Thucydidean analysis of America today?
I had lunch yesterday with Julia Sweig, the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow at the Center for Foreign Policy.
She’s just written a new book – “Unfriendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.”
I met with her in a small group of about 6 other people and we spent two hours discussing her book. She wrote the book to answer the question: “How is it that anti-Americanism has so quickly risen? Is it possible that one President could spark such a broad backlash?”
Her answer is “no – one President and his policies are not the root cause.” In her book, she looks beyond the proximate causes of anti- Americanism (the war in Iraq and our unilateral method for going in) and looks historically at the last 50 years – especially, and interestingly, at deep-rooted causes.
Sweig writes that anti-American sentiments were born in Latin America at a time when most of the international community was distracted by the Cold War. Under a policy to contain communism, Sweig argues, the United States sponsored dictatorships and tolerated the subversion of democracy throughout Central and South America.
I could not agree more with this statement above. The actions of the U.S. in the last 50 years have helped to create a context where now when we are the world’s sole superpower, we are not always given the benefit of the doubt. There’s a structural distrust or even hostility.
Of course, this method of looking beyond proximate causes can be traced back to Thucydides who, as you may recall in book 1, debunks the reasons Athens and Sparta gave for the war (the Platean battle, etc) and suggested a more longer-term deeper reason – i.e. Sparta’s concern for Athens growing power.
Because we have debated the question of America and compared America today to Athens during the Peloponessian War, I think you may like to read Julie Sweig’s new book.
I told her that in 2001 when a few raised the question of “how could this happen” after 9/11 – and it was meant in the sense of what created the conditions to make this possible – they were rudely shouted down. It was seen as an “anti-american” question. Because her book essentially asks that question – I asked her if she’s received similar backlash. She said no – it’s been well received “inside the beltway” and among a broad cross-section of policy analysts, press, etc. She hypothesizes that the Katrina disaster has created an openness to dialogue about our government and it’s policies inside and outside the U.S.
She does outline solutions or possible next steps – mostly at the margin – and believes that addressing the structural problems are the work of a generation.
She’ll be interviewed on Charlie Rose soon – if I get the date, I’ll let you know.