1) Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, “Competition Without Catastrophe: How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist With China,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2019. As noted previously in this space, it is easy to observe a more hawkish consensus toward China emerging from inside the Beltway. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko was right when he recently tweeted, “The 2020 presidential campaign debates around [U.S.] policy toward China will sadly be poor, nasty, brutish, and maddening.”
It is in this light that I strongly recommend everyone read Campbell and Sullivan’s essay, which does an excellent job of explaining that even if China should be viewed more as a rival than as a partner, the hyperbolic rhetoric and actions coming from Washington do no one any good. As they note: “Despite the many divides between the two countries, each will need to be prepared to live with the other as a major power.” Given the China hysteria in foreign policy discourse, this essay represents a strong and needed dose of sobriety.
2) Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman, “Weaponized Interdependence: How Global Economic Networks Shape State Coercion,” International Security, Summer 2019. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that this will be the most important political economy article published this year. Farrell and Newman argue that economic globalization has generated powerful economic networks, which the central actor can potentially exploit for coercive gain. In both finance and the Internet, they identify two mechanisms through which the United States has asymmetrically gained: “States can employ the ‘panopticon effect’ to gather strategically valuable information [and] they can employ the ‘chokepoint effect’ to deny network access to adversaries.”
While the United States has been the actor to benefit most from these forms of weaponized interdependence, Farrell and Newman caution that this could be coming to an end soon. Furthermore, I wager that one of the reasons for Beltway hysteria over China is that Beijing is poised to exploit 21st-century networks (5G, Belt and Road) in a similar fashion.
3) Mary Sarotte, “How to Enlarge NATO: The Debate inside the Clinton Administration, 1993—95,” International Security, Summer 2019. Sarotte might be the most important diplomatic historian writing today. She has followed on from her work on the end of the Cold War to more recent work on the origins of NATO expansion, a topic that continues to affect the relationship between Russia and the United States today. In this article, she focuses on the debate between “supporters of a relatively swift conferral of full membership to a narrow range of countries” and “proponents of a slower, phased conferral of limited membership to a wide range of states.” The key factors that led the first group of supporters to win the policy debate were “pleas from Central and Eastern European leaders, missteps by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and victory by the pro-expansion Republican Party in the 1994 U.S. congressional election.”
4) Isaac Chotiner, “A Penn Law Professor Wants to Make America White Again,” The New Yorker, August 23, 2019. In a difficult time for small-l liberals, one of the few pleasures of 2019 has been to watch Trump-sympathetic intellectuals self-sabotage in the face of Chotiner’s probing questions. Earlier this year, Victor Davis Hanson immolated himself in response to Chotiner’s questions.
On Friday, Penn law professor Amy Wax, ostensibly one of the intellectual leaders of “national conservatism,” beclowned herself repeatedly in her conversation with Chotiner. This claim was particularly ludicrous:
You have to understand that I come to this whole question of immigration with an unanswered question in my mind, something I got interested in years ago, and I have tried to get people to answer it. And the question is: Why are successful, peaceful, orderly, prosperous, technologically advanced, democratically sound countries so rare and so few, and why do they clump up in one tiny corner of the globe, namely Europe, the Anglosphere? We also have Japan, which is a wonder, I think, in many ways, a very admirable country. Perhaps Taiwan. And why is the rest of the world essentially consisting of, in various degrees, failed states? Why do we have a post-Enlightenment portion of the world and a pre-Enlightenment portion of the world? And I guess, to be really crude about it, you would use Trump’s succinct phrase: Why are there so many shithole countries? Of course the moment you say that, people just get outraged: Oh, my God, you are a racist for saying that. And that, of course, lets them off the hook; they don’t have to answer the question, which is convenient.
I can’t speak for the all of the social sciences. For myself, however, I can only respond by pointing out that Wax has no idea what she is talking about. The world is not just civilization and failed states, the spectrum of successful development stretches far beyond the white Europeans of Wax’s dreams, and the idea that none of this has been studied before is laughable. Any scholar who can say those sentences with a straight face is willfully blind to both the facts on the ground and the scholarship in the archives.
So why am I recommending that you read this interview? So you can appreciate the intellectual caliber of national conservatism’s leaders, and why they can be easily dismissed.