Stephen M. Walt

Question Time

A few idle questions occurred to me this morning, and I thought I’d share them with you. 1. If NATO didn’t exist, would the United States and Europe bother to create it? Why?   2. Is it possible that the Obama administration is just telling Israeli and Saudi leaders what they want to hear, and then ...

GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

A few idle questions occurred to me this morning, and I thought I’d share them with you.

1. If NATO didn’t exist, would the United States and Europe bother to create it? Why?  

2. Is it possible that the Obama administration is just telling Israeli and Saudi leaders what they want to hear, and then doing what they think is in the U.S. interest? Wouldn’t it be nice to think so?

3. Chuck Hagel is really upset that US defense spending is going down. My question: how many of you Americans out there are now worried about foreign attack as a result?

4. Perhaps the most fundamental question in politics is the classic "who guards the guardians?" In other words, how does one create institutions powerful enough to protect the state, without having them take over? Modern version: how do you keep super-secret agencies like the NSA from overstepping their boundaries? (If your answer is "Congressional oversight" you haven’t been paying attention.)

5. Will a rising China continue to tolerate the U.S. security role in Asia, or will it gradually try to convince other Asian states to distance themselves from Washington? The answer to that question will tell us a lot about global politics over the next few decades.

6. How many people at AIPAC, Christians United for Israel, JINSA, the Presidents’ Conference or the Saudi embassy are sitting around thinking: "how the heck do we stop a deal with Iran yet not get blamed for derailing it?"

7. Is the finance industry inherently corrupt? Every few months we hear about another big financial firm being indicted for something, and eventually paying a big fine. Yet the leaders of this industry are still respected public figures (and big-time political contributors). Seems to me if leading firms in an industry are more-or-less constantly being caught cheating, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way the whole sector is run.

8. If Toronto mayor Rob Ford has to resign in the wake of his admission that he used crack cocaine, which Canadian university will be first to offer him a visiting professorship?

9. Have ANY of the people who led the charge for NATO intervention in Libya expressed second thoughts about the results? Just asking.

10. Hawks and doves can both get their countries into big trouble. Hawks do it by getting you into unnecessary and protracted wars; doves by being too trusting and leaving you vulnerable. Yet being hawkish tends to pay off better professionally, at least in the United States. Why?

I have other questions too, but I’ll stop there. Maybe some of you have answers!

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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