Best Defense

Bob & Steve Kaplan’s reasons to be cheerful — except for about Pakistan

Doing a good imitation of Ian Dury, Bob Kaplan and his brother, who is newly liberated from briefing the president for the CIA, have produced a surprisingly optimistic global strategic assessment. Play our cards right, with a combination of restraint and toughness, and we’ll be No. 1 for decades, they say. It is in the ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Doing a good imitation of Ian Dury, Bob Kaplan and his brother, who is newly liberated from briefing the president for the CIA, have produced a surprisingly optimistic global strategic assessment. Play our cards right, with a combination of restraint and toughness, and we’ll be No. 1 for decades, they say.

It is in the new issue of the National Interest, and I’d quote it even if Bob were not my officemate.

What makes them so sanguine? Well, first of all, Iran doesn’t worry these guys so much:

In terms of acute threats, Iran is the only state that has exported terrorism and insurgency toward a strategic purpose, yet the country is economically fragile and politically unstable, with behind-the-scenes infighting that would make Washington partisans blanch. Even assuming Iran acquires a few nuclear devices-of uncertain quality with uncertain delivery systems-the long-term outlook for the clerical regime is itself unclear. The administration must only avoid a war with the Islamic Republic.

So, they conclude, “It is simply not in the American interest to launch a military campaign to prevent a nuclear Iran.” They call for containment “as the least-bad option.” (Fwiw, I agree.)

Also, they think the special relationship is in pretty good shape: “The linguistic and other cultural links between the United States and these other English-speaking countries are so deep that the sharing of sensitive information 24-7 is practically an afterthought, even as the media and politicians highlight the narcissism of comparatively small differences.”

They also offer up a few surprises, things I just didn’t know. Here are three of them.

First, they say Poland is “is emerging as a pivot state in its own right — on which the fate of Eastern and Central Europe will rest.”

Second, they believe the French are “first-class in offensive cybercapabilities.” I was surprised because the French don’t seem to me to have much of a presence in the world of computers.

Third, they maintain that the biggest development the American media has failed to really cover is “China’s emergence as a sea power.” They also warn that we should worry if weak civilian leaders in Beijing start getting pushed around by the PLA’s generals.

What cranks them off are Pakistan’s generals and civilian fat cats. “Washington’s current relationship with Islamabad is unacceptable.” They want to give the Pakistanis a hard push, “overwhelming pressure,” almost an ultimatum, which they think the Pakistanis would accept: “The country’s elite is greedy but not stupid.”

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
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