Let us know your thoughts!

Do you have comments or concerns about America’s changing role? Do you agree with Buck, Hughes and Starr? Disagree? Have other thoughts and concerns? Please tell your fellow ’62 readers — and the authors — in the space below. Everyone can benefit from seeing what colleagues with similar life experiences, such as college classmates, have to share. (Recollections about these classmates at Yale or later are also welcome.)

14 comments to Let us know your thoughts!

  • Steve Buck

    Thank you gentlemen for all your good comments and questions. To Bill Doying’s good question about elaborating on “Leading from behind,” my immediate answer would be what we did in Libya. While the Republicans will continue to hammer Benghazi to death, in doing this they miss the more important lesson of Libya – there was a popular uprising against Qadhafi and we supported this in the most effective way by going after his air force but not getting directly involved in boots on the ground. Also we basically followed the British and French lead (they are much better at such things than us, they actually try to understand the country they’re involved with; what a concept!). Our leading from behind got rid of Qadhafi. It also led to a power vacuum now filled by various factions. Anyone who knew anything about Libya knew this going in, since Qadhafi had basically prohibited civil society. And I would say on balance this is still better, although one can certainly make the argument that the “collateral damage” has been high in the sense of much of Qadhafi’s arsenal seeping into Africa.

    All this said, I think Libya will wind up doing fairly well. It has a largely homogenous population and lots of oil. What is needed now it more active- and quiet support for building a modern state. Compared to the trillions we wasted in destroying Iraq, the amount we spend in Libya will be peanuts.

    There are many other places in the world where we can do things quietly and effectively – if we don’t go in with our pre-packaged conception of what the country needs. If we listen and learn more, leading from behind will be far easier than “forcing democracy” on them, as in Iraq.

    Hope this helps.

  • Peter Clark

    I agree with all three that intelligent diplomatic strategies in collaboration with other nations is the way forward, foregoing the past bombastic and aggressive “superpower” responses. The more specific challenges are how to fashion and implement them in our current politically divisive atmosphere.

  • Bill Stott

    I thank Steve, Kent, and Fred for their articles. Unlike Kent, I’m with Stiglitz and Krugman on the TPP (hey, I’m a liberal), but I’m willing to be shown the error of my thinking (hey, I’m a liberal). [FYI, Stiglitz makes the anti-TPP case in his March 15 NYT article, “On the Wrong Side of Globalization”]. Unlike Fred, I don’t think we in the West need to be greatly alarmed by Putin for reasons given below.

    I mainly agree with Steve, which is natural since we were classmates not only at Yale but in high school (Scarsdale, if you please) and both spent time—he six times longer than I—as Foreign Service Officers. (He was the real article; I was a propagandist.)

    We became FSOs because we believed the U.S. was engaged in “a long, twilight struggle” (JFK’s words—or Theodore Sorensen’s) with the USSR and Communism, and we wanted to lend our talents to the right side. During much of the Cold War we believed our country was fighting for the survival of our system, which we held, and hold, dear.

    That struggle, thank God, is over. The better side won. Now it seems to me, as it seems to Steve and—I’m glad to say, President Obama—that the U.S. can, and should, be involved differently with the rest of the world and, yes, lead from behind. We don’t need to worry if some African or South American or Asian or European country doesn’t like us or doesn’t follow our economic system. More fool they (see “Why Nations Fail”), but they don’t put our existence in jeopardy, as Steve and I believed the USSR did.

    When I served our government in Senegal in 1966-67, one of our (then classified) intentions was to dissuade Senegal from allowing the USSR landing or even over-flight rights, because such rights would help them access Latin America. A different world! Now we want nothing more than for Russia to collaborate with us in Ukraine, Syria, Iran, North Korea.

    Don’t I care about the Third and Fourth worlds? Yes, and I’m glad to say both are doing better than 50 years ago and—climate change permitting—will be doing much better still 50 years on. Don’t I care about the mistreatment of Afghan women, the plight of the Palestinians, corruption in Nigeria, India, and every other poor place you can mention? Yes, but I think those are local issues that the locals will have to deal with—with, of course, the help and counsel we and others in the First World are asked and shamed into giving.

    Only where we Americans or our friends are in jeopardy—as for example from Islamic fundamentalist terrorism—would I advocate the intense involvement in foreign nations of our diplomats, intelligence gatherers, and military. And I’m pleased to know that this involvement is taking place and will continue.

    Now about Putin. If Ukraine or any or all of the —stans want to be part of Russia, hey, that’s their right. If they don’t—which is to say, if their government doesn’t—I’m with Fred and say we in the West should use all our weapons short of war to help the government.

    If the government comes to blows with those of its citizens who want to join Russia, with—worse case—civil war resulting and Russia helping the rebels, we in the West should provide what help we can, including arms and undercover mercenaries, but no soldiers, to the government (unless of course we consider it despicable—as we did Assad’s Syrian government). We can hope this would be the final proxy war between Russia and the West.

    Yale told those of us in literature and philosophy and perhaps other humanities that life was tragic and we didn’t live and would never live in the best of all possible worlds. How right our teachers were. But the world is much better than the world we graduated into. I know I didn’t do it; I assume you guys did it behind my back.

  • Karl Frank

    Thanks Al for your contribution of the survey, and very effective to get engagement from us, but there is a compound question problem, not quite “Does the defendant still beat his wife?” but leaning that way, especially in #5. Maybe my note is evidence of the effectiveness of your questions, since they provoked thought!

    I’d answer that our most important adversarial relationship is with China, but the adversarial aspect is primarily ECONOMIC and is undeclared, whereas our most adversarial relationship of a traditional geopolitical sort is IMHO with Russia, with NATO/European Union as proxy. So question 5 involves deciding whether in this century the economic dimension trumps the geopolitical dimension. Similarly, wrt #4, only North Korea’s government positions us as an enemy explicitly and overtly, but North Korea is a negligible player. China does not declare us to be enemies, but our competition with China is our only substantive one going forward; I keep getting different answers according to different criteria.

    • Karl, I appreciate your comments and insights. You are correct that we added the survey to the posting to provide an additional element to the terrific submissions from our three classmate experts. My intent was to keep the survey short and to avoid complex or technical questions. Yes, the design was to get classmates thinking further and also to see what the “snapshot” view would be on a couple of the prominent dilemmas of the day. Again, you are correct that the answers to questions four and five reflect what may seem like contradictions. They are quite good examples of how it depends in polling how a question is asked and what language is used, in this instance the distinctions being between enemy and adversary and the number of choices being different. For yale62.org, the object is to stimulate discussion and have a bit of head scratching. Because we are a very self-selective group, our survey data always is valid only for the the type of folks who not only went to Yale when we did but also look at Yale62 web postings. Accepting that limitation, it almost certainly is highly accurate.

  • Chip Neville

    Who am I to disagree with S. Frederick Starr, or my old roommate Steve Buck, or my college friend and fellow Piersonite Kent Hughes for that matter. But what I found lacking in these essays was specific suggestions for what to do in run up to World War I all over again. (Steve’s essay should mostly be excepted from this criticism because he did offer a number of concrete and valid suggestions for what we should have done but didn’t in areas other than the Ukraine.) Specifically, Putin has brilliantly backed Obama into the same corner that Hitler backed Neville Chamberlain into back in 1938. Then, as now, the choice seemed to be do little (with the disastrous consequence of World War II) or stand up to aggression and risk a wider European War. In the much maligned Chamberlain’s time, with the bloodletting of World War I still vivid in everyone’s memory, that course seemed impossible. In our time, with the threat of a wider war turning into a nuclear holocaust, that course seems even more impossible. Frederick Starr says there are a hundred courses of action short of military engagement and war. I hope he’s right. I just wish he would give us a clue as to what some of those courses of action are.

    Kudos to Bob Connery for also mentioning the connection to World War I in the first comment. Read the book he recommends.

  • Bill Doying

    The level of seriousness of these discussions so far exceeds what can be found in Congressional deliberations and most executive branch commentary as to inspire gratitude — immediately followed by depression over the relative impact of our classmates (however distinguished their careers) and the current tenants of government.
    If I have a complaint with these brief essays it is about their very brevity. For example, I (at least) would benefit from Steve’s further elaboration of the concept of “leading from behind.” Steve, can you give particular examples of how such leadership operates, or can operate? It certainly has the appeal of promising reduced expenditures of both lives and (our) treasure — but how to estimate its potential efficacy? Sure, compared with the results of the other kind of leading, the bar wouldn’t have to be very high, but still . . .

    From Kent, I would like to hear more about some of my reservations about China’s present and future growth. In particular, I would like to hear his estimate of the role that intellectual piracy has played in China’s progress, whether conducted in the context of supposed joint ventures or through information technology (hacking in its various forms). Further, I’d be interested to have his predictions about the limitations on Chinese productivity attendant to the environmental crimes it has permitted or allowed against its own people. (I’d suggest that the ability that political hegemony has hitherto given the Chinese leadership to ignore the impact of industrial policy on its people has been a major factor — and the profit motive that the leadership’s economic corruption has afforded — have produced these crimes.)

    From Fred, I would simply like to hear more about the spectrum of policies — between passivity and military action — that are available to us as against Putin’s thugocracy. I can understand that Putin feels he has been misled by what he has seen as U.S. promises in such contexts as Libya. We have much to regret, and too strong a sense of “American Exceptionalism” works against wise policy-making. But I believe we must be realistic (as Fred is) about Putin’s capacities as a counterparty.

    In any case, Chris etc., I’m very grateful for this initiative.

  • Henry Childs

    I am so greatly heartened to know that at least one of us has spent so much time delving into the critical issues of our lifetime. Fred Starr (son of C.V.?) has my vote for Special Assistant to the President on international affairs.

  • Steve Buck

    Thank you all for such nice comments. It’s nice to be read and encouraged.



  • Rob Flint

    These three essays are just great. Should be required reading for every thinking American. Thanks for getting these three distinguished classmates to share a bit of their wisdom and experience.

  • Steve and I corresponded over the Iraq dilemma before the invasion and he was right and I was wrong in not recognising our inability to think beyond the military aspects of the operation.
    As far as the Ukraine is concerned, I am drawn to recent OP-ED in the LA Times in early March by Doyle McManus where he references Yale’s John Lewis Gaddis who speaks of Russia’s “sphere of influence” and George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” from the US Embassy in Moscow where he speaks of his policy of containment.
    It appears that the current news dwells on the ethnic problems and how terrible the Russians are. But rightly or not, there are serious economic and military considerations in the intermingling of weapon manufacturing, naval bases and heavy manufacturing necessary to both the Ukraine and Russia. I believe part of Russia’s motives are both economic and military as well the creation of a greater Russian empire.
    Any thought of the US supplying arms to any of the combatants is absolute folly.
    Enough said by a graduate of New Haven A&M.

  • wyllys terry

    Nice to see people in the know not advocating flexing our muscles. We can indeed lead from behind. So, what are the next steps once we identify the vacuum areas? The technology revolution has made the world infinitely smaller and more intimate. This means different approaches and understanding of the differences among the people of the world. Thank you Yale for an education that allows this to happen. We continue to cogitate these issues as we sit here in the land of eternal spring (Guatemala) with our friends from around the world. Thank goodness many of them are from the next generation and bring new energy and perspectives. Adios!

  • Fred Starr has pierced the fog on the current Ukraine issue, and the irrelevance of most of the babble on that issue. He also has put it in context, nailed it, and hinted at the hundred potential moves, long overdue, that our leaders need to be thinking about. In the nuclear age where all of us, and “our” Congress in a supposed constitutional democracy, are in fact irrelevant to the decision on whether to go to war, I suggest that a reading of Christopher Clark’s “The Sleepwalkers” who unwittingly got us into World War I, the war to end all wars.

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