Life To Come

Sometime within the next three months I shall become a father.  So begins the last big adventure, a maelstrom of unequal parts agency and cupidity.  On the one hand lies the opportunity to help mold a decent human being, showering him1 with love, and equipping him with the values, traits, tenacity and moral fiber required to live a good, meaningful life.  On the other lies the awareness that I am incapable of sheltering him from all of life’s cruelties, tribulations, hopelessness and pain; a realization that parenthood entails a degree of submission to the crude determinism of biology and the randomness of fate. Continue reading “Life To Come”

Henry Kissinger’s World Order and the Question of Universal Values

In our time, the quest for world order will require relating the perceptions of societies whose realities have largely been self-contained.  The mystery to be overcome is one all peoples share—how divergent historic experiences and values can be shaped into a common order.1

Two weeks into the year and I’ve already found a finalist for my “Best Books of 2015” entry: Henry Kissinger’s World Order.  The book is a richly written, thought-provoking meditation on the structure of the international system from the world’s preeminent scholar-statesman.  You won’t find a critique of it here.

I touched upon Kissinger’s thinking in my post on Adda Bozeman’s Politics and Culture in International History, so I won’t retread it; but reading the book prompted me to contemplate once more whether U.S. actions have played a role in the fraying of world order, and if so, whether the issue of “universal” values might be to blame. Continue reading “Henry Kissinger’s World Order and the Question of Universal Values”

Thoughts on James Fallows’s “Chickenhawk Nation”

Colleville-sur-Mer, France (2004).
Colleville-sur-Mer, France (2004).

[President Barack] Obama gave his still-not-quite-natural-sounding callouts to the different military services represented in the crowd. (“I know we’ve got some Air Force in the house!” and so on, receiving cheers rendered as “Hooyah!” and “Oorah!” in the official White House transcript.) He told members of the military that the nation was grateful for their nonstop deployments and for the unique losses and burdens placed on them through the past dozen years of open-ended war … He said that the “9/11 generation of heroes” represented the very best in its country, and that its members constituted a military that was not only superior to all current adversaries but no less than “the finest fighting force in the history of the world” … This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money. A somber moment to reflect on sacrifice. Then everyone except the few people in uniform getting on with their workaday concerns.1

James Fallows has written one of the most important articles of the year: “The Tragedy of the American Military.”2  You should read it now; the words below will be here when you’re finished.

In the article, Fallows discusses the crisis in civil-military relations that has been building over the last 15+ years, and argues that this state of affairs has negatively impacted the country’s ability to fight and win wars.  As I read it, the three pillars of his argument on why the United States gets lured “into endless wars it cannot win” are, in a nutshell: Continue reading “Thoughts on James Fallows’s “Chickenhawk Nation””

Favorite Books of 2014

Following the smashing success1 of last year’s post on my favorite books from 2013, I thought I’d aim for a repeat and perhaps inspire some gift ideas for the holidays. Here are 11 standouts that I remember from this year. Continue reading “Favorite Books of 2014”

QE & Inequality

I believe that the policies we have undertaken have been meant to generate a robust recovery.1

Effective demand is dead in the water.2

Quantitative easing…is that, like, making math easier?3

Well, goodbye to all that.  Until the next time, Quantitative Easing.

For normal people with more interesting lives, I imagine articles headlined with the words “quantitative easing” prompt a mild degree of nausea and / or disinterest.  As for me, for the last six years4 I’ve found it hard to avoid reading pieces on the unparalleled series of unconventional monetary policies: QE 1, QE 2, Operation Twist, QE 3.  So much juicing of the financial markets, so much time I will never have back, so many unintended consequences nobody can foresee. Continue reading “QE & Inequality”

Politics and Culture in International History

The concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis. The search for world order has long been defined almost exclusively by the concepts of Western societies … But vast regions of the world have never shared and only acquiesced in the Western concept of order … [The United States must think] on two seemingly contradictory levels. The celebration of universal principles needs to be paired with recognition of the reality of other regions’ histories, cultures and views of their security.1

Henry Kissinger is not enthused.  The extant world order is fraying, and the United States has neither a coherent strategy for coiling it back together, nor the bearing for promulgating a new one.  This blog’s exploration of entropy as the defining characteristic of international affairs covers some similar territory as Kissinger’s essay, so it shall be shamelessly plugged in this paragraph.

But the richness of Kissinger’s essay lies beyond the exigencies capturing headlines today, for it raises the idea that the cacophony of crises is not amenable to tactical policy prescriptions.  Rather, the perturbations may be symptomatic of a larger, more intractable issue: the imposition of rules and norms on cultures and societies that—by dint of their own historical experience—don’t necessarily share the West’s values.2 Continue reading “Politics and Culture in International History”

The Enduring Relevance of Thucydides

Plying the Ionian Sea while traveling from Ancona (or was it Brindisi?) to Patras, Greece (2004).
Sailing the Ionian Sea while traveling from Ancona, Italy (or was it Brindisi?) to Patras, Greece (2004).

For some reason that I will never understand, Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War is not required reading for graduate students of international relations.1 I don’t know how I was handed a college degree without having read it, for that matter. Continue reading “The Enduring Relevance of Thucydides”

Practice Heroes

For people who played football1 growing up, on every team there were bound to be players who memorized both offensive and defensive playbooks and knew where to be to make a play against his teammates. These players tended to garner the coaches’ favor because they were excellent at doing what the coaches wanted them to do. But as most kids learn, these players tended to be studs on the practice field and complete soup sandwiches come game time. They were practice heroes. Continue reading “Practice Heroes”

David Bromwich and the Vanishing Art of Independent Thinking

The intelligence is defeated as soon as the expression of one’s thoughts is preceded, explicitly or implicitly, by the little word “we.”1

Recently, in The London Review of Books, David Bromwich penned an excoriating piece on Barack Obama and the political class that had me chuckling in my chair (see “The World’s Most Important Spectator”). The writing is absolutely poetic; Bromwich delivers so many zingers that to quote the essay piecemeal would risk deriving you of one of the great reading pleasures of 2014. So I shall refrain. Continue reading “David Bromwich and the Vanishing Art of Independent Thinking”

The Age of Entropy

…we are on the cusp of an eternal purgatory. It will be a world full of confusion and instability. The age of entropy will be a time of restless disorder, an aimless but forceful hostility to the status quo…

How serendipitous. A week after posting Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs, I stumbled across an article in Foreign Affairs from Randall Schweller—a professor at Ohio State University—that argues we’re now living in “The Age of Entropy.” It’s worth a perusal if you’re interesting in reading “why the new world order won’t be orderly.”