CFR Master Class Series With Stephen Sestanovich

Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Carlos Barria/Reuters

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; @SSestanovich


Vice President, Deputy Director of Studies, and Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; @shannonkoneil

Stephen Sestanovich discusses retrenchment in U.S. foreign policy, including a look at past periods of retrenchment and the implications they have for today's foreign policy debate. 

O’NEIL: Great. Thanks, Laura. And thank you, everyone, for joining us. Good afternoon. I am Shannon O’Neil. I’m a vice president for studies here at CFR. And welcome to the latest of our Master Class Series. For those of you who are new to this, this is where we try to go beyond or perhaps behind the headlines and look at a country, a region, or a particular topic in much more details with one of our senior fellows.

So today we have here Stephen Sestanovich. He is the George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies here at CFR. He is also a professor at Columbia University. And he’s had also a really long, illustrious career in the U.S. government. He’s been in the National Security Council, in the State Department, up on the Hill in the Senate. So he’s been a practitioner of foreign policy. He’s now a scholar and thinker about foreign policy. And he’s going to lead us in a discussion of retrenchment and U.S. foreign policy.

So I am going to turn it over to him to talk for about eight or ten minutes to sort of set the scene and get us started off, and then we will open it up to questions from all of you members, so we come out of this forty-five minutes much more thoughtful and enlightened on what is actually happening with retrenchment and why we should care about it. So over to you, Steve.

SESTANOVICH: Thanks, Shannon.

I picked this topic because there is a national discussion underway about appropriate ways to recast American foreign policy, with much of the debate centered on whether some kind of downsized strategy is called for. Most of the articles in Foreign Affairs’ “Come Home, America” issue made this case. In the current issue there’s a strong pushback from H.R. McMaster.

To my mind, a lot of this discussion is less useful than it should be because it exaggerates the continuity of past policy. All of the Cold War, for example, is often seen as guided by a single strategy. The same for the post-Cold War. And my proposition is that, actually, there are several periods of retrenchment in past American policy. This won’t be the first. And it’s helpful to see the discontinuity and diversity of past policy.

So I’m going to make five quick points, and then we can start a discussion.

The first is that retrenchment has generally followed periods of—a period of sustained effort, especially frustrating, stalemated wars. There have been pullbacks of different kinds after the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Cold War, and what the Obama administration saw as the winding down of the Iraq-Afghanistan wars, which was a period of maybe the first five-plus years of that administration. But in each case the reasons for retrenchment have gone beyond wrapping up military operations and involved a broader rethinking of the ingredients of sustainable, successful future policy. And the common elements in all periods are easy to enumerate: a concern that the U.S. economy alone is maybe too small to sustain a global management role, that domestic problems are going to take priority in the years ahead, that public opinion is turning against activist policy, that the national security establishment itself is too divided about how to balance ends and means, and maybe most important that new global problems are maybe not susceptible to U.S. solutions and leadership.

Second point: The policies that have accompanied this rethinking are also broadly similar in each retrenchment period. You have declining defense budgets, of course, and troop redeployments, but more than that. You’ve had, first of all, an effort to shift burdens to allies with this—that was a very strong theme, for example, in the early Eisenhower years. You have outreach to adversaries, often accompanied by less ideological definition of U.S. goals. You usually have policies to cover retreat with some measure of violence. Covert action is a feature of retrenchment. It is very common to have higher expectations in retrenchment for multilateral forums, international institutions, problem solving by negotiation. You have similar themes, as well, in the domestic policy process. Retrenchment presidents tend to be very skeptical, even suspicious of their bureaucracies, that they think have bought in too much to past policy. So retrenchment presidents tend to want to centralize policymaking in the White House. Those of you who heard Jim Lindsey talk about congressional—the role of Congress in American foreign policy know that or will remember that he said in retrenchment periods Congress tends to assert itself into policymaking more than at other times.

OK. Third point: Is there anything we can say about how long retrenchments tend to last? I’d say two presidential terms are kind of the norm, but it’s important to add some qualifications to that. First of all, there’s generally a big difference between the first and second terms of retrenchment. The second tends to go much less smoothly after broad acceptance in the first. You tend to have shorter retrenchment after successful policies; certainly, after the post-Cold War there was a shorter retrenchment than after the Vietnam War, for example. You could say that the retrenchment after World War II was the shortest that we’ve had. The very hard decade of the ’70s gave us a three-term pattern—Ford and Nixon and Carter. And I think it may turn out that the Obama-Trump years will be seen as another three-term retrenchment. And I’m aware that nobody is going to like those comparisons very much, least of all the comparison between Trump and Carter, but we can play with that one later if you want.

I would note as an aside that there almost never—we’ve never had four terms of retrenchment, not yet.

Fourth point: How do retrenchments unravel? Almost always in the same way. As these periods drag on, they tend to generate pretty much the same critique; that is, that the administration that has masterminded the retrenchment that everyone supported is going too far toward disengagement—it’s weakening the United States, marginalizing it, diminishing its influence. And you had that critique very prominent in foreign policy debate in the late 1950s, in the late 1970s, in the mid-1990s, and of course in the twenty-teens. All of them gave you basically the same pattern. You have these debates going on, I should note, between the Congress and the administration, between outside critics and the administration, but it’s also important to see that you have that debate going on within each branch—very sharp divisions often within the Congress and within the administration. Retrenchment administrations are often—certainly, second-term ones—divided administrations. And presidents tend to react to this debate, this criticism, with scorn, with contempt, with incomprehension, and they’re often unable to deal well with the criticisms, and they have their own theories about what’s behind it. So Eisenhower argued that it was the military-industrial complex that was ganging up on him and wanting bigger defense budgets than he wanted. We all remember Obama’s blob, the national security establishment that didn’t get what he was trying to do. And Nixon and Kissinger, of course, said that the criticism that was made of them was entirely partisan exploitation of Watergate. Most of these presidents tend not to want to face the fact that they—that a crucial constituency at the center of American politics is also unhappy—increasingly unhappy with American retrenchment.

Fifth point: What comes after retrenchment? To date, all the ones that I’ve talked about have been resolved in favor of greater activism. But I think it’s important not to misinterpret this regular pattern because it doesn’t mean that the policies that replace retrenchment are always the same as the previous form of activism. Instead, they’re always modified to reflect an assimilation, a learning from past mistakes. Jack Kennedy, for example, was emphatically not in favor of reclaiming Truman’s policies. The Truman administration was still basically seen as a failure in the early ’60s. It’s only afterwards that we’ve come to glorify it. Reagan was not saying that he wanted to go back to Lyndon Johnson. He did have—or to Kennedy, or to anyone else. He had an ambitious policy, but it was heavily influenced by the lessons of Vietnam. And among the—our most activist presidents, he’s probably been the one least inclined to use military force. Today in our retrenchment debate you don’t hear people saying, oh, we’ve just got to go back to old activism; you know, long live forever wars or bring back ’90s hubris or the unipolar moment. If we’re going to have a new phase of activism, the lesson of history is that it will be cast in different terms from the activism of the past. So although we have cycles of activism and retrenchment in American policy, it’s not alternation between the same pattern—although retrenchments tend to be more similar than the activism.

So my bottom line here, there’s a lot of variety in past policies. There’s lots to learn from if we pick apart different strategies, phases of policy, and see that for example the Cold War was not one sustained, successful effort going by the name of containment but in fact involved many different phases in which presidents approached or used the tools of American policy differently. We can also see that the post-Cold War period is not one sustained failure of triumphal overexertion, but instead can be broken down into different phases, as well.

With that, Shannon, why don’t I stop and we can open the conversation with members.

O’NEIL: That sounds great. I’m going to take the privilege of asking the first question, but I’m going to ask Laura just to repeat the directions to let members know how to—how to ask a question, how to get in the queue.

STAFF: (Gives queuing instructions.)

O’NEIL: OK, great.

So you know, one thing the way you described this history very convincingly, I have to say, is that we’re sort of in a pendulum. The pendulum may not swing back to the exact same place, but it goes back and forth. And I guess I would love for you to reflect a little bit on the center. Is there not a Goldilocks equilibrium that presidents try to stop at—you know, not too much, not too little? And is it that presidents don’t try to do this, or is it because when they do try to do this they fail? And if it’s the latter, why is that? Is it elites that are driving them one way or another? Is it voters that can’t make up their mind? Or why don’t we see sort of a center in this—in a—why do we see so much swinging back and forth?

SESTANOVICH: (Laughs.) It is a really important question. And I think, interestingly, you find retrenchment presidents particularly seized of this problem. They say to themselves, look, we had some big screw up, the activism got out of hand; we’ve got to find a sustainable policy, something that we can pursue over—and these are the two most common words in the foreign policy self-explanations and justifications of retrenchment presidents and their advisers—good for the long haul. And the idea is that we can find some golden mean of exactly the sort that you’re talking about without overdoing it the way our stupid predecessors did.

And you know, Kissinger talked this way. A lot of those messages from Nixon to Congress in the first years of the administration were all about that, having to—finding a sustainable policy. But it was exactly the same theme under Eisenhower. Very similar ideas were expressed in the Bush forty-one administration. The second half of Bush forty-one was a kind of attempt after the Cold War to find a sustainable policy for the long term.

Why do they fail? Well, it turns out that it’s sort of harder to avoid underdoing it—it’s hard to avoid underdoing it—or overdoing the underdoing as it is overdoing the overdoing. And that’s partly because presidents become very convinced of their own concept of what’s the appropriate policy and they don’t want to wreck—you know, the critics will say, well, you just don’t even recognize the new threats that have arisen. There are—that’s when—I mentioned divided administrations. That’s when you tend to get administrations coming apart at the seams and some people saying, no, no, no, no, that retrenchment was good for a while but now we’ve got to—we’ve got to take more activist stands.

O’NEIL: Interesting. Great.

Let’s take our first question.

STAFF: We’ll take the first question from Eugene Gholz.

Q: Hi. I’m Eugene Gholz. I’m a professor at the University of Notre Dame.

So it seems to me, Dr. Sestanovich, if we haven’t—I don’t think—haven’t met in person, so—that both in your talk and in your book, right—this is clearly closely related to Maximalist, a book you published a few years ago—that you’re describing not—to me—not a strategic debate, but the budget cycle within a strategy, right? So things ebbed and flowed within containment. There were times that it was more intense, there were more active wars and less active wars. Retrenchment presidents are not—as you’ve described them, have not changed the strategy, the connection between ends and means that the United States is trying to achieve in the world, but have said, you know, this is a time when we might want to commit less resources or get out of that previous blunder.

And the one exception to this, I think, this logic—what you’ve described as the budget cycle—is President Trump, who you—was not mentioned in your book and who you sort of tossed in very briefly in your—in your talk, in the sense that you call him a retrenchment president but, of course, the budget is going way up, and in fact deployments overseas are going up under this so-called retrenchment president. And it seems like what’s—this for the first time is actually not a conversation about retrenchment the way you’ve described it, within the strategic framework let’s ebb and flow our cycle, but instead is a conversation about what should we be trying to achieve and in what way—should we be trying to do something else, right? It’s not about international institutions, as you describe most retrenchment presidencies, all these things. Right now we actually are potentially having a strategy conversation, not a cycle conversation.

And I guess I’d like you to—you know, I wish we could have a bigger strategy conversation, right? You know, that’s my—well, you might not know, but that is my—what I write about. But in any event, I guess I would—I would like you to think about whether this is really the same as the cycles you’ve previously described within a given framework.

SESTANOVICH: Yeah, fitting Trump into the history of American foreign policy is no easy proposition. And I have written about the sort of incoherence of the Trump approach, which is, you know, to offer to do more and less at the same time.

I agree with you that there are elements of a strong departure from past thinking and assumptions in some of Trump. I wouldn’t glorify it with the—with the term “strategy,” but that’s partly a matter of taste.

Let me give you two quick answers so I don’t—you know, we don’t eat up the entire—the entire session. I think if you look at the incoherence—and I mentioned this earlier when I mentioned Trump and Carter—you see something of the same effort to do more and less under Jimmy Carter, who introduced new elements in American policy, introduced a more ideological policy when he said that human rights would have—you know, would be absolute—have an absolute priority at the same time that he, you know, was reconsidering what the United States had to do in order to protect—defend some of its traditional goals. You know, I don’t think there’s any way to understand the withdrawal—even a partial withdrawal from Korea, except in those terms.

But I would go further than that and say that, actually, other retrenchment presidents have done more rethinking than you suggest. I think the effort in the Eisenhower administration to basically shift the burden of European defense to allies involved a kind of assumption that the United States would not have to take principal responsibility indefinitely for the defense of Europe. I mean, as we know, Eisenhower did not think NATO was a long-term membership. I would say that in a—in a similar way Kissinger’s appeals to the Chinese to say we can be your friends while downsizing our commitment or even pulling—you know, ending our military commitments to South Korea and Taiwan, I would say those are far-reaching enough to be considered a different approach that is a little bit under—not fully captured by saying it’s the budget cycle.

When Nixon wrote to Congress that the United States cannot take responsibility for everything—cannot design every policy, pay for every policy—he was not simply referring to resources. He was talking about a different conception of how central the role of the United States would be in the world.

O’NEIL: Let’s take another question.

STAFF: We’ll take the next question from Joan Spero.

Q: Thank you. Very interesting analysis, Steve.

To what extent does the United States have activist options now? In the periods that you’re describing, it was largely a bilateral balance of power—the Cold War: the U.S., the Soviet Union. Now power seems to be more multilaterally distributed. So if we were to return to an activist policy, what would be the limitations?

SESTANOVICH: Well, one of the limitations would, of course, be the power of China. In the—in our debate about what policy toward China should be, there is certainly a desire expressed for a lot of activism in East Asia: building new partnerships, strengthening our commitment to old alliances, showing the flag, more exercises, a greater ideological challenge to the Chinese. I think those are all the elements of activism, but they bump up against a more robust adversary than even the Obama administration in its early years envisioned when they talked about the pivot, and certainly much more robust than in the late Clinton administration when we were discussing the terms of WTO accession for China.

Are there activist options elsewhere in the world? Well, certainly there are ways of reinforcing American presence—military presence in Eastern Europe. There’s the whole question of how you combine those two forms of competition with, you know, genuine great powers—the Russians and the Chinese—with involvement in the Middle East.

I think one of the interesting questions for imagining a future kind of activism that’s already been part of our debate is, does it change the priorities among regions while—pushing a kind of activism in some regions while downsizing in others? There is this often-expressed desire to limit American exposure in the Middle East. It’s been one of the guiding themes of the Trump administration. But it always bumps up against previous commitments, a desire to check Iran while maintaining relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and so forth.

So the—you know, I think the challenge of coming up with a new policy that looks and sounds and is credibly activist without too quickly running into the limits of—the problem of overextension, that will be a real challenge. And the first months of a—of an Obama administration, I think, will likely be ones in which the memo writers and the concept-paper writers will be at each other’s throats because you’ve got to figure out what—how to balance these priorities while still looking as though you’re doing something new and different from the Trump administration.

O’NEIL: Let’s take another question.

STAFF: We’ll take the next question from Jim Baker.

Q: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, Mr. Ambassador.


Q: My question is similar to Undersecretary Spero’s, which is to say, to what extent is the future likely to be different? You made a very compelling case across forty-plus years of American foreign policy, but at least three things, to me, seem very different for the next administration. Domestically, not internationally—domestically, what’s different, I think, is the loss of institutional faith by large portions of our polity; the amount of fiscal overhang that a new administration will inherit; and polarization more broadly and the resulting interest in using the courts to reach preferential domestic outcomes rather than executive-legislative dealmaking. It seems to me these are matters of change not in degree, but actually in kind, and I’m curious how you think that will affect the sort of common elements of retrenchment policymaking you’ve outlined. Thank you.

SESTANOVICH: (Laughs.) Well, I probably should start where I ended the answer to Joan’s question, which is to say a new administration will find this extremely challenging. And if you want to say those are differences of kind and not just degree, I’m OK with that, although I would say that we’ve seen those differences of kind before.

Fiscal constraints, I would remind you that Eisenhower’s secretary of the treasury said two more years of Truman and we would have had communism because of the fiscal imbalances. You have a—you know, in the wake of the Vietnam War you had all of the problems that you’ve just described—domestic disaffection, political polarization, the kind of building set of economic difficulties, and did I mention the energy crisis?—and the result was there were lots of opportunities for political entrepreneurship. It was very hard to—by political entrepreneurship, I mean Jimmy Carter emerged and took the Democratic Party by surprise because he seemed to offer a new formula. I don’t know exactly what the new formula for a new administration would be or even if the Trump—if Trump were reelected what kind of second-term policy could be—could be devised.

I totally agree with you that the constraints that you describe are very big constraints. But I’d point out one other thing, which is that a new administration will certainly have the advantage for a time of a kind of honeymoon—we use that term for all new administrations, but I think it will be unusually—it will have unusual emotional strength in this case, and that may give a new administration some flexibility to kind of test the boundaries of new policy. But I think it will—it won’t make it unnecessary to come up with formulas of activism that seem to learn the lessons of the forever wars, of the dismantlement of many of the institutions that we’ve seen weakened over the past four years and more.

So I think it will be—it will be really tough. And the only thing—one of the purposes of my little talk is to say, though, that we’ve seen retrenchments come and go, and the formula that has been developed in every case I would say had broad similarities but also innovative features. I would say both Kennedy and Reagan were innovators in the—in the kinds of formulas that they put together, and I would make the case for Clinton too. So I don’t think we should despair of the ability to undertake genuine policy innovation. We’ve seen it happen before.

O’NEIL: Great. Let’s take another question.

STAFF: We’ll take the next question from Mirna Galic.

Q: Hi. Mirna Galic, Japan Institute of International Affairs. Thanks so much, Steve.

I was struck in particular by what you said about how when countries are coming out of a period of retrenchment it doesn’t necessarily mean a return to previous policies, and I’m wondering what your sense is of how well our European allies understand this. I know a lot of them are hoping that, you know, if there’s a Biden administration we’ll go back to the way things were in the transatlantic relationship. But I’m wondering whether you think that’s true and/or how different a Biden administration’s policies in that regard might be from an Obama administration, and especially given changes that have happened in the past four years to, for example, embolden some of the more perhaps Eurocentric allies like France to be more Eurocentric rather than more Atlanticist and these kinds of things. Thanks so much.

SESTANOVICH: You know, my sense is that among all the places in the world where there will be a gigantic sigh of relief if Trump is voted out, Europe is a real epicenter—(laughs)—of that. And there will be a real desire to see a Biden administration succeed, and for, you know, obvious reasons, because the United States is a crucial economic partner, a, you know, source of security, an ideological, you know, partner as well. So I think the desire in Europe for an Obama administration to succeed will be enormous.

How much will they help a Biden administration to succeed by showing, for example, that a new president can actually get more progress in dealing with, you know, getting Europeans to help defend themselves? You know, it’ll be—that will be a challenge. Will they want to show a new Biden administration that they are more prepared to cooperate in some kind of unspoken common front or maybe explicit common front against China? What are going to be the other elements of trade policy that help a Biden administration show that, you know, it isn’t just that the Europeans are going to be back to succoring us again, as the Trump critique has it, but that there’s actually more opportunity for genuine win-win outcomes that make the United States look as though it’s getting a better—a better deal than Trump was able to achieve and than the—you know, the Obama administration achieved, because it didn’t finalize its trade agreement with Europe? So I think these are all—and then there—then there’s the question of, you know, ideology and sort of democratic backsliding and creating a common front among—you know, with respect to Western democratic values. So all of these will be on the agenda.

I think for a time happy talk will sustain it because the happiness will be so boundless. On the other hand, just to tick off that list shows you that you’ve got some real need for deliverables the second time these governments convene for a G-7 or a NATO summit or whenever that is.

O’NEIL: Take another question.

STAFF: We’ll take the next question from Peter Gourevitch. Professor Gourevitch, please accept the unmute now button.

Q: There we go. Hi, Steve. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you many years ago.

SESTANOVICH: Peter, how are you?

Q: Pretty good.

Great material. Some of your questions—the question’s been answered, but I heard you say it was really within each of the camps there are a lot of divisions and a lot of disagreements. And so my question, and maybe the (vital ?) one: What are the areas, if you were asked, that you think the United States are too important for us to be disengaging from? Where are the areas of recommitment and engagement in the future that you think are very important? What can we—what can we not let slide? What do we have to get committed to? You started to make some of them, but I wonder what your thoughts are on that. What would you advise either party to do, to reengage in?

SESTANOVICH: Well, look, this grows out of some of the discussion that we’ve already had. I would think that in—a post-Trump administration is going to think that rebuilding American alliances will be the first order of business. There will be, you know, the obvious military, strategic, economic, ideological, technological components to that. But whether you’re talking about focusing on checking the Russians, checking the Chinese, you know, whether it’s—and whether it’s military or economic competition that you’re thinking about, the sort of crucial ingredient there is going to be the ability of the United States to cooperate with other countries. And so I would think that that is the—you know, almost surely the top of the list.

You know, what I always tell my students—maybe you tell them something similar—is I say if you tell me what the state of the American bloc is ten years out and twenty years out, I can tell you a lot about how stable the world is going to be and whether—and even the—you know, the extent of success of American policy. We don’t often call it the American bloc and it doesn’t mean just American alliances, but I would say that’s sort of the first—the first element.

You know, I am inclined to think that a new administration is also going to want to find a way to scale down the American problem in the Middle East and to try to make that more manageable. You know, there are sources of dissatisfaction in our—on both sides in our relations with all of our traditional partners in the region. And I—but I think that one of the ways to get at the question of how to scale back is to find a more steady, solid foundation in all of those relations, so some revitalization even while—and I know this’ll sound like I’m playing with words—while downsizing will be important there.

I think a new administration is going to have to treat a whole set of kind of common goods problems as right at the top of its agenda, whether it’s, you know, climate or global health, technological cooperation. And I—the thing about those is that we don’t—it’s not just a matter of revitalizing institutions that have worked for us in the past. We really are talking about trying to reinvent, or invent in some cases almost from scratch, forms of cooperation that have been only poorly developed in the past. You know, I think a Biden administration is bound to say, well, let’s go back to—let’s go back to Paris. But you know, the intervening years have shown really how much Paris was just a starting point. So there’s going to—there’s that set of issues, too.

You know, that would be a good start. (Laughs.) You deal with those three and I’m—and I’m a happy—I’m a happy critic of the—of the next administration’s approach.

O’NEIL: Great. Think we have time for one more question, so go ahead, Laura.

STAFF: We’ll take the last question from Kenneth Yalowitz.

Q: Hi, Steve. OK. Thanks very, very much.

Your last—the last part of your last answer was what I was originally going to ask you about, and that is whether or not the threat of future epidemics and climate change, you know, will in some way attenuate, you know, this retrenchment/activism, you know, dynamic that you’ve mentioned.

But let me go to something else. And that is, we’ve seen a trend recently of slippage in democracy and the resurgence of authoritarianism, you know, worldwide. And I wanted to ask you how you think future administrations—you know, this administration has been terribly negligent, you know, in terms of being concerned about democratic slippage and trying to do something about it. And I’m wondering whether you think that this is going to be something that’s going to be a constant in years ahead because, as I said, we’ve seen slippage and I don’t think we want to see any more.

SESTANOVICH: Ken, I will come back to your democratic slippage question. But let me just say in one sentence something about your—the first part of your question that you said you weren’t going to ask, which is about how the pandemic fits into this cycle of retrenchment and activism.

I would predict that a new administration will fold that into a recommitment to sort of working with others to institutional cooperation and reinvigoration of institutions that have been neglected or even treated with hostility by the—by the Trump administration. And I would be very surprised if a new administration didn’t think that there was a lot of sort of unifying juice in that approach, whether you’re talking about health or climate or all sorts of other issues.

About democratic slippage, you know, here’s what I would say just to kind of tie this back to history. I would say that all of the activist cycles that we’ve seen have involved a kind of addition in different ways of an ideological element, whether it’s Kennedy or Reagan or, you know, Bush building on, you know, things that Clinton did. Remember, at first the Bush administration didn’t like to talk about democracy because they thought that was the Clinton—a Clinton term. So if you’re going to judge from history, I think you’re going to—you would—you would predict that there would be some reembrace of democratic ideology as an element of American foreign policy.

But here, too, I would add a note of caution and say that, just a reminder—as I did in making some other points—that, you know, in this—whatever new phase of activism there is can’t just reassert old approaches and old principles. I would say one of the challenges for a Biden administration will be to make that democratic ideology theme seem different—seem less hectoring, less obnoxious, less self-regarding, more tied in with an acknowledgement of American problems, more humble as George Bush used to say. And I think that to my mind it isn’t just a question of recognizing democratic slippage or of deciding that that’s a problem, but of finding a way of using ideological tools in a new way to make them sound different. And I think that will be important not just in reviving support among, you know, likeminded countries for the idea of working together toward goals of this sort, but it could easily, I think, also be part of trying to find a way to present our differences with, you know, what the Trump administration calls our great-power competitors—with the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians—so that commitment to democratic principles doesn’t preclude other kinds of cooperative approaches, doesn’t make it impossible to, you know, work together on issues where there is some common interest.

And I think that won’t be so easy. The early—the early months of the Carter administration are a kind of caution there. And finally, you know, I think Reagan found a balance between democratic ideology and practical cooperation, say on arms control, but it won’t be easy for a new administration to do that.

Shannon, are we all done?

O’NEIL: We are all done. Steve, let me thank you, and know that there’s many people virtually thanking you for walking us through that class. So thank you so much.

And those of you who are still with us, join us next week Tuesday with Rachel Vogelstein. She’s going to talk about women in foreign policy. And so until then, everyone, please stay well. Bye.

SESTANOVICH: Thanks, Shannon.

O’NEIL: Thanks to you.


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