Here Is Hard To See-A Discussion Of Foreign Policy And Some Possibilities For Trump: Eliot Cohen On ‘The Big Stick’


by no3rdw

Eliot Cohen discusses his book ‘The Big Stick‘ alongside an interesting panel at Johns Hopkins School Of International Studies.

Here are some interesting points brought up throughout the hour-long discussion:

Cohen makes the case for re-energization of the post WWII international order America has created and for which it has set the ground rules; to continue the liberal international order and fund it with our blood and treasure (by Cohen’s lights, the benefits still outweigh the costs).

America ought to keep tending to fragile alliances, working hard to maintain them, and keep preparing itself to back them up Teddy Roosevelt-style:  There’s a place for American hard-power, and will likely be to defend this liberal order as Cohen sees it.

Much American thought and institutional strategic planning hasn’t necessarily pivoted since the end of the Cold War.

American ‘big-picture’ thinking has perhaps been in decline, giving way to a lot of high-level discussions about theoretical disputes (not necessarily a good indicator of institutional strength…but you probably already knew that).  In my experience, the less there is or there appears to be, the more people tend to fight over it.

Regional disputes are more dominant right now (Russia in Ukraine and the Baltics…China in the South China sea) and unfortunately, America doesn’t necessarily have the hard power to set rules in more than one region, even if it’s just deploying military force to back up the liberal order in one region at a time.

This means we could be headed for a very bumpy ride (not just here at home).

***For what it’s worth: I’ve become annoyed at frequent emotional and establishment anti-Trumpism (which Cohen displays) for a few reasons:

I feel loyalty and sympathy for Tea-Party-esque populism, and I see it as a vital corrective against institutional decay and potential abuse of power (I think of this as a Constitutional Republic with a functioning democracy…and I often find myself sharing the local sentiment of people who sacrifice the blood and treasure for the liberal order to run…and who often get little in return).

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize Trump:  He’s opportunistic and probably not all that principled and may well be taking advantage of Tea-Party populism.  He’s a shrewd NYC real-estate developer offering many reasons to wonder if his character is fit for the office (the woman-chasing and self-promotion).

He could easily blunder us into conflict, and expose us all to serious risk.

He could well fuse a cruder, authoritarian populist nationalism {into the American political DNA} based on his experience as a NYC real-estate developer, gravitating towards what he knows: Strong unions + ruthless competition + big money + slickly navigating regulatory mazes + bravado and showmanship.

But, boy, he sure is galvanizing a lot of people who channel their own anger and righteous indignation onto him, having beaten many at their own game, highlighting just how much institutional and political decay there is in American life these days, and just how many people are willing to take advantage of it.

As Cohen points out:  Here we are.

But…enough already.  You’ve got your own thoughts.  Building-up is a lot easier than tearing-down.

Robert Kagan At Brookings: ‘The Twilight Of the Liberal World Order’

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Russian Hackers, A Link On el-Sisi’s Egypt & A Little Less Mephistopheles For This Kindergarten

This blog believes fundamental conflicts within the West, fermenting within our institutions, foaming-over into our politics, invite the calculated meddling of those who think differently.

In the world of Statecraft, I’d prefer cold-eyed realism and calculated bastardry, when necessary, in the pursuit of American interests (ideally attached to decent human beings with checked, limited powers).  Overreach and hubris is easy.  Humility and good strategy is hard.

It’d be nice if Russia wasn’t being run as a kleptocracy by an ex-KGB agent, incentivizing a lot of bright hackers with little economic opportunity into the service of State propaganda and espionage…but:

C.S. Dickey:  ‘Putin Outfoxes Obama, Lies In Wait For Trump

Populist steam seems to be translating directly into policy these days.  Maybe it’s a kind of passive-aggressive placation of outrage in the service of ‘optics’.

That would be short-sighted and petty.


Link from a reader:  The Deep State in Egypt has been controlled by the military for a long time…’Egypt’s Failed Revolution.’

Many Westerners will probably go ahead and double-down on certain radical/semi-radical Western ideals just as those ideals are failing to translate into effective strategy by an exiting American administration.

Better keep James Taylor handy.

From Abu Muqawama: ‘Mubarak And Me’From Michael Totten: ‘The New Egyptian Underground’Michael Totten At The American Interest: “A Leaner, Meaner Brotherhood”

————————-

Gore Vidal had a line that stuck with me in his review of Italo Calvino.

‘For the last year, Calvino had been looking forward to his fall and winter at Harvard. He even began to bone up on “literary theory.” He knew perfectly well what a mephitic kindergarten our English departments have become.

Well, that might be a little much.

Personally, I like to read people who don’t really think like me, especially when they satirize bureaucratic bloat and puffery as they find them.

I like folks on the outside looking in…tracing the shape of something.

Why do we have so many administrators, regulators, and overseers within our institutions?:

Incentives matter. A vigorous freedom and skeptical citizenry is hard to maintain, but vital nonetheless.

Climb aboard and hang-on, dazzled as you may be by the thrill of the thing.

F-30 Moving Carousel -1

Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

It’s Still A Little Surreal-Progressivism, Trump, Putin & All That

Adam Garfinkle at the American Interest:  ‘The Anti-Cold War:‘ (comments are worth a read).

The Cold War was very dangerous, no doubt about it. We were all lucky to have gotten through it without a global conflagration. The anti-Cold War may be more dangerous still. So how lucky are you feeling?

There are a lot of ideas in the article, some of which may not be founded in bedrock, but which are quite interesting nonetheless.

My two cents (founded in the clay soil found here in my backyard, as I engage in fever dream):

If I’m Putin, I came up in the KGB, and became proficient in the often ruthless and efficient tactics practiced by the KGB up until and after the Soviet collapse.  Intel analysis, deflection, corruption-management and misdirection are second-nature.  Diplomacy is usually just a game of submission, especially with the former satellites.  There are some very hard men around me, and I’m a hard man, too.

My country is wounded, but still has its pride, and I play it up for political gain and to solidify my position and those most loyal to me, making myself very wealthy and powerful in the process.

I’ve got genuine problems: The Baltics joined NATO, and many in Ukraine are trying to do the same. Chechnya is a mess and terrorizing Moscow from time to time. History is still going, oil-prices are down, and birth-rates don’t look so good.

—————–

Two more cents (that makes four) on the progressive/Trump dynamic, and how this might influence foreign policy:

Progressive ideology in America has suddenly lost a lot of influence:

Such ideology is not antithetical to Communism, and usually collectivist, activist, and suspicious of free flows of capital and American business interests coming to the fore in American foreign policy, progressives easily unite against nationalist/conservative/neo-conservative interventionist claims to authority.

One major goal of progressives is to defeat the ‘oppressor,’ and his morally illegitimate claims to rule through use of the American military…sometimes in quite radical fashion.

The greatest leverage can often be had through international institutions, because they are typically the path of least resistance for the ideological/rationalistic goals of Progressivism:   A better world is possible if people with shared progressive ideals can gain political power and influence enough to implement goals which claim liberation and radical liberation towards some knowable endpoint.

Progressives often claim the mantle of (S)cience, (P)eace, (R)eason and Enlightenment authority, but given the stuff of human nature, progressive political ideology tends to traffic in:

-Making sacred the ‘-isms’ (environmentalism, racism, sexism etc.and deploying them, when necessary, against all enemies).

-Cultivating shared moral sentiments and solidarity under shared political ideals, and unsurprisingly, often organizing hatred and re-sentiment against any who would oppose progressive goals…identifying such opponents as potentially ‘evil’).

With the election of Trump, a lot of people who share progressive goals have lost a lot of power/influence rather suddenly.

Trump as I see him:

A guy who’s probably harbored political ambitions for a while, and who has spent a majority of his life in the real estate/NYC real estate game.  That world seems pretty tough, where knowing the right people, leveraging capital, risk, personal, political and business connections is key.  I don’t know if I’d trust doing business with the man (not like I’d ever have the chance).

He’s clearly spent a lot of time on self-promotion and brand management, and seized on the profound populist resentment against D.C. more broadly in speech after speech, especially as it related to immigration. He ran openly against a lot of dominant ‘narratives’ found in the current media landscape (promising to absolve the cloud of racial guilt hanging over many heads), and was openly, refreshingly anti-PC.

A nationalistic, business-minded pragmatist capable of compromise and patience..drastically setting a new course for American interests?

A mildly authoritarian protectionist and absurd showman; a semi-celebrity who really won’t get over his desire for attention and who could really f**k things up?

What to hope for?

What to work towards?

Any thoughts and comments are welcomeas previously posted:

More on the Nemtsov killing: Don’t speak out.

Julia Ioffe at her site: ‘The Bizarre End To Vladimir Putin’s Bizarre Marriage:

‘An odd moment in the announcement came when Putin mentioned his confirmed children, two adult daughters whom we’ve never really seen, though there were reports in 2010 that one of them was marrying the son of a South Korean admiral.’

A reader passed along a video of Bill Browder, who made a billion, lost much of it, and got a look at Russian politics, money, and power up close. The way he describes it: Corruption all the way to the top.

————–

What goes around, comes around-An oldie but a goodie-George Kennan: ‘The Sources Of Soviet Conduct

60 Minutes had an interview with ‘Jack Barsky,‘ an East-German Soviet spy who ended up living in America. To hell with it!

From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’,,,Eric Postner back in 2008: The Bear Is Back

I wonder if any American operatives went under deep cover to Dschingis Khan concerts to better understand the German soul and its sentimental ties to Moscow:

——————–

Here’s Putin, back in the 80’s, meeting Reagan. Ho hum, just a tourist, snapping some photos and meeting, how do you say, your premier.

Some Tuesday Links-Terrorism Is Still There & A Balloon Dog

-Via the NY Times: The Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated very publicly at an art gallery in Ankara

That’s pretty brazen.

-Yes, terrorism’s still a thing: 12 dead in Berlin after a truck drives through a mall

-Via the Hoover Institution: You know, a lot of wounded and committed idealists are often the ones who seem to hate Henry Kissinger the most:

Henry Kissinger’s Remarks Reprinted At The New Criterion-‘The Limits Of Universalism’

K.T. McFarland, who worked as part of Kissinger’s staff, is now working for the Trump administration.


And, as seen at Starbucks roastery in Seattle:  Some sort of Jeff Koons balloon dog.

This stuff filters down, you know:

img_0843

Within A Bank Of Modern Fog-Another Link To Robert Hughes On Jeff Koons

Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’Inside Everyone Is A Western Individual Waiting To Get Out?-Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Henry Kissinger’s Remarks Reprinted At The New Criterion-‘The Limits Of Universalism’

Are there dangers of idealism/German idealism that come with a Kantian influence in the political realm?  Are they addressed here?:   From The Internet Encyclopedia Of Knowledge: Immanuel Kant And Utilitarianism.  Kantian Metaphysics and J.S. Mill’s Utilitarianism More On Daniel Deudney’s Bounding Power

Graeme Wood At The Atlantic: ‘The American Leader In The Islamic State’

Full piece here.

Wood:

‘Western jihadists find their way to violence many different ways, but they often match a profile. And that profile fit John like a wet suit. He came from an upper-middle-class family. He squandered opportunities commensurate with his innate talent; he recognized that he would not excel in the fields chosen or glorified by his parents and authority figures. Often, a personal crisis—a death in the family, a near-death experience of one’s own—triggers existential contemplation, leading to religious exploration; in John’s case, his childhood frailty might have filled that role.’

Well done.  Likely worth your time.

A previous Grame Wood piece on ISIS and interview:

—-

About that ‘upper-middle class’ part…it may be more broadly applicable:

Perhaps due to an incoming American administration less favorably ideologically aligned with those making decisions at media outlets, we’ll get more vocal notice of the same problems.

Which map are you using to understand this conflict?:  From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

Ebrahim Moosa At Bloggingheads Discusses Islamic Reform

al-Zawahiri’s Egypt, a good backstory: Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’

Michael Moynihan jihad.com.

Repost: Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie’

Link sent in by a reader to Alexander Hitchens essay:  As American As Apple Pie: How Anwar al-Awlaki Became The Face Of Western Jihad

Paul Berman At The New Republic: ‘From September 11 to the Arab Spring: Do Ideas Matter?’From Foreign Affairs: ‘Al Qaeda After Attiyya’….From The AP: ‘Al-Awlaki: From Voice For Jihad To Al-Qaida Figure’

From Reason: ‘Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks Headbutted During Lecture’

Niall Ferguson At The L.A. Times: ‘Think Kissinger Was The Heartless Grandmaster Of Realpolitik? What About Obama?’

Full piece here.

‘Wait — realism? Isn’t that the hard-nosed — not to say amoral — approach to foreign policy commonly associated with Henry Kissinger?

Having spent much of the last decade writing a life of Kissinger, I no longer think of the former secretary of State as the heartless grandmaster of realpolitik. (That’s a caricature.) But after reading countless critiques of his record, not least the late Christopher Hitchens’ influential “Trial of Henry Kissinger,” I also find myself asking another question: Where are the equivalent critiques of Obama?’

Perhaps this is a useful line of thought.

Wherever you happen to be coming from, I’ve often taken ‘realpolitik‘ to mean:  Tempering one’s idealism and moral/professional/political commitments with some empiricism or ‘things as they are’ regarding policy and world events (empiricism is complicated, and it ain’t always ‘(S)cience’ as I’ve come see the world).

This can offer a valuable space where some reflection, intellectual honesty, and adjustment can occur by those making decisions, and where people under such decision-makers can hold them to some account (a reasonable constraint if there ever was one).

People rarely agree on beliefs, principles, politics nor policy prescriptions, but as Kissinger noted, there’s always a necessary political component to our beliefs and principles:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

Ferguson:

‘There is disenchantment with Obama’s foreign policy these days. In recent polls, nearly half of Americans (49.3%) disapprove of it, compared with fewer than 38% who approve. I suspect, however, that many disapprove for the wrong reasons. The president is widely seen, especially on the right, as weak. In my view, his strategy is flawed, but there is no doubting his ruthlessness when it comes to executing it.’

The place where ideals are tested in the world, and found wanting, often requires the cold-eyed application of strategic logic, and to his credit, Obama’s at least stayed this course to some extent as Ferguson points out (though nowhere near enough, and without nearly enough criticism, for my taste).

As I see it, a Western Left activism and liberation idealism was always more the root from which Obama’s policy sprang (the kind of liberation politics and cooled street activism to which many folks have been hesitant to critize when it comes to implications for current institutional authority). The application of cold-logic and non-action out in the world often came later, often out of necessity, where the ideas and policies have failed or been challenged.

As for realpolitik, some of its inherent pragmatism is applicable now, as it’s wise to be pragmatic about what should stay and go, and what’s working now and what might work better. This seems worthy of consideration for no other reason than the reasonable transfer of power in our Republic.

On that note, some people get really angry at Henry Kissinger, with an anger perhaps reserved for heretics and apostates.  I’m figuring his roots in an Enlightenment Kantian transcendental idealism make him a target for adherents, believers and true-believers of Left-liberalism idealism out in the world.

This seems to challenge many folks where they live.

As previously posted:

On Niall Ferguson’s new Biography- ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review.

The Economist

Ferguson discusses the first volume in D.C.

=========

-Scowcroft and Brzezinski may be offering plans: ‘George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’Inside Everyone Is A Western Individual Waiting To Get Out?-Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-David Rohde At The NY Times: ‘Inside The Islamic Emirate’

I was just looking over the archives…worth another look after 7 years?:

Full article here.  (The second in a series)

Rohde was the NY Times reporter kidnapped for months inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He is writing a series of articles about his experiences.  Let this be a lesson to young journalists…risking your life can be worth it…

Also On This Site:  Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”

-Really?  You don’t say? I Was an ISIS Jihadist-Until They Arrested And Tortured Me

Which map are you using to understand this conflict:  From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

Ayan Hirsi Ali has used the ideals of the West (especially women’s rights) to potentially confront Islam; which has served her politically as well:  Repost-Ayan Hirsi Ali At The CSM: ‘Swiss Ban On Minarets Was A Vote For Tolerance And Inclusion’

Is Islam incompatibile with freedom as we define it here in the West, or is this a false choice?:  From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Michael Moynihan jihad.com.

A tense relationship: Fareed Zakaria At Newsweek: ‘Terrorism’s Supermarket’Christopher Hitchens At Vanity Fair: ‘From Abbotabad To Worse’Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”

Repost: Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie’Paul Berman At The New Republic: ‘From September 11 to the Arab Spring: Do Ideas Matter?’From Foreign Affairs: ‘Al Qaeda After Attiyya’….From The AP: ‘Al-Awlaki: From Voice For Jihad To Al-Qaida Figure’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”And: Philip Bobbitt Discusses His Book ‘Terror And Consent’ On Bloggingheads