What I'm reading (foreign politics and foreign policy)

Andrew Cockburn, Like A Ball of Fire (LRB)

But when you look more closely at the history of the Cold War and its post-Soviet resurgence, you see that a very different process is at work, in which the arms lobby on each side has self-interestedly sought capital and bureaucratic advantage while enlisting its counterpart on the other side as a justification for its own ambition. In other words, they enjoy a mutually profitable partnership...

Pam Campos-Palma, November Revolution, Fellow Travelers Blog

To that end, a few things I’ve observed this cycle keep me up at night. One is the continued lack of understanding by political operatives, think tankers, and wonks of the populist moment we’re in after decades of increasing wealth inequality, systemic corruption, and institutions failing everyday people. A prime fuel for the populist turn in politics are elite, insular institutions who refuse or are very slow to acknowledge their lack of race-class-gender analysis has been a liability. Foreign policy and national security institutions embody this problem, arguably to an unparalleled extent. One of the few political articles of faith left for the mainstream foreign policy community is the arrogant and ignorant belief that everyday Americans either do not care or aren’t educated enough to grasp matters of foreign policy.

Euan Graham, The Pitfalls of Pragmatism, The Strategist

Australia’s roustabout China policy debate is intense and polarising, but largely exogenously framed. Beyond former prime minister Tony Abbott’s celebrated ‘fear and greed’ aphorism, not a lot of thought seems to be directed at why some Australians—and here I’m excluding those solely in it for the money—appear willing to resign themselves to falling within China’s orbit.

Theirs may be the more durable wisdom for all I know. But it leads me to wonder whether a predisposition towards fatalism and pragmatism may be cultural in origin—a trait shaped by Australia’s geographic isolation and colonial past...

...I suspect that the drivers behind fatalism and pragmatism go beyond Abbott’s binary reduction, tapping into deeper, historical currents running through the national psyche that also inform Australia’s ‘strategic personality’. It may be a stretch to draw a colonial connection, and as a wandering Brit who has pitched his tent here, I probably shouldn’t go there.

But my gut feeling is that there are enduring habits of deference (less kindly, the ‘cultural cringe’), and an associated tendency to ‘go with the strength’, which hark back to the early period of European settlement, when the governor was the absolute authority of all that he surveyed, and paths to opportunity meant being on good terms with the power of the day.

This jars with that more easy-going depiction of national character: the anti-authoritarian, non-rule-abiding ‘larrikin’. Yet one of Australia’s best-kept secrets is how extraordinarily rule-bound and subtly hierarchical it is as a society.



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