Not on the List

Steve Clemons suggests some thinkers who deserved an honorable mention in 2010.


I very much enjoyed your FP Top 100 Global Thinkers list — though I think what makes the roster more interesting than many such lists is that you include “doers” rather than just “thinkers.” I have two recommendations for you.

The first is Charles Kupchan, whose book How Enemies Become Friends ought to be vital reading for anyone in the foreign-policy or national security business. He explains the bottom-line benefits of strategic restraint and swims upstream in a profession that thinks of conflict and the breakout of war as the punctuation points that matter. Although the world may be less anarchic these days, understanding the factors that lead to and maintain peace may be more important than understanding the factors that drive states into war. Kupchan also saw much sooner than others the circumstances that would erode America’s unchallenged global dominance in his The End of the American Era, which had but one flaw: The precipitous fall of American power happened much more rapidly than he predicted. But he was out there alone challenging American triumphalists in the self-congratulating networks of the Council on Foreign Relations long before such critiques came into fashion.

The second is the recently deceased Chalmers Johnson, who led the way in four vital arenas. He saw through the ideological thinness of the United States’ confused understanding of what was driving many communist revolutions in the mid-20th century, pinpointing peasant nationalism as the real fire in these movements. Johnson also birthed an entire field of modern economic and political study in his work on the “developmental state” with his pathbreaking book on Japan’s political economy, MITI and the Japanese Miracle. Johnson nearly single-handedly sparked a still-simmering civil war in political science in his broadside on the hyperapplication of rational-choice theory in studying political phenomena. And perhaps most importantly, Johnson thought through at both granular and macro levels the characteristics of American empire today and how this structure of empire is generating “blowback” aimed at the United States. Johnson’s four-book empire series provides a singularly unique body of work that is as important to understanding America’s global circumstance as was Henry Kissinger’s Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy.

Steve Clemons
Founder and Senior Fellow, New America Foundation/American Strategy Program
Publisher, the Washington Note
Washington, D.C.

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