A Scholar’s Stage forum member reports that he and a friend recently finished reading John Darwin’s After Tamerlane. Enraptured by Darwin’s account of flourish and fall, they ask what else they might read to understand the rise and decline of peoples and powers over the course of human history.
In my mind there are four central parts to this tale:
The American national security complex has a long list of 21st century defeats to its name. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months trying to understand some of these failures. But if any meaningful reform is to occur and competence is to be restored too high office, it is just as important to identify and understand successes. Otherwise, there are no targets to reform the system towards.
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.
Now is the proper time for the broader foreign policy community to step back and assess the successes and failures of Trump era diplomacy. There have already been a few attempts of this sort for Trump’s China policy, but I find myself disappointed, if not entirely surprised, with how vapid and partisan these assessments tend […]
Countries of the Belt and Road. Earlier this month I wrote: I wish less analysts asked, “What did Xi hope to accomplish by creating the Belt and Road?” and instead wondered, “What did Xi hope to accomplish by associating the SOE infrastructure-industrial complex so closely with his personal foreign policy?”  This question follows […]
In her 2018 article for The International Journal of Afro-Asian Studies, “Translating Xi Jinping’s speeches: China’s search for discursive power between ‘political correctness’ and ‘external propaganda,’” Tanina Zappone presents an interesting figure: Zappone used the five volumes of Selected Works of Mao Zedong, the three volumes of the Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, the two […]
Hat tip to Paul Huang for finding this comic. Two years back I wrote an article for Foreign Policy with the title “Taiwan Can Win a War With China.” In a recent interview with Jordan Schneider (for his podcast ChinaTalk) I stated that I can no longer endorse the declaration in that title. While I […]
Here is a question that has fascinates: how to account for the disastrous foreign policy of George W. Bush, when his foreign policy team returned to office in 2001 as the most credentialed and accomplished group of foreign policy professionals Washington had seen in the modern nat-sec era? How did the men and women who […]
Image source The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is considering proposals to ban all members of the Communist Party of China, and their families, from obtaining a visa to visit the United States. If implemented, would this accomplish what the administration hopes it will? Does the administration even know what it hopes […]