Out of Chaos.

December 21, 2008

Out of Chaos.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Every weekend CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, December 21, 2008 after watching selections from “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” several Charlie Rose interviews and “The Chris Matthews Show.”

Salit: Charlie Rose interviewed Henry Kissinger. Kissinger says that he sees opportunity in the current world crisis and made two basic points. One, he talked about the period right after the Second World War – 1945 to 1950 – as the most creative period in American foreign policy and in the construction of a new world system. He referenced the founding of NATO, the United Nations and the Marshall Plan. And Kissinger underscored that going into that period, the world was in chaos and there was a tremendous fear of destabilization following the war. Consequently, his point was that we should not make the mistake of thinking that being in a chaotic situation internationally means that new things can’t get created in that context. The other point he makes is about “parallel interests” that now exist, particularly for Russia, China, India, Europe and the United States, all of whom have reasons to want a quiet international environment, because each country or region has so many domestic challenges that they want to be free to address those challenges without getting caught up in an overheated international conflict. Kissinger is not hugely optimistic, but is “moderately optimistic.” So, let me start by asking you how you think about the broad issue of there being opportunity in crisis and chaos?

Newman: I’m the world’s most outspoken advocate for that position. That’s been true for nearly the entirety of my life. But it doesn’t follow that opportunity will win out. You have to appreciate that chaos might win in different cases.

Salit: That chaos might win out over the creation of a new system which is stable and progressive?

Newman: Yes. It might prove that no such system is creatable. History might tell us that.

Salit: But, we don’t know.

Newman: Right. Is this a situation that is ultimately unmanageable or is it one of those manageable dialectical situations Kissinger is so fond of? I don’t know. I don’t think he knows. I don’t think anybody knows.

Salit: So, progress and development can emerge out of chaos but are not a necessary outcome of chaos.

Newman: Yes. But, I would go so far as to say that it’s only possible out of chaos.

Salit: What are the things that one needs or that the world needs in order to be able to make positive things out of chaos?

Newman: Maybe cultural transformations, in the deepest and broadest sense of cultural. People have got to learn how to talk to each other, to listen to each other. Those kinds of things are fundamental. And at this point, things are much too homogenous for serious dialogue.

Salit: What things are too homogenous?

Newman: Those cultural positions. The countries on Kissinger’s list, and those not on the list, diverse as they are, are too much alike in this regard. So, they inhibit both the chaos and the potential for progress.

Salit: So, cultural changes are necessary and, if I understand what you’re saying, the capacity to create cultural change.

Newman: Well, induce the cultural change and you won’t have to worry about the capacity.

Salit: Alright, so we have to learn to communicate and to talk to each other in new and different ways.

Newman: As well as other things.

Salit: What are some of the other things?

Newman: Our world view has to change altogether, not just our language, but our world view.

Salit: For example?

Newman: We have to find a new way of rejecting war as an extension of politics. Otherwise, you have a sword hanging over your head. And I don’t think that contributes to creating positive worldwide solutions.

Salit: OK. So, Kissinger talked about, as many people do, that period of 1945 to 1950…

Newman: I remember it well.

Salit: Yes…as a period where a new world order was introduced and a new set of institutions were created, the function of which was to foster a kind of cooperation and stability, to rebuild Western Europe after the war, and to create a kind of international equilibrium between Capitalism and Communism, between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Newman: Or, at least, to create some of the conditions for “peaceful coexistence.”

Salit: So, how would you characterize the objectives of a new international system to be created out of this chaos? What does it need to set up? What does it need to establish? You mentioned one, which is an end to war. What else?

Newman: Well, it’s got to create a climate in which there can be dialogue on how to advance the interests of multiple powers, and multiple areas of the world. We’re not looking at a two-world, two power situation as they were in ’45.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: The Anglo-American/European alliance vs. the Soviet Union.

Salit: Right.

Newman: I think we’re looking at a situation where many countries are growing into, if not super-power status, at least serious-power status, while there’s a recognition of pronounced global problems. Like dire threats to the environment and so forth. So, it would seem to be of paramount importance to create a political and cultural environment where those things can be peaceably spoken about and dealt with. That doesn’t seem beyond the pale.

Salit: And how do you react to Kissinger’s foundation for a new world order? Kissinger lists these diverse world powers and says everybody has a motivation to want to have a peaceful international environment because they have to be able to tackle the problems they face domestically.

Newman: It’s narrow-minded of Kissinger to think it’s going to be one foundation.

Salit: OK.

Newman: Why wouldn’t it be a multiplicity of foundations? Why would it be so neat and rational? In some ways, Kissinger is representing the old order of things. I think his motives are good. I’ve always had a soft spot for Kissinger. But it still has a 19th century rationalistic ring to it. So, I think what’s evolving is a multi-centered world, in every sense of the word, but I think it’s possible to create an overall environment which is conducive to progress in a multi-centered world, depending on what those centers do. That could be quite positive.

Salit: We also watched Charlie Rose interview Robert Gates, who is staying on as Defense Secretary. I thought Gates seemed to be going up against the World-Without-the-West thesis when he said ‘You know, I’ve traveled to 50 countries since I’ve been back in government. I’ve been in all these different situations and everybody wants stronger and better relationships with the United States.’

Newman: Every government.

Salit: Yes, every government.

Newman: Not the people of every country.

Salit: He did make that distinction, yes.

Newman: Well, it’s a strange distinction.

Salit: Because?

Newman: If you carry the distinction to the next logical step, it indicates that there are lots of places in the world where governments don’t represent the attitudes of their people.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: That’s the corollary to that overall statement.

Salit: Which is probably true.

Newman: And problematic.

Salit: Right.

Newman: That’s the real problem. That little tap dance that Gates does is a way of avoiding that problem.

Salit: OK. Avoiding the problem of the differential between how a variety of foreign governments feel about their relationship to the U.S. and how a variety of populations feel about that.

Newman: Yes. Once upon a time, we used to say things like The people everywhere love the United States even if some governments don’t.

Salit: Right.

Newman: Now, that’s been turned on its head.

Salit: True enough.

Newman: But I think what Gates was saying was generally correct, and moreover, I thought it was sensible. So, I can see why Obama would appoint him Secretary of Defense.

Salit: I wanted to turn for a second to the discussion about education and education policy.

Newman: Yes.

Salit: This week Obama appointed Arne Duncan to be his Secretary of Education and there’s been a lot of talk about what this represents and about how much the president and the federal government can do to impact because education is funded and run at the state and local level.

Newman: Arne Duncan looks like a principal that you might not mind being sent to see.

Salit: He does, yes. The issue with respect to education is the resistance to innovation.

Newman: Yes.

Salit: So, leaving aside, for the moment, whether you take the American educational system to be in its own state of chaos…

Newman: I would say it’s in a state of paralysis.

Salit: That’s a good way of putting it. It’s in a state of paralysis and there is tremendous resistance to innovation.

Newman: The resistance to innovation is institutional.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: It’s bureaucratic. It’s the bureaucracy contributing to our resisting it. It’s that kind of resistance.

Salit: Is there anything in the picture that would cause one to feel hopeful, specifically relative to impacting on that resistance?

Newman: Yes. I find it vaguely hopeful that Obama’s background is that of a progressive community organizer. And I stress community organizer, as opposed to progressive, because there have been others who were vaguely progressive but ineffective. As a community organizer, I think he has an appreciation of how much you have to change things in order to change anything.

Salit: In other words, how much you have to change everything to change anything.

Newman: Yes. And if he is willing to really tamper with the system, if he’s ready to transform rather than reform, if at some level he is a “socialist,” I think that might change the framing of the discussion and that could be useful. That’s what I see is potentially of value. If you don’t change the whole way of thinking about education, the bureaucratic views are so strong that you’ll never come close to touching them. As I’ve said for a long time when I talk about education, as long as the seats are still screwed into the floor in the classrooms, what does it mean to be talking about changing education?

Salit: In the discussion about the bailout of the auto industry and how to make the necessary changes there, David Brooks said, in a kind of Brooksian style – because he’s Brooks – ‘Well, studies show, when you’re trying to reform or innovate within some kinds of institutions, if you have just a handful of people who come from the old culture, they will find a way to retain the status quo even in some kind of new arrangement.’

Newman: Particularly if they’re in charge.

Salit: Particularly if they’re in charge, yes. So, these are broad challenges for the society and the world as a whole: How do we create change? How do we create reform? How do we create new systems?

Newman: How do we create development?

Salit: Yes. How do we create development? Exactly. Before we stop, I have to ask you your reactions to watching Governor Blagojevich at his first press conference since the scandal broke.

Newman: I thought he made a good case for stopping the rush to judgment. It’s funny to hear David Brooks critique Blagojevich for being “grandiloquent.”

Salit: Because?

Newman: Well, what did he want him to be? Humble? Brooks makes it sound like it’s surprising that Blagojevich would think that the whole world is against him. But what he leaves out is that the whole world is against him.

Salit: Yes. And it took about 3½ seconds for the whole world to line up there.

Newman: I thought what Mark Shields had to say was more balanced and more intelligent. It was not as pompous as Brooks. But I thought what Shields was saying was also surprising, because Shields observed this makes it hard for the Democratic Party. Yes. When the defendant gets to speak, they make it harder for the prosecutor. That’s true.

Salit: And the Democratic Party, more than any other player, wanted to make an example of him. Now, perhaps, it’s not going to be as easy as everybody thought.

Newman: Yes. Blagojevich has not behaved himself. They wanted him to behave himself. But what were they going to give him if he behaved himself? He’s obviously dead in the water politically.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: So, as someone correctly pointed out, his greatest leverage is that he still holds the governor’s seat.

Salit: That’s right.

Newman: If he gives that up, he has absolutely nothing. So, I thought he was good.

Salit: I liked his line: ‘I know there are powerful forces against me. But I have one powerful ally. The truth.’

Newman: One of the pundits, I think it was Shields, said, ‘You look at that clip and you see how he could get elected.’ What a strange thing to say given that he has gotten elected. What better evidence could you have that he could get elected? He was elected.

Salit: That’s right. He wasn’t appointed. He was elected. Thanks Fred.