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Against ‘Withdrawalism’

March 30, 2012 5 minute Read by James K. Glassman

At the launch of the Freedom Collection’s website in Dallas on Wednesday, President Bush expressed concern, as he has repeatedly in recent months, about growing isolationism in America. I’ve just read two superb pieces, written by former colleagues of mine at The New Republic, that elaborate on this theme. First, there’s Leon Wieseltier’s Washington Diarist from The New Republic’s April 5 edition. The piece begins: “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so the other day I read Rachel Maddow’s new book. It is called Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, and it is an anthropologically useful document of the new American disaffection with American force.” He has some wonderful lines about Ms. Maddow, whose show puts me in the mind of fingernails scraping a blackboard: “Written in the same perky, self-adoring voice that makes her show so excruciating,…its righteous aim is to make the use of force seem absurd.” It is not absurd, of course. It is, at some points in history, necessary. Ridicule may be fashionable, but, when it comes to making foreign policy, it is dangerous. We need a clear-eyed approach to diplomacy and the use of force. Wieseltier writes, “A military strike [against Iran] may be a bad idea – the results may be insufficient; the costs may be too high; but the contemplation of it is not war fever.” Maddow cites Jefferson selectively, making him seem the pacifist he was not. Wieseltier quotes him this way, from 1806: “Our duty is, therefore, to act upon things as they are, and to make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be.” Second, there’s Martin Peretz, who, as editor in chief of The New Republic from 1974 to 2011 and my own intellectual mentor, assembled a remarkable and eclectic group of writers and thinkers, including Wieseltier (still with The New Republic), Charles Krauthammer, Hendrik Hertzberg and Dorothy Wickenden (now both of the New Yorker), Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan, the late Michael Kelly, Mort Kondracke, Fred Barnes, and our own Amity Shlaes (to name just a few). His piece, on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, is headlined, “Where’s an Open Mic When We Really Need It?” His premise is President Obama’s confidence to Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, caught this week by an open microphone. The New York Times called it “a moment of candor.” Peretz writes, “It seems to me, actually, to be a moment of political contempt.” President Obama is saying “that the American people are not trusted by their own president. Otherwise, the president would tell us the truth about his intentions. And here he is, admitting his distrust of his own people to a leader of a nasty foreign government that seeks to thwart our purposes in the Middle East and elsewhere.” Dr. Peretz’s broader point is that “Mr. Obama is president over what might be called a withdrawalist moment in American foreign policy. Throughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has seemed strangely unmoved by the claims and values of American nationalism as they were expressed in most of the last century – for the rights of other peoples to establish nation-states after World War I, to free Europe and Asia from the bloody rule of monstrous fascist tyrannies in World War II, to defeat the egalitarian phantasm of communism as a civilized way of life.” For example, Peretz notes that from the “improving situation [in Iraq] President Obama hastily fled.” The writer then ends with questions about where the administration wants to take us. In Iran, for instance, “Will he support Israel’s use of force? Will he use America’s force?” And where, Peretz asks, “is an open mic when we need one?” This post was written by James K. Glassman, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute .


Author

James K. Glassman
James K. Glassman

James K. Glassman is the Founding Executive Director of the George W. Bush Institute and the interim Director of the Military Service Initiative.

He served as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs from June 2008 to January 2009, leading the government-wide international strategic communications effort. Among his accomplishments at the State Department was bringing new Internet technology to bear on outreach efforts, an approach he christened “Public Diplomacy 2.0.”

From June 2007 to June 2008, Glassman was chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). He directed all non-military, taxpayer-funded U.S. international broadcasting, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Alhurra TV.  Glassman was a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., from 1996 to 2008, specializing in economics and technology.

He has been moderator of three weekly television programs: Ideas in Action and TechnoPolitics on PBS and Capital Gang Sunday on CNN.

Glassman has had a long career as a journalist and publisher. He served as president of Atlantic Monthly, publisher of the New Republic, executive vice president of U.S. News & World Report, and editor and co-owner of Roll Call, the Congressional newspaper. Between 1993 and 2004, he was a columnist for the Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune and continues to write regularly for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and Forbes. Shortly after graduating from college, he started Figaro, a weekly newspaper in New Orleans. His articles on finance, economics, and foreign policy have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and various other publications.

Glassman has written three books on investing, and in April 2012 was appointed to the Investor Advisory Committee of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He was formerly a member of the Policy Advisory Board of Intel Corporation and a senior advisor to AT&T Corporation and SAP America, Inc.

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