Hosts Melanie Marlowe and Christopher Preble debate their way through some of the toughest and most contentious topics related to war, international relations, and strategy. This podcast is brought to you by War on the Rocks.
How Do Americans Want to Engage the World?
The crew convenes for the first show after Joe Biden’s election victory to consider how Americans want to engage with the rest of the world, and whether the incoming Biden administration will be able to heal the nation’s wounds while also restoring U.S. global leadership. Does an inward focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, a sluggish economy, and racial tensions necessarily mean that the United States will neglect the wider world? Or can it lead by example, proving that by solving its own problems it can help solve global problems as well? And in our polarized political environment, does it even make sense to talk about “Americans” as a unified whole? Or do differences between Republicans and Democrats, young and old, or rich and poor, prevent U.S. policymakers from crafting and executing a consistent and coherent approach to the world? Grievances abound for Republican elected officials’ collective unwillingness to acknowledge Biden’s victory, and attaboys to the American people for turning out to vote in historic numbers, and to the media for covering the vote-counting carefully and cautiously. And Melanie offers a heartfelt attagirl to her beloved niece Miri who is fighting a serious disease with grace and spirit. (Be warned: It’s a tear-jerker!)
Jonathan Monten, Joshua Busby, Joshua D. Kertzer, Dina Smeltz, and Jordan Tama, "Americans Want to Engage the World," Foreign Affairs, November 3, 2020 Dina Smeltz, Ivo H. Daalder, Karl Friedhoff, Craig Kafura, and Brendan Helm, “Divided We Stand: Democrats and Republicans Diverge on US Foreign Policy,” Chicago Council on Global Affairs, September 17, 2020 Mark Hannah and Caroline Gray, "Diplomacy & Restraint the Worldview of American Voters," Eurasia Group Foundation, September 2020 “About Those Polls…,” The Daily, November 12, 2020 Maggie Haberman, Michael D. Shear, Maggie Astor and Peter Baker, “Republicans Are Split over Whether to Call the Election Over,” New York Times, November 8, 2020 Kaelen Deese, “Hogan Congratulates Biden, Harris on Election Victory: 'Everyone Should Want Our President to Succeed,'” The Hill, November 7, 2020 Christopher Preble, “The Biden Administration Can Both Look Inward and Provide Leadership on the Global Stage,” Atlantic Council, November 9, 2020 Aaron Mehta, "Where President-Elect Joe Biden Stands on National Security Issues," Defense News, November 8, 2020 Elisabeth Braw, "Defense Spending and What We Can Learn from Sweden," On the Cusp Podcast, November 2, 2020 Myhre Syndrome
To Infinity and Beyond: Battle Force 2045
Bryan McGrath rejoins the Net Assessment team to discuss the U.S. Navy's Battle Force 2045 proposal. Bryan, Melanie, Chris, and Zack agree that the proposed 500 ship force is a fantasy that will not be fully funded. But they express optimism that these plans will provide useful starting points for deeper thinking about the Navy's future force. Chris launches an email etiquette crusade, Zack complains about sexism in defense reporting, Bryan commends the name of the Navy's first guided missile frigate, and Melanie urges everyone to vote.
"Secretary of Defense Remarks at CSBA on the NDS and Future Defense Modernization Priorities," Department of Defense, October 6, 2020 Megan Eckstein, "SECDEF Esper Calls for 500-Ship Fleet by 2045, With 3 SSNs a Year and Light Carriers Supplementing CVNS," USNI News, October 6, 2020 Bryan McGrath, "Deterring War, Conducting War, Ending War: What Seapower Does," CDR Salamander Blog, August 26, 2020 Bryan McGrath, Twitter, October 16, 20 Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, "A Trump Victory May Push His Defense Secretary Out an Open Door," New York Times, October 23, 2020 David B. Larter, "S. State Department to Allow Sale of Hundreds of Anti-Ship Missiles to Taiwan Amid Diplomatic Row," Defense News, October 26, 2020 Brandon Valeriano, Twitter, October 18, 2020 Harlan Ullman, “Battle Force 2045 Raises Important Questions,” US Naval Institute Proceedings, October 2020 Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, October 7, 2020 Ronald O’Rourke and Michael Moodie, “S. Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, Updated August 26, 2020 Mark Montgomery, "Is Esper's New Plan for the Navy Enough for the Indo-Pacific?", War on the Rocks, October 21, 2020 Emily Oster, "Schools Aren't Super-Spreaders," Atlantic, October 9, 2020 Jay Nordlinger, "Trump and Dictators," National Review, October 20, 2020
We Need to Talk About Nukes
Chris, Zack, and Melanie get together to talk about U.S. nuclear policy. Should the United States have a "no first use" policy? If so, would that affect choices our allies and partners, as well as adversaries, might make? Has the volatile presidency of Donald Trump shown that more checks are needed in the nuclear weapons launch process?
Chris gives a shout out to those Americans already waiting in long lines to vote, Zack applauds Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley for clearly stating that the military has no place in resolving the outcome of an election, and Melanie is happy to see an increasing number of countries condemning the human rights atrocities in China.
William J. Perry and Tom Z. Collina, "Who Can We Trust with the Nuclear Button? No One," New York Times, June 22, 2020 Masakatsu Ota, "Japanese Nuclear Policy After Hiroshima, After Abe, and After Nov. 3," War on the Rocks, September 14, 2020 Christianna Silva, " Mark Milley Says The Military Has 'No Role' In Elections," NPR, October 11, 2020 “Emma Ashford and Erica Borghard Join the Atlantic Council,“ Atlantic Council, October 5, 2020 Julia Jones, “Inside the Plot to Kidnap Gov. Whitmer,” CNN, October 11, 2020 Jason Morris, Nick Valencia, Annie Grayer and Marshall Cohen, “Massive Lines Mar Start of In-Person Early Voting in Georgia,” CNN, October 13, 2020
Understanding America’s Declining Global Influence
Why is America’s global influence in decline? And what can be done to get it back? In a recent study, the RAND Corporation’s James Dobbins, Gabrielle Tarini, and Ali Wyne, trace the former unipolar power’s struggles to several factors, but point chiefly to "the classic cycle of hubris followed by nemesis." A sequence of "success, overconfidence, overstretch, failure, and retreat," they write, explains how "domestic politics, foreign policy, and external events interacted to diminish American influence." Chris, Melanie, and Zack appreciated the effort, but had some questions. The study’s attempt to score American successes and failures dating back to 1945 falls flat, but the global public’s reactions to these efforts isn’t in dispute: the United States isn’t trusted to solve the world’s problems, and many worry that it is making things worse. What can be done to reinvigorate Americans’ global engagement, and win back the trust of allies and partners? And who will take the lead in getting us back on track? Zack praises FBI director Chris Wray for doing his job, and Chris and Melanie give shout outs to acts of human decency.
James Dobbins, Gabrielle Tarini, Ali Wyne, “The Lost Generation in American Foreign Policy,” RAND, September 2020 Dina Smeltz, Ivo H. Daalder, Karl Friedhoff, Craig Kafura, and Brendan Helm, "Divided We Stand," Chicago Council on Global Affairs, September 17, 2020 "US election: Trump Won't Commit to Peaceful Transfer of Power," BBC News, September 24, 2020 Devlin Barrett, "FBI Director Affirms Russia’s Aim to ‘Denigrate’ Biden Ahead of Election," The Washington Post, September 17, 2020 Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Portland Protests Remain Largely Peaceful Until Night Falls and Police are Targeted, Authorities Say,” CNN, September 28, 2020 Ryan Bergeron, “A 72-Year-Old Woman was Quietly Living in a Dilapidated House. Then an Electrician Sparked a Community to Help Her Rebuild,” CNN, September 24, 2020 “Unsung Heroes 2020,” The Atlantic Council Scott Lincicome, "It's Time We Had a Talk about Tariffs," The Dispatch, September 29, 2020
The Revenge of Ideology
Melanie, Chris, and Zack debate the role of ideology in American foreign policy. Bridge Colby and Robert Kaplan have recently argued that the United States should avoid making the competition with China overly ideological, but Zack suggests that this will be easier said than done. Chris worries about the difficulty of emphasizing ideology when the United States isn't practicing what it preaches. Melanie notes the importance of alliance building for managing foreign threats, which has major implications for the role of ideology. She also talks about a quintessential Net Assessment topic: forestry practices.
Elbridge Colby and Robert D. Kaplan, “The Ideology Delusion,” Foreign Affairs, September 4, 2020 Kori Schake, Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017) Aaron Friedberg, “Competing with China,” Survival, June 01, 2018 Jessica Chen Weiss, “An Ideological Contest in U.S.-China Relations? Assessing China’s Defense of Autocracy,” SSRN, July 30, 2019 “A Special Conversation with Zack Cooper and Laura Rosenberger,” Biden Institute, September 21, 2020 Fareed Zakaria, “We Need to Prepare for This 'Deeply Worrying' Scenario on Election Day,” CNN, September 13, 2020 Christina Morales and Allyson Waller, “A Gender-Reveal Celebration Is Blamed for a Wildfire. It Isn’t the First Time” New York Times, September 7, 2020 Elizabeth Weil, "They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won't Anybody Listen?" ProPublica, August 28, 2020 Delilah Friedler, "California's Wildfire Policy Totally Backfired. Native Communities Know How to Fix It," Mother Jones, November 2019 Alessio Patalano, "What Is China's Strategy in the Senkaku Islands?", War on the Rocks, September 10, 2020 Aaron Friedberg, "Getting the China Challenge Right," American Interest, January 10, 2019 Stephen Walt, "Everyone Misunderstands the Reason for the US-China Cold War," Foreign Policy, June 30, 2020 Yashar Ali, Tweet, September 13, 2020
The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be
Zack, Chris, and Melanie get together to talk about what American foreign policy might look like after Jan. 20, 2021. Would President Joe Biden seek a restoration of Obama administration policies, or will he stake out his own doctrine? What will the economic side of America’s foreign policy look like in a second Trump or first Biden administration? Can America’s relationships with allies survive another Trump term? Would a Biden administration be able to repair partnerships that have suffered damage in the last four years? Where would human rights fit in a Biden agenda? Who might the important players be in each administration?
Chris issues a plea for calm and unity, Zack has some kind thoughts for outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Melanie gives an attaboy to Africa for eradicating wild polio.
David A. Wemer, “Adviser on Biden’s Foreign Policy: Start at Home and Repair Alliances,” Elections 2020, Atlantic Council, August 21, 2020 Emma Ashford, “Biden Wants to Return to a ‘Normal’ Foreign Policy. That’s the Problem,” New York Times, August 25, 2020 Mark Johnson, Annysa Johnson, Talis Shelbourne, “Juxtaposition of Two Videos from Kenosha: A Black Man Gets Shot Seven Times from Behind; A White Teen with a Gun Walks Past Police,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 29, 2020 Susan Eisenhower, “My Grandfather Led by Building Trust among Troops and, Later, the Public,” Dallas Morning News, August 30, 2020 “Should Europe Go its Own Way?” Atlantic Council, September 17, 2020 John Sipher, “Trump Creates His Own ‘Deep State’,” New York Times, September 1, 2020 “An Inside Look at the Department of Defense’s China Military Power Report,” American Enterprise Institute, September 1, 2020 Joe Biden, "Joe Biden Answers Our Foreign Policy Questions," Council on Foreign Relations, August 1, 2019 Akbar Shahid Ahmed, "Democrats are Walking a Fine Line on the Election's Main Foreign Policy Issue: China," Huffington Post, August 22, 2020 Alex Ward, "'America First, but on Steroids': What Trump's Second Term Foreign Policy Might Look Like," Vox, August 26, 2020 Emma Ashford, "Biden Wants to Return to a 'Normal' Foreign Policy. That's the Problem," New York Times, August 25, 2020 Van Jackson, "Biden's China Policy Can't Help but be Incoherent," Foreign Policy, August 13, 2020 Kori Schake, "Biden's Bad Foreign Policy Ideas," The Atlantic, June 7, 2020 “The Future of Grand Strategy in A Post-COVID World,” Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, September 9, 2020 Joe Biden, "Why America Must Lead Again," Foreign Affairs, January 23, 2020