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The John B. Hurford Memorial Lecture: A Conversation with Josef Joffe [Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speaker: Josef Joffe, Editor, Die Zeit, and Author, “Uberpower: The Imperial Temptation of America”
Presider: James Traub, Writer, the New York Times Magazine
June 16, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY


JAMES TRAUB:  Good afternoon.  I’m Jim Traub, with the New York Times Magazine.  And this is our guest, of course, Josef Joffe.  I’ve forgotten to bring with me the card they always give you which tells you the instructions.  So I know that one of them is turn off your cell phones, pagers, and other wireless devices.  That’s okay, I’ll be doing the introduction slowly to give you time to do that.  This session is on the record.  I may have forgotten something.  We will be speaking for about 25 minutes or so, and then we’ll throw it open to questions.  And if there are any officials from the council here who would like to tell me if I’ve forgotten one of the instructions—no?—I’m okay?  All right.  So, Josef Joffe, I take it, is a name well-known to most or all of you here.  He is the editor Die Zeit.  He is an adjunct professor at StanfordUniversity .  He is more recently the co-founder of a new publication on foreign policy issues called “The American Interest,” along with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Eliot Cohen, and Francis Fukuyama.  He is the author of books and of New York Times op ed page essays, and elsewhere, that I’m sure many of you have read.  And above all, he is the author very recently of a new book called “Uberpower:  The Imperial Tempting (sic) of America ,” a book which he was pleased to hear me say I found delightful, which is not normally a word you use for foreign policy screeds.  But it’s a—sentence for sentence, it’s not just, I think, the most intelligent book on the subject written in quite a while, but one of the most eloquently written, which is to say that Mr. Joffe is a better writer in his second language than his competitors are in their first.  (Laughter.)  So I urge you to all read it.

JOSEF JOFFE:  I think we should dispense with the dialogue.  I think you should continue this monologue.  (Laughter.)

MR. TRAUB:  Yeah.  I’ve actually—I’ve run through my entire stock of flattery.  That’s it.

MR. JOFFE:  Too bad.  Too bad.

MR. TRAUB:  So—but I wanted to ask you first, actually, about the subtitle of the book—The Imperial Temptation—The Imperial Temptation—because the word “imperial temptation” sounds like a familiar indictment; that is to say, it sounds like you’re describing—it’s an admonition given to prevent the recklessness of this uberpower.  And there is an element of that, it seems to me, in the book, but hardly the principal element.

MR. JOFFE:  Well, not that I was much nicer than you imply.  I didn’t write “imperialist temptation,” I wrote “imperial temptation.” And it had to do very simply with theUnited States that on Christmas Day 1991, when the Soviet Union committed suicide by dissolution, suddenly was number one, no longer contain and constrain, its power no longer devalued, and the temptation was to use that power liberally. And we’ve seen the—you know, we’ve seen the three wars.  I would say none of—(interrupted by cell phone)—I thought I turned this off, damnit!  (Laughter.)

MR. TRAUB:  You have too many different—we’re going to have to ask you to leave.  (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  I thought I had turned it—I’m sorry.

MR. TRAUB:  So impolite.

MR. JOFFE:  Sorry.  I turned it off.  

MR. TRAUB:  Please just give use a few minutes while we work out the technological kinks here.  (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  Okay.

So anyway, the theme is power liberated, no longer contain and constrain.  And so temptations to use it came with it, all the way to the last war, which was a war about transformation rather than about American security.  And the temptation led into a war which—how shall I put it—was easy to win militarily, but very, very difficult to win politically.  And that’s where we are.

MR. TRAUB:  But the fact is, I mean, tell me if you think this is not a fair assessment.  It strikes me that the book you’ve written is not only more pro-American than one would expect from almost any European thinker, but also more optimistic.  This did not have the kind of doomful feeling that one has about even some sympathetic books about America ’s status in the world.

MR. JOFFE:  Well—is that good or bad?

MR. TRAUB:  That’s—I’m not going there.  I’m just asking the questions here.  (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  Well, I mean, if you look at the United States from the outside in, you can’t help but be impressed with the enormous strength of this country.  Which way you cut the pie, I mean, it spends as much on defense as the rest of the world combined.  Its—the next economic competitor, Japan , the American economy is two and a half times larger.  It has—and what I thought in the course of this writing, what impressed me most was the enormous cultural sway, cultural dominance of this country, which is not just, you know, low culture and pop, but it’s both; it’s McDonald’s and Microsoft, it’s Hollywood and Harvard.  And finally, the question is, well, how long will this last?  Don’t they all—don’t all imperial powers end up in decline?  True, I mean, it took about 300 years for Rometo decline. So the U.S.still has about 200 years to go.

MR. TRAUB:  That would be a positive scenario.  (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  If you look at what are the source of power and how do they continue, the source of Hapsburg power was Latin American silver,   and when it dried up, Hapsburg power went to shreds.  The source of German power in the 20th century was raw military, industrial power, and it came to an end.

What’sAmerica ’s power? America ’s power is what I saw in my seminar on American foreign policy at Stanford, where I gave four A’s; and three A’s went to—one went to Kim, one went to Ju (ph) and one went to Siraj Patel (ph).  Only one went to a guy called Aaron Levanstat (sp).

MR. TRAUB:  But so thank God there’s still Jews at Stanford—(laughter)—

MR. JOFFE:  There are still Jews at Stanford, but the larger point—and I hope will get that, too, is the other three.

MR. TRAUB:  Yeah.

MR. JOFFE:  So—but what’s the source of power today.  It’s brains.  And the United States keeps drawing the best and the brightest in the absence of a Stalin or a Hitler or Metternich.  We used to drive them over here in the old days.  So that’s a pretty inexhaustible resource.

MR. TRAUB:  I’m curious—

MR. JOFFE:  So keep those schools good, keep their research money flowing here.  And you know, I already have 400,000 European scientists here, working year as a—

MR. TRAUB:  Does it—

MR. JOFFE:  Give plenty to the arts and the universities and to the Council on Foreign Relations, of course—(laughter)—so it can buy people like me.

MR. TRAUB:  (Laughs, laughter.)  I think you’ve now satisfied your obligation to give one quote to the institution, and we can proceed.

I’m curious about the—

MR. JOFFE:  It took me only 10 minutes.  (Light laughter.)

MR. TRAUB:  You’re a pro.

I’m curious about the reception of your book in Europe , given that it is, as I say, both optimistic and pro-American, which you’re not supposed to be.

MR. JOFFE:  It hasn’t been there yet.  It hasn’t gotten there yet.  The book just came out.


MR. JOFFE:  But many people won’t like it, as—for the reasons which you know and which are obvious.  Europeans don’t feel comfortable with the U.S. , and it has to do with these two factors that I mentioned.  One is this underlying cultural dominance, which is independent of whoever—president rules this country.  It’s the seductiveness ofAmerica .  It’s the imitation effect that comes across the Atlantic .

And the other part is what you call the policy part, which is the Bush part, which—or called throwing America’s weight around, being unconstrained, not listening to your friends and allies, doing your thing, and those two things have considerably soured the relationship, but we want to keep separate the underlying and the policy thing.  The policy thing will go away—new president, new diplomacy; it will go away.

The other thing is America —what I call in my book “Americathe beguiling,” the seductive, the demonstration effect, and it’s—in my lifetime it has grown by leaps and bounds.  You—how many shall we—how many—okay, here’s a wonderful anecdote. 

So you got one of—a left-wing parliamentarian in Germanydelivers the usual diatribe against America , and then he stops and says, “You went to Harvard, didn’t you?”


“Can you help me get my daughter in?”  (Laughter.)  So that—

MR. TRAUB:  You could have that conversation in Cairojust as easily.

MR. JOFFE:  In Cairo andAmman , everywhere in the world.  That’s the interesting thing about it.  It’s this pattern of revulsion and attraction which marks the relationship, or it’s envy and imitation—

MR. TRAUB:  Well, I’m sure one of things in fact that will guarantee a hostile reception in some quarters in Europe is that you argue, in effect, that anti-Americanism, as opposed to criticism of American policies, essentially springs from the same roots in Europe as it does in the Middle East, and so that the virulent hatred of the United States that you find across the Middle East may be different in degree but essentially is no different in kind from attitudes towards the United States in Europe.

MR. JOFFE:  Well, there’s a wonderful website, a Jordanian website, (ph), which showed it all encapsulated very nicely.  There was a cartoon there which had four icons.  One was a(n) SUV, the other one was a cheeseburger, the third one was a Marlboro- like pack of cigarettes, and the fourth was something that looked like a Coke.  And all four of these symbols were dripping with blood.  

That’s the point.  This is the kind of stuff that seduces the rest of the world.  And so what are these people warning against is that you may be seduced, but at the price of your own liberty and your identity, so resist.  That is the first empire in the world whose cultural sway goes beyond its military border.  I mean, I can—clout needs no gun to travel.  And that creates enormous resentment among those who are seduced by it.  

MR. TRAUB:  Let me just stop for one minute, because I did in fact forget something, which is that—

MR. JOFFE:  You forgot my name.  (Laughter.)  Oh. 

MR. TRAUB:  I forgot whether or not I forgot your name.  This—what I forgot to say, which is actually quite important, is that this is this year’s annual Hurford Lecture and that we’d like to welcome Mrs. Hilga Hurford, who’s sitting right here, who has made all this possible.  (Applause.)  And I apologize for not having mentioned it earlier. 

But—so let’s continue.  There was just a poll that came out from the PewResearchCenterabout Americans’ attitudes towards the world and the world’s attitudes towards the United States.  And not surprisingly, it found that the United States as a place, President Bush as a president had extremely low ratings both in most European countries and also, obviously, in the Middle East, with—Americans remained relatively popular throughout Europe, though not in the Middle East.  Which makes me—maybe one of the following—think: Is it really right to say that this form of anti-Americanism, this almost credal or theological quality, which seems undislodgeable in theMiddle East, really is—well, that the phenomenon in Europereally should be considered so comparable and so—in some sense, so virulent as that?

MR. JOFFE:  Well, you’re trying to say that we have to draw a distinction between the man and the people, but I think it goes deeper.  I think that the hatred for Bush, the contempt for Bush, masks a deeper dislike, contempt, envy, resentment, what have you of this incredible American power.  Of—and it’s modernity.  It’s the steamroller of modernity.  It comes across the world.  And I’m not talking of humvees.  I’m not talking of Bradley tanks or Abram(s) tanks.  It rolls across the world, flattening old dispensations, old traditions, power structure, privileges, et cetera.  It makes the rest of the world adapt or—to it or to want to isolate from it.  And that is much more profound than the dislike for a particular president, especially since these tropes that I just mentioned are as old as the republic itself.  

I mean, you start out with early—with the young republic, and already you get the most modern tropes of anti-Americanism in a guy called Talleyrand, whom some of you may know, who had to take a quick leave from the revolution because he was in trouble with his boys. And he came to Philadelphia , and he said, “This country?  Thirty religions and only one dish to eat.”  (Laughter.)  That is the perfectly modern critique of Americans, is they have no culture—

MR. TRAUB:  Villepin could say the same thing today.  

MR. JOFFE:  Yeah, no culture, and then these people are religious—2006, same thing.

So what I’m trying to say is, there is an underlying layer which has been around always.  The question you have to ask is, why does it swing up and down? 

Why the variation?  And I think it has to do with this liberated giant, with this Gulliver unbound, who suddenly uses his power in an unrestrained way and who makes obviously everybody who doesn’t have the power quite fearful of the unrestrained use of that power and instills in them the—not only the fear but the wish put the ropes back on this giant.

MR. TRAUB:  Well, one of the things—

MR. JOFFE:  That’s the basic thing, and then you’ve got this—like the business cycle on top of it.

MR. TRAUB:  But the business cycle, in effect, starts with the fall of the Soviet Union and the creation of this unipolar figure.

One of the things that I found striking about the book is that, whereas we tend to emphasize the differences between the Clinton administration and the Bush administration—and so do you—but you also argue, as I understand it, that there is a kind of exuberance of feeling your own latitude, feeling your oats, that really should be seen as beginning with the Clinton administration and continuing at a different key, maybe, with the Bush administration.

MR. JOFFE:  Yeah.  That’s true.  You have the line that—Americaas “indispensable power” is a Clintonand a Madeleine Albright line.  The idea that the United States was on the right side of history and that things were going to go its way is a Clintonidea. What you have—and this sense that Americacan do anything it wants to do is a Clintonidea.  

What you have as the downside and the dark or the bitter side of this, which kicks in after 9/11—so you get fear that mingles with righteousness, a self-righteousness, and the idea that a nation so deeply wounded is free to do almost anything in response.  It’s free of allies.  Remember that the allies offered Bush troops.  NATO was ready to kick in in Afghanistan .  “No, we don’t need you.  No, we’ve got a full coalition of the willing.”

There was this—the really uberpower sense of we can do it all by ourselves and that, well, we don’t care about the world.  And I think that attitude really riled the souls, in addition to this underlying riling of souls that I mentioned before.

MR. TRAUB:  But to go back to the Clinton-Bush distinction—of course, one always hears the kind of “Clinton might have been”—you   know, “If Al Gore had been elected president in 9/11,” and so the question, then, is—I mean, the—sort of as we think about how we feel about the choices that this administration has made—should one say that the key issue—if 9/11 itself launched this uberpower in a almost inevitable direction, or rather, should we think about a set of conscious choices that were being made by a very different administration, not only from its predecessor, but from its predecessor’s predecessor?  I mean, James Baker was here last night, and so one can imagine those folks might have behaved themselves in a very different way.

MR. JOFFE:  Well, Rumsfeld, if I remember correctly, was a member of a previous administration, and he didn’t—he behaved very differently in the previous administration.

MR. TRAUB:  And he got brainwashed.  Something happened to him meanwhile.

MR. JOFFE:  Well, who were the brainwashers?  Who did it?  Condi Rice brainwashed him?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Probably—(off mike).  (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  Who else?  Who brainwashed him?  Come on.  Anybody in this room?

MR. TRAUB:  (Laughs.)  Cheney.

MR. JOFFE:  Cheney?  Cheney was—

MR. TRAUB:  And who brainwashed Cheney is the question.

MR. JOFFE:  Cheney was a very reasonable character in previous—

MR. TRAUB:  So—but what is your explanation?  I mean, I don’t—

MR. JOFFE:  I think it has to do with—it has to do, really, with the fall of the Soviet empire; therefore, the unbridling of American power, plus the sense that of enormous vulnerability; you know, as we know, the first time since the Civil War that war had taken place—or an active war had taken place in this country.  So that’s how I would explain it.

Because I think, you know, the same characters behaved very differently before 9/11 and before the death of the Soviet empire.  So as Dr. Freud would say, the anatomy of the international system is destiny.

MR. TRAUB:  Well, that—I think that sort of goes to the heart of it; that is, that you—that one of the contributions of this book is to think not here is a set of political principles that this administration has or even here is a set of history that this    particular country has, but rather, here’s the position that it occupies.  And so I think you’re saying it’s the position, the structural position that dictates behavior.

MR. JOFFE:  Correct.

MR. TRAUB:  But in saying that, then, we have to say, for example, that the argument—that this administration, for example, has an evangelical approach to politics is a broad way of characterizing it—that that’s been overdrawn, that that just doesn’t matter so much.  And I take it that is part of your—

MR. JOFFE:  I don’t know any evangelicals.  Do you?

MR. TRAUB:  Yeah, sure, I do.

MR. JOFFE:  How do you—I mean, do you guys—

MR. TRAUB:  They just don’t happen to spend much time on the Council on Foreign Relations, but yeah, sure, of course.

I mean, and that’s a big strain of American foreign policy.

MR. JOFFE:  Yeah, but I bet you nobody here knows any, right? Have we ever met any?  (Laughter.)


MR. TRAUB:  Yeah, sure.

MR. JOFFE:   I go out there.  Yeah, I’m out there in the Midwest , and I find a lot of them very reasonable people.  But that’s not—that’s neither here nor there.

MR. TRAUB:  No, that’s not, right.

MR. JOFFE:  But let me make a basic point to stress the issue. What is the new faith of his, the new political faith of this president?  It’s the faith in the democratic peace, right? Wilsonwanted to make the world safe for democracy, and this administration wanted to make the world safe through democracy.  But lo and behold, if you go back into the record, that’s exactly how the “Clintonistas” were speaking.  They believed in the same theory.  This theory about the democratic peace is as American as—

MR. TRAUB:  Did they act on that theory in the same way?

MR. JOFFE:  They didn’t have to, because if you look—if you listen to their rhetoric—you know, Madeleine, Clinton, Strobe Talbott—there was enormous historical optimisms.  We don’t have to do anything, history is going our way.

MR. TRAUB:  Right.

MR. JOFFE:  What’s driving forward history?  We have the fax machine, the Internet, invented by Al Gore, technology, the shrinking of space through the shrinking of transportation costs.  So they were like the French Enlightenment (philosophy ?).  They thought, this is it, it’s, oh, to coin a phrase, the end of history.  Things are great; we don’t have to do anything about it.

This administration then was hit by 9/11, and so the darker side of the theory came through, which is, we can’t wait for history to triumph in the American way, we have to make it triumph.  And therefore, what are we going to pick here?  Let’s pick Iraq .  If we can make it there, we can make it anywhere.    MR. TRAUB:  One of the aspects of the book that we haven’t really talked about is your attempt to place American strategic position in a historical context.  Now, the question of balancing often arises in several of the books I can think of that have been written before, Walter Russell Mead and Kagan and so forth, and they tend to argue, because America is the first truly benevolent hegemon, or semi- hegemon, it hasn’t faced the kind of classic balancing opposition from lesser powers that all previous such powers have.  

Now, you actually argue that the things we’ve seen going on—for example, the debate in the U.N. over going to war in Iraq —this should be seen, in fact, as a form of balancing with whatever weapons people have at their disposal.

MR. JOFFE:  Two things are true, I think.  One is that there is no way you can meaningfully balance in traditional ways against the United States by forming anti-American alliances or going to war against America .  It’s impossible.  You can’t imagine any alliance in the world that could defeat theUnited States in a meaningful way except by nuclear war, which will be nuclear suicide.  That is unprecedented, because all the other great hegemons of history were brought down by superior alliances in war.  And the biggest empire killer, as you remember, was World War I, which did in three or four empires.  

The second thing to remember in which way the different is it’s not a predatory empire.  All previous empires gobbled up land. They’re like Rome .  They got bigger and bigger and bigger.

MR. TRAUB:  So it is kind of a benevolent hegemon in that sense.

MR. JOFFE:  It doesn’t gobble up land.  It’s not a rapacious power.  It’s more like an elephant rather than a T. rex.  And if you grab land, the balance kicks in more swiftly and more harshly against you, but if you are this bumbling elephant, still very, very big, and you trample the grass, but elephants normally don’t go out there to subjugate other animals.

MR. TRAUB:  Does that also mean that the argument about imperial overstretch that you also hear from people who think that the American imperium is coming to an end soon, that that’s wrong because overstretch is exactly what happens when you do seek to occupy land in countries?

MR. JOFFE:  Yes, imperial overstretch is what you do when you are Hapsburg or when you are Rome or when you are Napoleon, who went all the way to the gates of Moscow and didn’t quite make it.  That’s serious overstretch.  TheUnited States doesn’t do that, but there are signs of overstretch, because right now, for instance, with 130,000 people in Iraq , the United States practically does not have a real military option against Iran .  It is overstretched, given the constraints of a democratic society.   

I mean, it’s not that a nation of almost 300 million couldn’t put 10 million soldier in the field, but given the constraints of the—this is a society that’s right now fighting a war which you don’t notice at home.  There’s no wage-price control, as during Vietnam , there’s no rapid inflation, there are no, you know, massive numbers of body bags coming home.

This kind of imperial war it can do forever without falling prey to overstretching.  Has anybody noticed there’s a war going on?  

MR. TRAUB:  Presumably you do damage to something else.  You do damage to the political culture.  You do damage to people’s confidence in their institutions—

MR. JOFFE:  To hear?  To hear?

MR. TRAUB: —to hear.  Right?

MR. JOFFE:  Are you trying to lead the witness?  (Laughter.)

MR. TRAUB:  (Laughs.)  Well, I have no judge here, you see, so there’s no one to prevent me from doing all this.

MR. JOFFE:  Well, that’s another extraordinary way of looking at America ’s extraordinary power—the ability to fight a war which is not noticeable, noticed in the home country.  It’s extraordinary.

MR. TRAUB:  So towards—in the latter part of your book, you do talk about what it is the United States should be doing, because we’ve been talking so far about what you feel is the remarkable lack of vulnerability of this empire that other people are describing as vulnerable and all.  But I take it that your feeling in fact is that there is real vulnerability, which in part this administration, by its choices, is courting, and that there are better choices it should be making instead.

MR. JOFFE:  Correct.  Let me put it in very simple terms.  If you’re the schoolyard bully, you can beat the crap out of almost anybody in the schoolyard.  But they’ll never elect you class president, right?  So it’s the difference between raw strength and power, influence and legitimacy. 

And I think the problem right now for the United States is that compared to the previous period, that the gap between power and legitimacy has become very, very large.  The gap has probably never been as large as now, because enormous power, liberated power—and yet I would say that that power does not have the kind of legitimacy attached to it which it had in previous periods of postwar diplomacy.  

That brings you back to the benevolent hegemon.  How—what’s the best way to run against, you know, what—history tells you that    power will beget counterpower, and ultimately it will beget superior counterpower.  Well, you are a benevolent hegemon, which is you’re not this bully, but you’re the class president.  What do class presidents do?  They take care of other people’s interests, right?  They inspire trust, and then they have leadership rather than muscle. 

And so the United—it’s very simple.  The United States ought to go back to what it did best before, which is to pursue—do good for itself by doing good for others.

MR. TRAUB:  But if it’s doing—

MR. JOFFE:  And that’s what got lost in this.  There is something really selfish, almost un-American in the Bushes’ foreign policy, almost un-American.

MR. TRAUB:  Ah, so there is an important difference in that regard.


MR. TRAUB:  It’s not simply structural or positional.

MR. JOFFE:  Yeah.  But it has a reason why it is.  I call it the dark side of power.  But yeah, there is this—I would say the Bushes are kind of un-American.

QUESTION:   (Off mike.)

MR. JOFFE:  No, because it runs against the grain of the best of American diplomacy in the 20th century.  You know, look what U.S.diplomacy did.  I mean, look at the institutions it built.  

MR. TRAUB:  It certainly doesn’t look like the Cold War—that’s for sure—

MR. JOFFE:  Yes.

MR. TRAUB: —when Truman clearly concluded that embedding us in a network of institutions would enhance our power, not restrain our power, or limit the—

MR. JOFFE:  Well, it helps when you can dominate the institutions which you’re a part of.

MR. TRAUB:  Yes.

MR. JOFFE:  And so of course the United States loved the United Nations as long as it could get majorities in the U.N., and then turned predictably against it in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the U.N. General Assembly started manufacturing, assembly line-like, anti- American resolutions.  MR. TRAUB:  One more question.  Then I think I want to turn it over to the folks here to ask questions.  This preferable alternative you describe would be perfectly understandable in 1960, when the world was controlled by a series of large, powerful, stable states.  But in the world we live in today, where the threats to us do not come from those states, those states with whom we would now be acting more multilaterally and more responsibly, but actually come to us either from failed states or non-state actors or hostile states that don’t buy into all of this multilateralism and so forth, how does it actually help secure our future to be on better terms with France and Germany?

MR. JOFFE:  The food.  The wine.

MR. TRAUB:  That’s good.  That helps.  (Soft laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  You know, when you—when it comes right down to it, you look at these ornery Europeans, and if those Europeans look at the ornery or nasty Americans, in the end, it’s very hard for me to figure out how you could find better partners if you are part of this vast network called the West.  I mean, is Chinaa better partner for the United States?  Afghanistan ?  

There is—and the reason I’m saying that is, if you look at—we’re now at the end of a fairly hostile period in European-American relations.  

And lo and behold, these two sides grudgingly are now come together again.  The French and the U.S.collaborated on Lebanon .  The United States and the Europeans are now again collaborating, which they didn’t do, in the Quartet on the Middle East.  Lo and behold, they’re dealing together in common with the Iranians.  So what’s happening here is that both sides—those nasty Bushes and those nasty Schroederites and Chiracian—ah, they realize, hey, we conducted a foreign policy against the other side which was not really in our interests, and our interests actually dictate what we’re doing right now.  So that’s a somewhat longish answer to your question of why should we be nice to the Germans and the French.

MR. TRAUB:  No.  Let me just push this a little bit further—

MR. JOFFE:  Oh, the cars.  Don’t forget the German cars.

MR. TRAUB:  And the German cars.

But my question wasn’t why should we be nice to them, my question was isn’t that a kind of grand strategic formula for an era which to some extent has already passed?  That is to say—you used the word “building” in the book, you talk about the need for an ethic of building.  But would that building, for example, also entail the kinds of activities that have been—well, that didn’t seem nearly as central 35 years ago, like the building of—nation-building, aid—those things that go directly to the world, from which our trouble arises, as opposed to our partners who together are working with us on those threats we face?

MR. JOFFE:  Let me use one segment of the international system. It’s called a trade system.  Why should the United States be beholden to multilateral institutions and build viable trade relations? Because the United States is the number one exporter in the world. And it will take a long time before the—almost number one—Germanyis number one.  If you are the number one exporter in the world, you have an interest in free trade, right?  If you are also a large taker of capital and exporter of capital, you’re interested in rules that facilitate the transfer of capital, et cetera, et cetera. So there is a kind of very egotistical interest the U.S.has in multilateral trade institutions rather than where the Bushes have veered off recently, which is bilateral trade, you know. 

What I’ve described here is a hard-nosed, self-serving American interest which also serves the rest of it—doing well by doing good.  And you can use the same logic in alliance-building and other things.  Look, just take a very simple thing.  Imagine you’d gotten a vast chunk of the world to go along on Iraq .  Wouldn’t nation-building be a lot easier and more effective if you had many nations doing it right now, rather than the United States try to do it with an army which is totally unequipped for this.  This is probably the best army the United States has ever had.  As a result of it, it cannot do nation- building.  You can’t—I mean, your firemen don’t build houses, they tear down houses, they douse the fire, they don’t build houses.  This is the best fireman’s brigade the United States has ever hard.  But if you want these larger objectives, like nation-building, democracy- building, what have you, you have to have the cooperation of others. I don’t know how you can do it.  

So again, it’s an example of how you do well by doing good for others.  You play it—you’re like a conductor.  Why is a conductor—why do they let the conductor have the baton?  Why?  Because he’s especially nasty?  Yes, most of them are very nasty.  (Laughter.) (Inaudible)—or something.  But, he also does for the others; he takes all these folks here and turns them into—turns 80 people into a symphony orchestra so they get something out of it too.  And therefore, they suffer the slings and arrows of their misfortune at the hand of this conductor.

So, you know, I don’t—I’m running out of metaphors, but I think you get the point.  (Laughter.)

MR. TRAUB:  All right.  Well, on that hard-headed, post- democratic metaphor, we’ll stop this portion and turn it over—

MR. JOFFE:  I’m so glad that I wasn’t asked to stand here and speak, because my nightmare is a recent dinner party for Helmut Schmidt in Hamburgwhen he turned 85.  And Henry Kissinger was one of the guests.  And we had invited this German professor to give a very tiny little speech, you know, 10 minutes or so, about the art of writing biography, and it turned to 10, 20, 30, 40 minutes.  

Everybody’s extremely hungry.  At least these people got something to eat.  And so Henry turns, leans back, and in his booming voice says, “Germanynever changes.”  (Laughter.)  I’m glad I was held to a particular—

MR. TRAUB:  Well, you are fully American as well, obviously.

So just the usual ground rules, which is please state your name and your affiliation, and make your question a question.

And do we have any questions?

MR. JOFFE:  “Make your question a question.”  That’s good.

QUESTION:   Lyndsay Howard, Dilenschneider Group.

There are two points of your argument that I am a little confused about.

It seems that that this administration had fully set in form and framework its policies pre-9/11 from the day it took office and—(off mike).  You seem to state that this uberpower came into existence after 9/11; maybe that’s not what you meant.

Also, when you talk about overstretching an empire, the economic cost of this war is unsustainable.  And even during the Clintonadministration, the CIA did studies of just the cost of the no-fly zone, and considered those unsustainable.

MR. JOFFE:  Well, let me start with the second question first and repeat what I’ve said earlier.

The cost of—to make the cost of war visible, you either do it in an honest way by raising taxes or you do it in a dishonest way like the LBJ administration did it, by letting inflation grow rampant.  And we remember what—you know, the wage and price controls that followed.

So apparently, the sums involved here for the war are small enough to be—“to disappear,” quote/unquote, in a $12 trillion economy.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have 2.4 percent inflation out there; we might have 8 or so.  Or we might have higher taxes.  But as you know, the man keeps lowering taxes.  So that’s how I’d look at the economics.  At the politics, I mean, I would stress my earlier point, is that ideologically speaking, the “Clintonistas” and the Bushes were not that far apart.  They both believe in democracy as the panacea or as the answer to the question of war and peace, except that the ones were—and if you look at the record, they speak very differently.

The harshness of the—in fact, when you have Bush in the campaign, he says very un-Bush-like things by comparison to today.  He says, you know, “If we are a humble nation, then the world will come and listen to us.  If we are an arrogant nation, the world will hate and resent us.”  That flavor, I do believe, changes after 9/11, especially with the State of the Union address in early 2002.

QUESTION:   Ralph Buultjens, New YorkUniversity .

You mentioned the importance of the sources of power to the uberpower of earlier empires, the Hapsburgs and perhaps the colonies (to other ?)  Europeans and so on, and you said that that is not a particular source of vulnerability to the United States.  Have you given thought to the fact that perhaps one of the sources of American power has been cheap energy over the years, and that now this change in the price of energy, and if it’s sustained for some time, will do to American power what the cutoff of silver did to Hapsburg.

MR. JOFFE:  I agree with the first part of your statement, but not with the conclusion.

I think the nicest thing that could happen is oil staying at 70 bucks a barrel for the next 10 or 20 years, because then a lot of good things will happen.  As you know, capital will flow into alternative energies, capital will flow into—and if you want to maintain the oil economy, it will just flow to the north of here.  There are tar sands out there in Canadawhich will keep us going for another hundred years, or let alone the coal we have.

So I think just the opposite of the drying up of the silver in Latin American colonies—I think it will transform our economy, transform or redirect the flow of investment and hopefully make us a hell of a lot less dependent on the basic, universal and cosmic injustice of this universe that all the good stuff is in the hand of a lot of bad regimes.

MR. TRAUB:  But wouldn’t it colossally empower those bad regimes?

MR. JOFFE:  Luckily enough, they’re very stupid.  (Laughter.)

MR. TRAUB:  They still get the money.

MR. JOFFE:  Luckily enough, the Venezuelasand the Iransand the Saudi Arabias do not invest their money in the transformation of their economy.  By the way, the Norwegians don’t do it, either.  The Norwegians are not—you know how the Norwegians are preparing, the good sheikhs, the blue-eyed sheikhs?  MR. TRAUB:  (Laughs.)

MR. JOFFE:  They are putting their money in a vast, you know, multibillion dollar fund from which the nation will be able to draw henceforth when the oil runs out.

So all these extraction economies from VenezuelatoIranare behaving incredibly stupidly in a sense that they’ve put all the money in consumption or arms, what have you, without rebuilding the base of their economy, which would make the most serious competitor to other powers, so thank you, Mr. Ahmadinejad, or Hugo Chavez.

MR. TRAUB:  Yes, in the back there.  Sir.

QUESTION:   Carol Brown, unemployed.

I wanted to ask you, Joe—you said that there was no potential (allowance ?) that could act as a counterpoise for the United States in today’s world.  But you also talked about the importance of European involvement in the very problems you’re talking about.

My question, though, is, share with us how you see the future ofEurope .  There’s a summit meeting yesterday and today in Brussels where the whole question of deeper involvement of newcomers to the European Union is being debated, but given the fact that Europe doesn’t really have its game plan in place and the fact that you have a lot of newcomers to the two-tiered Europe—you can talk about it today—what can Europe bring to the table that can help deal with the very problems that you’re talking about?

MR. JOFFE:  A very good question.  It kind of gets us into one of the favorite games we play—I mean we in this policy wonk business—of who is up and who is down.  And remember that back in the ‘80s, Japanwas going to conquer the world.  All right?  It didn’t.

Right now the hype is in China , until it runs into serious domestic trouble,  (that evil ?) which will bring it down from 10 percent growth rate maybe to a negative growth rate.

Right now, the Europeans are, like—everybody’s really down on the Europeans.  And objectively speaking, comrades, as we used to say in the old days—(laughter)—it’s true.  Objectively speaking, comrades, it’s true.  Europeis now going through 1.8 or 2 percent growth next year—which may not be so great in this country, but compared to last year, it’s a hundred percent increase from 1 percent growth.  It is aging—not rapidly, but visibly; and behind this aging process, I think, stands the kind of wrong psychology. Apparently, they don’t believe in their future because if you believe in your future, you would generate children.

So apparently Americans believe more in their future than the Europeans do.  And so does an (involved ?) country like Israel , very impressive birth rate.  And then you can follow the litany, which you’re familiar with, you know, the way the economy is structured, it’s too rigid and it cannot adapt quickly enough, back and forth, so on and so on. Previous such games—who’s up and who’s down—has taught me to be skeptical about projecting this stuff into the future.

As far as Europe is concerned, what I find most interesting—I’ll stop on that note—is do not look at what Frau Merkel and Monsieur Chirac and Senor Prodi and Blair are—you can say these are all weaklings and that they’re out—they’re almost out, like Chirac, and Frau Merkel isn’t moving, and Blair is—you can see that Europe is involved in a kind of—(inaudible word)—of competitive decadence and so on.  But then look beneath that layer, look beneath, you know, formal or state politics, and the place is really bopping.

Take the French, who haven’t changed since 1789.  (Laughter.)  I mean, their basic assumptions about the world are those of, you know, the 19th—18th century.  It’s Francocentric, it’s statist, it’s the superiority of French culture, didn’t have to adapt.

If you look at French business, oh, boy.

I mean, you read it in The New York Times every day.  Today you read how AXA took over a big Swiss insurance company for about $8 billion. If you look at so-called state-run companies, like Renault, who are forging ahead in the world; then you go to Germany, a country that’s not moving, that is as dynamic as a walrus, but then look at how business has been adapting at an enormous speed and how it’s become, the last five years, a lot more competitive.  And, you know, just look at the Daimler-Chrysler story.  The only reasonably well-working automotive company in this country is Chrysler.  

And so I will leave you with that thought, that when you look at Europe, do not look at the formal level, look at the informal level, and there the pace of adaptation is not as impressive as in this country, but a hell of a lot more impressive than we would be led to believe by just looking at the level of formal politics.

MR. TRAUB:  But if you’re talking about issues of statecraft, multilateralism, the need to build these institutions, and the European partner is committed to, as Bob Kagan put it, the Kantean “perpetual peace,” if you think that’s so, then aren’t these difficulties going to arise constantly because the U.S. lives in a Hobbesian world—you used that word yourself—and Europe does not?

MR. JOFFE:  Okay.  But here’s NATO taking overAfghanistan .  They are—the most peace-loving nation in the world, I mean previously the most aggressive nation in the world, namely, Germany , which is now as aggressive as sloth, is all over the place with its soldiers, you know, from Bosian to Afghanistan .  

So, no, the Europeans are no longer this race of warriors that it used to be in the first 2,000 years after, you know, A.D., went out to conquer the rest of the world—to discover, and then conquer.  And then the Europeans invented—every major war of any consequence was invented and fought in Europe , except for the Civil War in the United States.  So no, they’re not like that, anymore.  But they do their thing.  And as theUnited States pulls off—(inaudible)—it’s the European members of NATO that are beginning to haul the line.  So if you scale down your expectations, they’re doing okay.  You have to kind of define deviancy down.

MR. TRAUB:  (Laughs.)  Or—not deviancy, whatever, yes.

MR. JOFFE:  Or goodness.

MR. TRAUB:  Goodness.

QUESTION:   Marty Gross from Sandalwood.  I apologize for bringing my grandmother into this, but if she were here, she would ask you this—

MR. JOFFE:  Okay.

QUESTION:   My grandmother always said to me that, “What Bill said about Jack said more about Bill than it did about Jack.”    MR. JOFFE:  Okay.

QUESTION:   So we’ve looked at this whole problem of anti-Americanism from the perspective of, well, there’s anti-Americanism out there, so what’s with us?  Well, how should we look at this problem from the perspective of “what’s with them?”

MR. JOFFE:  Would you care to venture?  (Laughter.) 

What would your grandma say?  What’s wrong with that?

QUESTION:   My grandmother was very humble—

MR. JOFFE:  Where does your grandma come from?

QUESTION: —and so she wouldn’t want to give an opinion. (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  Where’d your grandma come from?

QUESTION:   Eastern Europe.

MR. JOFFE:  Eastern Europe.  Oh, well, I bet you she had a very strong opinion.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:   You didn’t know my grandmother.  What she would say, which is what I would say, and is what you said, is it’s the old bit about “Yankee go home, and take me with you.”  It’s, “I can’t stand you people, but can you get my kid into Harvard.” 

MR. JOFFE:  Yeah.

QUESTION:   And it’s about, you know, “We can’t like and respect your economic system because ours isn’t working so well, and therefore, there has to be something the matter with yours and not with ours.” Maybe that’s what she might say.

MR. JOFFE:  That’s not bad—tell your grandma that is a good answer.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:   Hard to do now.

MR. JOFFE:  No, but it surely has to do with—I mean, how would you feel if you were French?  First you lose strategic superiority in Europeto the upstart Germans.  Then, after you kind of do in the Germans more or less, you lose it for good to those upstart Americans. But you still have the French language, you still have French culture. And suddenly that goes too.  And the world suddenly begins to think, sound, watch, create American.  

I mean, if you were the Germans, a nation that defines itself as a country of “Dichter und Denker,” of “thinkers and poets,” and then you look at the most recent statistics I have about books being    translated back and forth, it’s something like, you know, 4,000—3,900 American books being translated into German, but only about 20 or 30 the other way around, so you lose high culture superiority. Wouldn’t that rile you?  And wouldn’t you begin to look for compensation by asserting your superiority in other areas?  Eventually they’ll start competing.  I mean, there’s no law in the world that says that the Germans, who wrote the first canon of the cinematographic canon, the first chapter, right, with Pabst and all these guys, there’s no reason why they can’t make movies again that the world would like to watch.  All they have to do is to get rid of these movies they’re making now, which are introspective and self- critical.  My daughter was a Stanford—used to be a Stanford movie critic, said, “Oh, those German movies, they’re usually about a single mother with three children from two fathers, they live in the projects.  It’s gray outside and raining, and they’re always—nothing happens in these movies, and people come in and out and they talk about their problems.”  (Laughter.)

MR. TRAUB:  This is life!  (Laughter.)  Should they be making MI- III?

MR. JOFFE:  You would not want to—you see, I think it was Godard—oh, this is a great line from Godard.  “Yes, my movies have a beginning and a middle and end, but not necessarily in that sequence.  (Laughter.)  So if they make movies here with a beginning and middle and end—and they can make them—then they will feel a lot better about themselves.  You know, these people are not stupid over there.  They invented this country, back in the 17th century. (Laughs.)

MR. TRAUB:  Yes, sir?  Microphone.

QUESTION:   Okay.  My name is Dick Henley (sp).  I’m a friend of Hilge Hurford’s and I was a friend of John’s.  And my question is, I don’t understand the role of Die Zeit in terms of influencing in German versus Der Spiegel.  And to what degree is your circulation out there? To what degree are you selling this resurgence or this role in—I’m trying to find out what is the actual role of Die Zeit in Germanyversus Der Spiegel.

MR. JOFFE:  What is the role of—

QUESTION:   In circulation, influence.

MR. JOFFE:  What’s the role of The New York Times versus The Washington Post?

MR. TRAUB:  (Laughing.)

QUESTION:   (Off mike.)

MR. JOFFE:  Der Spiegel sells a million, we sell about 450,000. Der Spiegel is a news magazine.  We are more—we are a paper that, if you take the New York Observer, turn it into broad sheet, turn it from pink to white, and cut down the high gossip, then that’s what Die Zeit is all about.

MR. TRAUB:  I’m not sure there’s anything left.  (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  It’s a weekly—it’s a newspaper—well, it looks like a newspaper, it’s a weekly of opinion and analysis of politics, economics and so on.  I’m happy to report that we are doing well.  Our circulation is rising, and that of Der Spiegel is not.

MR. TRAUB:  Ah.  That’s what counts.  Ted?

MR. JOFFE:  No, it just means that we have better by-products that we sell, like—encyclopedias and—(inaudible).

QUESTION:   Thanks.  Professor, I very much liked your metaphor for the global community of the school playground, where the worst bully does not get elected class president.  I’d like to suggest, if you would accept, two possible footnotes or additional clauses.  One is, he doesn’t get elected class president provided it’s a secret ballot. (Laughter.)  And second is, unfortunately, the smartest boy in the class, or at least who thinks he’s the smartest boy in the class, doesn’t get elected class president either.  (Laughter.)

MR. JOFFE:  But for very good reasons.  The smart boy is usually somebody who only asks questions to which he already knows the answer. (Laughter.)  And we never liked these guys.  In fact, we beat up on these guys after school.  There are terms for them in English, too.  I mean, what do you call them?

MR. TRAUB:  Smart-ass.

MR. JOFFE:  Smart-ass.  (Laughter.)  Trying to please.  An apple polisher, right?  And so no, the smart guy doesn’t get elected, because he only cares about himself, just like the bully only cares about himself and his own power, and that’s why he doesn’t get elected.

MR. TRAUB:  Is there some global strategic thing we can spin this into, or do you want to just stick on the level of the bully?  No?

MR. JOFFE:  All I’m saying, that great power and great—great brawn and great brains does not yet for leadership make.  And you know it in your own walks of life.  You know who you promote to leadership position, don’t you?  I mean, is it the guy who’s a smart-aleck or the guy with the muscles?  No, he’s the guy, you know, kind of, can define the collective interest, doesn’t always “me, me, me”—though he thinks so, but he doesn’t pretend to, and, you know, he thinks of the welfare of the group or the institution rather than of his own. That’s the oldest metaphor in the book, I think.  Those people—we know what leaders are, have always known; they’re neither the smart- ass nor the bully.

MR. TRAUB:  All right, we have time for one more question, if there is one.  And perhaps—

MR. JOFFE:  An amusing question, perhaps?  An entertaining question?

MR. TRAUB:  Apparently not.

QUESTION:   Over here.  MR. TRAUB:  Yes, sir?

QUESTION:   Just to ask a questiuon.  Abe Katz,U.S.Council for International Business.  Could you briefly compare American empire with theBritish empire, Perfidious Albion, the object of hate of most countries in the 19th century?

MR. JOFFE:  That’s a wonderful question, two minutes before 2:00 . But I really like that question because there are a lot of parallels and a lot of differences.  The main difference, of course, I mentioned, is that the United States had only a very brief classical imperial career, which was 1898; you know, when they grabbed SpainandCubaandPuerto Rico.  It was a very nice life.  As you know, McKinley spent three nights thinking about whether he shoud take the Philippines, and he finally decided, you nkow, “After thinking about it, I decided to take our little brown brothren in hand to uplift, civilize and Christianize them.”

MR. TRAUB:  And he prayed, you should add.  He got down on his kneees.

MR. JOFFE:  And he prayed.  And completely forgetting that the Philippine had been Catholic for the last 400 years.  So there was only a very brief land-grabbing part, which, as I argued, does diminish hostility to the other.

I think theUnited States also shares the best part of the British Empire, in the sense that the Brits built institutions in their parts.  The Brits built India .  The Brits builtCanadaand (this here ?) country.  They brought institutions, rules of law, legal systems, et cetera.

They didn’t just exploit the way the Belgians, for instance, exploited—or the Portuguese exploited CongoorAngola .  And if United States, wherever its power went, it did not go into exploit or to extract—but I think always in the best instances it’s built institutions like in Europe after the war.

It—and that’s why I think American leadership has such a much better—could have such a much better run in the future than, say, the Russians or the Chinese.  They may—the Russians will come back, the Chinese will grow, but you don’t notice in Russian or Chinese foreign policy a kind of thinking in terms of global stability or global welfare.  It’s just a quest for advantage and advantage only, and I think the magic, if it could be revived in American foreign policy, yes, more interested advantage, but it will do so in a manner which will be advantageous to others too.

And that’s the difference, I think, between the U.S.and classic empires.  At its best—maybe you have to be a liberal society to be a good empire.  The Brits and the Americans were liberal empires, and that makes a lot of difference.

MR. TRAUB:  Well, that’s a lovely note to end on.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  


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