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August 30, 2010 01:07 PM

Paul Starobin kindly invited us to add a guest post to the summer reading list. He’s concerned that our new book The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas (Harvard University Press) might be piling on to a surging pessimism about the nature of America’s presence in the world. A little bit of worry is generally a healthy thing; pessimism is not. In fact we think that to swing along the optimism-pessimism continuum is not the best way for anyone to spend their summer (or any other season).

That’s because it’s just too easy to write best-case and worst-case scenarios. Those kinds of scenarios make decent movie plots (sometimes) but they don’t help with strategy or decision making. In optimism world, the hero stands by her core goals and values as the world around her throws up every kind of risk and challenge; as long as she doesn’t get distracted by those things, it all works out for the best. In pessimism world, the same hero is utterly overwhelmed by problems and crises th

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August 25, 2010 12:46 PM

Bruce Jentleson at Duke was kind enough to send me an advance copy of his new book, "The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas," (Harvard), written with Steven Weber at Berkeley. The book's argument, in a nutshell, is that "Free-market capitalism, hegemony, Western culture, peace, and democracy--the ideas that shaped world politics in the twentieth century and underpinned American foreign policy--have lost a good deal of their strength....Hegemony (benign or otherwise) is no longer a choice, not for the United States, for China, or for anyone else."

I'm mindful that another author, Peter Beinart, has weighed in on this subject in his new "The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris." (And I have a bit of a guilty fingerprint myself, as author of the 2009 book "After America: Narratives for the Next Global Age.") And there are other books as well in this broad and seemingly gathering stream of writing.

I'm wondering--where are all the American optimism books? Am I missing something here? Does anyone

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August 18, 2010 11:07 PM

War and Peace--by that guy Tolstoy

Middlemarch--by (not a guy) George Eliot

Bleak House--by Dickens (if only for the first few pages for one of the all-time great openings in literature. 'Fog everywhere....") (Seems rather apt for our times...)

OK, so I'm a 19th century classics kind of guy. What of it?

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August 9, 2010 10:24 AM

I just picked up Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, and I am already howling. Readers of his last novel, Absurdistan, know what I am talking about—this is a fellow with a gift for sharp, biting (OK, savage) dark-as-night satire, which just happens to hit my summer sweet spot. His target in Absurdistan was a former Soviet Republic in the oil-rich Caspian region. In his new book, the target, alas, is an America in decline. Our hero, Lenny Abramov, lands onto “the cracked JFK runway” amidst “a landscape of forlorn aging terminals headed atop one another like the vista of some gray Lagos slum. We surveyed the tired buildings of a prematurely old country; in the far distance, away from the tanks and armored personnel carriers, construction cranes loomed over the half-built futuristic complex of the China Southern Airlines Cargo Terminal.” You get the gist--this is like reading the front-pages of today's newspapers, but the laugh lines are much better.

I’ve also been poring through Bill Kauffm

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July 6, 2010 02:42 PM

To say, as Pat Lang does, that “the US alliance with Israel is altogether the product of American altruism,” strikes me as not quite right. As Pat himself goes on to say, the alliance also is sustained by self-interested U.S. politicians, for whom a pro-Israel stance looks like the best path to political survival. That sounds more like selfishness than altruism.

My own view is that the alliance has held together out of a felt political and cultural need. About the political dimension, not much more needs to be said. The pro-Israel “lobby” (substitute whatever term you’d like) is an effective one in Washington, just as the pro-Armenian one is, and as the pro-Poland one used to be in the bygone days of the Cold War. Ethnically-grounded pressure groups on foreign policy are part of the democratic landscape.

The cultural dimension is more interesting to tease out. The modern rebirth of a Land of Zion in the ancient cradle of the Jewish people strikes a sympathetic chord amongst Americans. Possibly, as the Holocaust recedes, this c

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July 1, 2010 01:07 PM

Updated at 1:17 p.m.

As to Michael Scheuer’s comment: “The bulk of the U.S. and Western media is anti-military, anti-U.S., and more interested in finding and reporting negative things about our forces than they are in seeing us win the war.” I’m not going to take the bait and waste time defending the journalism community as patriotic—except to say that I don’t know any U.S. journalists truly interested in seeing America lose a war. Most journalists are not contemplatives and are barely conscious of any deep motive for doing what they do. They’re too busy chasing the story of the fleeting moment.

Here’s what I do think needs to be said, based on my own experience, about journalists who devote themselves to covering wars—a fairly distinct lot within the media community.

They’re adrenaline freaks. They find the whole thing exhilarating in some kind of primitive biological way. OK, they don’t get to carry a gun, but they do get to be in and around the battlefield. It’s a high

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June 30, 2010 09:05 AM

Speaking as a journalist, what I’d most like to say is kudos to Michael Hastings and Rolling Stone. This is easily the most revealing piece written about the political-military management of the Afghanistan war and ought to be a shoo-in for a national magazine award. And shame on the beat “journalists” who, I suppose red-faced with envy, are dumping all over his scoop. I have in mind, in particular, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan. On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program, Logan took one gratuitous pot shot after another at Hastings, saying she simply doesn’t believe there were no ground rules for his interviews with General Stanley McChrystal and staff. And how does she know that? “I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that,” she said. In other words, she really doesn’t know anything at all about the arrangements Hastings made to get his job done—she is simply extrapolating from her own personal experience. In such circumstances, when a journalist has clea

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April 14, 2010 03:15 PM

Thanks to all contributors. The 47-nation summit of world leaders wrapped up in Washington yesterday with a pledge to lock down weapons-usable nuclear materials by 2014 to keep the materials out of the hands of terrorists. President Obama met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, but even as global concerns mount over Iran’s nuclear program it remains unclear whether China, which has a veto in the UN Security Council, will back a package of tough sanctions against Iran.

I’d welcome comments on whether the summit was a big success or no big deal. I’d also welcome comments on an important point made by Christopher Preble in his post. He says that a shift away from nuclear weapons for defense in the direction of conventional military assets can be expected to jack up the defense budget— “a costly proposition at a time when U.S. military spending is already at a post-World War II high.” This is a neglected theme in the commentary in the media and elsewhere on Obama’s nuclear posture review. How about it: Are we actually looking at mo

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March 10, 2010 05:26 PM

Thanks to all who have contributed to what is proving a wide-ranging and provocative discussion. In posing this question, I may have underestimated the degree to which Europe is something of a Rorschach test for national-security analysts in the U.S. Some of our bloggers see the “more civilized perspective” of European countries on warfare, as David Krieger put it, as a modern object lesson for the U.S. in how to avoid the folly of a rush to battle. In this vein, Gordon Adams suggests the Europeans have developed a sophisticated understanding of the use of “civilian instruments” for “dealing with the central global security problem of weak states and weak governance.” Other bloggers, however, say that Washington needs a new set of tough-love policies to get Europe to do more to defend itself. “European states cannot be ‘guilted’ into greater military investment,” Jim Thomas said. “They will only spend more on their own defense if they assess they must. Thus, the United States can only induce European states to s

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March 8, 2010 10:25 AM

I’d like to post a guest comment from an expert source, Jim Thomas, who is Vice President for Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. Jim served for thirteen years in a variety of policy, planning and resource analysis posts in the Department of Defense. He spearheaded the 2005-2006 Quadrennial Defense Review and was the principal author of the QDR report to Congress.

The erosion of European military capability has been underway for decades. While successive generations of senior American officials have lamented growing capability and interoperability gaps between the US military and its European counterparts, as well as the general lack of European seriousness about collective security, it is ironically the US defense posture itself that has permitted – indeed even encouraged – “free riding” by the European allies.

Why should the allies spend more on their own defense when the direct threats to Europe have receded, or intervene beyond Europe to protect their interests when the United States wil

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