FP colleague Dan Drezner has a good post up on the recent Council on Foreign Relations/Pew poll of U.S. attitudes toward foreign policy, which shows a wholly unsurprising decline in American enthusiasm for a really active international role. No, Virginia, this isn't a sign of growing "isolationism," because Americans clearly still believe in engaging the rest of the world and aren't advocating a retreat to "Fortress America." But it is a sign of diminished interest in trying to "pay any price and bear any burden," and it marks a (possibly temporary) convergence in elite and public attitudes on this question. After all, this is a year when the president of the highly internationalist CFR published a book calling for the United States to focus more attention at home.
As Dan notes, this shift is the entirely predictable result of the past couple of decades of American global activism, especially the setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan and the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. If all that activity had achieved consistently positive results or if the results had been mixed but the cost had been low, then most Americans wouldn't have noticed or cared, and the neoconservative/liberal internationalist alliance of Ambitious Policy Wonks could have continued to run around the world pursuing their various pet projects. But by 2013, it has been clear that the costs weren't low and the results weren't great, with the impact on public attitudes that we now see.
One hates to keep dumping on George W. Bush's administration, but facts are facts and it's hard not to see them as mostly responsible for this shift. Bill Clinton had an ambitious global agenda, but he was extremely leery of open-ended overseas commitments and especially wary of sending U.S. ground troops to overthrow or occupy other countries. When he did intervene, he did it with multilateral support and handed the task off to others as quickly as he could. Barack Obama has been pretty reluctant to make big military commitments too. He agonized over the Afghanistan surge (and put a strict time limit on it), refused pressure to attack Iran, and took a back-seat role in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere. Instead of big, costly invasions, he has used drones and special operations forces in a lot of places, just as Clinton used cruise missiles and air power. And like Clinton, he has placed more emphasis on genuine diplomacy, which may still yield decent results on a least a few issues.
By contrast, Bush made the fateful decisions to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq and ended up in costly quagmires in both countries. He did this partly in a panicked reaction to the 9/11 attacks, partly because he bought the neoconservatives' goofy program for using the U.S. military to spread liberty throughout the Middle East, and partly because the initial success against the Taliban convinced him that the United States now had the recipe for regime change "on the cheap." Unfortunately, removing a regime you don't like doesn't necessarily make things better, and it often creates as many problems as it solves. And his administration was never very enthusiastic about diplomacy, especially during his first term, and for the most part was never very good at it either.
The CFR/Pew poll suggests that both elites and the mass public have learned an important lesson. The United States is very good at deterring large-scale conventional aggression and very good at reversing it when it occurs (as when Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait in 1990). It's also still quite good at "commanding the commons" (e.g., oceans and airspace), which is a valuable global public good. But the U.S. government is not good at running other countries, especially when these states are fragile, internally divided, generally opposed to foreign interference, and very different in culture and history from the United States. Nor is the United States likely to get better at it with practice. The American people have little objection to the United States continuing to perform the former set of tasks, and they have little interest in trying to do the latter. If a similar realization encourages ambitious foreign-policy elites to shelve some of their own interventionist instincts, so much the better.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Are you as frustrated as I am by the whole discussion of terrorism in U.S. national security discourse? Given the billions of dollars that have been spent trying to protect Americans from terrorists (trillions if you add in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), and the army of academics, policy wonks, think tankers, and consultants who've been studying this matter for the past decade or more, you would think we would have a better idea of how well we are doing. And given the stakes involved, by this time you'd think that some serious cost-benefit analysis would be applied to the problem of counterterrorism: Hard-nosed people would be asking whether it really makes sense to spend all that money hardening the United States and chasing terrorists with drones and special operations forces, especially if most terrorists aren't focused on the United States and don't have the capability to do much damage to us.
I raise this question because our leaders don't seem to be able to get their stories straight on this one. A good case can be made that the "war on terror" is mostly won -- in the sense that we've defanged the most dangerous anti-American types -- and that what's left are various copycats in various places that ultimately don't matter that much to the United States and are best dealt with by local authorities. If this view is correct, then President Barack Obama was right to suggest that the "war on terror" is over and to try to shift our attention back to other foreign-policy priorities. To say that is not to say the danger is zero -- indeed, there will be terrorist attacks in the future - it is just to say that it's more of a tragic nuisance than a Major Threat.
But now we're being told by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence committees, that the terrorist threat is back and worse than it was a few years ago. In particular, they point to the growing jihadi role in places like Syria and to self-congratulatory statements from al Qaeda leaders like Ayman al-Zawahiri. The implication, as this New York Times story makes clear, is that the United States needs to get more directly involved in defeating this ever-expanding set of terrorist copycats.
I understand that terrorist groups like al Qaeda do operate in secret (to the extent that they can), and that gauging the actual level of the threat they pose is not an exact science. And I recognize that risk-averse politicians prefer to err on the side of caution. If you issue lots of scary warnings and nothing happens, you can take credit for having been prudent. But if you tell people the danger isn't that great and then an attack takes place, you sound naïve, credulous, and insufficiently devoted to national security. So when in doubt, politicians are inclined to oversell the danger.
Still, it really is important to get this right: Just how serious is the threat, some 12 years after the 9/11 attacks? In terms of the direct harm to Americans in the United States, the danger appears to be quite modest. So why are Feinstein and Rogers so animated by this latest set of developments? And doesn't Boston's defiant and resolute reaction to the city's marathon bombing in April suggest that the American population isn't nearly as querulous as politicians fear: If you explain to them that there is no such thing as 100 percent security, they don't go all wobbly. Instead, they display precisely the sort of calm resolution that causes terrorist campaigns to fail.
It is even more important to figure out how best to respond. If Islamic extremists using terrorist methods are trying to gain power in various countries, does it make sense for the United States to insert itself in these conflicts and inevitably invite their attention? Or is the country better off remaining aloof or just backing local authorities (if it can find any who seem reasonably competent)?
My larger concern is that we have also created a vast counterterrorism industry that has a vested interest in continuing this campaign. Those in the industry are the most prominent and visible experts, but fighting terrorists is also a meal ticket for many of them and self-interest might naturally incline them to hype the threat. The danger is that the United States will devote too much effort and energy to chasing relatively weak and obscure bad guys in various not-very-important places (see under: Afghanistan, Pakistan's frontier provinces, Somalia, etc., etc.,) while other problems get short shrift.
But like I said at the start, mostly I'm frustrated by the lack of consensus at this point in the campaign. And you should be too.
Photo: Zach Klein/Flickr
What's the BIG question? If you were trying to predict the course and character of world politics for the next 50 years or so, what question would you like to know the answer to today? It's easy to think of different candidates, such as: 1) will climate change continue unabated with far-reaching effects on the world economy and low-lying areas?; 2) will the euro survive? 3) will terrorists ever acquire and use a weapon of mass destruction?; 4) will there be a major global pandemic? And so forth.
All good questions, but the future of Sino-American relations should be on everyone's list of Top 5 "Big Questions." And on that subject, the main issue is whether China will continue to tolerate America's extensive and powerful military presence in East Asia or whether it will conduct a sustained effort to drive a wedge between the United States and its current allies and eventually force the United States out of the region.
The current situation is clearly anomalous. Historically, it is somewhat unusual for one great power to have a tight set of alliances in the immediate neighborhood of another great power and to maintain a lot of military force in its vicinity, without the other power having a compensating presence in close proximity to its rival. To be sure, America's Cold War alliances and military deployments had this same quality -- the United States had large forces in Europe and Asia while the USSR had a very modest presence in the Western Hemisphere -- but this situation mostly reflected the Soviet Union's unfavorable geographical location and relative economic weakness. Moscow would have loved to have gotten the United States out of Asia and Western Europe and pinned it down in the Western Hemisphere; it just didn't have any good way to accomplish any of those goals.
As my sometime co-author John Mearsheimer has repeatedly noted, a rising China is likely to want to force the United States out of Asia. I mean, seriously: What great power would want to be ringed by neighbors that have close security partnerships with its main peer competitor and would want that same rival to keep a lot of potent military forces near its shores? The United States certainly didn't like the idea of a large-scale European great-power presence in the Western Hemisphere -- remember the Monroe Doctrine? -- and once it became a great power it lost little time in pushing Britain and France out of its "backyard." It certainly helped that the European powers were always more worried about each other, but the key point is that U.S. leaders understood that the nation's security would be maximized if it were the sole great power in the region. There is no reason to think that Beijing sees this issue any differently.
It is hard to overstate the long-term implications of this issue. If the United States is able to maintain the status quo in Asia and help prevent China from dominating the region, then Beijing will have to focus a lot of attention on local issues, and its capacity to shape politics in other parts of the world will be constrained. By contrast, if China eventually pushes the United States out of Asia, it will have the same sort of hegemonic position in its region that the United States has long enjoyed near its own shores. That favorable position is what allows Washington to wander all over the world telling others what it thinks they should do, and regional hegemony would give Beijing the option of doing the same if it wished. It might even start forging closer ties -- including security ties -- with countries in the Western Hemisphere. That's why the question of how long Beijing will tolerate the U.S. presence in Asia is so important.
Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
People like me really shouldn't complain about anything, at least not at the personal level. I've been extraordinarily lucky from birth, and most misfortunes I've experienced have been self-inflicted. That's one of the reasons Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday; though I'm not religious, I like the idea of a day set aside to be thankful for one's blessings and grateful for friends, family, and random acts of good fortune. As in past years, today I offer up this year's Top 10 Things I Am Thankful for This Year (Foreign Policy division).
1. The Iranian nuclear deal. Everyone should be thankful for this because the alternative is an unconstrained Iranian program or another unnecessary Middle Eastern war. The P5+1 countries have a long way to go to reach the finish line, but the interim agreement was a victory for sensible people and a defeat for threat-mongering hawks. One must always be grateful for that.
2. Vladimir Putin. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad he's not running my country, and I usually find his behavior and decisions rather thuggish and heavy-handed. (Remember the Pussy Riot affair?) And were I Ukrainian, I'm certain that gratitude wouldn't be the emotion I'd be feeling toward Moscow right now. But let's give credit where it's due: We should be thankful that President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threw Barack Obama's floundering administration a lifeline on Syria.
3. International institutions. You might be surprised to see a realist like me express gratitude for this, but the cold, hard fact is that we wouldn't have been able to start disarming Syria's chemical weapons stockpile if a set of institutions (including the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons ) wasn't already in existence and ready to go to work. Yes, I still think all the attention focused of chemical weapons was misplaced -- far more people were killed by conventional weapons -- but it's not like I'm sorry that Bashar al-Assad's arsenal is being eliminated. And maybe, just maybe, the chemical deal will ease the way for some diplomacy that can end Syria's brutal civil war.
4. Edward Snowden. My conservative father will be upset with me for this one, but I am still grateful to know what the National Security Agency was doing with my tax dollars. Clandestine organizations of all types tend to spin out of control until they are caught, and with luck the experience of getting caught will induce a certain sobriety, just as the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s taught the CIA that its follies could be exposed. None of this would have happened without Snowden, and I think the revelation is worth the embarrassment it has caused and the tensions with some allies of the United States. (My gratitude here also extends to the people who made this possible: Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and the Guardian).
5. AIPAC, CUFI, ZOA, the ADL, WINEP, and the rest of the Israel lobby. Of course I'm not grateful that these groups continue to have disproportionate influence on America's Middle East policy, but it is hard not to be appreciative that 1) their activities are increasingly overt and understood, 2) they failed on Syria and are failing thus far on Iran, and 3) their activities and influence on other issues continue to prove my co-author and me right.
6. Mario Draghi. I still don't know whether the euro will survive -- and neither do you -- and it is hard to be optimistic that Europe will return to robust economic health anytime soon. But absent Draghi's calm but herculean efforts, Europe would almost certainly be in worse shape today. A nod of thanksgiving thanks across the ocean is deserved.
7. Technology. Each year I feel like I am clinging to the technological frontier with my fingernails, and if I'm honest I'll admit that I'm actually just falling further behind. But what technology now makes possible is still remarkable: Our ability to do our work, maintain friendships, learn at a distance, share music and literature, and do a thousand other activities is being transformed on a daily basis. This process is not without its obvious downsides, and the digital divide is just another manifestation of pervasive inequality. But increasing mastery of science and technology is both a source of great human empowerment and pleasure; it is also the best hope we have of surmounting the challenges that are rushing at us in the decades ahead.
8. Dissidents. Foreign-policy makers are a pretty conservative lot, especially in the developed world. It's comfortable staying within the consensus, and that's certainly better for most wonkish careers. But I am grateful for the boat-rockers, muckrakers, edgy provocateurs, and all the other people in the United States and abroad who see things differently and aren't afraid to take on entrenched authority and stale dogmas. Whether it is a Saudi woman behind the wheel, a dissident artist in China, an "activist journalist" in the West, or that rare politician who says what he or she thinks as opposed to what donors or focus groups mandate, the people outside the mainstream are a critical engine of human progress.
9. Humility. A lot of grandiose ambitions have been brought to Earth over the past decade. The United States didn't transform the Middle East at the point of a gun. The euro now looks like one of the great missteps of the past 50 years. Turkey's "zero problems" diplomacy didn't make it the linchpin of a new regional order. India's rise to great-power status has stalled, and China's emergence as a peer competitor is facing strong headwinds too. The dreams of the Arab Spring have withered in the face of an authoritarian backlash. Because ambitious idealism tends to get a lot of people killed, I'm thankful that some of these unrealistic visions have been discredited, and I hope world leaders will focus their attention on what is necessary and possible, instead of on over\ambitious fantasies. Surtout, pas trop de zele.
10. Readers. If a blogger posts on the web and no one logs on, does it make any noise? Of course not. As in previously years, my thanks to all of you who take the time to read this site and to all who tweet, kibitz, or otherwise engage with me and my colleagues at FP and beyond. I hope your past year has given you plenty to be thankful for too and that the next year brings you even more. Happy Thanksgiving!
Photo: Andrew Kelly/Getty Images
The interim nuclear deal with Iran is an important step forward, and the various negotiating teams can be justly proud of their achievement. Far be it from me to be a killjoy at this rare moment of progress, but let's not lose our heads amid all the high-fiving and back-patting. Why? Because Iran's nuclear program is not in fact the real issue. The more important issues are Iran's future relations with the outside world and whether the deal paves the way for reintegrating that country into the world economy and the broader international community.
There is something of a paradox in the ways that opponents and supporters of a deal approach the whole subject of Iran's nuclear program and the country's broader relations with the United States and other major powers. Opponents of a deal tend to believe that 1) Iran is governed by irrational and highly aggressive Shiite fanatics; 2) it is hellbent on getting a nuclear weapons capability; and 3) if Iran does get the bomb, it will have dramatic and overwhelmingly negative consequences for regional stability and world politics more generally. Given those (unwarranted) beliefs, you'd think hawks would be thrilled with this deal, insofar as it freezes Iran's current capabilities, will reduce the stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium (i.e., the stuff that could be enriched to weapons grade fairly quickly), and leaves all the truly significant sanctions in place. If the nuclear program is your big concern, then this is a great first step and a more far-reaching comprehensive deal would be even better. (The alternatives -- an unconstrained Iranian program or another Middle East war -- are clearly inferior.)
By contrast, many who support the current deal believe that 1) Iran's leaders are rational individuals seeking to advance Iran's national interests; 2) Iran has not yet decided to seek a nuclear weapon and probably prefers a condition of nuclear latency to a fully developed nuclear arsenal; and 3) getting the bomb wouldn't transform Iran into a major world power overnight and certainly wouldn't enable it to threaten Israel or blackmail its neighbors. If this view is accurate, then a final deal on Iran's nuclear program -- i.e., one that scales back those elements that shorten the breakout period but leaves Iran with some enrichment capacity -- isn't that significant by itself, because Iran wasn't really seeking a weapon anyway and its getting a few bombs wouldn't have that big an impact on world politics.
Thus, the paradox: Many supporters of a diplomatic deal don't believe the danger of a "nuclear Iran" is all that momentous, while opponents of the current deal think Iran's nuclear program poses a grave and imminent threat. One would think the former would be more relaxed about recent progress, while the latter would be more enthusiastic. But that isn't the case: Those with a moderate view of the nuclear danger are much happier with the deal than those who (logically) ought to be more interested in anything that constrains what Iran is able to do.
In fact, the real issue isn't whether Iran gets close to a bomb; the real issue is the long-term balance of power in the Persian Gulf and Middle East. Iran has far more power potential than any of the other states in the region: a larger population, a fairly sophisticated and well-educated middle class, some good universities, and abundant oil and gas to boost economic growth (if used wisely). If Iran ever escapes the shackles of international sanctions and puts some competent people in charge of its economy, it's going to loom much larger in regional affairs over time. That prospect is what really lies behind the Israeli and Saudi concerns about the nuclear deal. Israel and Saudi Arabia don't think Iran is going to get up one day and start lobbing warheads at its neighbors, and they probably don't even believe that Iran would ever try the pointless act of nuclear blackmail. No, they're just worried that a powerful Iran would over time exert greater influence in the region, in all the ways that major powers do. From the perspective of Tel Aviv and Riyadh, the goal is to try to keep Iran in a box for as long as possible -- isolated, friendless, and artificially weakened.
But from the U.S. perspective, that's neither a realistic nor a desirable long-term goal. As I laid out last week, America's main strategic interest in the Greater Middle East is a balance of power in which no single state dominates. In such a situation, U.S. interests and leverage are best served by having good relations with as many states as possible and at least decent working relations with all of them. America's long-term interests are best served by helping reintegrate Iran into the global community, which is likely to strengthen the hand of moderate forces there and make Iran less disruptive in other contexts (e.g., Lebanon). Managing this process will require reassuring existing allies, but this development would also force current allies to listen to Washington a bit more attentively, which wouldn't be a bad thing.
Over the next six months, the fine details of a long-term nuclear deal will receive enormous attention and debate. Given the attention that Iran's nuclear program has received over the past decade or more, that level of scrutiny is unavoidable. But in the end the nuclear issue doesn't matter that much; what matters is whether an agreement on that issue will allow relations between Iran and the United States and the rest of the P5+1 to normalize in the months and years ahead. And it is that development that opponents of an agreement will be desperate to prevent.
Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
As I promised in my last post, today I want to offer a somewhat different view of U.S. strategy in the Middle East. I've been traveling for the past 10 days, giving talks at several venues in the United Kingdom and attending the World Economic Forum's meeting of Global Agenda Councils in Abu Dhabi. There was a lot of discussion of America's evolving role in the world at these meetings, and I intend to revisit some of those issues in subsequent posts. But for now, a few thoughts on the Middle East, which is in the news big time these days.
For me, any discussion of U.S. strategy has to begin by acknowledging America's remarkably favorable international position in the world. In the endless quest to identify and neutralize new threats -- both real and imagined -- Americans often forget just how secure the United States is, especially compared with other states. As I've noted many times before, the United States is blessed with a large population, abundant resources, fertile land, navigable rivers, and a technologically sophisticated economy that encourages innovation. These core sources of American power are highly robust, which means that U.S. security and prosperity depend more on what happens at home than on anything that might happen abroad.
Furthermore, the United States has no serious rivals in the Western Hemisphere. It is protected -- still! -- by two vast oceans. As the French ambassador to the United States said in 1910: "The United States was blessed among nations. On the north, she had a weak neighbor; on the south, another weak neighbor; on the east, fish, and on the west, fish." Today, the United States possesses the world's most capable conventional military forces and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal, giving Washington a deterrent power that others can only envy. Indeed, the main reason the United States can roam around concerning itself with other countries' business (and interfering in various ways) is because it doesn't have to worry about defending itself against foreign invasions, blockades, and the like.
One consequence of this favorable position, by the way, is that the country routinely blows minor threats out of all proportion. I mean: Iran has a defense budget of about $10 billion (less than 1/50th of what the United States spends on national security), yet we manage to convince ourselves that Iran is a Very Serious Threat to U.S. vital interests. Ditto the constant fretting about minor-league powers like Syria, North Korea, Muammar al-Qaddafi's Libya, and other so-called "rogue states."
When we talk about U.S. strategy in the Middle East, therefore, we need to start by recognizing that the United States is in very good shape, and a lot of what happens in that part of the world may not matter very much to the country in the long run. Put differently, no matter what happens there, the United States can almost certainly adjust and adapt and be just fine.
So what are U.S. interests in the Middle East? I'd say the United States has three strategic interests and two moral interests. The three strategic interests are 1) keeping oil and gas from the region flowing to world markets, to keep the global economy humming; 2) minimizing the danger of anti-American terrorism; and 3) inhibiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The two moral interests are 1) promotion of human rights and participatory government, and 2) helping ensure Israel's survival.
Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
I haven't blogged in a few days because I've been having a fascinating but very busy trip through the United Kingdom. My visits to Cambridge, the London School of Economics (LSE), and the European Council on Foreign Relations went very well -- or so I thought, at least -- and I'm grateful to colleagues there for hosting my visit and offering provocative queries and comments. And a special note of appreciation to the students who asked sharp questions: It's always encouraging to talk to smart and passionate students who care about the real world.
I know Europe and the U.K. have been in the doldrums in recent years, and this article from the New York Times exposes the human consequences of persistent youth unemployment in telling detail. But I have to say that London looked fabulous. There's a visceral and vibrant energy in the city, and some features of English life put the United States to shame.
I mean: What must city officials from Boston think when they ride London's Underground and compare it to Boston's own T? (For some reason, Bostonians are proud that it was the United States' first subway -- the problem is that it shows.) But of course that's what happens when a country chooses to spend money building elaborate air bases in places like Bagram instead of spending that money closer to home.
By contrast, the London Tube is efficient and ubiquitous and is laid out with remarkable clarity -- the graphic maps and visual aids are well-conceived and remarkably easy to navigate. Even New York's subway system, impressive in its own way, seems rather crude, loud, and uncivilized by comparison.
After my talk at LSE, one of the attendees asked a great question: Why is it that politicians in the United States usually think it is safer to take a hard-line, flag-waving, decidedly hawkish approach to many international issues, instead of openly and consciously articulating a vision that emphasizes minding our own business (at least some of the time), embraces diplomacy first and military force last, and reminds Americans that their first duty is to each other. In other words, a view that thinks Americans should spend less time telling the world how to live until they've cleaned up some of their own enduring problems at home. I still think that is what President Barack Obama genuinely wanted to do when he took office, and look how hard it was for him to stick to that vision.
I didn't give the questioner a great answer, and it puzzles me still. Some of the reason lies in the militarist roots of most nationalisms (where state and coercive power tend to be fused), and some of it lies in the natural tendency for those with great power to think they are uniquely virtuous and thus qualified to preach to others. But some of it is genuinely a mystery: Why are Americans so willing to pay taxes in order to support a world-girdling national security establishment, yet so reluctant to pay taxes to have better schools, health care, roads, bridges, subways, parks, museums, libraries, and all the other trappings of a wealthy and successful society?
This question would be easy to answer if the United States were facing a large and/or imminent threat: Sensible states sacrifice butter for guns when the wolf is at the door. But the United States is the most secure power in history and will remain remarkably secure unless it keeps repeating the errors of the past decade or so. When most of the world is spending a lot smaller percent of GDP on defense than the United States is, and when the country is already way ahead, a bit of readjustment shouldn't be controversial -- it should be bleeding obvious. Indeed, under present circumstances, civilian leaders in the Pentagon should be leading the charge to reduce defense burdens, instead of dragging their heels.
But moving in that direction will require some rethinking of America's grand strategy. I'll consider that topic in my next post. Next stop: Abu Dhabi.
Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
A heads-up for regular readers: I will be traveling for the next ten days and blogging will be sparse. I'm off to Cambridge University tomorrow, where I have the honor delivering the 2013 F.H. Hinsley Lecture. My topic will be "Follies and Fiascoes: Why U.S. Foreign Policy Keeps Failing," and the main challenge I face will be sticking to the time limit! (Historical backround: Sir Harry Hinsley was a noted cryptographer in World War II, but also a prominent IR scholar, and you can read more about him here). I'll also be visiting a seminar with IR grad students there, and looking forward to hearing what they have to say. Then into London for a talk at the European Council on Foreign Relations and another lecture at the London School of Economics on Friday. If you're in any of those neighborhoods and have nothing better to do, c'mon by.
And then I fly to Abu Dhabi for a conference of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Councils. I'm on the council on "geopolitical risks," and we'll be trying to figure out what the most prominent global dangers are this year. Suggestions welcome.
Our council will be shooting at a moving target given all the diplomatic balls that are currently up in the air. As you all know, the P5+1 didn't reach an interim agreement with Iran after all, and the participants are now trying to kick up a bit of fairy dust, trying not to point fingers, and hoping that progress will resume in a week or so. It would be amusing to watch American neocons and hardliners suddenly discover an unfamiliar affection for the French--who played a major role in derailing the interim deal over the weekend -- if the consequences of failure were not so worrisome. Let's not forget that the main alternatives to a successful deal are either a nuclear-armed Iran, another Middle East war, and heightened tensions within the region. But we've got a great track record of reaching diplomatic agreements with Middle Eastern countries, right? Right?
So I'm crossing my fingers and hoping the negotiations succeed, even if an agreement would undercut the central thesis of my Hinsley lecture.
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Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.