New Film Explores Richard Holbrooke’s Undiplomatic Views of Obama

I am very excited about this film. That is all.

“That really is the way the White House thinks,” Mr. Holbrooke said in an Aug. 12, 2010, entry in the diary, the existence of which has not been previously reported. “They don’t have a deep understanding of the issues themselves, but increasingly, they’re deluding themselves into thinking they do.”

Mr. Holbrooke, a diplomatic troubleshooter who worked for every president since the 1960s, was widely known to be in conflict with the Obama administration. But the audio notes that he dictated on a near daily basis from August 2010 until his death at age 69 from a torn aorta in December of that year provide an usually candid, if one-sided, record of the internecine battles that troubled the administration over the direction of the war in Afghanistan.

via Richard C. Holbrooke’s Diary of Disagreement With Obama Administration –

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Thomas Cromwell Can Twist a Knife

Holbein's portrait of the dark arts master.

It pays to be the person who can GTD (get things done), especially in Tudor England. In the case of Thomas Cromwell, currently undergoing a reframing from the Man for All Seasons approach–thanks to Hillary Mantel’s multi-format blitz (best selling book series, called “novelistically intelligent“, Broadway, and now PBS), his reputation appears to be on the mend–at least a little.

No one is likely to push for Cromwell’s canonization. Even if he had remained faithful to Rome, there are few realistic prospects for a patron saint of realpolitik. Yet this is high season for him and his ilk. Dirty things done dirty, clean things done dirty — people who get stuff done, somehow or other, now rise in glory on stage and film. Perhaps the long stall of Washington politics has made us yearn for those grease-stained mechanics whose unseen guile, we imagine, would protect the engines of power from seizing up. Says Henry: “I keep you, Master Cromwell, because you are as cunning as a bag of serpents.”

A few kindred figures might go in that same bag: Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Caro’s biographies; Doug Stamper, the aide to Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” (not to mention Underwood himself); the William Seward of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” a cabinet secretary who hired lobbyists skilled in the hook and crook, in bribes and whiskey, to round up votes for emancipation.

via Thomas Cromwell, a Man for All Centuries –

The trick in Tudor times was to keep your head attached.


The horrors of execution.


Another Bretton Woods for a New Kind of Economic Thinking?

Reporting from INET, a conference held at Bretton Woods, NH on the future of the global economy and rethinking some of our foundational assumptions about the dismal science:

Here too, was former Council of Economic Advisers and super-mathematical economist Ken Rogoff agreeing (a bit reluctantly it must be said) that there are things in economics that can’t be modeled. Even more telling were Rogoff’s references to the importance of the thinking of political economist and historian Charles Kindleberger whose books, once required reading, have vanished from the modern, mathematically oriented economics curriculum. In a significant aside, Rogoff noted that his students don’t consider Rogoff’s recent book on the history of recovery from economic crises to be a legitimate research effort because it is history rather than mathematics.

via The view from Bretton Woods | Foreign Policy.

Lest you think that this is the new Davos, take a look at John Cassidy’s New Yorker  piece that channels Keynes and wins the headline-writing award for “George Soros’s ‘Monstrous Monkey House'” including reference to a  talk by Paul Volcker on international monetary reform. It sounds like a more productive discussion than the famed economist suspected.

Strategy and the Legacy of Brent Scowcroft

What will be the historical summary of Brent Scowcroft, a Utah native son? One approach is to think of him as the adult in the room.

This pragmatic realist and “honest broker” may seem out-of-step in the fading glow of George W. Bush’s neorealism even as voices of isolationism  dot the party today (Think Paul and Cruz). But Scowcroft’s steadfast approach to “preserving order” and the overall strategy did have an impact:

In the final years of the Cold War, Scowcroft’s conservative focus on order may have been sufficient: Progress was on his side. But today, at a time when the international system is changing, for better or worse, the imperatives have ­become more complicated, less clear-cut. Scowcroft ­acknowledged later that once the Cold War ended, “we were confused, ­befuddled. We didn’t know what was ­going on, and we didn’t think it mattered much.” Or as Sparrow puts it, he does not try to “alter the nature of the game; . . . he plays the game set before him.” It was Scowcroft who helped momentarily push and then retract the widely derided concept of “the new world order.”

via ‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’ –

Scow croft possessed to notable qualities, according to the author Bartholomew Sparrow, as noted in the WSJ: “his mastery of the day-to-day process of formulating strategy” and the “ability to balance the need to use power assertively, on the one hand, and to temper that assertiveness with prudence, on the other .”

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Top U.S. General in Europe: Arming Ukraine ‘Isn’t a Strategy’ | Foreign Policy

Why shouldn’t the U.S. arm its friends in Ukraine? It all comes down to the strategy and the fact that diplomacy may be the best tool in the policy arsenal:

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges conceded to reporters Tuesday that arming Ukraine could help its fragile pro-Western government on the battlefield, at least in the short term. But he said that wouldn’t be enough to fundamentally ensure that Ukraine doesn’t lose more territory to Russia in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year.

Instead, the general said Washington and its allies should use diplomatic means to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty, and ensure that the NATO alliance doesn’t splinter, while at the same time leaving Russia a path to eventually rejoining the international community.

“Providing weapons is not a strategy,” Hodges said. “There are great arguments for giving weapons to them to help raise the cost for the Russians. I think that is a valid argument. But saying that’s a valid argument is different from saying that this ought to be the policy.”

via Top U.S. General in Europe: Arming Ukraine ‘Isn’t a Strategy’ | Foreign Policy.

Diplomatic History and the Political Science Wars

In the long run, put money on the historians:

Many historians outside diplomatic history—conscious of globalization, concerned about recent foreign policy events, and seeking a broader framework—have attempted to “internationalize” their research. Consequently, diplomatic historians and nondiplomatic historians are finding affinity in one another’s work and publishing in one another’s journals. The results are encouraging, both institutionally and intellectually. The online discussion list for international history, H-Diplo, is one of the most popular lists in the H-Net system. Likewise, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations hosts well-attended conferences and publishes an innovative journal.2 But as diplomatic historians have successfully focused on becoming more mainstream within the historical profession, they have neglected a discipline with which they share many interests: political science.

via Diplomatic History and the Political Science Wars.

Winning Public Speaking From Steve Jobs

Take note that we can still learn from even the early NeXT phase:

1. Show your passion. (3:46)
Jobs was well known as an excellent presenter, and his skills are on full display in his introductory speech. He uses repetition well. He’s enthusiastic. He’s natural. But most important, he believes what he’s saying, and he’s not afraid to put himself out there. If you don’t get passionate about your idea, no one else will.
via 8 Essential Lessons From a Young Steve Jobs | Inc 

Violence Against Women across the World

What is the state of women across the globe? At the ongoing #Beijing+20 Conference in NY at the United Nations, the stubborn and perplexing case of violence against women comes to the fore–with useful data analysis from BYU and Texas A&M’s WomanStats project, as reported in this article by Somini Sengupta:

“Overall, as you look at the world, there have been no large victories in eradicating violence against women,” said Valerie M. Hudson, a professor of international affairs at Texas A & M University who has developed world maps that chart the status of women.

In some cases, the laws on the books are the problem, women’s rights advocates say. In some countries, like Nigeria, the law permits a man to beat his wife under certain circumstances. But even when laws are technically adequate, victims often do not feel comfortable going to law enforcement, or they are unable to pay the bribes required to file a police report.

via U.N. Reveals ‘Alarmingly High’ Levels of Violence Against Women –

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Long Live the State / The State is Dead

Two books from late 2014 make the case for why the State is in its final throes–but what a good ride it had. In a structural take on international relations, as compared to the theoretical view of power espoused by Moses Naim, Charles Maier looks backward in Leviathan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood and John Mickelthwait and Adrian Woodridge wonder about the future in The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State.

As Maier chronicles in his gripping account, the modern state wrapped itself in legal authority, harnessed technology, established markets, acquired wealth, and launched violent campaigns of territorial expansion. By the 1970s, the modern state had vanquished all the major alternative forms of political organization: a remarkable world-historical moment.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge cover some of the same ground. But the two editors of The Economist are more interested in the state’s future than in its past — and they are worried. In this clever and sharply argued book, they warn that the liberal democracies of the West have grown too big, a development they describe in evocative terms: “bloat,” “elephantiasis,” “omnipresent nanny,” the “supersizing” of the state. The unchecked growth of government, they claim, contributes to all the ills of today’s Western democracies: frayed social safety nets, demographic imbalances, fiscal crises, legislative gridlock, influence peddling, toxic partisanship. Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue that to fix those problems and fend off the challenge posed by the updated models of authoritarianism put in practice by the Chinese and others, Western democracy must be reinvented.

via Leviathan 2.0; The Fourth Revolution | Foreign Affairs.

Maier draws on history to show how how what we consider modern aspects of the state, “territorial integrity, highly developed governing structures, and technological prowess” are “historical anomalies–as Ethan Epstein writes in National Journal.

Not that this is new. Parag Khanna has been making this case in the literate press for some time, with the rise of NGOs coming to the scene most forcefully in the 1990s–now non-state actors in the media (bloggers), intelligence (Snowden), even terrorism (Bin Laden) are top of the list material for concern.

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How the Euro Crisis, Iranian Nuclear Deal and Ukraine are Connected

Good insight from Stratfor on how three seemingly unrelated events intersect:

Germany needs a deal with Russia to be able to manage an existential crisis for the eurozone; Russia needs a deal with the United States to limit U.S. encroachment on its sphere of influence; and the United States needs a deal with Iran to refocus its attention on Russia. No conflict is divorced from the other, though each may be of a different scale. Germany and Russia can find ways to settle their differences, as can Iran and the United States. But a prolonged eurozone crisis cannot be avoided, nor can a deep Russian mistrust of U.S. intentions for its periphery.

Both issues bring the United States back to Eurasia. A distracted Germany will compel the United States to go beyond NATO boundaries to encircle Russia. Rest assured, Russia — even under severe economic stress — will find the means to respond.

via The Intersection of Three Crises | Stratfor.

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