Two announcements for the Scholar’s Stage community members.
Vladislav M. Zubok’s A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War From Stalin to Gorbachev is a surprising counterpart to my essay, “Culture Wars are Long Wars.” That essay proposed a general theory of cultural change. Key to its thesis was the observation that most cultural change does not occur because people change their ideas, but because people with new ideas replace people with old ones. As most people form their essential political worldview by the time they are 30 and only adapt it on the edges to new circumstances, only the most earth shaking events have the power to fundamentally shift the frameworks and values that the majority filter their politics through. Large scale cultural shift is largely a story of generational churn.
While the focus of that piece was on American domestic politics, this is a general phenomena that applies across cultures and time periods. Vladislav Zubok understands this. The generational nature of political change is a recurring theme of Failed Empire, which chronicles the ups and downs of Soviet diplomacy from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. While we often describe Soviet history in terms of the leader reigning at the top of the system, Zubok argues that shifts in Soviet strategic behavior reflected not only the differing leadership styles of the various CPSU General Secretaries, but broader transitions from one generation of leaders to another.
Twenty years ago a nation comfortable but aimless was thrust by violence into a new reality. “Does anybody but me feel upbeat, and guilty about it?,” asked one conservative columnist a few weeks later. “I feel upbeat because the country seems to be a better place than it was a month ago. I feel guilty about it because I should be feeling pain and horror and anger about the recent events.” But he was not the only one to feel this way.
What kind of world does the Communist Party of China want? How can we know what they are thinking? These questions are the subject of “How Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ Should Have Ended U.S. Debate on Beijing’s Ambitions,” a report by National Intelligence College professor Dan Tobin that was originally published as testimony to Congress. This episode uses Tobin’s research as a starting point to discuss a web of issues at the core of Western attempts to understand the Chinese system. We talk about why Western analysts often struggle to understand the Communist Party, which parts of the “China watching” world are most successful doing this, and why any of this should matter to the “average” American citizen with no particular stake in China.
Joining me (Tanner Greer) to discuss this report is Peter Mattis. Mattis is a Senior Fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and most recently was the Senate-appointed staff director at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, where he was part of the legislative team that passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, and the Tibetan Policy and Support Act. He is the coauthor of Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer and the author of Analyzing the Chinese Military: A Review Essay and Resource Guide on the People’s Liberation Army (2015).
Over the last month or so we have seen several reports out of Afghanistan registering the shock of the Americans, the Afghani government, and even the Taliban itself with the speed at which the Taliban forces have captured the Afghani countryside.
I am surprised with this surprise.