The veteran political affairs journalist returns with a collection of essays that have been published in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the National Interest, and other venues.
Thoughtful, unsettling, but not apocalyptic analyses of world affairs flow steadily off the presses, and this is a superior example. Over the years, Kaplan (Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World, 2017), a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, has written several. Except for a long, insightful first chapter, these essays appeared between one and 15 years ago, so they say nothing about the post-Trump world, but few have aged poorly. Marco Polo claimed to travel from Italy to China across central Asia, returning over the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. To Kaplan, this journey encompassed the great Eurasian land mass whose faded empires (Turkey, Iran), rising imperial powers (Russia, China), and failed states (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.) have replaced Europe as the area most critical to American interests. Although aware, American leaders still continue to get it wrong. After apologizing for getting it wrong himself—he supported invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan—Kaplan devotes most essays to explaining the proper approach. A “realist” à la his hero, Henry Kissinger, Kaplan maintains that Americans must lead the world only because, if we don’t, another great power will step in. He emphasizes that today’s greatest international threat is not tyranny but anarchy. Nations need effective government more than free elections; in its absence, American efforts to promote democracy through military (Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam) or quasi-military means (Libya, Syria) always fail.
Enough time has passed for some of Kaplan’s forecasts to develop cracks—e.g., China has not yet stumbled—but much rings true, and all are presented with enough verve and insight to tempt readers to set it aside to reread in a few years.