the sense that it claims the author does not live up to his intentions, this is the kind of book that probably should be looked at from a distance.  Take what its worth and leave behind the unnecessary.  If I ever get through my backlog of books, this seems a worthy effort.

Brazil Proposes South American Alliance

While the Middle East and East Asia rightly occupy much attention, this story indicates that trouble in our own backyard is brewing.  Brazil, a rising regional hegemon is seeking to create an "EU" type organization that will exclude the US.  The next President must focus on reengaging with this region.  While this may not be bad on the face of things, any enhanced influence for Venezuela would be problematic given the orientation of Hugo Chavez.
"Regional giant Brazil is the driving force behind a proposed new South American defense grouping that threatens to exclude the United States from regional military planning at a time of growing tensions between Washington and leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The creation of a South American Security Council, which would include oil-rich Venezuela, Chile and Argentina, was proposed by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at a meeting of 11 Latin American countries held in Brazil's capital, Brasilia, in May.
The security council would be part of an even larger effort led by Brazil to create a new Union of South American Nations, modeled on the European Union. The group would be known by its Spanish-language acronym, UNASUR, and would unite the two rival South American trading blocs, Mercosur and the Andean Community."

US, British Envoy Attacked By Mugabe Loyalists

Now not only is Mugabe starving his own people, roughing up his electoral opponents, but he is also allowing foreign envoys to be attacked in his nation.  The sooner he is gone the better the whole of Africa will be.

Guns of August

Iranian President Ahmadinejad continues his apocalyptic rhetoric.  While the the election of what some (at least European commentators  think) believe to a relative moderate in Ali Larinjani to the Speaker post in the Parliament is positive due to his conflict with Ahmadinejad, this may not be true.  With Israel negotiating with Syria, they could be planning for a strike and looking to pry away an ally from Iran.
"If Iran continues its nuclear weapons programme, we will attack it," said Shaul Mofaz, who is also transportation minister.
"Other options are disappearing. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear programme," Mofaz told the Yediot Aharonot daily. "
It could all be positioning, smoke and mirros, but when dealing with this volative region and the overall situation of growing Iranian influence, these words should prick everyone's ears.

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