Strobe Lite

Resident Scholar Emeritus Mark Falcoff
Resident Scholar Emeritus
Mark Falcoff

Mark Falcoff reviews The Great Experiment by Strobe Talbott.

Now that so many people within the media and outside of it assume that the next president of the United States will be a Democrat, the race is on to become his or her next secretary of state.

One candidate (at least in his own mind) is Strobe Talbott, a former Rhodes scholar who went to England with the young Bill Clinton and who served as Deputy Secretary during the latter's first term and well might have succeeded retiring Warren Christopher as secretary in 1995 were it not for a particularly revealing article by Charles Lane which appeared in the New Republic. Lane had gone back through Talbott's paper trail as a columnist/commentator for Time magazine and discovered just how much animus he harbored towards the state of Israel.

The Clintons got the message; Talbott was quietly moved off to academia. He has since assumed the presidency of the Brookings Institution, where he wrote this book, his opening salvo in the campaign to recover his place in line.

The Great Experiment is really three books in one. A good half of it is a potted history of international relations, bringing the story down to the end of the Cold War. It is full of debatable propositions, but every man has the right to his own version of the past. Another tranche is a memoir of the author's participation in Clinton administration foreign policy, drawing up a wildly favorable balance sheet, and superficially strengthening his argument by casting a few approving glances at previous presidents, even Republican ones.

The final section deals with the Bush administration and its apparent failure to live up to Talbott's views of how American foreign policy should be conducted. Particular emphasis is placed on the need to pursue U.S. national interests through multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations, in which Talbott has reposed a kind of religious faith. Obligatory stops are made at various Stations of the Cross--preventing nuclear proliferation, Kyoto, AIDS and malaria, the International Criminal Court. Talbott often talks about the so-called "international community" as if it were largely made up of countries like Belgium, Sweden and Canada instead of Syria, North Korea, Algeria, Iran, Egypt and Zimbabwe.

This is obviously a very personal book. Talbott reveals that he is a distant cousin of President George W. Bush and attended Yale at the same time. His distaste for the president is understandable; from the point of view of people like him, George W. Bush is a traitor to his class. He is not enlightened; he does not love the United Nations; he does not understand.

Worse still, Bush has surrendered control of American foreign policy to a combination of populist yahoos (who did not go to Yale) and the evil neo-conservatives (we know from where).

To be sure, all of this is said with slightly more discretion and even elegance than I have sketched out here, but also with considerable pomposity, condescension and tedium. As Buffon once said, "Le style, c'est l'homme."

Mark Falcoff is a resident scholar emeritus at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Mark
Falcoff

What's new on AEI

Making Ryan's tax plan smarter
image The teacher evaluation confronts the future
image How to reform the US immigration system
image Inversion hysteria
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 01
    MON
  • 02
    TUE
  • 03
    WED
  • 04
    THU
  • 05
    FRI
Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
From anarchy to Augustus: Lessons on dealing with disorder, from Rome’s first emperor

We invite you to join us for two panel discussions on how Augustus created order from chaos 2,000 years ago, and what makes for durable domestic and international political systems in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Multiple choice: Expanding opportunity through innovation in K–12 education

Please join us for a book launch event and panel discussion about how a marketplace of education options can help today's students succeed in tomorrow's economy. Attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the featured book.

Thursday, September 04, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
How conservatives can save the safety net

Please join us for a luncheon event in which our panel will discuss what conservatives can learn from how liberals talk and think about the safety net and where free-market economics, federalism, and social responsibility intersect to lift people out of poverty.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.