American foreign (and security) policy in the 21st century will not be the same as policy of the 20th century, any more than that of the 20th was of the 19th. But what will this policy look like? From where will leaders draw their inspiration, ideas, and examples? Less likely from new and innovative, so-called progressive ideology (the likes of which helped the last century become one of the bloodiest in recorded history) than from ancient ideas and sources. Robert Kaplan neatly draws from history and ties together experiences and ideas from Livy, Thucydides, Sun-Tzu, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes and others to provide a clear thesis for leaders, whether in the private or public sectors.
In Kaplan’s “Warrior Politics”, the quality of policy is measured by the outcome, rather than by its intention or by its intellectual excellence. Ancient wars and decisions provide a template for modern decisions, and anyone watching the current American administration closely can see some of the lessons drawn from the past that place realism and pragmatism above idealism and theory. Bush’s recent speech to the UN that placed the UN in a position to act or render itself meaningless is a mark of ancient pragmatism that runs counter to more recent policies of idealism – under which leaders would appeal to the UN for permission. Leaders must be without illusion, and must recognize that personal, or private, virtue and public virtue (the virtue of the state) are not the same.
The warrior politic is not one of ideological diplomacy, which is usually unsuccessful. Kaplan writes “…the acceptance of a world governed by a pagan notion of self-interest exemplified by Thucydides makes statesmanship likelier to succeed; it curtails illusions, reducing the scope for miscalculation. Historically grounded liberalism recognizes that liberty did not arise from abstract reflection, moral or otherwise, but from difficult political choices made by rulers acting in their own self-interest…. liberty grew in the West because it served the interest of power.” After a decade where intellectuals declared America to be at the end of history, Kaplan makes the point that it is only through history’s lessons that good government and effective leadership can prosper.
This book must be making the rounds of the White House, because the lessons compiled by the author read like a playbook swiped from Condi Rice’s top desk drawer.
See another review here.