Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations is the title of my first book of essays. Published in 2010, it has remarkable utility for understanding where we are in relations with Russia today, how and why a New World Order is now forming before our eyes, and where we are headed.
As an historian by education, I had long been unhappy with the way that American political scientists were prospecting history for “lessons” to support their latest proposals for the country’s foreign policy. This practice was all the more in view during the 1990s in the period immediately following the collapse of Communist regimes across Central and Eastern Europe, reaching finally to the USSR. America’s best known, and also some aspiring less known academics produced works which were intended to inform a confused public, and also to guide policy makers in the highest offices of the land. They provided road maps for the new world which was now no longer split to the core by an ideological fissure and which was no longer bipolar, but instead appeared to be unipolar, with the USA as the sole remaining global superpower and hegemon.
I read some of their works, was scandalized by the shoddy workmanship and decided to take action as an historian calling fellow professionals in a related discipline to order.
Considering the results of my dissection of the 1990s and early new millennium writings of the established names in the field, some readers of my book decided that I was insincere in designating them as “great.” However, my yardstick was not the intrinsic value of their writings but the degree of influence they bore across the profession and in the foreign policy community at large. There was little to quibble over my choices. Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky were all well known to the public for several bookshelves of works that have enduring interest up to present. The less well known names in my “big ten” were Joseph Nye, Stanley Hoffmann, G. John Ikenberry and Robert Kagan. They were fillers to give my volume enough bulk. I make no apologies for including them because they were still inescapable in 2010 though their residual value today is often negligible. With one exception, of course, Kagan. I would be remiss not to mention that he is the husband of Victoria Nuland, with whom he shared a Neoconservative world view that he helped to define.
The stronger of the authors in my list were complex thinkers, and it took all of my efforts to get my mind around them to produce a critical analysis, including where they “borrowed” many of their ideas from, what was wrong with the sources and what remained wrong in their reworks.
The most original of the lot was Francis Fukuyama. His End of History (1992) was seminal in the sense that the other “greats” wrote in response to his challenge, even if they never acknowledged his work by name. Fukuyama’s book set down the principles that were embedded in the Neoconservative movement. He argued that with Communism vanquished, all of humanity was now headed in the same direction towards liberal democracy and free markets. This was a single set of rails, along which were stretched out all the nations on earth, some ahead by the locomotive, some behind. With the direction of history clearly delineated by Fukuyama it was a small step for the Neocons to urge the U.S. government to accelerate the historical processes by direct intervention. When this ended in the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, Fukuyama jumped ship and quit the movement. But he never went very far away, and he is called upon even today as an expert in international affairs to comment on the disaster awaiting Putin from his war on Ukraine. That was the main topic of his interview last week on the BBC’s Hard Talk show. Very clever people like Fukuyama walk away from train wrecks unscathed.
Zbigniew Brezinski is now long dead (2017) but his voice is still heard. In the past several weeks many of our news commentators cite the passage in Brzezinski’s best-selling book, Grand Chessboard (1997), in which he explains the decisive importance of Ukraine in Russia’s retaining or losing its standing as a European empire. Of course, there is a great deal more in that book than the two lines cited today. It encapsulated an entire world view that was deeply anti-Russian just as Brzezinski’s career had been when he moved from his university professorship to become Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor.
Brzezinski was the author of the plan to lure the Soviet Union into an invasion of Afghanistan in December1979 and then to provide U.S. support to the Islamic warriors fighting the USSR, which, in the long run wore down the Soviet state and contributed to its demise. There are many in Washington who are hoping for similar results from American support to the Ukrainians in their war with Russia, another war which the USA largely engineered.
Brzezinski’s name was not mentioned in the many obituaries for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died last week. However, he had been her mentor during her university studies and they remained in close contact when she rose to high office. Brzezinski accepted an assignment from Albright to assist plans to build oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to Europe, skirting the territory of the Russian Federation, with intent to reduce Russian revenues from and control over global hydrocarbons.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Brzezinski’s anti-Russian views were imbibed with his mother’s milk. Though it is considered bad form in American political life to draw attention to birth, ethnicity, and the like, there were at the time of his appointment as National Security Adviser a number of serious professionals who questioned the wisdom of appointing a Polish patriot, son of a Polish diplomat, to participate in high level decision making involving policy towards Russia given the several centuries of bad blood between these countries and peoples.
Henry Kissinger’s writings were surely the most difficult to master. He graduated from Harvard a summa cum laude and you feel it. When I was writing my analysis of his master work Diplomacy (1994) I went to the amazon.com page for the book and looked over reader comments, seeking to capture the vox populi. One comment stood out: “He writes very well for a war criminal.”
Indeed it was a widely held view in the past that Kissinger spent the second half of his life atoning for the sins of the first half. His role in prosecuting the ugly, criminal war in Viet Nam was the main sin of the past. From the 1990s on, it was assumed that Kissinger acted as one of the “sage men” giving perspective and insights to those making foreign policy, including presidents. And when he is quoted today, it is common to point to his statements after 2008 advising against extending NATO membership to Ukraine. However, this is to ignore what he did and said in the 1990s. Kissinger and Brzezinski both testified on Capitol Hill in the 1994-1996 period when America reached a decision on NATO expansion and on relations with the Russian Federation going forward. Back then Kissinger had been strongly opposed to including Russia in NATO, even opposed to including Russia in the very diluted Partnership for Peace program. NATO had to be sacrosanct.
In 2008, when the United States and Russia edged towards war over Russia’s incursion into Georgia in August, Kissinger was a leading player in the group of senior statesmen who put together a paper on how to restart relations with Moscow. The paper was delivered to Barack Obama’s campaign team and was implemented in early 2009 as the “Re-set.” However, that plan in fact did not question the givens of U.S. global hegemony and only called for improved rhetoric when dealing with the Kremlin. This scarcely qualifies Kissinger for credits to offset his past sins.
Kissinger has been blessed with longevity. Next month he will be a featured speaker at a big public event hosted by The Financial Times. We may expect him to hold forth on the Ukraine crisis. For readers of my Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers, it will be hard to hold back the jeers.
Finally, I wish to mention here Samuel Huntington, a political scientist who is less remembered today than the first three above, but whose vision of the present and the future set out in his Clash of Civilizations (1996) had a great influence on the thinking about the world in a whole generation of Americans and others around the globe.
Huntington’s book became a best seller after the September 11th bombing of the World Trade Center. The author appeared to foresee the titanic struggle between the West and Islamic terror, and everyone was keen to read him. But the book was not limited to the conflict with Islam. Huntington had a full set of “civilizations” that were supposedly jostling for position. Among them, we find Eastern Orthodoxy, of which Russia is the outstanding case. In this regard, the work remains relevant to today.
That said, Clash of Civilizations was a rather shoddy work which owed a great deal to Arnold Toynbee’s Study of History for the overall concept and to Huntington’s young research assistants for the many scenarios that make up the bulk of the book.
I recalled the half-baked ideas of those young researchers who lacked any worldly experience when I exchanged emails this morning with my good friend Ray McGovern and he asked for my thoughts on a recent interview given by MIT professor emeritus Ted Postol. Postol was lambasting the young “punks” who seem to populate the ranks of advisers to Joe Biden. What Postol missed is that exactly kids like these were always doing the grunt work in political science. Lots of creativity, zero competence. They were surely the kind of folks who said in 2008 to let Lehman go under, because it would have a salutary effect on risk-taking by speculators. They were ignorant of the disasters that lay ahead then, just as those formulating the sanctions policy against Russia today are ignorant of the blowback to come.
Of course, no nation has a monopoly on stupidity and ignorance of economics. The European Union “leadership” is doing its best to hold up its end in this regard. If three days from now the EU member states follow the stern instructions of Gauleiter vonder Leyen and reject the Russian demand to pay for their gas in rubles purchased on the domestic Russian market, then economic mayhem will follow. That damned fool, a gynecologist by education, is telling the whole EU what to do in a vital area of commerce. Her position amounts to an unbelievable usurpation of powers by a warmonger.
The West is pointed straight down, like that Boeing 737 that crashed in China last week. Straight down and accelerating.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022