So 2012 is coming to an end and you're busy planning how to ring in 2013. Are you aiming to host a world-historical event? If so, you might want to think about the impact that some past festivities have had on international affairs. And be careful: sometimes a poorly planned party can have all sorts of unintended consequences. As both inspiration and public service, therefore, today I provide my own list of Top Five Parties in International History.
#1: The Boston Tea Party. As a loyal American, I gotta start with this one, which helped kick off the War of Independence and free the American colonists from King George III's cruel yoke. I know, I know: it wasn't really a party, it was an act of political protest by the Sons of Liberty. It didn't even get the name "tea party" for decades. But c'mon: do you really think the participants were all sober, and that tossing all that English tea in the water wasn't fun? And in retrospect, it had far more positive effects than the plutocrat-financed shenanigans of the 21st century namesake (the "tea party movement").
#2: The Congress of Vienna. After the Napoleonic Wars, diplomats and officials from all over Europe convened in Vienna to negotiate a peace settlement to resolve the various issues that had arisen after over two decades of war. Sure, there was a lot of hard-nosed haggling over borders and other arrangements, but historical accounts of the Congress also make it clear that the participants also engaged in months of energetic revelry, much of it of a decidedly lubricious sort. Historians who regard the Congress as a great success might argue that all this frivolity helped; those who believe the Congress left many critical issues unresolved probably think the assembled plenipotentiaries should have spent less time partying and more time on their work.
#3: The "2500 Year Anniversary of the Persian Empire." In October 1971, Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran presided over a lavish celebration to mark the supposed 2500th anniversary of the "Persian empire." Dozens of world leaders and celebrities assembled at an elaborate tent city in Persopolis, where they dined for over five hours on quail's eggs with caviar, roast peacock, and a host of other delicacies, served on custom Limoges china and accompanied by some of the world's most expensive wines. The whole blowout reportedly cost over $100 million, and was condemned by the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the "Devil's Festival." The contrast between the Shah's pretensions and extravagance and the poverty that many Iranians still endured was all-too apparent, and the ill-conceived party played a small but not inconsequential role in undermining the legitimacy of the Pahlavi regime.
#4: The Field of the Cloth of Gold. In 1520, Henry VIII of England traveled with most of his entire court to France to meet King Francis I. The purpose of the visit was to negotiate a treaty of alliance, but the summit soon degenerated into a testosterone-fueled competition, with each king trying show the other who was wealthiest. Encamped in two nearby villages, the two monarchs put on increasingly ostentatious displays including fireworks, the building of a temporary fountain that dispensed wine and water, elaborate arrangements of silks and gems, and sporting contests. The extravagance nearly bankrupted both monarchs, and the rivalry exacerbated the other obstacles to the alliance and the two leaders ended up enemies instead. The moral: if somebody wants to bring a really expensive bottle of wine to your party tonight, just let them.
#5: Woodstock. The enormous outdoor rock festival at Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York in August 1969, both symbolized the youth movement of the 1960s and is now seen as its apotheosis. It wasn't the first outdoor rock festival or even the biggest, but it was undoubtedly the most memorable and had the most lasting cultural impact. You don't hear people talk about the "Lollapalooza Generation," do you?
These five historical parties can provide either inspiration or a cautionary lesson for your revels tonight. My advice: party responsibly, and get ready for 2013. Even if U.S. foreign policy follows the minimalist path I predicted in my last post, the rest of the world will provide us with plenty of things to worry (and blog) about.
Happy New Year!
I've finished my holiday shopping (at last), which means it's time for another round of hypothetical gift-giving for some important world leaders and political figures. If it were in my power, here's what I'd be sending some notables this year.
1. For Barack Obama: A dartboard. No, not so he can pin a picture of John Boehner on it, but so he can make some hard choices about his second-term priorities. Energy independence? Gun control? Rebuilding infrastructure? Middle East peace? A real negotiation with Iran? Climate change? Tax reform? The list is endless. Obama tried to do way too much during the first year of his first term, and I'm hoping he's learned his lesson and will focus more in the second term. Maybe a dartboard can help.
2. For Syrian tyrant Bashar al Assad: A one-pound bag of Arabian coffee to wake up and smell. Or better still: a one-way ticket for himself and his immediate family to anywhere they want. As an added bonus, a recording of this classic song. Just go. Now.
3. For Dick Morris, Karl Rove, and all the other people who called the election for Romney: A copy of Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise. Because it's never too late to learn.
4. For defeated GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney: Nothing. You've got five houses, a fleet of cars and boats, and a loving family. What could I possibly give you except my vote (and I'm afraid it's too late for that)?
5. For the people of America, and especially its children: A ban on assault weapons, and a Congressional resolution declaring that all the 2nd amendment guarantees is the right to keep a muzzle-loading musket.
6. For Benjamin Netanyahu: A signed copy of Peter Beinart's The Crisis of Zionism. And a mirror.
7. For Hillary Rodham Clinton: A one-year membership in the spa of her choice, and a book contract that takes until 2017 to complete.
8. For the Republican Party: A roundtrip ticket to see the Wizard of Oz. Because the party desperately needs a heart, a brain, courage, and a way to get back home to its true conservative roots.
9. For the beleaguered people of the eastern Congo: A miracle. Because it appears that is what it will take to end their suffering.
10. For my readers: My thanks for continuing to engage with this blog (and now @StephenWalt on twitter). I wish you all a joyful holiday season, the warmth of love from friends and family, and a New Year that turns out better than realists normally expect. I'll be back online after Xmas.
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A thought struck me as I was reading the obits of jazz legend Dave Brubeck, who passed away yesterday at the age of 92. Several accounts highlighted Brubeck's role as a cultural ambassador, through his participation in various goodwill tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department. A number of other prominent jazz artists -- including luminaries like Louis Armstrong -- were featured in these tours, which were intended to show off the appealing sides of American culture in the context of the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union. This was a Bambi-meets-Godzilla competition, btw, with the Soviets in the role of Bambi. I like Shostakovich and respect the Bolshoi, but Soviet mass culture was outmatched when pitted against the likes of Satchmo.
But here's my question: why isn't the United States doing similar things today? The State Department still sponsors tours by U.S. artists -- go here for a bit more information -- but you hardly ever hear about them and it's not like we're sending "A-list" musicians out to display the vibrancy of American cultural life. Celebrities and musicians are more likely to do good will tours to entertain U.S. troops in places like Iraq, but the sort of tours that Brubeck and others did in the 1950s and 1960s seem to have become a minor endeavor at best.
The problem, I suspect, isn't a lack of interest in cultural diplomacy or even lack of funding. Instead, I think this is an consequence of globalization. Today, someone in Senegal or Indonesia who wants to hear American jazz (or hip-hop, or blues, or whatever) just needs an internet connection. The same is true in reverse, of course; I can download an extraordinary array of world music just sitting here in my study at home. And that goes for videos of performances too, whether we're talking music or dance or in some cases even theatre. Plus, top artists tour the world on their own in order to make money; they don't need to go as part of some official U.S. government sponsored tour. And given the unpopularity of U.S. foreign policy in some parts of the world, official sponsorship is probably the last thing some artists would want.
But there may some exceptions to that rule, in the sense that are a few countries where artistic exchanges might open things up in ways that diplomats cannot. Iran isn't likely to welcome Madonna, Christina Aguilera, or Justin Timberlake, perhaps, but have we thought about an artistic exchange with some slightly less edgy U.S. performers? If table tennis could help thaw relations with Mao's China, maybe jazz, acoustic blues, or even classical music could begin to break the ice with Tehran. Iran's has a large under-thirty population that is by all accounts hungry for greater access to world culture, so this sort of exchange would build good will with the populations that will be rising to positions of influence in the future. Plus, Iran has plenty of gifted performers who might find a ready audience here. And you can send a delegation of American musicians without violating UN sanctions or having to answer a lot of thorny questions about nuclear enrichment.
Update: In response to this post, Hishaam Aidi of Columbia University and the Open Society Institute sent me this piece, which takes a critical view of the State Department's more recent efforts to use hip-hop artists as a form of cultural outreach. Well worth reading, and my thanks to Hishaam for sending it to me.
The California Museum via Getty Images
I've been too busy to blog much this week, but I thought I"d mention that I've taken the plunge and signed up for Twitter (@StephenWalt). I'll probably use it sparingly, but who knows? Please bear with me until I get the hang of it. Brevity has never been my long suit, so this may take awhile.
I was watching some of the America's Cup World Series races going on out in San Francisco, and it occurred to me that the evolution of the Cup is a perfect illustration of globalization at work.
Back in the day, the America's Cup was both a nationalistic and gentlemanly endeavor. The New York Yacht Club controlled the Deed of Gift that governed the competition, and it entertained periodic challengers. For decades the challengers were all from Britain until the Australians got into the act (and eventually won it). The competition took place in several formats, including big J boats and classic 12 meters. A certain mercantilism prevailed, insofar as the rules stipulated that challengers had to be built and equipped entirely in the country from which the challenge originated.
As in any competitive sport, there was gradual but steady progress in yacht design and technique, with occasional breakthroughs, like Intrepid's trim tab design in 1967 and Australia II's revolutionary winged keel in 1983. But it was still a pretty sedate and mostly amateur affair up to the late 1980s.
What has happened since then? Here's where the America's Cup becomes a symptom of globalization. First off, it's no longer really the "America's Cup" in any literal sense, and it isn't being conducted according to some fixed and traditional set of rules. The America's Cup has instead become a brand name for a series of global yachting competitions, with lots of different competitors and formats.
Second, as competition has intensified, the pace of technological change has accelerated dramatically. Today, the winner is likely to be the team that spent the most on a radical design or came up with a clever innovation that gave them a distinct advantage over the others. And that costs money. It used to be said that if you had to ask how much it cost to own a racing yacht, you couldn't afford it, and that much hasn't really changed. The Cup is still a hobby for mega-wealthy people like Oracle's Larry Ellison, but it's also become a big corporate endeavor. All of the boats now have corporate sponsors and their sails and hulls are plastered with more logos than a NASCAR automobile.
Third, it's not really a national endeavor anymore. Like an iPhone, the component parts of the different boats come from all over the world. And like any modern multinational corporation, so do the crews and skippers. Some of the teams still sport "national" names, but they all try to recruit the best talent from all over the world. Like other professional sports, in short, it's a globalized market where "labor" mobility is extremely high.
Fourth, let's not forget the rule of law. Globalization depends on a lot of things, including the emergence of at least a rudimentary system of rules to govern trade investment and other global transactions. Similarly, the America's Cup has been beset with litigation ever since New Zealander Michael Fay sued the San Diego Yacht Club over the terms of competition in 1988. So in addition to hiring clever designers and talented crews, a successful Cup competitor may need a talented legal team that can take advantage of legal technicalities. And just as corporations have become adept at moving quickly to countries where production costs are lower, so have America's Cup competitors. When Oracle's Larry Ellison couldn't get the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco to run the competition the way he wanted, he joined the neighboring Golden Gate Yacht Club and used it as the sponsoring body instead.
Is this a good trend or not? The traditionalist in me mourns to passing of the 12 meter era, in much the same way that I feel nostalgic for the touch game that characterized the wooden racket era in tennis. But the new formats, which now feature large, very fast, unstable and fragile catamarans, have undoubtedly increased the audience appeal of the event. The ways things are going, the next step will be to equip the boats with rams and replay the battle of Lepanto. I'll bet even more people would watch.
In any case, trying to halt the march of "progress" is probably impossible, which is probably true of globalization too. Sail ho!
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Today's NY Times reported the death of Gladys Horton, lead singer of the Marvelettes, whose recording of "Please Mr. Postman" was Motown Records first No. 1 hit. I first heard the song in the Beatles' cover version (which ain't bad), but the original is even better: sharp, urgent, and it's got that classic Motown groove (courtesy of the immortal Funk Bros.)
There's something rather symbolic in the timing of Ms.
Horton's death, especially in light of what's going on in the Arab world. You don't see the
connection? Consider the lyrics of
Please Mister Postman, look and see? (Oh yeah)?
If there's a letter in your bag for me? (Please, Please Mister Postman)
Why's it takin' such a long time? (Oh yeah)?
For me to hear from that boy of mine?
There must be some word today?
From my boyfriend so far away?
Please Mister Postman, look and see?
If there's a letter, a letter for me
I've been standin' here waitin' Mister Postman?
For just a card, or just a letter?
Sayin' he's returnin' home to me"
The song is an anthem to anticipation, uncertainty, and longing -- why hasn't she heard from that absent boyfriend? -- and the entire premise of the song depends on that fact she's waiting for an actual physical letter to be delivered. It's back in the era of snail mail, folks, when long-distance telephony was prohibitively expensive and there was no email, no Twitter, no Facebook, no way for ordinary people to communicate instantly on a regular basis over long distances. That also meant you were really dependent on whatever newspapers, TV, and radio chose to tell you.
I remember my first trip overseas in 1976, to study at Stanford's overseas campus in Berlin. Correspondence with my then-girlfriend took a minimum of three weeks (round-trip), and longer if one of us was slow in responding. Like the singer in the song: you waited for a letter, and wondered what no news meant. If a letter was delayed, you agonized over what it might imply. It was a world where events moved more slowly, precisely because it took time for news to spread. Today, my teenaged son and daughter are surprised and irritated if a friend doesn't respond to a text in five minutes.
Now consider what we're seeing in the Middle East. Whatever the ultimate outcome of events in the Arab world, the speed with which large numbers of people have responded to events far away is remarkable. Just as audiocassettes of the Ayatollah Khomeini's sermons served as a medium of transmission in Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, here a combination of modern mass media (Al Jazeera, the Internet, email, Twitter, etc.) has clearly played a major role in driving the pace of events.
At the same time, we're living with a nearly unprecedented outpouring of previously hidden information, via Wikileaks and the "Palestine Papers." This is the wave of the future, I suspect, because the Internet is making it impossible to contain a secret once it's out. Even if governments convinced some news agencies to suppress a secret, somebody somewhere else would release it and then we would all find it on the Web. That gives leakers a bigger incentive to release classified information, precisely because they can be more confident that the leak will get noticed and have an impact. This situation is bound to have significant second-order effects, as governments have to choose between supporting greater transparency, taking harsher action against leakers, or being more reluctant to speak candidly or to record confidential exchanges in ways that could be leaked.
In "Please Mr. Postman," the Marvelettes began by exhorting him to "Wait!" In today's world, the mediasphere isn't waiting for anyone.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Yesterday I learned that one of my posts-to be specific, my thoughts on the Cordoba House/Park 51 controversy -- is a finalist for 2010 Prize in Politics from the internet aggregator website 3Quarks Daily.
The winners will be chosen by journalist and writer Lewis Lapham, the former editor of Harper's, and announced on Dec. 21. I'm grateful to anyone who mentioned me during the nomination period and I feel honored to be among the finalists. I will now start preparing my "concession" post for Dec. 22.
See 3Quarks Daily nominations here.
The late George Carlin was a brilliant comedian and social critic, especially in his obsession with how language can be used to distort or deceive. He's also a lot funnier than Derrida or Bourdieu.
In one of his best routines, Carlin began by noting:
You can't be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms or euphemistic language. And American english is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation. "
He then proceeds to trace how the same combat-induced condition once known as "shell shock" (two syllables, clear and evocative), gradually evolved into "battle fatigue" (four syllables), then "operational exhaustion" (eight syllables) and then into today's "post-traumatic stress disorder." (eight syllables plus a hyphen!). And in the process, its nature is concealed and its impact is quietly diluted.
The spirit of Carlin is probably smiling ruefully right now, because this tendency appears to be alive and well. According to the Associated Press, the Army has now dropped the term "psychological operations" (nine syllables, unless you use the two-syllable label "psy-ops").
The new term is -- are you ready? -- "military information support operations" (a whopping fourteen syllables). Both the old term and the new one are euphemisms, but the latter is precisely the sort of bland and neutral phrase intended to conceal what is really going on.
You know, just like saying "enhanced interrogation" (seven highly misleading syllables), instead of "torture" (just two syllables; clear, on point, and illegal).
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
One year ago, I offered a Valentine's Day post on "IR Theory for Lovers," a tongue-in-cheek summary of the lessons that international relations theory could offer to anyone in a romantic relationship. There's no need to update it (i.e., the IR field hasn't changed that much in a year), so this year I present instead my Valentine's Day Guide to International Relations(hips): a typology of inter-state pairings suitable for pondering with your partner. (Word of warning: this is international relations we're talking about here, so what follows isn't very romantic, schmaltzy, or even encouraging).
1. Odd Couples and Strange Bedfellows. International politics can be a rough business, and the necessities of statecraft often bring unlikely partners together (See under: Realism 101). Remember the Grand Alliance in World War II: a ménage-a-trois between England (a constitutional monarchy), the United States (a liberal republic) and Soviet Russia (a communist dictatorship)? Americans may have been sold the wartime image of Stalin as the benevolent "Uncle Joe," but Roosevelt and Churchill knew it was a marriage of convenience all along. FDR told the U.S. Ambassador to the USSR that "I can't take communism nor can you, but to cross this bridge I would hold hands with the devil," and Churchill famously remarked that "if Hitler invaded hell I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." Now that's sweet love talk for you. Other odd couples include U.S. support for Tito's Yugoslavia, the U.S. tilt to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, and its close ties to a bevy of Third World dictators like Zaire's Joseph Mobutu. And let's not forget the "axis of evil" -- a trio of dangerous enemies whose unity existed only in the overheated mind of a White House speechmaker and included two states, Iran and Iraq, whose leaders detested each other. (BTW: the topic even seems to have inspired a conference at Oxford last year; see here.)
2. Failed Marriages: Sometimes states get so besotted that they decide to try living together, or even decide to get hitched. This sort of experiment seems to be even harder for modern states than it is for people. The United Arab Republic (a marriage between Egypt and Syria) lasted but three years (1958-1961) and ended with a bitter divorce; a subsequent attempt in 1963 (the so-called "Tripartite Unity Agreement" between Egypt, Iraq, and Syria) never got past the first date. And then there's the Sino-Soviet split, a nasty schism that put paid to the idea that the communist world was tightly unified monolith of like-minded and mutually supportive partners. One could add the long Soviet alliance with Egypt, which ended when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat got a better offer from Uncle Sam.
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Last week I had the privilege of visiting the USS Harry S. Truman, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier that was conducting training exercises off the coast of Florida in preparation for an overseas deployment. The other guests and I were flown aboard the carrier (on a C2 transport) for a tour of the ship and aseries of briefings about the ship’s operations. We also spent a good chunk of the afternoon and evening observing a variety of air exercises, including night-time takeoffs and landings by the F-18s, EA-6s, and E-2s that make up the ship’s air wing. The following day we breakfasted with members of the ship’s crew, flew via helicopter to the USS Winston S. Churchill (an ArleighBurke class destroyer operating in the area) and then returned to the Truman before catapaulting off the ship and flying back to shore. (Yes, we used a plane to do that, too).
As you can imagine, this was a pretty heady experience, especially for somebody who grew up around boats and spent a couple of years working for a Navy think tank (the Center for Naval Analyses) while in gradschool. I’m grateful for the opportunity and to the officers and crew -- who were terrific hosts during our visit -- and I’m absorbing a lot of the things I was told or that I observed while on board. Here are 3 of the most vivid impressions and/or conclusions I took from the trip.
First, whatever you might think of the U.S. military in general or the Navy in particular, the sheer technical and managerial skill involved in this sort of operation is damn impressive. As one crewman described it, carrier flight operations are “like a combination of NASCAR and ballet.” The more you watch the ship, planes and crew in operation, the more you realize that their expertise is the refined product of decades of organizational evolution. You couldn’t figure out how to operate a carrier battle group by putting a lot of smart people in a room and having them design the various pieces of equipment and the procedures used to operate them from scratch; the only way to develop these skills is to do it for a long time and to keep trying to get better.
The lesson, of course, is that effective military operations depend on accountability: The only way to improve over time is to learn from past mistakes, reward good perfomance, and penalize errors or incompetence. I’m not saying the military is perfect in that regard, but it does a better job than some other institutions I could name (including academia?). And wouldn’t it be nice if we achieved a similar level of accountability in the making of foreign policy itself? As I've harped on before, one of the reasons we keep making the same strategic mistakes is that we keep listening to the same people who screwed things up in the past (see under:Middle East policy, Iraq, etc.), instead of paying attention to those who’ve been proven right in the past or who offer alternatives to the failed status quo.
So if you have growing doubts about Obama’s foreign policy, bear in mind that most of his key foreign policy appointees supported invading Iraq in 2003, and most of them are still deeply committed to a highly interventionist foreign policy. And let’s not even talk about neoconservatives, who remain a powerful influence despite having been wrong about nearly everything for at least two decades.
But I digress...
Second, it is impossible not to be impressed by the youth and diversity of the crews we met. The composition of the Truman’s crew isn’ta perfect cross-section of American society, perhaps, but there are plenty of different ethnic groups represented and a fair number of women as well. No openly gay sailors or aircrews, ofcourse, but apart from that regrettable omission, it’s an impressive feat of integration.
In Herman Wouk’s World War II novel The Caine Mutiny, one of the characters describes the Navy as “amaster plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots.” The line is grossly unfair to officersand enlisted personnel alike (and the character who utters it in the book is later exposed as a coward), but in a way it does capture how effort, expertise and constant training can transform raw recruits into highly competent personnel and allow them to develop their skills over time. It was even more striking to see how young most of the crew was, especially given the responsibilities that they are given. I will be thinking about them the next time some Harvard College student says they need an extension on a 10-page paper because they have something else due that day.
Lastly, I kept thinking about the crucial role of grand strategy. It is one thing to have an impressive set of military capabilities; it is another to know where to commit them and for what strategic purpose. Since the first Gulf War, the United States has become increasingly entangled in anambitious but dubious project to influence or reshape some of the most impoverished or dysfunctional countries on earth, largely via military force. This effort began with the Clinton administration's ill-conceived strategy of “dual containment” in the 1990s (which helped fuel the rise of al Qaeda), and later expanded into the Bush administration’s strategy of “regional transformation.” The latter goal led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and that same mind-set is now part and parcel of our efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and (maybe) Yemen.
Like some parts of the old British Empire, these various commitments were to some degree undertaken “in a fit of absent-mindedness,” and certainly without a clear calculation of costs and benefits. This project was dreamed up by civilians in both parties and not by the armed services themselves (although parts of each branch have boughtinto it to some degree). Unfortunately, this scheme has forced the U.S.military take on a set of missions for which it is not particularly well-suited, that may in fact be impossible, and that are probably peripheral to America’s long-term interests. For example, we are currently using carrier-based aircraft to fly combat support missions in Afghanistan, which requires pilots to fly five-to-6 hour missions (with multiple aerial refuelings), and puts enormous wear and tear on airframes, engines, and crews alike. These commitments have also forced the United States into vast counterinsurgency and nation-building operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this sort of activity inevitably produces civilian casualties as well as other abuses (e.g., Abu Ghraib). The result? More recruits for al Qaeda or the Taliban, and apparent confirmation of bin Laden's ravings about America's supposed desire to dominate the Islamic world.
Equally important are the opportunity costs: the money weare pouring down the Central Asian and Persian Gulf rat hole isn’t available tomaintain the force levels and modernization upon which our global leadershipdepends. One suspects that this effect of our current global "strategy" is deeply appreciated in places like Beijing. And don’t forget all the presidential time and attention that this activity consumes, first by Bush, and now by Obama, at a time when there are plenty of other items that could use more attention.
We have been able to sustain this effort by relying on an all-volunteer force and by borrowing the money, so that Americans back home don’t feel the pinch directly. But these expedients won’t last forever, and unless we start rethinking our entire approach to global leadership -- moving away from global "liberal evangelism" and back towards a more realist strategy of offshorebalancing -- Americans will one day look back on this decade as the era when they squandered their position of primacy on a set of ill-advised imperial endeavors. Bin Laden and his ilk will be dead and gone by then, and their fantasies of a restored caliphate will have been exposed as hollow dreams. But they will have inflicted immense harm on the United States in the process; not so much by what they were able to do to us, but by what they fooled us into doing to ourselves.
It's the holiday season, and with it comes the tradition of gift-giving. These acts of generosity warm the cold months of winter and provide us with tangible signs of affection from our loved ones. Although a spirit of kindness and altruism is part of the process, an element of self-interest is often present too. Parents sometimes give their kids presents designed to encourage some worthy activity (e.g., a new musical instrument, a worthwhile book to read, a new camera for a child interested in photography), and spouses sometimes give presents intended to repair a rift or from which they expect to benefit either directly or indirectly. (Confession: I have on a few occasions given my wife CDs that were secretly intended for my iPod. Not that I got away with it....).
Given that international politics is a competitive realm-and sometimes brutally so-you wouldn't expect to see a lot of selfless generosity. But it does occur at times, and the week between Hanukah and Christmas seemed like the perfect opportunity to offer up a list of the "greatest gifts" that one country ever bestowed on others. I make no claim that this is a complete list-or even the best one-and I hope readers will send in their own alternative suggestions. Also, because this is foreign policy, some noteworthy "gifts" were wholly unintended. In international politics, some gifts are actually blunders rather than deliberate acts of generosity, even if others benefited greatly from them.
So in no particular order, here are ten of the "greatest gifts" in modern foreign policy.
1. The British Campaign against the Slave Trade, 1807-1867. High on any list of foreign policy altruism would be Great Britain's lengthy campaign to eradicate the slave trade. As ably analyzed by Robert Pape and Chaim Kaufmann, this may be the clearest case of "costly moral action" in international history. At its peak the anti-slavery campaign may have cost the British roughly two percent of GDP, even though Britain derived few, if any, strategy or commercial benefits from the effort. Instead, it was done for essentially moral reasons, reflecting the critical influence of abolitionist forces in British domestic politics.
2. The Marshall Plan, 1947. There was an obvious element of self-interest here, as the U.S. officials understood that European economic recovery was essential to prevent the spread of communism and to America's own economic growth. Yet the decision to provide $13 billion in additional economic assistance (at a time when U.S. GDP was roughly $250 billion), was nonetheless a far-sighted and creative act of statesmanship. Sometimes giving gifts to others does leave you better off. Can you imagine the U.S. Congress pledging a similar percentage of national income (i.e., more than $600 billion) to an economic relief program today?
3. Hitler's Declaration of War against the United States, 1941. This falls under the category of "unintended gifts." Although President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to get the United States into the fight against Nazi Germany, isolationist opinion stymied his efforts until Pearl Harbor. Yet after the Japanese attack on December 7, a "Europe first" strategy would have been difficult to sell had Hitler remained strictly neutral, and had he been clever enough to adopt a conciliatory position towards Washington. Public anger at Japan would have forced Roosevelt to focus on the Pacific, despite its lesser strategic importance. Thus, Hitler's declaration of war was in fact a great gift to Roosevelt, thought it was hardly an act of deliberate generosity.
4. The U.S.-Israel "Special Relationship." I'm sure readers would be disappointed if I left this one out, and it belongs on the list in any case. There's been self-interest involved here too-at least during the Cold War-but providing an annual subsidy equivalent to about $500 per Israeli citizen, along with consistent diplomatic backing, is a remarkably generous gift, especially when one considers the other costs it imposes on the United States (alienated friends, heightened risk of terrorism, more complicated regional diplomacy, etc.) The late Yitzhak Rabin said it best: American support for Israel is "beyond compare in modern history." It is also be one of those gifts that now does more harm than good, because it enables policies that are jeopardizing Israel's long-term future. At this point, it's a bit like loving parents who give a teenager a high-powered Harley and promise to replace it no matter what: they shouldn't be surprised if some reckless driving follows.
5. The Presidency of George W. Bush. Another unintentional gift, in this case given to America's adversaries around the world. The Bush team downplayed the risk of terrorism and was caught off-guard on 9/11, missed Bin Laden at Tora Bora and starved the Afghan recovery effort, went to war on false pretenses in Iraq and bungled the occupation, tarnished the U.S. image by mishandling Katrina and making torture an officially sanctioned policy, and led us into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. I wonder if they ever got a thank-you note from America's current and future rivals, who must have looked on with a mixture of shock, awe, and gratitude.
6. Martyrs in the Cause of Peace and Justice. A list of this sort should also take note of those who gave their lives in the service of peace and justice. In addition to soldiers who have fought for just causes, and leaders like Nelson Mandela who ended apartheid and avoided the civil war that many feared for South Africa, there are also a legion of diplomats and private citizens who sacrificed their lives--the ultimate gift--attempting to advance the cause of peace and understanding. The names are far too numerous to mention and some remain obscure, but I am thinking of heroic figures such as Raoul Wallenberg, Dag Hammarskold, Folke Bernadotte, the eight Jesuit priests murdered in El Salvador in 1989, Dorothy Stang, Rachel Corrie, papal envoy Michael Courtney, Francisco Mendes, and many, many others.
7. Generous Givers. No country today is really generous in providing development assistance, but credit should be given to those who devote a relatively large percentage of their national income to this task (at least compared to others). Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands head the list of aid donors as a percentage of national income, devoting between .8 to 1 percent of national income to this mission. The United States ranks 22nd, by the way, coughing up a measly .18 percent of gross national income.
8. Nuclear Weapons and the "Long Peace." Nuclear deterrence doesn't make war impossible, but its hard to argue that it has not been a formidable barrier to it. Unlike John Mueller, I think the Cold War could easily have gone "hot" without the sobering effects of nuclear weapons, even if both superpowers amassed far larger arsenals than they needed, and they are a major reason why the second half of the 20th century was much less bloody than the first half. And while we're talking about the "long peace," I'd give an honorable mention here to Mikhail Gorbachev and the "new thinkers" in Soviet foreign policy, whose initiatives were central to ending the Cold War itself, even though the end-result (i.e., the breakup of the Soviet Union) was not exactly what they had in mind.
9. The Post-war "Truth-tellers" in Germany. German power posed a problem from Europe from 1870 onward, and a fatal combination of flawed institutions, dangerous ideas, and-in the person of Adolf Hitler-a murderous individual, plunged Europe into two catastrophic wars. Yet in the aftermath of World War II, scholars, artists, and visionary leaders came together to confront Germany's past and revise the self-justifying history that had fueled its earlier misconduct. Had intellectuals in Germany acted in the 1950s as they did in the 1920s, and devoted their efforts to white-washing Germany's role in starting both wars and trying to deny responsibility for the Holocaust, the entire history of postwar Europe would have been different. Instead, historians like Fritz Fischer and Imanuel Geiss offered unvarnished and damning accounts of Germany's misdeeds, a process reinforced by other scholars like Jurgen Habermas and novelists like Heinrich Boll and Gunter Grass. The idea that history should be "de-nationalized" has grown in other contexts as well-from the "New Historians" in Israel to men like Saburo Ienaga in Japan-and constitutes a potential barrier to the xenophobia that has caused so much suffering in the past. A nation may be a "group of people united by a shared mistaken view about the past," but correcting the self-serving myths that sow the seeds of future conflict is an invaluable gift.
10. The International Civil Aviation Organization. Even realists understand that institutions can help states with compatible interests coordinate their behavior and achieve more desirable outcomes, and anyone who boards an airplane benefits from the work of this relatively obscure organization, which oversees the complex arrangements that regulate air traffic in a world where the thousands of planes take off and land every day. Why do I include it today? Simple. If somebody wasn't managing global air traffic, how could Santa fly safely?
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
I've posted on Valentine's, Father's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and Halloween, so at this point I assume a few readers are expecting me to offer up some thoughts on Thanksgiving. I'm happy to oblige, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Not only do I enjoy helping produce a feast and welcoming friends and family, but I like the idea of a day to reflect on whatever blessings we may have received. In my own case, I've been blessed with a wonderful family and a lot of undeserved good luck, and I probably ought to be even more grateful than I am.
So in that spirit, here are the Top Ten things I'm thankful for this year. (For the "official" FP version, check out Josh Keating's list here). I've limited myself to items that relate in some way to foreign policy or international affairs.
1. The Foreign Policy team. First off, I'm grateful for the invitation to write this blog, and especially for the terrific backup we get from the editorial and production team at FP. Special thanks to Rebecca Frankel (who finds all those great photos), to Susan Glasser, who keeps the whole operation running, and of course, the boundlessly inventive and fearless Moises Naim.
2. Free Speech. Every writer lucky enough to live in a country that protects free speech ought to give thanks for that good fortune every single day. Compared to the millions of people who risk persecution (or worse) if they dare to express their own ideas, intellectuals in the United States have it pretty soft. We should never take that luxury for granted.
3. Great Power Peace: Throughout history, wars between great powers have been one of the most potent causes of human misery. Just think about World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, which together killed over 85 million people and impoverished millions more. Yet today, great power rivalries are quite muted and the danger of a true great power war seems remote. There are plenty of other problems still remaining, of course, but I'm grateful that one of the big ones isn't troubling us right now. Let's try to keep it that way, ok?
4. Nuclear Deterrence. Unlike some writers whose work I nonetheless admire, I think nuclear weapons did contribute to peace during the Cold War and remain a stabilizing force today. As Churchill put it, safety has become the "sturdy child of terror." So despite some lingering reservations, I'm glad that nuclear weapons exist. But I'm not giving thanks for the number that we have, which is far in excess of what is needed for deterrence.
5. Critics. Some of my recent work attracted a lot of criticism, and I'm genuinely grateful for it. First of all, my co-author and I have been fortunate that our most vehement critics chose to misrepresent our work and to smear us with various baseless charges, thereby confirming some of our central arguments and helping us win over a lot of readers. At the same time, scholars who have challenged my various writings over the years in more serious ways helped me refine my ideas and gain a fuller understanding of numerous topics. And I'm always thankful for students who don't accept ideas at face value and push back, because we need more independent thinkers and vigorous discussion helps us all learn.
6. Supporters. The controversy over The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy also brought me a legion of new friends, some of whom I would never have met otherwise. My thanks to inspired writers and activists like Phil Weiss, Tony Judt, M.J. Rosenberg, Jerome Slater, Avi Shlaim, Uri Avnery, Sydney Levy, and many, many more. I'm also grateful to the various people who faced pressure to cancel speaking engagements and didn't succumb to it, as well as the many friends who offered their support privately, in countless small ways. You know who you are, and I won't forget.
7. The Fruits of Globalization. I don't know about you, but I'm grateful to live in a world that is increasingly interconnected. Indeed, this aspect of the modern world still strikes me as nearly miraculous, and I feel enormously lucky to be able to enjoy it. I've eaten hummus in Tel Aviv, camel in Abu Dhabi, fish head curry in Singapore, and tapas in Barcelona. My iPod contains music from all over the world, and the last two novels I read were by Orhan Parmuk (Turkey) and Haruki Murakami (Japan). My children attend a public high school where students speak over fifty different languages at home, and there are students from over 80 different countries where I teach. Cultural differences often create awkward tensions (or worse), but I'd feel terribly impoverished if I lived in an isolated mono-culture.
8. Bullets Dodged. I am also thankful that we have thus far avoided some even more dire events in recent years. The world economy may have tanked in 2007-08, but we seem -- knock wood -- to have avoided a complete replay of the Great Depression. Swine flu has been a serious problem but is not a true global pandemic. Terrorists still conspire and sometimes succeed, but another 9/11 (or worse) has not occurred And we have not been so foolish as to attack Iran (at least so far). We should not forget that many are suffering in today's economy, roughly 5000 people have died from H1N1, both soldiers and civilians are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are still influential voices clamoring for more war. But things could be much worse and for that we should all be grateful.
9. The Internet. Boy, am I glad that Al Gore invented this! After all, this blog wouldn't exist without it. Not only has it revolutionized how many of us do research (and in a good way), but it is becoming the main engine of accountability in a world where it is often lacking. Bloggers are exposing the flabby fatuousness of mainstream media and politicians everywhere live in fear of their own "YouTube moment." And whether it is a brutal crackdown in Tehran, torture at Abu Ghraib, or possible war crimes in Gaza, the Internet is helping bring misconduct to light in ways that governments cannot easily suppress. I say: let the sunshine in!
10. Readers. Finally, a heartfelt thanks to all of you who've been reading this blog since its inception, and especially those who've taken the time to offer words of support. I've learned a lot in the process-including some of the more constructive comments that readers provide -- and I intend to keep going until the tank is empty. Tomorrow is a holiday, however, and I'm going to take the day off. You should too, and don't forget to give thanks.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
I'm in the UK at a conference, but I came across the following video, courtesy of Newsweek. If you've been doing a Rip Van Winkle or otherwise engaged for the past ten years, here's a quick way to catch up on the first decade of the 21st Century. My thought: "no wonder I'm tired ... it's been a busy ten years."
It's summertime, and some of you will be headed for the beach, or the country, or wherever you go to relax and recharge. You want to take along something fun to read, and you're not quite ready to tackle that new translation of War and Peace. But you're afraid you’ll feel guilty if you don't read something that is at least tangentially related to international politics.
What’s the answer? Simple. Here’s a list of books for your summer vacation reading that are all entertaining and easy-to-devour, but will also keep at least a few of your foreign policy synapses alive while you're relaxing. These suggestions are from my own list of guilty pleasures, and I'm not claiming that these books are the "ten best" or anything like that. I'm sure I've missed a few obvious candidates, so feel free to offer up suggestions of your own.
1. Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy.
Yes, it's sci-fi, and the prose style isn't exactly Proust. But it's got lots of international (or more precisely, "interstellar") politics in it: balance of power, empire, deterrence theory, diplomacy, religion, economic interdependence, and you name it. The late Ernst Haas used to recommend it to grad students at Berkeley, and it's easy to see why. And the central premise of the book -- that mathematically inclined social scientists ("the psycho-historians") could forecast the future and guide it -- is certain to appeal to scholars who think that they could rule the world if they just got their models properly specified and had enough data. (Note: if Asimov's not-so-subtle leftwing politics bothers you, you can read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers instead, which includes lots of chest-thumping patriotism as well as explicit denunciations of Marx.)
2. Graham Greene, The Quiet American.
World-weary and cautionary tale about the idealism of American intervention, well worth re-reading in light of our current overseas adventures. And Greene is always easy to devour, even when dozing at the beach.
3. Joseph Heller, Catch-22
I must have read this book twenty times when I was in high-school, even though I didn't really understand it. A dark and comic portrait of World War II, and Heller skewers many absurdities of military life. If you're worried that Heller will undermine your sense of patriotism, read Herman Wouk's The Winds of War as an antidote (another one of my faves -- see below).
4. John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People
Yes, I know the Cold War is over, which gives these books a rather dated quality. But the characters are beautifully crafted, the prose is elegant and seductive, and both books are real page-turners. The first time I read them, I stayed up to 3 AM to finish the damn thing and was next-to-useless the next day. (Cautionary note: the second volume of the trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy, is a bit tedious. But you'll probably want to read it anyway.) Le Carre is still churning them out, of course, but these three books remain his high point.
5. Alan Furst, The Polish Officer
I'd recommend anything by Furst, who has written a whole series of dark and romantic noir-ish novels that offer detailed and remarkably vivid portraits of life in Europe before and during the Nazi period. There's not a lot of "high politics" in these books, but they depict spies, politicians, military officials, and ordinary people caught up in the dark dealings of a horrific period. There's betrayal around every corner, and you’ll find them impossible to put down.
6. Orhan Parmuk, Snow
This was my "beach book" last summer, and I concede it's not directly about "foreign policy" at all. But it is a brooding and moving portrait of life in contemporary Turkey, and especially the growing role of Islam. If you think that phenomenon is important, this book will open your eyes and touch your heart.
7. Joseph S. Nye, The Power Game
How many major IR scholars have written a novel and actually gotten it published? (Kindly hold the snarky comments about all the political science books that you think are also "fictional"). It's a fun read, and you get to see how a distinguished scholar, government official, and former Harvard dean writes a sex scene. (And for another example of a Harvard scholar venturing into fiction, see the late John K. Galbraith's The Triumph: A Novel of Modern Diplomacy, a wicked satire about an ill-starred U.S. intervention in Latin America. It must be fiction, because something like that could never happen in real life, could it?)
8. Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
A missionary family's experiences in the Congo, where misguided idealism and stubbornness eventually lead to tragic consequences. A powerful indictment of patriarchy, religion, and overzealous American righteousness.
9. Pat Barker, The Regeneration Trilogy
An intense and inspired set of novels set in and around World War I, imagining the relations between soldiers -- including real-life figures such as the poet Siegfried Sassoon -- and the doctors charged with treating them in hospital. Not exactly a lighthearted read, but it will grip you.
10. Herman Wouk, The Winds of War
I think I read every one of Wouk’s books when I was a teen-ager, and The Caine Mutiny is still my favorite (and his best). But this book (and its sequel, War and Remembrance) is broader, and includes cameo appearances by Churchill, Stalin, and other real-life figures. Wouk marches his characters around the world, and manages to get most of the global conflict in somewhere. It's not great art, but it will more than pass the time.
Pack away a few of these, and you'll have plenty to read while you're relaxing. And you won't have to feel too guilty about it either.
I watched the Men's final at the French Open tennis tournament yesterday, and I was struck by the dominance of: 1) Roger Federer, who won his 14th Grand Slam tournament handily, and 2) the English language. The announcer at *Roland Garros* Stadium reported the scores en francais and French TV apparently got the first courtside interview with Federer after the match (while NBC took a commercial break), but Federer and Swedish runner-up Robin Soderling gave their acceptance speeches in English (with a French translation for the crowd). One imagines the spirit of Charles de Gaulle whirring rapidly in his tomb, not to mention the "Immortals" in L'Academie francaise.
It’s possible that Robin Soderling (the Swedish runner-up) spoke to the crowd in English because he doesn't speak French. But Federer reportedly speaks fluent French, German, and Swiss-German, as well as English, so why wasn’t he addressing the local crowd in their native tongue?
My guess is that this was dictated by the global TV market, and by the growing position of English as the lingua franca of contemporary globalization. The tournament was being watched all over the world, and English is the language that would be understood by the greatest number of potential viewers world-wide.
Americans sometimes view the dominant position of English as another component of America's "soft power," but that view is simplistic chauvinism. With English becoming a "universal" language, no single country will own it or be able to regulate its content. Instead, it will continue to evolve as most languages do, incorporating new words, spellings, and grammatical practices from an wide variety of sources. If they haven't started already, American xenophobes are going to start complaining soon about the corruption of "standard English" by all these foreign influences. For an interesting collection of views on this topic, check out the "Freakonomics" discussion here.
Of course, this whole discussion may be moot, given the damage that email, text-messaging, and Twitter feeds are already doing to civilized discourse. Or does that comment make me sound like a technophobe?
*P.S.: Bonus points for anyone who knows who Roland Garros was without looking up the link. Answer: Garros was a French aeronautical pioneer, who developed an armored propeller that allowed the use of a forward-firing machine gun for aerial combat during World War I. His system predated the more effective synchronization device later perfected by the Dutch/German Anthony Fokker. Garros was captured by the Germans in 1915, later escaped, and eventually shot down and killed in 1918. The stadium for which he is named occupies the site of a tennis academy that he attended.
JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
Last summer, the Israeli government announced a new effort to "rebrand" the country in the eyes of the world, and it hired a prominent British public relations firm to help out. In addition to various forms of cultural outreach designed to highlight Israel's achievements, this effort included having a men’s magazine publish a photo spread of several women from the IDF (including the former Miss Israel) in various fetching poses, a decision that didn't go over all that well back in Israel itself. You can read all about it here, here, or here.
The Gaza operation, the sham peace process, and the recent election of the Netanyahu/Lieberman government aren’t making the "rebranding" effort any easier, of course. And if you want to know why this new hasbara campaign isn’t likely to work, start by reading English journalist and military historian Max Hastings's sobering account, published last week in the Guardian. Drawn from an appearance in Balliol College's Leonard Stein lecture series, Hastings recounts his own evolution from an enthusiastic cheerleader for Israel to a disillusioned critic who strongly supports Israel’s existence but openly opposes many of its present policies. Where once he "loved those people, and boundlessly admired their achievement," he now describes himself as "one of those foreigners who progressively fell out of love with Israel." I know the feeling.
The problem, as Hastings makes clear, is the reality of the occupation and the brutal treatment of the Palestinians that goes hand-in-hand with it. This situation can't be disguised by more energetic public relations efforts. There are too many video cameras and human rights groups documenting Israel's actions -- including Israeli groups like B’tselem. There are too many bloggers willing to write about the conflict from varying perspectives, and too many scholars and journalists like Hastings -- plus a growing number in the United States -- who no longer accept the outdated image of Israel as a plucky and virtuous David facing a looming and bloodthirsty Arab Goliath. That image was easy to sell in 1948, perhaps, and it remained fairly convincing after the Arab states offered the infamous "Three Nos" at the 1967 Khartoum summit. But it's a much tougher sell after Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, after Gaza in 2008-2009, and after the Saudi and Arab League peace proposals in 2002 and 2007 don't even elicit an official response from Jerusalem.
Israel's achievements over the past sixty-one years are undeniable, and the officials responsible for the rebranding campaign won't have any trouble finding artists, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs to write feel-good stories about. But the dark side of the story won’t go away -- 40-plus years of an increasingly brutal occupation, the construction of the apartheid wall (or if you prefer,"separation fence"), much of outside the 1967 borders, thousands of dead Palestinian civilians, a series of failed wars since 1982, and the repeated squandering of genuine opportunities to make peace. And every year the number of settlers grows. I don't hold Israel solely responsible for this tragedy, but they are neither powerless nor blameless.
As Hastings observes, more in sadness than in anger, these policies have also had a deeply corrosive effect on Israeli society itself. In his words, "Morally, if not militarily, [the IDF] is a shadow of the force which fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, or 1973." Not to mention rising political corruption, the polarization of the body politic, once-impressive universities in decline, and a worrisome tendency for younger Israelis to seek careers abroad. In an era when information flows freely and where anyone with an internet link can read Ha'aretz, the Jerusalem Post, the Daily Star, the Guardian, etc., the Israeli Foreign Ministry is not going to control the story.
In fact, trying to "rebrand" Israel through a one-sided PR campaign could be counterproductive, because offering a uniformly sunny image that leaves out much of the story just undermines the credibility of the messenger. My sense is that few Israelis believe Shimon Peres anymore, and I doubt many of them think Benjamin Netanyahu means it when he says he’s interested in a genuine peace. It's like when Bush and Cheney declared that United States doesn't torture, Bill Clinton told us that he "didn’t have sex with that woman," or Richard Nixon said "I am not a crook." After awhile, smart listeners learn not to accept anything they're told without double-checking it themselves. Even worse, when they hear one thing, they start to assume that the opposite is probably true.
Some readers may think that Hastings is employing a double-standard, or that he is "singling Israel out" for criticism. They could point out that Israel's adversaries have often lied or prevaricated too, and that they have done plenty of brutal things themselves. They could also remind us that Israel's neighbors are hardly models of tolerance or open discourse and that there is a far more open debate about these issues within Israel than there is in Jordan or Saudi Arabia or Syria. I agree, and the willingness of some Israelis to confront the past honestly and to question its present policies remains an admirable feature of Israeli society.
But there is no double-standard at work here, and comparisons with states whose behavior may be worse miss the point. Israel's actions are not being judged against the conduct of a Sudan or Burma, but by the standards that people in the West apply to all democracies. It is the standard Americans expect of allies who want to have a "special relationship" with us. It is the standard Israel imposes on itself when it tells everyone it is "the only democracy in the Middle East." Israel is being expected to behave like Britain or Canada or France or Japan and not like some one-party military dictatorship, and it is certainly expected not to deny full political and civil rights to millions of Palestinians who now live under its constant control. These other democracies eventually gave up their colonial enterprises; Israel is still trying to consolidate its own.
As Americans have learned in recent years, whenever any country fails to live up to its own professed values, it is going to lose friends and admirers around the world. Barack Obama understood that he couldn’t restore America’s image in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the Bush torture regime by trying to change the subject or by talking about some cool or virtuous things Americans had done. ("OK, we tortured some people and invaded Iraq on false pretences, but weren’t the Founding Fathers great, aren't Tiger Woods and Kelly Clarkson amazing, and have you seen that new Star Trek movie?"). The way a country regains the world’s admiration in the aftermath of misconduct is to stop doing it, admit it was wrong, express regret, and make it clear that it won't happen again. Restoring Israel's image in the West isn't a matter of spin or PR or "rebranding;" it's a matter of abandoning the policies that have cost it the sympathy it once enjoyed. It's really just about that simple.
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Last week a friend of mine sent me a link to a website for a film festival featuring over thirty movies about wine. That got me thinking: if Foreign Policy had a film festival, what movies should we show? There are some obvious candidates (see below), but rather fewer than you might think. After all, many aspects of foreign policy don't lend themselves to cinematic treatment, which is why I don't expect to see a gripping drama about the Doha Round or a lighthearted farce about the Six Party Talks on North Korea (though Kim Jong Il clearly has untapped comic potential).
There are lots of terrific war movies, of course, but most of them tell you relatively little about why the war happened or what the conflict was actually about. And spy movies have long been a popular genre, ranging from Hitchcock’s Thirty-Nine Steps to the gadgetry and glitz of most Bond flicks to the film noir seediness of The Third Man to the paranoid high-tech travelogue that is the Jason Bourne franchise.
But let's raise the bar high, and exclude pure war movies, spy capers, documentaries, and overt propaganda films like Triumph of the Will or Frank Capra's Why We Fight, and focus on movies that tells us something about international relations more broadly. Here's my personal top ten list, with apologies for my ethnocentrism (I don’t see enough foreign-language films).
10. Meeting Venus
Ostensibly a film about opera and an unlikely romance between a diva and an obscure conductor -- set in a fictitious "all-European" orchestra -- this droll sleeper actually tells you a lot about environmentalism, European labor unions, the historical legacy of the Trotsky-Stalin split, and the tangled politics of the European Union. Plus it’s got Glenn Close.
9. Independence Day
Basically a sci-fi flick the depends on you suspending disbelief throughout (e.g., how did Bill Pullman stay cockpit ready for an F-15 while serving as President, and where did Wlll Smith learn to fly a flying saucer?) It's Hollywood, so of course the United States gets to save the world. But it makes my list because it is balance-of-power theory in action: an external threat (giant alien spaceships), gets the world to join forces against the common foe.
Yes, there are a lot of spies roaming around this movie, but its much broader than that; an exciting if somewhat incoherent portrait of the interplay of oil companies, great power politics, local militias, and the tension between modernity and tradition in the Middle East. Not to be taken too seriously, but not without insights either.
Not just a gripping movie, but also a film about a watershed historical event. One could argue that this is where the modern human rights movement begins.
6. Wag the Dog
Instead of invading Grenada or firing cruise missiles at Sudan, here the White House hires a Hollywood producer to invent a wholly fictitious war. Sounds absurd, but those WMD in Iraq turned out to be fictitious too. There's a whole IR literature on "scapegoat wars" (i.e., wars fought to distract the public from other issues), and this film just takes that impulse a step further. It's a cautionary tale in this era of digital special effects, a compliant news media, and the citizens who are all too inclined to believe whatever they are told. Could this be Roger Ailes's favorite movie?
5. Fail Safe
Everything you ever wanted to know about colonialism and the unavoidable clash of cultures that it produces.
3. The Great Dictator
Chaplin's lethal lampooning of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, released in 1940 and addressing anti-Semitism at a moment when plenty of other institutions were still ignoring it. Reminds us that making fun of despots is often an effective weapon.
2. Dr. Strangelove
Granted, it is a war movie (though the war depicted here won’t last long), but so much more. Kubrick punctured the absurdity of the conventional military thinking in a nuclear age as well as any scholar could, and managed to satirize the whole Cold War mentality to hilarious effect.
No, it’s not really a war movie (there are no battle scenes, and the emphasis is on politics, resistance, and of course romance). But it’s on my list, because, well, it's Casablanca. And where would modern discourse be without phrases like "Round up the usual suspects," "Here's looking at you, kid," "I was misinformed," "I'm shocked, shocked!…" and "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”?
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Interpreter (not that good a movie, but how many films take place at the UN?); Rollover (an old B movie about a global financial meltdown triggered by crooked corporations, venal foreign investors, and corrupt financiers. Right, as if something like that could ever happen); Local Hero (hot shot rep from a multinational oil corporation is no match for the charms of a quirky Scottish fishing village); Duck Soup (the Marx Brothers show you what could happen if Glenn Beck ran foreign policy); Missing (about the CIA's involvement in Chile); Grand Illusion (a classic antiwar movie, but didn't make my list because it is set in the middle of World War I); Hotel Rwanda (humanity in midst of the world's most recent genocide); Charlie Wilson's War (partly about the Afghan War, but mostly about how things get done -- or not -- in Washington. My CIA friends tell me a lot of it is a crock, but Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant and Tom Hanks ain't bad); and last but not least, Reds (the Bolshevik Revolution was a major world event, and it's an excellent movie, too).
And YOUR nominees are?
Last week Tom Ricks offered us his "Top Ten list" of books any student of military history should read. The FP staff asked me to follow suit with some of my favorites from the world of international politics and foreign policy. What follows aren't necessarily the books I'd put on a graduate syllabus; instead, here are ten books that either had a big influence on my thinking, were a pleasure to read, or are of enduring value for someone trying to make sense of contemporary world politics. But I've just scratched the surface here, so I invite readers to contribute their own suggestions.
1). Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War.
An all-time classic, which I first read as a college sophomore. Not only did M, S & W provide an enduring typology of different theories of war (i.e., locating them either in the nature of man, the characteristics of states, or the anarchic international system), but Waltz offers incisive critiques of these three "images" (aka "levels of analysis.") Finding out that this book began life as Waltz's doctoral dissertation was a humbling moment in my own graduate career.
2). Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Combines biology and macro-history in a compelling fashion, explaining why small differences in climate, population, agronomy, and the like turned out to have far-reaching effects on the evolution of human societies and the long-term balance of power. An exhilarating read.
3). Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence.
He's a Nobel Prize winner now, so one expects a lot of smart ideas. Some of Schelling's ideas do not seem to have worked well in practice (cf. Robert Pape's Bombing to Win and Wallace Thies's When Governments Collide) but more than anyone else, Schelling taught us all to think about military affairs in a genuinely strategic fashion. (The essays found in Schelling's Strategy of Conflict are more technical but equally insightful). And if only more scholars wrote as well.
4). James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.
This isn't really a book about international relations, but it's a fascinating exploration of the origins of great human follies (like Prussian "scientific forestry" or Stalinist collectivized agriculture). Scott pins the blame for these grotesque man-made disasters on centralized political authority (i.e., the absence of dissent) and "totalistic" ideologies that sought to impose uniformity and order in the name of some dubious pseudo-scientific blueprint. And it's a book that aspiring "nation-builders" and liberal interventionists should read as an antidote to their own ambitions. Reading Scott's work (to include his Weapons of the Weak and Domination and the Arts of Resistance) provided the intellectual launching pad for my book Taming American Power).
5). David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest.
Stayed up all night reading this compelling account of a great national tragedy, and learned not to assume that the people in charge knew what they were doing. Still relevant today, no?
6). Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics.
I read this while tending bar at the Stanford Faculty Club in 1977 (the Stanford faculty weren't big drinkers so I had a lot of free time). Arguably still the best single guide to the ways that psychology can inform our understanding of world politics. Among other things, it convinced that I would never know as much history as Jervis does. I was right.
7). John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.
Why do bad things happen to good peoples? Why do "good states" do lots of bad things? Mearsheimer tells you. Clearly written, controversial, and depressingly persuasive.
8). Ernst Gellner, Nations and Nationalism.
The state is the dominant political form in the world today, and nationalism remains a powerful political force. This book will help you understand where it came from and why it endures.
9). Henry A. Kissinger, White House Years & Years of Upheaval.
Memoirs should always be read with a skeptical eye, and Kissinger's are no exception. But if you want some idea of what it is like to run a great power's foreign policy, this is a powerfully argued and often revealing account. And Kissinger's portraits of his colleagues and counterparts are often candid and full of insights. Just don't take it at face value.
10). Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.
Where did the modern world come from, and what are the political, economic, and social changes that it wrought? Polanyi doesn't answer every question, but he's a good place to start.
So that's ten, but I can't resist tossing in a few others in passing: Geoffrey Blainey The Causes of War; Douglas North, Structure and Change in Economic History; Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population; Robert Gilpin, The Political Economy of International Relations; Steve Coll, Ghost Wars; T.C.W. Blanning, The Origins of the French Revolutionary Wars; R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution; Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World; Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War; Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies; Tony Smith, The Problem of Imperlalism; and Philip Knightley's The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-Maker. And as I said, this just scratches the surface.
So what did I miss? Keep the bar high.
(And for those of you who don't have time to read books, I'll start working on a "top ten" list of articles).
I’m spending some time this month rehearsing for an annual charity show (playing keyboards in the pit band), so my thoughts have turned back to music. Here’s my question: where have all the political songs gone, and especially songs about war and peace? I’m not saying there aren’t any (see below), but this genre doesn’t seem to cast the same shadow it once did.
Back in the folk era (for younger readers, that means the late 50s/early-to-mid 60s), songs about war and injustice were staples of popular culture here in the United States. Think of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” or Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or Phil Ochs’ “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” At about the same time, the all-time genius of political musical satire, Tom Lehrer, was writing scathingly funny songs about a range of foreign policy topics, including nuclear proliferation (“Who’s Next?”), NATO’s multilateral force (“The MLF Lullaby”), liberal interventionism (“Send the Marines!”) and even nuclear Armageddon (“So Long, Mom!”). And don’t forget Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” (written by P.F. Sloan), an apocalyptic jeremiad that hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1965 and contains references to nuclear war, Red China, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and congressional fecklessness.
By the late 1960s, fueled by Vietnam, songs about war were legion. Off the top of my head, there’s Donovan’s “Universal Soldier,” the Animals' “Sky Pilot,” CSNY’s “Ohio,” and “Wooden Ships,” John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” and “Imagine,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” Even Glenn Campbell’s pop hit “Galveston” (written by Jimmy Webb) has a Vietnam theme. There were a few songs on the other side too, most famously Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.”
My main point is that some of these songs were big hits, selling lots of copies and getting lots of airplay. And satire wasn’t entirely gone either, with Country Joe and the Fish’s “Feelin’ Like I’m Fixin to Die Rag,” and Randy Newman’s brilliant “Political Science,” which dates from the early 1970s but could have been written for George W. Bush. Excerpt:
No one likes us, I don’t know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around the world, even our old friends put us down,
Let’s drop the big one, and see what happens…
We give them money, but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful, and they’re hateful,
They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them,
We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them.
I’d be remiss not to mention one of my all-time favorites, Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” (first recorded in the early 1970s but made famous by Elvis Costello and the Attractions in 1979 and later voted 284th best rock song by Rolling Stone). Then in 1985, right on cue, came the pop anthem to globalization (and foreign aid): “We are the World” (written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and recorded by an all-star group to raise money for famine relief in Africa).
Given the foreign policy problems we have faced in recent years, including 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s somewhat surprising that we haven’t seen a resurgence of popular music exploring these themes. There are some obvious exceptions, to be sure, such as Springsteen’s “Devils and Dust,” Pink’s “Dear Mr. President,” or Neil Young’s album “Living with War,” and alt-country singer/guitarist/songwriter Buddy Miller has a terrific anti-landmines tune on his album Poison Love entitled “100 Million Little Bombs.” (Salon.com has a list of other anti-war songs here, and I found this list of top 10 political rock songs here.) On the pro-war side, you’ve got Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” and “American Soldier,” among others. But unless I’ve missed something (and that’s perfectly possible, because I’m not nearly as plugged in as I once was), none of these songs is commanding the sort of mass audience that earlier songs about war (or foreign policy, broadly defined) did. Some of them are powerful and evocative and musically sophisticated, but I haven’t heard one that seems likely to become a standard anthem.
Why? My hypothesis: there’s no draft. So long as military service is voluntary, and thus something that young people can opt out of, the costs of war will seem far away to many of them and their attention will tend to focus elsewhere. And when that happens, there won’t be big money in political songs and they’ll stay on the fringes of popular culture. Seems to be true of antiwar movies too.
But as I said, I’m not as plugged in as I used to be, and maybe I've just missed the good stuff. So the floor is open for comments: are there terrific songs about war or foreign policy being recorded these days? If so, are any of them attracting mass interest? If not, why not? The floor is open.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Warning: this is not a realist post. It's not even all that serious. But it's Friday, and some of you may appreciate a brief diversion from the more depressing events of the week.
Here's my question: has there ever been a great European rock-and-roll band?
You would think that there would be by now, given the cross-fertilization of musical cultures that has taken place over the past few decades. We've been allied with Europe for a long time, and true rock bands have been touring the place for decades. The Armed Forces radio network used to broadcast lots of rock music too, so it was available to anyone with a radio. If we believe Tom Stoppard, rock music was a powerful cultural force on the continent (including Eastern Europe), just as it was in the United States.
Yet I can't think of a single European band or artist that would be regarded as a major force in the history of rock-and-roll. Obviously I am drawing a sharp distinction here between the United Kingdom and continental Europe. The UK has produced any number of world-class rock bands and artists: the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, U-2, Sex Pistols, Van Morrison, Cream, Elvis Costello, Eurythmics, David Bowie, etc., so my generalization obviously doesn't apply there. And this list appears to confirm that point.
But what about France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Sweden? These cultures have produced a number of important jazz musicians (Django Reinhardt, Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen) and world-class popular music artists (Edith Piaf) plus a few one-hit wonders (e.g. Golden Earring's "Radar Love") but continental Europe has never produced a rock and roll band of any global significance. And I hope nobody counters by mentioning Abba -- whatever you might think of their music, it ain't rock.
I'm no musicologist, and I know there are other people out there who know more about the music scene than I do (paging Eric Alterman!). And I admit I haven't been keeping up with the scene as much in recent years. (My teenaged son was into some weird Japanese metal bands last year, but none of them seem to have broken out to a larger global following).
So I could be dead wrong about this, and I invite readers to chime in. Am I way off-base here? If there have been some major rock artists from continental Europe, who are they? (Note: I am not saying that there are no good rock bands in Europe; I'm just saying that they don't seem to be emerging as major artists in a global sense).
And if I'm right about the gap, what's the explanation? Is it network theory (i.e., lack of connections to key tastemakers, like the folks at Rolling Stone)? A function of trade patterns? The lingering influence of too much classical music training? American chauvinism?
My own theory, based on absolutely no research whatsoever, is that you can't have rock music without a blues and R & B foundation. Blues and R & B and early American rock and roll spread to England in the 1950s and helped ignite the British rock scene. Result: the British invasion of the 1960s. But blues and R and B were never a large influence on the continent, and it has therefore remained focused on (or to be unkind, mired in) an irretrievably "pop" sensibility.
On a more serious note: does this phenomenon tell us something about the limits of globalization? We can send digital music anywhere now, but that doesn't mean it sprouts and grows everywhere it lands, and national and regional cultures continue to retain a lot of individuality, even in the face of the Internet and the iPod.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.