To Prevent another Syria, the World Needs German Leadership

Peace Lab / Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Presidential transitions in the United States always entail a period of uncertainty and diminished U.S. leadership. As the incoming administration takes shape and tries to finds its footing, the world watches anxiously.

Especially in this context, Americans like myself have welcomed the willingness of the German government to take on increased international responsibilities. German leadership has been indispensable to the cause of European integration and transatlantic cooperation from its earliest days and through many crises. Nor has Germany limited itself to a European role. From the United Nations in New York to the frontiers of Afghanistan, the international community has welcomed the responsible role German engagement has played. Continue reading

Report: Allies Against Atrocities: The Imperative for Transatlantic Cooperation to Prevent and Stop Mass Killing


This month marks the release of “Allies Against Atrocities: The Imperative For Transatlantic Cooperation To Prevent And Stop Mass Killings,” a report that I co-wrote with Lee Feinstein, dean of Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies and former US Ambassador to Poland, through the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide and the Stanley Foundation.

The report’s core argument is that transatlantic cooperation is fundamental to preventing atrocities—and that atrocity prevention is a first-order international security challenge that calls for coordinated strategic action and an institutional response. The purpose of the report is twofold: we identify practical steps that the U.S. and its Atlantic partners can take to prevent mass atrocities, and we provide some specific findings and recommendations to that end.

Below is a brief overview of these findings and recommendations. Continue reading

The Enlightenment’s Losers Are All Around Us

Wall Street Journal

Notwithstanding a title that screams of current events, Pankaj Mishra’s “Age of Anger: A History of the Present,” is a book of far greater ambition than its timeliness suggests. Though attentive to all the headline staples—the rise of nationalism and populism, the weakening of liberalism, the threat of virulent strains of radical Islam—Mr. Mishra frames these phenomena as manifestations of a much larger problem. The “age of anger” here is nothing other than modernity itself, as seen through the eyes of those to whom modernity has come late and partially—if indeed it has come at all.

Mr. Mishra’s primary target is the assumption that modernity is synonymous with progress. He traces this view back to the Enlightenment conception of human beings as rights-bearing individuals quite apart from the whims of crown and church. This radical idea spread throughout the West, and then globally, infiltrating the realms of politics, economics, society and culture.

Proponents of modernity, perhaps including most readers of this newspaper, point to the spread of freedom and growing prosperity as a result of market economics, and they are pleased. True, they likely see progress as incomplete, both with regard to its extension around the world and to its development in their own societies. But the direction—forward—isn’t in doubt.

In Mr. Mishra’s view, apologists of modernity are complacent and “self-flattering.” They had the great good fortune to be the initial beneficiaries of “commercial society, the global market economy, the nation state and utilitarian rationality.” For this, the Western (and Westernizing) winners deserve no special credit. In a mistake characteristic of Enlightenment universalism, Mr. Mishra argues, they mistook the advantage they gained from the system for the advantage of the whole world. Meanwhile, the globalizing spread of modernity from its points of origin in Europe and North America caused tremendous disruption of local and traditional patterns of life wherever it went, producing what Mr. Mishra sees as the characteristic trait of modernity: an “existential resentment of other people’s being, caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness.”

It is this sense of resentment, the defining spirit of the age of anger, that Mr. Mishra spends most of the book exploring. Continue reading

His Reelection Plan

Weekly Standard

To those who believed, sequentially, that Donald Trump would drop out soon after entering the GOP primary field; that this or that outrageous provocation of his would fatally turn off primary voters; that while he might be winning primaries, he had a ceiling of support among Republicans in the 40-percent range through which he could never pass; that he would never win a majority of delegates to the convention; that if he did, the party establishment would do its utmost to deny him the nomination; that under pressure from GOP defectors, he might drop out of the race; and that he could never win the general election—to all of you, I say: It’s time to start thinking about how Trump intends to win reelection. He will certainly be thinking about it, and it is likely to illuminate some of the decisions he makes. Continue reading

What Is the Driving Force in American Political History

National Interest, November/December 2016

Sean Wilentz, The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2016), 384 pp., $28.95.

NOT EVERYTHING published between covers really adds up to a book. The distinguished liberal historian Sean Wilentz’s latest release, The Politicians and the Egalitarians, doesn’t cross that threshold. What he’s given us instead is a series of quirky but engaging sketches of (mostly) major figures and episodes in American history from the founding through the mid-twentieth century. These sketches readily betray their origins as review essays (in the New Republic and the New York Review of Books) on the work of other authors, albeit on subjects he knows well. Wilentz is hardly the first writer to have had the experience of looking back on a body of casual past work and asking: What was I getting at with these? The theme he has found to his pudding turns out to have been the dual importance of partisan politics and the passion for equality in American history.

It’s a bit unjust—but only a bit—to blame authors for the sensationalized subtitles publishers like to put on books these days. If partisan politics and egalitarian enthusiasm constituted a hitherto “hidden” element of the “history of American politics,” it will come as news to anyone who has read any American history, not least Wilentz’s own estimable work. So let us join Wilentz in his statement of the obvious: both egalitarian passion and the rough-and-tumble of politics have shaped American history.

The compensation for the banality of what The Politicians and the Egalitarians stands for is the superior interest of what the book stands against: above all, the proposition that partisan politics, including in its highly polarized form today, is the main obstacle standing between America and political progress. Continue reading

Who’s the Greatest?

Weekly Standard

One noteworthy feature of the ideological divide in Washington is how immune the country’s foreign policy practitioners have been from the disfiguring aspects of hyper-partisanship. Take any random left-wing specialist in constitutional law and a counterpart from the Federalist Society, and odds are they will believe they have little to say to or learn from each other. Something similar holds on questions of inequality and the tax code, and on social issues, if any of those are left to argue about.

On foreign policy matters, this hasn’t generally been true. It’s not that the intensity of the party identification of those working in this arena is lacking. But Democrats and Republicans alike have to work in a world in which U.S. foreign policy is subject to external constraints in a way domestic policy is not. The constraints on domestic policy are mostly up for grabs; this intensifies partisan feelings. The constraints on foreign policy are not only beyond the reach of any American ability to dictate terms—even for the “sole superpower”—they are also dangerous and need to be understood. Both sides have to do business with the same world. Continue reading

Taking Trump Seriously on NATO


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was born in response to Soviet expansionism in Europe following World War II. Moscow’s designs on Western Europe were clear. And so began the U.S. policy of containment of the Soviet Union, the most important element of which was the U.S. pledge to defend Western Europe against Soviet attack. That pledge was codified in the Washington Treaty establishing NATO in 1949. The treaty’s Article 5 declares that “an armed attack against one or more” of its members “shall be considered an attack against them all.”

The Soviet Union is no more, but the alliance has hardly grown moribund. In the 1990s, NATO went to war twice in Europe to stop atrocities in the disintegrating former Yugoslavia and deployed peacekeepers there in the aftermath. NATO invoked Article 5 following the 9/11 attack on the United States and took command of the military mission in Afghanistan from 2003 until 2014. In 2011, NATO conducted air strikes on Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya to prevent the slaughter of opponents of the regime, which then collapsed. NATO is currently involved in myriad assistance and training programs with partner countries. In the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine, President Obama flew to Estonia, to offer reassurance to the presidents of three Baltic countries—once captive Socialist Republics of Moscow, since 2004 members of NATO—that the United States remains committed to their defense under Article 5.

For his part, Donald Trump has called NATO “obsolete,” citing its Cold War origins and a primary security threat that now comes from radical Islam. He has said NATO costs the United States “billions” and that allies don’t contribute a fair share—a point he has also made about our Asian alliance relationships. Two generations ago, when we were a rich country, it might have made sense for the United States to subsidize the security of others countries, he has said, but not now that America is poor. He also seems to question the value of what the United States is committed to defend: After the recent terrorist attack there, he remarked that Brussels has become a “hellhole.” Trump has also expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and while he seems to find Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine regrettable, what seems to irk him still more is that the United States rather than our European allies, in his view, has shouldered the lion’s share of the burden of responding to it.

Each of his substantive points is readily rebuttable. First, the United States is still a rich country—the largest economy in the world and fifth in GDP per capita, according to the International Monetary Fund. Second, the United States reaps great benefits from NATO and its other alliance relationships. Trump points to the so-called free-rider problem, according to which European governments can spend as they wish on domestic programs because they need not pay for their own defense. But it is far from obvious that the United States could more cheaply protect its national interests without these alliances. We have fought bloody wars to prevent the domination of Europe and Asia by powers hostile to our political principles, and the deterrence value of our alliances and our ongoing military presence in these areas is a bedrock element of keeping the peace.

Third, the external threat radical Islam poses to the United States and its allies is now manifesting a homegrown counterpart in Europe, but Europe’s capitals have hardly become “hellholes.” And in coping with these new threats, an approach in which the United States remains a willing partner stands a better chance of success than one in which we act as if oceans provide the same protection they did 150 years ago.

Fourth, as for Russia, Trump’s affinity for Putin is perhaps a sign of respect for power effectively wielded, something Trump believes the United States has been failing to do. But complaining bitterly about the cost of deterring Putin is hardly the way to deter him from further adventurism.

Though Trump seems to ad-lib his way through questions about policy matters, his view of NATO and other alliances is not incoherent. I doubt he simply fails to understand that NATO has been the cornerstone of the security relationship between the United States and Europe for nearly three generations. Probably he did not miss the fact that after the Soviet Union broke up, NATO found a new “out of area” mission countering radical Islam in Afghanistan. More broadly, nor did he miss the fact that the alliance has more recently renewed its focus on deterrence and territorial defense in light of Russia’s rekindled adventurism. He likely understands that the challenge of the Islamic State as a coordinator of attacks in Europe suggests that NATO’s engagement in counterterrorism missions will continue. It may even have come to his attention that along with the global U.S. commitment to keep sea lines of communication open, NATO is the baseline test of the credibility of all U.S. security commitments, such as those to Japan and South Korea—and therefore of the U.S. commitment to maintain the global order that previous presidents worked so hard to set up and manage.

The Donald Trump problem isn’t ignorance. It’s that he believes we can safely jettison our commitments until we get a “better deal.”

According to textbooks on how to negotiate, lest you overpay, you must enter a negotiation knowing your BATNA—“Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.” Trump’s BATNA is a world on its own, without U.S. engagement. Rather than being willing to pay a price to avoid living in such a world, he believes the world should be paying us for the services we render. If it doesn’t, best of luck—and to us as well.

Continue reading

How Culture Beat Religion

Wall Street Journal


From the emergence of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the late 1970s through the Christian Coalition’s heyday in the 1990s and on to Republican presidential aspirant Ben Carson’s declaration that he could not vote for a Muslim for president, the role of evangelical Christians in the nation’s political life has been a magnet for controversy. For Democrats and for the left more broadly, evangelicals represent a regressive force that, if left unchecked, would transport America back to a world in which a woman’s place is in the home and a homosexual’s in the closet. For Republicans and conservatives who do not think of themselves as “born again,” the challenge is how to keep conservative Christians voting right while presenting a modern political party with broader appeal.

Mark A. Smith is a professor of political science at the University of Washington, where he also teaches comparative religion. His “Secular Faith” is a spirited and contrarian entry in the debate over what to make of the religious element of the “culture wars.” Against the view that religion is a major influence on our politics, Mr. Smith sets out to argue, as his subtitle puts it, “how culture has trumped religion.” Continue reading

How Many Imaginary Female Draftees Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

USA Today

The political and military fallout from lifting the ban on women serving in combat roles continues, with the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Staff of the Army averring at a congressional hearing that 18-year-old women, like 18-year old men, should now be required to register for the draft. At the GOP debate Saturday, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie agreed: fair is fair.

In a 1981 Supreme Court case that upheld requiring men but not women to register for the draft, Justice William Rehnquist noted that the purpose of a draft was to provide troops for combat, from which women were banned, and that therefore Congress was committing no constitutional violation by requiring men but not women to register.

Rehnquist’s ruling for a Court divided 6-3 had the aroma of a truffle laboriously hunted to deliver a result in favor of a traditionalist view of the military as against the modern claims of equal rights. Kick out the ban on women in combat, as the Obama administration has, and the question of the draft does indeed look different, not only to service chiefs but to Republican presidential aspirants.

The problem is that by now, we are at the point of arguing over how many imaginary draftees can dance on the head of a grenade pin. Continue reading

Achilles and Patroclus: Archetypal Heroes

My dear friend Kori Schake has written a wonderful article at War on the Rocks in praise (mostly) of my new book,The Heroic Heart: Greatness Ancient and Modern. The book takes up the subject of how ideas about heroism changed over the millennia and what this tells us about ourselves. I recently had another go at some of these questions in relation to the Medal of Honor bestowed last month on Capt. Florent Groberg, (U.S. Army, ret.). Groberg exemplifies the life-saving, protective hero characteristic of the modern world — and stands in contrast to the self-aggrandizing, slaying and conquering hero so prevalent in the ancient world. I tell the stories of representatives of both types in my book, exploring as well their relationship to political order and change.

People who have taken the trouble to write something about the book or to talk with me about it have addressed these large themes, as indeed Schake did. But what I loved most about her essay was her willingness to engage my interpretation of the Iliad and especially Achilles, whom I take as the archetype of heroism in the ancient world.

What I loved least about Schake’s essay, however, was her contention that I got Achilles and the Iliad all wrong — or at least wrong enough that she felt obliged to correct the record. But this puts me at a terrible disadvantage with the good readers of War on the Rocks. Her criticism of my view of Homer is there for all to see, but my view of Homer is nowhere to be found. This I must fix. And so I shall, right now.

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