The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas
The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas

The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas

Feb 28, 2011

Free market capitalism, Western culture, democracy—the ideas that shaped 20th century world politics and underpinned U.S. foreign policy—have lost a good deal of their strength. Authority is now more contested and power more diffused. How should the U.S. meet these challenges?

Introduction JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you all for joining us this afternoon.

Steve Weber and Bruce Jentleson have joined forces to address the challenges America is now facing on the playing field of a globalized world. In The End of Arrogance, they make the case for the importance of ideas and influence in matters of foreign policy in the 21st century and argue that if the United States wants to be competitive, it needs to adopt a different attitude towards the rest of the world.

At this historical moment in time, you can't help but be aware of the unprecedented and revolutionary changes sweeping the globe. No longer relying on outside sources to help share their affairs, many of the countries that we have been reading about are vying for change by employing fresh ideas and influences that have not been seen before. Still, for many years, especially during the 20th century, the guiding force in international relations was the belief that America had the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring democracy and liberty to the rest of the world, even by violence if necessary.

The authority that America once rejected is now more contested than ever, and power is more diffuse. Accordingly, the ideas of American exceptionalism, which underpinned so much of American foreign policy for so long, have lost a good deal of strength.

As the world no longer gravitates toward American-style ideas about the virtues of free-market democracy and hegemony, Professors Jentleson and Weber write that "in order to succeed in this new setting, Americans will need to fashion new concepts about order and justice as applied to the rest of the world. Adjusting to the view that we are no longer the indispensible nation may be disheartening and challenging, but if America draws on all states to participate in a more balanced and shared system of governance, we can remain an influential and relevant player."

To discuss what our new strategy should be, please join me in welcoming our guests Steve Weber and Bruce Jentleson. Thank you for joining us. The floor is yours.
Remarks STEVEN WEBER: Thank you so much.

We're going to do a little bit of a switcheroo as we give about a 20-minute presentation on the content of the book.

First, I want to thank the Carnegie Council for inviting us. It's a really wonderful opportunity. We've been out talking about this book in various places, both here in the United States and other parts of the world, and we might be interested in addressing you at the end of the evening in questions and answers about how those conversations differ.

It's my job to set up and give you the core notion of what we're trying to do and where it came from.

We started talking about this book in the wake of the Bush Administration's response to the 9/11 event, in particular that part of the response that was manifested in the national security strategy document, which talked again and again about the following phrase: "a war of ideas." "We will fight a war of ideas; we are involved in a war of ideas." That got picked up very much in general discourse, in the media, and even in the academic conversations that we were involved in.

Early on, probably 2003-2004, we looked at each other and said, "That's not quite right. In fact, that's wrong. Not that there isn't a contestation of ideas in the world, but that the war metaphor is wrong, and it's wrong not just because it's a bad metaphor but because it leads to misplaced policies."

A metaphor is not a policy. But when one thinks about a war, one thinks about things like generals, lieutenants, and orders of rank. One thinks about, particularly in this generation, the application of overwhelming force that leads to complete victory and unconditional surrender. That's just not the way ideas interact with each other. Americans know that at home. But what about abroad, and how do we connect those two discourses in a meaningful way?

The core notion of the book that we wanted to bring to bear shows up in the subtitle. In today's publishing world, it's always the subtitle that actually carries the core message of the book, which is "America in the Global Competition of Ideas."

What we've tried to do is sketch a world where ideas compete in something that is much more like the marketplace, and one that is more familiar to us at home, ironically, in the economic realm than in the ideological realm. It's a marketplace that is incredibly vibrant, in which new innovations are constantly being generated, usually from surprising places and people we don't expect, and in which to win is certainly nothing like victory or unconditional surrender; it's like gaining market share, for a while, among people who get to choose.

Our core metaphor for leadership is "we offer, they choose"—and by "they" we mean the rest of the world. We'll say a little bit more in a minute about how we think about the rest of the world.

But two more quick points about what needed to be expanded in this notion of war versus competition.

First, and most importantly, it's still the case that among the American foreign policy elite there is a tendency to collapse that competition into a duopoly, freedom versus something else—fundamentalism, autocracy, sometimes associated with Islamic or political Islam.

It was very clear to us early on, and it's painfully clear to anyone now who walks out into the rest of the world, whether we do that with our feet or we do that electronically through our exposure to media, that actually this marketplace is filled with lots of competing ideas, more than freedom versus fundamentalism, and narrowing the discourse like that actually hurts us more than it helps us.

Secondly, and a little more subtly but just as importantly, is something I would call "beyond TINA." Folks may remember Margaret Thatcher's invocation of the phrase TINA (there is no alternative), borrowed from Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase. It came through the Shell business unit in the 1980s.

The idea was—and it was a very powerful idea for American leaders—to say to the rest of the world in the 1980s: "Sometimes you may not—in fact frequently you may not like—some of the things that the United States does in the world or some of the principles by which we propose to order world order, human justice, and social affairs in other countries. Here's the real choice: American order or 1930s-style anarchy and chaos. There is no alternative. If that's the real choice, then there is no alternative. In other words, if you don't like what the United States is doing, the best choice is always to stay in the game and try to influence American policy a little bit on the margins. The alternative to American leadership is no leadership at all."

That's actually a very powerful argument, and it's a very good argument when others believe it, because it gives you a lot of wiggle room.

It is our belief and our proposition that that view is no longer held anywhere in the world, with the exception of Washington, D.C. That's a challenging reality.

We see evidence of that. We can talk a little bit about the evidence we cite in the book having to do with issues around the U.S. dollar, issues having to do with the way in which the G20 does or does not work, and so on and so forth.

If the TINA argument is gone, then the time for real leadership actually emerges as an opportunity. But we have to understand that that's true and what that means.

Let me then turn it over to Bruce to take the next step.

BRUCE JENTLESON: Let me also say that this is a little bit in the family with the Carnegie world, because part of our work on this and other projects has been sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Steve Del Rosso, whom we work closely with there, is unfortunately out of the country; otherwise he would be here tonight. But we're really very grateful for the support they have given us.

When you write books you have a lot of different purposes in mind. In writing this book we were really trying to open up questions and provide some answers, but open them up. Part of me, being a native New Yorker and—I may alienate people, at least some—a diehard Yankees fan, so this is sort of our Reggie Jackson book. When he came to the Yankees, he said he's going to be the straw that stirred the drink.

Part of what we were trying to do was really open up a lot of questions that we thought were being prematurely closed.

The first version of this came out in Foreign Policy magazine as the cover story in November 2008. It was really timed with the election. When we wrote it, we didn't know who was going to win the election.

Part of it gets to the first part of the title, The End of Arrogance. They called the article, "America's Hard Sell," then in Foreign Policy. It was to say there was more than just the debate that came out of the Bush foreign policy, it was about the arrogance of this administration. It was actually a very seductive view, like some of the other things that Steve said. But there was really much more.

They timed this to come up with the election, basically saying: Now that we've finished our election and debated the so-called foreign policy agenda, what are the really big questions that have been reopened?

In that article, we tried to say that many of our efforts to say that everything was settled at the end of the Cold War, the end of the 20th century—we had the end of history, the indispensable nation, the "new Rome" version of America in the 2000s—that many of those really big questions were being reopened.

It wasn't so much that the answers that concluded the 20th century were wrong for the 20th century. But in the 21st century there are a number of questions that need to be reopened. A couple, just as examples:

One was: Who makes the rules internationally and what are those rules? It wasn't going to be so simple as to say everybody integrates into this western liberal system, because, quite frankly, it hadn't worked equally well for all parts of the world. That question was really being reopened now, as we've seen in many aspects that we'll talk some more about.

Secondly, in the 20th century the economic debate was, "capitalism is better than socialism." Got that, done that, debate over.

But, interestingly, in the 21st century it was being opened as exactly what is the relationship between the state and the markets? You saw a range of models being developed there. Sure, China, India, and Brazil were more capitalist than they had been, but they had a very significant role for the state in their economies.

We wrote this before the full effects of the 2008 financial crisis had hit, which accentuated that. In the 21st century, there really are very interesting questions about what the relationship is between the state and the market, different models.

Also that "20th-century democracy was better than dictatorship." Got that, done that. But in the 21st century—and here we obviously are seeing many interesting examples now—it was not just about democracy and dictatorship, but about whether democracy could deliver on many of the issues that face many countries. We'll talk some more about countries like Egypt. We've gone through this quite extraordinary revolution in Egypt.

But as we look down the road, one of the great tests for whatever form a government takes—it's not just the process, that's very important to people, their individual rights—but it's will it have the capacity to deliver on the fundamental issues that these countries face?

We really wanted to say that a lot of these big questions were being reopened, much more so than the election of Barack Obama necessarily would settle them.

When the book came out this fall, interestingly enough, we proceeded with the arguments. It came out in a context of the reversion to American exceptionalism, in "City on the Hill," in invocations of any arguments that raised the question about whether we were doing everything right, as, "Oh, you're a declinist." It's a very dangerous kind of way of having a public discourse.

We state quite explicitly at the beginning of the book that the true declinists are the denialists, because, like anything else in life, if you don't acknowledge that there's a problem, then you're not going to be equipped to deal with it.

We have a positive and constructive message here, but it starts with acknowledging these changes in the system, which get drowned out by stereotyping everything and invoking notions of American exceptionalism almost as an anesthetic rather than a motivator.

Two points that we make about the way the system has changed as we look broadly at the world:

One is—I'll go back to my own past. When I was an undergraduate at Cornell, there was a professor there, then not widely known globally, who used to teach a course, Astronomy for Non-Majors, by the name of Carl Sagan. In his honor, we use an astronomical metaphor. We talk about the ancient theories of Ptolemy, a Phoenician in the time of the Greeks, who had a theory of the universe in which the Earth was at the center and everything else revolved around it.

In the Cold War, in many respects that's the way we saw the world, right? The United States as the center economically, technologically, ideologically, and militarily. But along came Copernicus, many centuries later, who said, "Actually, no. There's something called the sun at the center, and these things called planets each have their own orbit."

Part of the way we set this up is to say the 21st century is very much of a Copernican world, that different countries have their own orbits. Figuring out what the "sun" is—we'll come back to that in a minute—is very complicated. That's the issues that the Carnegie Council and others deal with. But the notion that they're revolving around the United States is contradicted by a number of things.

One is interests. More and more states are defining their interests in the world now not in pro- or anti-American terms—which in some ways is a good thing when it comes to anti-Americanism—but it's really about their national interests. The debate about Turkey—is it going East instead of West? No, it's actually about Turkish conceptions of international interest, as is the debate about Brazil, and other sorts of things. What we're seeing there is a sense of a range of national interests.

Secondly is a sense of identity. Countries that now are given seats at the table have a great sense of pride. When you go to Brazil, people talk to you about their visions of their greatness that go back to the late 19th century and a sense now that they're finally being taken seriously. They want that identity to be respected, not just to be seen as revolving around the United States.

Part of that is history as well. In China, India, and Japan—I'll make a plug for my colleague, Patrick Smith, who has written a wonderful book about this, that talks about their sense of history. Their ability to achieve greatness again is in some ways a return to their sense of their long-term history.

The international system is one in which in some ways it's much more complicated, because there are more states and actors pursuing their national interest than ever before.

The other part of this is the way politics are working today for the globe. It's not just about the architecture, but it's—I want to go on record as having said that—what I've been calling for the last three years the Vegas dilemma." Tom Friedman used that in his column this morning, and he probably reached many more people this morning than I've reached in the last three years. But it's the same idea, that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens inside states doesn't stay inside states.

We're seeing that in Egypt now. You see that in terms of the questions of global public health and pandemics. If to a certain extent the Cold War was the internalization of the external conflicts between the superpowers, what the 21st century really is about in some ways is the externalization of internal dynamics to a much greater extent.

All of that contributes to a world in which part of the notion of the end of arrogance for us is recognizing that it's not Ptolemaic, that we're not at the center. It's not that China or anybody else is at the center—and some of the pushbacks China has gotten have been demonstrations of that—but that this is the kind of world in which you have this global competition of ideas.

Many other things are at work—military power, diplomatic power, economic power. We don't deny those. But in putting this book together, we said we want to focus particularly on that element in terms of the role that ideas and values play in this.

With that set up, we're going to switch again and say: What does this mean in real policy terms both domestically and internationally? Steve will talk some about what it means for the way we organize ourselves as a society and then I'll say some things about our foreign policy.

STEVEN WEBER: Writing a co-authored book and remaining friends is a challenge. Writing a short co-authored book and remaining friends is even a greater challenge. We succeeded in doing that.

The way we did that was to try to boil down the essence of the argument to just a few very simple points. I'm going to address a couple of them that didn't come up and then turn it back to Bruce to finish up.

We believe—and this message is probably easily heard here at the Carnegie Council—that when we talk about ideas as a component of national power, we take that very, very seriously. We're not talking on the margins.

As Bruce said, we are not in the business of denying that either economic or military power are still critical tools of statecraft, but if we think forward for the next decade, we can put some parameters around the trajectories of those two components of national power. It's almost certain, barring any major discontinuity, that the United States will still be the greatest military power in the world, probably by a considerable degree, in 2020. We don't address that in the book. We're not going to get into an argument about how much that matters.

On the economic side, the trajectory is a little less certain and potentially a little more wide in its possibilities. But again, barring any truly significant discontinuity, the United States will be a major, even the major, economic presence in the world in 2020.

But what is actually quite core about the ideological component of national power is that it is at the same time the most uncertain and in the category of high importance. If you ask yourself where importance and uncertainty intersect, it is in fact in the ideological components of national power and, importantly, it's the one that can change the most quickly.

The barriers to entry for making an ideological proposition about world order, about what constitutes justice, have come down to a very low level. Everybody can enter that game. It takes a lot to build a military, it takes a lot to build a huge, vibrant, modern economy. Everybody can enter the ideological competition. That's really what the essence of the book is about. That's who we're competing with—we're competing with everyone.

Whose interests, ideas, attraction are we competing for? We all know the demography of the rest of the world, the developing world. It's extremely young, and in some of the countries that matter to us most it's young to the point where half the population is below the age of 25, places like Pakistan. We've seen now in Egypt again a visual demonstration of that demographic pyramid. That should be burned into every policymaker's consciousness inside the United States.

Second, it's urban. You live in New York, you know what an urban environment means in terms of the circulation of ideas, the rapidity with which they circulate. Put the Internet aside. Add the Internet to that and you accelerate it even more.

Finally, it's vibrant, hungry, and creative. We actually are responsible as Americans for having accelerated that view of ideological competition. We believe in that. We think that's how it works at home.

But the demography and the nature of who we're competing for is so important because this is a proposition that we feel can't work for the future. The proposition that can't work for the future is leaning backwards into what is seen as the kind of great American ideological founding moment, the post-World War II order.

We are as respectful as anyone should be and, frankly, are enormously respectful of the great achievements of American architects of world order in the late 1940s, early 1950s. But come on, that was 60 years ago. That's three generations.

In a very significant sense, the people for whose interests, allegiance, and ideological attraction we're competing for, that's ancient history for them. It means almost nothing.

For a significant percentage of that population around the world, whether rightly or wrongly, they look back at the last 20 years when they've been alive and they ask themselves: To the extent that an external power has demonstrated the capacity to generate outcomes that matter to them, what power is that? Is it the United States? Is it in some respects the Chinese, who have demonstrated the ability in 20-some-odd years to raise 300 million people out of poverty into a situation where actually they're aspiring lower middle class?

We don't want to be tarnished with the brush that says, "You guys are imagining a Beijing consensus or a Chinese model that the rest of the world won't take as a complete package." We know that. But we also know that people don't take ideologies as complete packages. They pick and choose those aspects of ideologies that are attractive to them and they bring them on board.

That's who we're competing for.

We believe, when we talk about what a forward-leaning American leadership proposition would have to constitute for that world, it has to have at least two core components. We go into this at some length in the book. I'm not going to do that now. I'm just going to say what they are. One is a proposition about world order. The second is a proposition about what makes for a just society.

One key component of just society looking forward will be the ability to demonstrate the provision of basic human needs. Again, we've seen that in parts of the world now that are rising up against administrations that have failed to do this.

We don't know, speaking for Bruce and me, but more generally for the American public, we don't know exactly what caused a revolution in Egypt and what is likely to cause uprisings in other Arab states by the time we leave this room tonight. But we do know some of the core ingredients of dissatisfaction in that population.

They have to do with stress and strain in some basic systems that provide things that human beings need to live. I'm not talking in high abstractions. I'm talking about food at a price that you can afford, reliable supplies of water, the ability of people to argue with each other and disagree about the way in which they order their lives and their societies without killing each other. There are probably a couple of other ingredients that would fall into the category of basic human needs, but that's pretty close.

We believe that one of the core components of a forward-looking proposition about justice or organizing a just society has to do with a demonstrated ability to actually contribute to those basic human needs.

I would simply say, to be a bit provocative, that in many other parts of the world, what America offers on that subject is a little muddied and a little cloudy. It's indirect. It may have to do with democratic process; it may have to do with some abstractions about long-term economic growth.

What the Chinese are offering on those same kinds of basic human needs requirements may not seem attractive to us, but it has clarity and it has evidence of success behind it—not so much in process, but in outcome. That's a real proposition that people in other parts of the world will, we believe, find attractive, and that's what we're competing with.

BRUCE JENTLESON: As we said, there's one chapter on just society, the other is on world order.

As it says in the bio, I spent the last two years, as they say in Washington parlance, dual-hatted. I was still teaching at Duke, working on books, and serving as a senior advisor to the director of policy planning at the State Department in Washington a couple of days a week. I was trying to figure out, beyond just the election, on a variety of issues, both specific and general, how we would approach these issues.

Every time I go into government, it reinforces my sense that what academics call "paradigms" and what communicators call "frames" really matter. Everybody approaches these issues with a sense of what are America's interests and values, what are the forces driving the world, and how do you work these things out? They're not always explicit, but they're there.

One of the arguments we make in the book is that one of the core concepts you really need to work with in a Copernican world that presents these problems, in which a constructive role for the United States is extremely important but where you have a lot of other countries as independent actors, is a notion of mutuality.

By "mutuality" we don't mean altruism, we don't mean doing things for others just because they're the right thing to do. But we do mean, in a world of a lot of actors who are pursuing their national interests, both doing and having a reputation for pursuing interests that are defined in shared, not just selfish, terms, and doing that to a—nobody is perfect—but doing that to a greater extent than others. When you have many of these leadership propositions out there and you're trying to determine what makes yours attractive in a global age, that's an extremely important aspect.

There has been an effort. In my own view, the Obama Administration has made some efforts in that direction. Some are on the right track. If you read the National Security Strategy that came out in May 2010, it uses this term a lot. It confuses the aspirational and the actual to a great extent. Let me give you three examples just quickly, which the world will look to, and is looking to, to get a sense of the U.S. mutuality.

One is Egypt. So much of our policy in the Arab world and elsewhere has been an effort to straddle the notion, as it was often said, "He may be an s.o.b. but he's our s.o.b."—if you go online, some people attribute it to FDR and Somoza; it has all sorts of attributions; it's not clear—how to straddle that with John Kennedy's statement, "Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable."

As a practical matter, nobody's perfect. You can have an image of somebody straddling, and the gap between the two gets larger and larger, and you eventually fall into it. That was one of the things that we've been struggling with in the Arab world and is being challenged in a much more rapid pace than many people predicted.

Ultimately it's not just interests or ideals, but that our interests are served by standing more for what we say we're going to stand for. In the Arab world, the crucial test, frankly, is about political Islam.

In my own view, one of the huge mistakes in the Cold War was every form of nationalism that came up in the Third World we immediately put into this basket called "monolithic communism." Many of our major mistakes—tragedies—in the Third World were attributed to that.

Frankly, since 9/11, and even before, we've been doing that a lot with political Islam. We have to differentiate between those that are fundamentally antithetical to what we believe in and threaten our interests and those that are not. Even if they're not sort of our first choice, they're meaningful in the political context of these countries. Political Islam is here to stay. It's going to take different forms in different countries.

In this respect Egypt is a real opportunity to demonstrate—and this will be the next test. It really is interesting that this revolution was not anti-American, it was anti-regime. Again, this may be partisan or analytic. If the Bush Administration had been in power, it would have had much more of an anti-American face. The sheer persona of Barack Obama and the sense of a degree of respect and empathy—even though the Arab world doesn't agree with everything he's doing, and the public opinions show that—helped in that regard.

But as we enter this next phase, it will be a real test of do we believe in the process and do we believe in what the Egyptian people decide to do, or is it, that works if you do it in this particular way?

Obviously you have some parameters and some things that you would not support, and we're free to do that. But this is going to be real interesting. I see it as an opportunity for us to demonstrate a degree of flexibility, but really it's strategic thinking as well. That's going to be one example that's going to be testing this notion of where we are in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world: how much do we stick to the old "our s.o.b. is okay"?

Secondly is when it comes to international institutional change. We have done some of that. The G20 has been a significant replacement for the G8. Sometimes it gets overestimated. But there are more countries at the table. Perfectly logical—they represent a larger share of global GDP.

When President Obama went to India and announced that we would support India for a seat on the Security Council, it was one of those amazing stories that the secret was actually kept; it didn't leak until he announced it, which is incredibly unusual in Washington these days.

But we need to be very proactive on this. In life you don't get credit for things you are forced to do, you get credit for things that you're prepared to do.

The next director of the World Bank should be open on a merit basis. It should not just be an American by definition.

We need to be much more proactive, including international institutions that we may not have a central role in. The Brazilians have organized UNASUR [Union of South American Nations] in South America that is really a South American organization.

We really need to demonstrate that we are prepared to share decision-making authority with others in this sense of mutuality, that not all the best ideas are based in Washington.

Third, in conclusion, just as a sampling—and I will open it up—is the question of the use of force. We've always had this notion—and if you look at the National Security Strategy, it says we believe in the multilateral uses of force and legitamation but we reserve the right to do so unilaterally. Nobody could ever totally say that's not true. The question is, do you take a very strict construction or a broad construction of that?

The test case that could be out there is Iran. There is a fairly broad consensus in the world that what they're doing is inconsistant with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and all sorts of nonproliferation, and we're getting—a longer discussion—a certain amount of cooperation on that.

But if we were to decide that we wanted to use force because we felt no other option was there—you had these Wikileak cables that supposedly had various heads of government—some of whom may not be in power very much longer in the Arab world, but even if they are—saying, "Oh, cut off the head of the serpent." I guarantee you that if we use force in Iran and there were concerns in their countries, they'd be taking a very different position.

On an issue that we consider to be an important issue, to the extent that we use force, you could make an argument that since people who believe in Barack Obama don't expect it, the impact on our reputation might even be worse than it was during the Bush years.

These are areas in which we have to demonstrate that we're prepared to pursue our interests. Beyond the specific issues, it relates to our concern about ideas, values, and some of the issues that Carnegie Council deals with in terms of fundamental ethics. If we want to make a claim that we do have a sense of mutuality, we have to really have a good understanding of what are some of the very tangible test cases and policies that others may be looking to.

Thank you.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much.
Questions and Answers QUESTION: One of the great ideas has been that democratic governments are less likely to go to war than autocratic ones. That has been probably the most important reason why we have felt we wanted other countries to be democratic. Is that idea still alive and well in your opinion, either of you?

Do you think we should continue to spend resources in pursuit of bringing democracy to other countries?

It's the democratic peace theory. I've never actually fully subscribed to that. Our ability to work out things with China is about their interests, and it can be done with a non-democratic government, even to the extent that we did it with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. So in terms of that reason for promoting democracy, I don't think it's necessary.

Moreover, you can have situations—democracy gets defined a lot of different ways—where people come to power in a very demagogic way, by appealing to base instincts.

Where it comes into play, just to stay in the Middle East for a second, there's a lot of discussion about what this means for the Middle East peace process. I've spent a fair amount of time, in government and outside of government, working on that. Does this mean that if you're Israel you sign a peace treaty and will the guy be there?

I actually think that in some ways, to the extent that you would have governments in the Arab world that had a greater degree of legitimacy with their own people, (a) they may need less to distract the diversionary use of Israel, and (b) to the extent that they sign a treaty, they are more likely to be able to have support for that.

There are other reasons for democracy. But, even there, we have to understand that our system was founded on "that government is best which governs least." That was one of the core principles.

What we are saying is what Steve was saying before, is that for a lot of the world it's about the government which governs best. It's about democracy that delivers. It's about legitimacy based on performance, not process—not to the extent that it justifies a General Pinochet if he can produce economic growth or, frankly, the king of Saudi Arabia. But within those parameters it's a very different kind of aspect that countries are looking for.

It's important we work with forces of civil society and others. But we have to understand that there's going to be a whole lot of different forms that things take in between the two extremes.

STEVEN WEBER: I'll just add a quick comment. There's a part of me that wants to launch into a set of regression equations which criticize the actual data finding of the democratic peace, but I'll reserve that part for later.

I want to highlight, maybe even a little bit more boldly, what Bruce said about the government that governs best. We're in a period of time and a period of human history—and we're going to see more evidence for this over the next decade—where concerns about process, as important as they are, are going to get trumped by concerns about outcomes. We need to be sensitive to that and recognize that that's a real concern on the part of many.

In some sense, there's very little constituency for process unless you've already been in the game long enough to have a deep belief that it can deliver the outcome.

And let's not forget that the uncertainties that we have about ourselves and our own political system here in the United States and our ability to deliver on solutions to problems that we know face us—cite them: Medicare, Social Security, et cetera—those concerns that we express to ourselves are now completely, transparently visible to those in the rest of the world. That's a good thing, because the up-side is it will force us to bring process and outcome closer together at home. Until we're able to do that in a way that's demonstrable to ourselves, I don't think we can make others believe it.

QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.

The coordinates that you've laid down make the best case I've heard for the fact that Finland is probably potentially the most competitive country in the world, along with a number of western European countries, and yet you didn't mention western Europe and how it would fit into this mix. Can you comment on that?

STEVEN WEBER: I'd like to hear a bit more about your thinking about why it is the Finnish model, as it were, or Finland. In many parts of the world, even frankly in parts of Europe, the unique and distinctive position of the northern European social democracies are seen as resting on a kind of accident of history in some cases regarding underlying wealth and—how shall I put it?—racial and ethnic lack of diversity, which leads to easier consensus politics at some level, that is kind of sui generis for parts of the world that are still trying to figure out how to get over the hump of $12,000 per person GDP.

It's interesting. There was certainly an opportunity for the Europeans. Many of us who were Europhiles and went through that period in our careers where we studied the European Union and tried to understand the distinctive experiment that the Europeans were engaging in with regard to shared governance. We were hoping that that would externalize itself into some kind of a more attractive leadership proposition that would actually make what you said more true.

It hasn't happened. It's a longer conversation as to why it hasn't happened. My own view on this is that it reflects, at least in part, not only these kind of accidents of history during which Europeans are seen as in this particularly privileged situation many times, but also, particularly on the part of the European Union, an obsession to the point of dysfunctionality with process.

Much though it can be very attractive for us when we look forward to where are there models of shared international governance which seem to be plumbing the experimental edge of what's possible between nations, it's somewhat less attractive because, again, it just isn't associated in the minds of people in many parts of the world with decision functionality that gets stuff done.

QUESTION: John Ergass.

I have a very simple question. You spoke previously about recognizing political Islam. We have two situations now. We have one in Afghanistan where we are fighting with the Taliban, and I want to know your opinion on that because I heard somebody who is now in the State Department tell me about a year and a half ago, two years ago, "We need to open serious negotiations with the moderate elements and we must recognize that they are there." And another situation, potentially, in Egypt, where the military are meeting together with the Muslim Brotherhood, which repeatedly tried to kill Egyptian heads of state. I just want to know, do you think we should pursue both options now?

What risks do you see there if we get this wrong? In Afghanistan will there be a responsible counterpart, and in Egypt what could happen?

The first point is there are risks on both sides. The Administration was very conscious—and it really did some shifting of its position—that sticking with Mubarak too long could have actually made the more radical option more, not less, likely.

In the Egyptian context, it has been really interesting. We were talking about this earlier, the media coverage. It's been sort of a war of the quotes—"I have a quote here from the Muslim Brotherhood that proves they're really like Thomas Jefferson" and, "I have a quote here that proves they're really like bin Laden." Sorting that out is really complicated. But it points to one uncertainty.

Secondly, there was an interesting poll done last week by a think-tank in Washington that's usually viewed as right of center. It was a telephone poll done by some credible sources, and it basically came out that the Muslim Brotherhood had very, very low support. Some people say, "Ah, just give them time and it will be Machiavellian."

Egypt is a society that is not looking to be dominated by another force that tells them how to fully run their lives, number one. The politics in Egypt will have various checks and balances.

The military, rightly, has actually invited at least one leader of the Muslim Brotherhood to the negotiations they're having, to have them inside the tent rather than outside the tent.

Part of it is if we believe in these processes, we have to help and we have to have confidence in these societies.

Some of the success of political Islam has actually been not just through the religious appeal but through their versions of Boss Tweed back in the early 19th and early 20th centuries, that you gave immigrants pencils and health care and you provided social services.

The parties that want to compete with them have to provide democracy that delivers. And ultimately, if they do, participation in the system will be good, because it's an element of the Arab political spectrum that's simply not going to go away.

In Afghanistan it's a very different set of questions. For me, frankly, it starts with I have great respect for our military and for the people that serve and for their amazing sacrifices and commitment. But every time we get a new piece of good military news, it seems to be countered by another piece of political and economic not-so-good news—the parliament doesn't meet because the president won't let them, the Bank of Kabul is shown to have huge scandals going on, aid workers are killed, and the like. I'm not convinced there is a military solution. The Administration's language on this has been very fuzzy—"degrade," whatever, that line.

I do believe that you need to figure out if there's some negotiating partners there, because ultimately there's going to have to be some spectrum and coalition in Afghanistan that has a better chance of providing a degree of security. The relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda that was there in 2001 may not necessarily be there; and, to the extent that it is, part of it, frankly, depends upon what policies we pursue and what arrangements are made.

QUESTION: Douglas Solomon.

I have a question to hitch onto the other gentleman's question concerning the Muslim Brotherhood. Do you see the possibility, or is it probable, that they will appear moderate now and then, if they should assume power at some point, that they would then show their true colors, so to speak? Would you care to speak to that?

STEVEN WEBER: Yes. But what we don't know is what those true colors would be.

I want to change the tone of the question and rocket up into a slightly longer-term view of what leverage we actually have over the outcome of politics in Egypt.

I did something very unfair earlier to Joel [Rosenthal] as we were talking. I asked him a question to which I already had a complete and firm answer, hoping that he wouldn't be able to answer it so that I could then tell him what I thought. But it's the right question. The question is, not what do we do over the next six to eight months as the negotiating process plays out, but rather: What is the single most important thing that we believe the United States could do over the course of the next 24 to 36 months to four years to five years to improve the probability of a political evolution in Egypt that suits our interests or that we can live with in 2020?

In addition to trying to make prognostications about how the Muslim Brotherhood will evolve, what it really is, who will seize power, so on and so forth, there's a really concrete answer to that question in my mind.

I look at Egypt and I see a country that has extremely poor economic prospects, a country that is remarkably poor, that has extraordinarily high rates of unemployment. I'm not claiming this as a causal driver of the revolution, but we know it has to be involved at some level—in which the vulnerability to food price shocks is so dramatic that actually people didn't lose that much from getting out into the street and stopping working because they didn't have jobs anyway and they couldn't afford food regardless.

In addition to the short-term politics, about which I claim no expertise, it is extremely important that five years from now the economy of Egypt is larger than the economy of Colombia, which it is not today, despite the fact that it's about seven times the size in terms of the population, and that the United States be associated with having contributed to economic growth in that country. That is the sine qua non of a successful outcome from our perspective, and it's actually a place where we have some leverage. That's what I'd like to see us be involved in.

QUESTION: Edward Goldberg.

Can we do that? Can we be a player without money? We know in 1948-1947 we ran into Europe with the Marshall Plan. We know that we didn't go into a collapsing Russia in 1992 and it was probably a mistake. Now Egypt needs money. How do we do it without money?

BRUCE JENTLESON: It can be a number of things. One is you can reprogram some of the existing foreign aid. Second is you can provide loan guarantees and insurance that helps foreign investment come in. And third is the notion of "why is it just about us?"

If China chooses to invest in Egypt—now we've gone through this thing about China and Africa and they're doing this and doing that. Are they taking over Africa?

Interestingly enough, what's been happening is they've been getting push-backs from NGOs and others that say, "We were dominated by the European colonialists for centuries, we were pawns in the superpower competition of the Cold War. We don't mind making deals with you guys, but we're not interested in having you dominate us either. So come and create jobs for us."

But in some respects, if you're concerned about development, they are actually providing a certain public good. If we believe there's a relationship between development and stable states—avoiding havens for terrorism and all that sort of thing—we shouldn't just see this as a zero-sum competition—because that's what you see a lot in the world, is people are pushing back. It's not a world that's ready to be dominated.

To that extent it's not just about us. In 1993, after the Oslo signing on the lawn of the White House, we organized a conference—it was 22 countries plus the World Bank to organize I think it was a couple billion dollars in money and guarantees to go into the Palestinian territories. Even then, when we had a little bit more money than we do now, it was an effort to get others to ante into the pot.

It is not just about us. Even if we had the money, it should not be about us, because inevitably from that will follow efforts to try to over-control.

What we need to do is challenge others. Everybody has an interest in a stable Egypt. China does too; they don't want to see either instability or over-radicalization. Understand that there's a collective good here that can come and it's not just about us, which makes sense from the kind of fiscal position that you're talking about as well. There is not going to be a Marshall Plan, and the whole notion of every time you've got a problem there's going to be a Marshall Plan for X. The Marshall Plan succeeded because of certain underlying conditions in Europe.

There are a couple different ways to approach that.

QUESTION: Harry Eiger.

We can't control world events. World events are controlling us. Our position economically is on the wane rather than the rise because we've exported our jobs, both industrial and service, and there are no jobs left in this economy for us. We have structural unemployment because of that.

The real issue is, if we are going to exercise power and influence, which is all economics based, we can't afford our military adventurism anymore. We're going broke. But if we are going to be able to play an effective role, we have to be strong economically, and the only way we're going to do it and compete in the global economy is to preserve our industrial base and our services.

The only way you can do that is simply by passing legislation that controls the export of American—whether it by lease, transfer, or sale—technology overseas to our economic competitors, because we're in an economic war with China, India, and others. So the issue is, why don't they simply pass legislation that would prohibit the export of this stuff for three to five years and make sure it's produced here for three to five years, and keep the R&D in this country, which will give us our industrial base again so we can drive the employment in this country? Could you comment on this?

STEVEN WEBER: Yes, just briefly.

I am extremely sympathetic to the underlying anxiety, and the real issue that lies behind the relationship between the export of jobs and the export of technology.

Again, with regard to some of the points Bruce made about what the world is looking to us for when it comes to leadership—it's not just the United States that is in a very perilous position right now when it comes to economic growth. The world economy is in a very perilous position. It is at moments like this where people's real values become demonstrated.

When you have to make a really hard choice between two things that you hold dear—let's say in this case openness and the willingness to recognize that technology is very hard to contain and passing legislation to try to prevent the leakage of technology abroad is a really remarkably difficult thing to do—and the notion that economic growth abroad is actually incredibly important for America's role in the world, in fact it's part of our core leadership proposition is to say that we bring to the world technologies, business processes, financing, and ways of organizing economies that actually lead to growth and lead to more rapid growth than others can provide.

The choice between those two things right now of course seems like a really hard choice. In the 1990s it looked like we could have it all and do both and win on both dimensions. When you don't have to make choices, you don't demonstrate very much about your core values. When you have to make really hard choices like that, that's when people see who you really are and what you really stand for.

So I think actually remaining open—now, when I say "remaining open," I don't mean permitting the stealing of American intellectual property when it's protected by reasonable laws that take account of others' interests and take account of the need to be able to incent American companies to invest in research and development which then produces intellectual property, which needs to be protected in a reasonable way in order to get that investment in the first place, I don't mean just letting that all go.

But I do mean that recognizing the leakage of some of that intellectual property is advantageous globally and not trying to turn that into a zero-sum game, where a gain for the Chinese or a gain for the Filipinos or a gain of jobs in France or England is necessarily a loss inside the United States—this is the time where we can actually show leadership on that score.

It requires a longer-than-18-month political timeframe. What I worry about the most in that regard is the notion that politics says you can't go to a 2012 election with a 9 percent unemployment rate. I think actually that's true, but I think the short-term solution to that may save, let's say, an administration here in the United States, at the great expense of our long-term power position abroad.

STEVEN WEBER: Let me just add one thing to that.

I think in some respects we're at a really interesting historical moment for this country. For much of our history, the first 150 years or so, we largely sat apart from the world—not totally isolationist, but we kind of involved ourselves to the extent that we wanted to. We had these incredible rich resources and we had the insulation of the oceans, and we intervened in Latin America where we wanted to, but it was basically apart. Then, for the second half of the 20th century, we basically sat atop the world, that whole Ptolemaic notion.

This is the first time in our history that we're genuinely in a competitive global era. It's not just China and it's not just India, but it's many other countries. And it's not just economics and technology. It is, as we talk about in the book, this whole global competition. That's a real challenge.

I think in that era, even if you did everything we prescribe, everything anybody else prescribes in a book, for foreign policy, that would be necessary but not sufficient.

What you need is strength from within. So every country is going to need to build its strength from within. What does that mean as far as I'm concerned?

  • It means reducing your vulnerabilities. For me that's energy security, financial stability, and, frankly, resilience from terrorism.

  • You need innovation, technological and others.

  • And, frankly, you need some sort of shared sense of purpose.

So we do need to take care—and this is not domestic versus foreign—but you need the strength from within as a domestic foundation for your global role. I think there are many ways we can get that that aren't closing ourselves off but are sort of getting ourselves more competitive in a lot of ways.

QUESTION: I have a question. My name is Anne Phillips.

Do you not think that perhaps in order to win this global competition of ideas we have to choose policymakers who either now know, or to train them, to really have a profound understanding of a variety of cultures, a variety of history, because we may have good ideas that apply for our culture and our history, our needs, that would not work well, such as a democracy? There can be modified forms of these ideas. But we have to first understand what their needs and their culture is all about in order to present these new ideas to them. Would you concur with that?

STEVEN WEBER: I'll make a quick comment and then I'll turn it over to Bruce to finish up.

I'll see you on that bet and raise you, because I think it goes beyond the question of leaders. I think what we have now is a president who by inclination, by upbringing, and so on and so forth, is probably more open in that regard than we've had in the past—probably not as open as we need to be.

But what I'm raising your bet is to say it can't really just be the leadership. I think that kind of awareness probably has to be brought to a much broader swathe of the American population. Again, I don't mean just people who live in New York; I mean people who live in Iowa City and so on and so forth.

Now, it's sort of funny. We're not quite minded to know that. I think we often make fun of ourselves as a country, as being not globally minded, incredibly parochial. The statistic gets thrown around about whatever percentage of Americans don't have passports, and so on and so forth. That's actually in our view a core serious component of national power going forward.

One of the weaknesses of being American in the Ptolemaic era was that you could fake being global. You could call yourself "global," by which you meant "let's invite some people from other parts of the world and have them come here to New York and talk to us about their views." Can't fake it anymore.

So there are lots of opportunities to do that sort of thing. Some of them obviously are present in the new technologies in communication that are on board. We ought to be a leader in trying to demonstrate and bring those uses of technology to do that.

But it is a hugely important agenda. That's my raising of your bet.

VOICE: And education?

STEVEN WEBER: And the education, absolutely.

Now, not everybody can travel abroad as much as many of us have the opportunity to do. But we've really got to focus on this issue. It's a generational question, not just a leadership question.

BRUE JENTLESON: I would say the question is how do you talk about this politically. So you have this whole City on the Hill, American exceptionalism.

But I actually do believe that you can talk to the American people about this in certain kinds of ways. I say this not just as an academic. I've been through every presidential campaign since 1988. I worked for Al Gore when he ran for president and Clinton-Gore and others. So I've been in that context as well.

But there's a common sense out there. I think people fundamentally understand that we can't cut ourselves off from the world, that if you want to use sports analogies or whatever, we need to learn to compete effectively.

There are ways of getting the message out there. Now, frankly, some of it may not be our tagline on your bumper sticker when you're running for president. But you also don't have to do the opposite.
There are ways of bringing people along, which is kind of my point about Egypt as an opportunity. If we can demonstrate that we can work with the forces of political change, then you have an example that you can say to people "this can work."

So I actually have some confidence, while understanding a lot of the push-backs, that there's a common sense out there that you can connect with.

And you've got to choose—you know, you walk into a bar. My wife sometimes jokes, as a New Yorker down in the Research Triangle, that I'm not allowed to leave the Research Triangle in North Carolina without her permission, because she's afraid that something will happen to me when I get out into the more rural parts.

But, you know, you walk into a bar—the guy with the pack of Marlboros in his sleeve in his T shirt. There's a common sense there, there really is. I think that we have to find ways to work with that.

You know, it's not ideal, and it's true it's not everything we would like, but that's something that we have to work with in a country in which we operate our political system the way we do. If you can move those people just a little bit, then it gives you more freedom of movement as president or other kind of policymaker.

JOANNE MYERS: I want to thank you both for a very thoughtful presentation. Thank you.

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