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Long Now Foundation July 12, 2010 Five Ways to Use History Well I am Stewart Brand. This seminar about long-term thinking is brought to you by the Long Now Foundation. If you would like to see high quality videos of the talks in the series, including this one, they are available online for Long Now members at longnow.org. STEWART BRAND: Hi. Im Stewart Brand from the Long Now Foundation. Frank Gavin comes for me from a conference that I went to that (INDISCERNABLE) helped fund. They had a longer term for it, but it was basically applied history and how history can be used better in decision making and how it has been used badly in decision making in the past. Historians are pretty good at sorting that out. If all goes well, I would love to see what Frank is talking about tonight become a sub-discipline within history and within foreign affairs and Kennedy school type stuff, become part of how people think about government, how they think about strategy making in large organizations including corporations. If that discipline comes to happen you will have seen the very first page of it tonight. Frank Gavin. FRANK GAVIN: Thank you, Stewart, for that very kind introduction. Thats not too much to have to live up to now, creating a whole new discipline. I appreciate that. First let me say what an honor it is to be here and to point out this is a somewhat unusual venue for me, not because this wonderful setting or this diverse audience is something that I dont like, but because of what I gather is the thrust of what these talks are about: predicting or anticipating the future. This is not something historians typically do. And it is fact that there is some skepticism about the whole notion of forecasting. We cant agree what happened in the past. Thats what we spend our time doing, fighting over what actually did happen and we cant agree. So you can imagine how much skepticism we have about trying to think about what is going to happen in the future. I will just give you one example from my own work. I do a lot of work on nuclear politics and nuclear proliferation. And one of the most striking things about this field is alarmist predictions of disaster. Pretty much every year throughout the whole period of the nuclear age there has been someone important predicting disaster is going to happen. The most sort of famous example that I wrestle with all the time is President Kennedy gave a speech saying that by the 1970s there would be 20 or 30 nuclear powers in the world. And it never happened. There have been similar predictions about nuclear terrorist events happening, people like Graham Allison and Bob Gallucci making these predictions. And they dont happen. And these predictions simply havent come true. And, in fact, the opposite has happened. We have far fewer nuclear weapons programs around the world than we had 30 years ago. And I would argue these poor predictions have fed into some pretty terrible policies throughout the world over the years. So one might consider me a skeptic and wonder what Im doing here. Just because a historical sensibility makes you cautious about predicting and forecasting does not mean it cannot help you think about and even prepare for the future. And that is why I am here. What are the benefits, if any, to applying in a very rigorous manner historical knowledge and methodology to the making of U.S. foreign policy? Are there advantages for policymakers in thinking about the past in a serious way? Should historians consider these decision makers as part of their audience? For an audience like this I would assume that the answer would be, of course. Thats a common sense response that a deep understanding of the past can only benefit us as we think about making important decisions in the future. Yet Im here to tell you that policymakers rarely call upon historians for insight. Perhaps even more surprising, however, is that there are few serious attempts by what might be called scholarly historians trained and employed by our most important research universities in this country to write for a policy audience nor is it common for policymakers to access their work. There are exceptions here. I have some pictures of the books that actually were the exceptions in this. There are two leading figures who tried to change this. To be honest with you, they have failed. Paul Kennedy is one. And the most important is a great historian who just passed away this year, Ernest May, who spent much of his career trying to change this attitude both in Washington and in the Ivory Tower and for the most part had very little success. Now, I could go into great detail about the current state of the historical profession and why Ernie May failed and why the attempt to get historians and policymakers to engage each other has come to nothing. That talk would depress you. The situation is bleak. There is this third quote here. The first two quotes I have are essentially about why it is you would want to have history, why you would want historical knowledge as opposed to things like law or economics or national relations theory and about why as the most important military power in the world having some knowledge of your past is absolutely critical to making good decisions. The last quote probably says more about the field and profession that I find myself in than just about any. It came from Jill Lepore. The American historical profession defines itself by its dedication to the proposition that looking to the past to explain the present falls outside of the realm of serious historical study. Now, think about that. For people who are not familiar with how the historical community works Im sure this is shocking. What this means is that no self-respecting historian would ever think of using his or her knowledge to advise policymakers. Such an effort would simply be dismissed as not serious, something that we just wouldnt do. Now, what explains this situation? There are at least three important reasons why historians and policymakers dont have a more fruitful relationship. I should say these are legitimate reasons. These are important reasons. First, policymakers are not interested in the past for its own sake. Policymakers are forced to make extraordinarily difficult choices under enormous time pressures and government officials understandably want usable knowledge that provides guidance for making the best decisions. Understandably they seek certainty, particularly about the future. And they are grateful for clear cut rules and parsimonious or simple explanations. Thats not what we do. Thats not what historians do. We dont do anything simple. We dont do anything parsimonious. And we certainly dont like rules. Historians dont like to generalize over space and time and the comparative advantage of history is an exposing complexity, nuance in shades of gray. Studying the past discourages efforts to simplify or forecast. And I should point out that the two historians who were the leading advocates of the kind of thing Im talking about, Ernest May and Paul Kennedy; in their efforts to make predictions did a really bad job of it. We all know Paul Kennedy talked about in the late 1980s that Japan would be a superpower leaving the United States behind. Ernest May made predictions in the 1970s that the Cold War was going to calm down and there would be no more militarization. This is right before Ronald Reagan was elected. So there arent a lot of really good examples of historians predicting the future and it doesnt give one a lot of confidence. Unlike Economics International Relations theory which aims for parsimony generalization prediction, historical scholarship often appears to offer little that can be of immediate help to a policymaker. A second reason for the poor relationship is the deep suspicion that historians have a power in people who wield it. Scholars warn that historical work should not be used to validate broader political claims. This is an important argument. If such a political effort is to be made, it should be made on behalf of groups and issues that have been ignored or underrepresented not on behalf of policy elites. They have had the benefit of everything working out in history. Historians, if they are to engage in the process of advocating anything it shouldnt be on behalf of policy elites. Furthermore, national history has a less than stellar record in many parts of the world including at times the United States, as the past has often been exploited to justify morally problematic policies. The record of scholars who have been in positions of power in the United States or have been close to power has not always been exemplary. And this is something that always needs watching. Finally, the third reason for the fact that this relationship is not better is that its important to remember that policy is only a very small part of the past which historians seek to explain. Even scholars like myself who focus on international history or American foreign relations are as likely to emphasize factors outside of the realm of policy as those in policy. We may focus on structural factors like geography, long-term trends such as demographic or economic shifts, or cultural or intellectual variables like the changing role of race and gender or the emergence of new ideas when we explain why certain things happen and why things happen the way they do in the international environment. These arent policy issues or if they are policy issues they are only policy issues at a very removed place. Now, all of these are very powerful reasons for historians to look for different audiences and for policymakers to seek wisdom and guidance elsewhere. The requirements for good historical scholarship are certainly rarely in line with the needs of decision makers in government. So whats my conclusion, then? Does that mean that it is a bad idea for historians to write for policymakers and for policymakers to take an interest in historical methodology? Should the history professors stay locked in their ivory towers keeping their knowledge to themselves far away from the corrupting influences of power in our nations capital? Or should history and policy mix? Is history actually good for you? I wouldnt be here if I didnt think the answer was yes. The issues policymakers confront are too important and the benefit of historical insight too great for them to avoid communicating with each other. Developing historical sensibility can do much to improve policymakers understanding of the world they find themselves in and depending on how the knowledge is used, improve the quality of policy. Now, there are advantages for the historian, as well. While scholars may want to maintain a healthy distance from the political process it does not mean that their historical work should be obscure, filled with jargon or irrelevant to the concerns of policymakers. And if you want to actually see what most historical scholarship looks like look at some of the leading journals and that is exactly what youll see: jargon, irrelevance and a lot of obscurity. Nor is there anything wrong with scholarship being useful. It is fair to say that much of the professional historical field has, for any number of reasons, embraced methodologies and studied subjects that are far afield from the concerns or interests of a marked much larger public to say nothing of the policy community. Now, some of this cutting edge work is to be admired. There is a danger that this scholarship is meaningful to smaller and smaller audiences. Exploiting my own work on U.S. foreign strategic and economic policy during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, I would like to lay out five key concepts which if properly understood and employed should provide a firmer grasp on how historical analysis can be of benefit to policymakers and not just the policymakers but to an informed public at large. These concepts are vertical history, horizontal history, chronological proportionality, unintended consequences and policy insignificance. I should note none of these five concepts are particularly novel or profound. In fact, one of the advantages of possessing knowledge of the past and the familiarity with historical methodology is a healthy skepticism of claims of profoundness, originality in either the world of events or policy responses. Nor is it necessary to accept my historical interpretations that Im going to give you tonight to recognize the value of these concepts. Im going to lay out what I think happened in the past and what I believe it means. You can and should disagree with that while still accepting that the very process of wrestling with these interpretations can be extraordinarily beneficial. In fact, developing historical sensibility should encourage all of us to challenge the received wisdom about the past and current U.S. policies and encourage not just policymakers but the public at large to develop their own explanations. The first concept is vertical history. What do I mean by vertical history? This is actually the simplest, most straightforward and the one most people are familiar with. When looking at any historical event or phenomenon a historian should first look at its temporal origins, its origins in time and its spatial location and depth. Temporal origins and chronology might be thought of as vertical history. Again, this is the easiest concept, sort of an A to B to C to D causality. It is sequential, involves common sense notions of causality and agency. It is essentially the story of how events unfold over time. But it deserves some further exploration. While exploring events and explaining events over time would seem to be straightforward it is never a simple or uncontested process, as anyone who has studied controversial issues such as the causes of the First World War understands. Identifying causes and agents depends upon the perspective of the historian including spatially, culturally and temporally. Causes can be either proximate or long term. Despite these difficulties, however, sophisticated historical analysis is useful in both revealing the deeper origins of important events and exposing when the origins and causality are less clear than people may think. It is important to note that this kind of vertical history has less to do with the case study method that you might see in business school or among political scientists or process tracing and instead seeks to identify deeper, more complex and often surprising chronological roots for particular policy situations. One thing anyone in my field does all the time is wrestle with the origins of the First World War and this is something if you follow this debate you would think at this point after thousands and thousands of books and articles having been written about this that we would actually know what the answer is. But you see in this process of how scholars and historians wrestle with this. You can see how important understanding vertical history is. And it is often a balance. On the one hand you have the proximate causes, the July crisis, diplomatic dispatches, military timetables, the kind of intensity and pressure of what we know to be sort of the guns of August and the crisis of July. And that is balanced out with longer term issues: demographic trends; the increasing pressure of population in Europe produced by industrialization and urbanization at the turn of the century; the influence of economic competition, in particularly, imperialism which had been developing over a century and a half; and the rising and extraordinarily powerful force of nationalism. So you have these long-term causes and these short-term causes. And trying to wrestle and understand them is a very important skill to develop. A good vertical history can also reveal when a seemingly small change within a complex system can produce profound changes to an international environment over time. Im going to give you an example of this. An example of how vertical history might be used to lift the veil to reveal the deeper, less known sources that the world policymakers face would be to reconstruct the long-term roots or causes of current U.S. policy and what might be termed the Greater Middle East. This is obviously the most important region that we worry about in our current policy environment. When and for what reasons did this region become such an important focus of U.S. policy? And how did American interest develop here? What are the causes of the United States close relationship with such problematic allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel and its bitter enmity with Iran? These are very important questions. And I would think if you were policy today you would want to know the answers to them. Well, a contemporary analysis that focused on proximate causes might identify a variety of factors, ones that you are all familiar with and you might agree with: the importance of oil in the American economy, thats something that certainly has motivated things; the threat of terrorism, certainly since 9/11; instability in the region; concerns about nuclear proliferation and powerful domestic support for Israel within the United States. Now, these interests, its widely assumed have driven U.S. policy for some time and our policies in the region, at least it is believed, have been pretty much constant since the middle of the 20th century. Doing detailed historical work, assessing the longer term consequences might provide a more nuance picture. Consider the following interpretation based on historical analysis of a series of relatively minor events that have profound long term consequences for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Few people know this, but until the mid 1960s the Middle East was not an area of primary geo-political or strategic concern for the United States falling far behind Europe and East Asia and even at times behind Latin America as an area that the United States considered a geo-political priority. It was Great Britain, not the United States, who in the western alliance had primary responsibility for insuring the security and stability of the region. Energy was not a first order issue. We had more than enough oil up until the middle of the 1960s and regional rivalries and conflicts between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Iraq were of little concern to U.S. policymakers. Perhaps even most surprising, Israel was not even considered a particularly close ally. In 1965 the United States sold more weapons to Jordan than it did to Israel. Now, how and why did this situation change? The key to understanding the evolving role of the Middle East is to understand it within the context of the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States and a series of events that seemed small at the time but unfolded in ways that had a profound influence on the history of the region. The historian reconstructing this story might argue that starting in the late 1950s then increasing in scope in the 1960s, the Soviets began to target the greater Middle East as a region where they could make geo-political in roads. Western Europe was largely secure. East Asia was becoming increasingly a place of U.S. dominance. But the Middle East appeared to be a place where the Soviet Union could actually have some influence and under Khrushchev and continued by his seccessors this became a primary focus of policy. Starting with Nazareth Egypt and moving to Iraq and Syria, Russia used vigorous diplomacy and generous aid to gain friends in the region. This effort caught the United States flatfooted and when tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors sparked a war in 1967 the Johnson Administration was for the most part caught completely off guard. The United States was even less prepared for the consequences of the war. A recent historical work and looking in the archives has made it clear that Egypt and Syrias aggressiveness in the middle 1960s was in no small part driven by Soviet support and product, reflecting Russias desire to gain greater influence in the region. Now, this is all well and good, but how did this end up changing U.S. policy in the region? Well, the war in 1967 created a financial crisis that exasperated an already desperate British balance of payments deficit that led in November of 1967 to a devaluation of sterling. More ominously as a result of this devaluation, Great Britain announced its intent to withdraw its military commitment to the region. So this war created pressure on British currency. In order to sort of relieve some of this pressure the British said we are no longer going to support it militarily and that left a serious dilemma, conundrum for U.S. policymakers. The United States found itself obviously in 1967 in a very poor geo-political position in the region. The Soviets were moving aggressively to establish strategic dominance in the region at the same time that its close ally, Great Britain, was pulling out. Why not enter and replace Great Britain? Why not sort of simply become the strategic guarantor of stability in the region? Well, it was 1967 and something else was going on and that was the Vietnam War and it was inconceivable that the United States in 1967 could muster either the military capability or more importantly the political will to do what it took to actually go in the Middle East to replace Great Britain. And the United States was suffering its own international monetary and financial problems, as well. On the other hand, the United States was not willing to cede the region, so it couldnt go in on its own; it didnt want to cede the region; it faced this geo-political challenge. What did it do? Well, it came up with what has become known, first in the Johnson Administration and then in the Nixon Administration as a pillar strategy. Providing massive military and political support to whatever ally they could find in the region that was willing to support their aims. And there were three in particular: Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran. In the years following the Six Day War, each of these three countries were given or sold billions of dollars of the most cutting edge military equipment and our political relationship with each of the three changed dramatically. This is, as a side note, something thats very interesting to look at in terms of our relationship with Iran. The United States -- theres this kind of story, this narrative thats especially popular in Iran, that the United States intervenes, overthrows the government in the 1950s and theres this straight continuous line to the revolution of 78 and 79 and we were bad the whole way throughout. In fact we knew the Shaw was a bad guy. And in the late 50s and early 60s we would have had no problem whatsoever if he disappeared from the scene. And, in fact, in 1963 it becomes very close to the Shaw being deposed we wouldnt have done a thing to stop it. We also had the same ambivalence about the House of Saad in Israel, but after 1967 because of the strategic necessity to have allies in the region our relationship completely changed. This is what I would argue produced the consequences for U.S. policy that persisted well beyond the Cold War. I should note that this was a relatively successful strategy. The Soviets, even though Iran ended up turning against us, they didnt go into Soviet camp. Soviet influence in the Middle East actually waned and decreased and it was a relatively successful policy. Yet the consequences of it live with us to this very day. Now, this is, of course, only one plausible interpretation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The point here is not to argue that it is correct, but to reveal how much nuance and depth could help, thinking historically, could provide the nuance and depth necessary to have greater insight into the policy environment, U.S. policymakers face today. How many people do you think making policy on the Middle East have even the most basic understanding of the story that I just told? Yet even if you disagree with my interpretation, clearly there is something that has to be wrestled with and understood. This kind of history also reveals the factors that seem small, in this case the British and American balance of payments deficit, can have larger and unimagined longer term consequences in the policy environment. A policymaker or a historian, for that matter, would not have to accept an interpretation based on the centrality of the 1967 war to explain the U.S. policy in the greater Middle East today in the same way one would neither believe the First World War was caused by long term demographic pressures, the effects of European imperialism or Germans mobilization schedules in August 1914. But its the very act of wrestling with these interpretations, understanding these different perspectives, trying to make sense of them that actually provides the deeper context of contemporary events and reveals the complexity under the surface of the most important global policy issues we face today. The second concept is one I call horizontal history. An understanding of the past doesnt just relate to how things evolved over time. Its also how they relate over space. History can expose horizontal connections over space and in depth that no one would have ever known. In other words, good historical work can move side to side not just front to back or laterally. It can reveal linkages between issues that are not readily apparent at first glance. This is the horizontal or spatial depth access on a historians imaginary graph. Again Im going to give another sort of obscure somewhat boring historical example, though, to show how all these things are actually linked up in a sort of more exciting way. Consider American foreign policy in the 1960s and look again at the obscure issue of international monetary financial relations and particularly this U.S. balance of payments deficit. Now, for a variety of reasons including the somewhat inefficient and contradictory rules of the Bretton Woods International Monetary System, the United States began hemorrhaging dollars and losing its gold supply in the 1960s and surplus countries were using these surplus dollars to buy gold during the later years of the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. This was seen as a grave economic threat. In fact, most economists at the time, in a way we forget, thought if this was not handled correctly that you could have a repeat of the 1930s and a sort of global deflation that brought about the depression and also led to international conflagration. Now there was a lot of misunderstanding of how international economics worked and thats always a challenge for a historian. What do you do when people believe things that arent actually true or probably wont happen? But, from a historical perspective what was important is someone like President Kennedy was absolutely obsessed with this issue. He was convinced that if there was a run on gold he would be forced to do things that could lead to really grave consequences both for the national economy and the international economy and he wanted to avoid this at all costs. So right in the middle a pretty mundane, fairly boring issue of the balance of payments deficit. Now, both administrations sought to end this dollar and gold train without resorting to restrictive economic policies such as interest rate hikes, trade barriers and capital controls. Your normal response when you have this kind of fixed exchange rate system when youre losing, when your currency is in deficit is to do some really unpleasant things to shrink your own economy. You hike interest rates, capital controls, and trade restrictions. No president wants to do this kind of thing. So Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Johnson, they all sought policies that would somehow solve this problem without actually following the restrictive policies that could hurt the economy and guarantee that they didnt get elected again. So all three of these administrations focused on a particularly expensive part of U.S. expenses abroad and that was the cost of U.S. troops and their families living abroad. The largest part of the balance of payments deficit was the cost of 300,000 U.S. troops living in Germany with their families. And it just so happened that the largest surplus country, the country that had those dollars and was turning them in for gold happened to be West Germany. So for understandable reasons policymakers began to focus on this particular account and focus on what they could do to reduce the balance of payments cost of troops in Western Germany and Western Europe. But there were a series of problems with doing this. At a time when nuclear parity with the Soviets was right around the corner people were worried and the West Germans made it very clear they were worried about this, the plans to pull U.S. troops out of Europe could undermine the credibility of the U.S. commitment to defend Western Europe against the Soviets. And one had to worry: how would the Soviets interpret this? What effect would this clash over economic and security issues have on the cohesion of the Western Alliance? The issue was even more complex when the issue of nuclear policies were taken into account. Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain agreed on only one thing during the 1960s and that was that the West Germans could never be allowed to have access to atomic weapons. Yet since the 1950s the West Germans had expressed great interest in having atomic weapons and this was the primary cause of the conflict between the Soviets and the Americans in the 1950s and the 1960s. So how does this relate to the balance of payments? If the U.S. was pulling troops out of Western Europe and if the West Germans felt increasingly insecure and didnt believe that the Americans would come to their defense then they would start to wonder: can we trust the Americans? Should we defend ourselves? Were facing this enormous enemy that has nuclear weapons, maybe we should have nuclear weapons of our own. In fact, one of the threats the West Germans keep making is they say you keep pulling troops out and its going to be very hard for us not to do things that are going to lead us down the road of having our own nuclear weapons. Now, as you can see, all of these things end up linking together and in the end a series of complex and hard thought deals were worked out that reassured West Germany while keeping it non-nuclear, protecting the dollar and lessening the outflow of U.S. gold. And, in fact, it is this very deal that leads to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If you go to any sort of policymaker and say where did the Non-Proliferation Treaty come from? I guarantee you none of them will say oh it had something to do with the balance of payments deficit in the 1960s. But, you can see that there is this direct connection between concerns over international monetary relations, doing something about the balance of payments, to the security of the western alliance, to German nuclearization and this whole series of policies are constructed to deal with all these issues which end up manifesting itself in the non-proliferation agreement of 1968. Now many analysts, international political economists, nuclear strategist, experts in Germany, trade experts, have looked at each of these particular issues in isolation. A trade person will look at the trade effects; an international monetary person will look at the monetary stuff; a German expert will look at Germany; a nuclear person will look at the nuclear issues. Very rarely are these brought together and thats what historians do. Historians make those horizontal linkages. Good horizontal work can reveal the complex inner connections and tradeoffs that permeate the most important foreign policies. This birds eye view actually provides a more holistic view of how policymaking actually works. This is how policy making works. The higher you go on the policymaking process, its rare that you just get to deal with just one issue and not think about its consequences. I remember having this insight when listening to the presidential tapes that I worked on years ago at the Miller Center, and you would listen, President Kennedy would have a meeting at 9:00 a.m. on the balance of payments, 10:00 a.m. on the tax cuts, 11:00 a.m. on Berlin, 12:00 noon on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and so on and so forth. Now, he was the only guy in all those meetings. He understood all those linkages every time a new group of experts would come in and a whole bunch of other ones would leave. But one of the things that was clear was the guy at the top understood that all these things were deeply interconnected. In order to make better policy, more effective policy, understanding how those connections worked and understanding that those exist are incredibly important. Think about our current policy towards, say Pakistan today, or Chinas current account surplus, I know a lot of people probably have concerns about that. I guarantee you I dont know what they are, but you can do the same chart for each of those issues and there are all sorts of issues and connections that you never would have thought of that bear on the question that youre looking at. All of these policies can be better understood through a lens that includes horizontal, historical analysis. The third concept is one I call chronological proportionality. Here the questions very simple: how do we assess the long term consequences and effects of a current policy question? You pick up your newspaper, you pick up the New York Times and there are 10 or 15 articles that you read, what are the ones that really matter? What are the issues that youre reading in the newspaper that are actually going to be of any consequence 20 or 30 years from now? Thats actually a very hard thing to do and this is what the whole skill of the notion of chronological proportionality sets out to try to achieve. There are all sorts of issues, there are many issues that seem like a very big deal when they happen and they can turn out to be in the long run far less consequential than we originally imagined. Other issues receive less contemporary attention and they turn out to have far more important long term consequences when viewed through a historical lens. Now, the standard probably most of us use, media coverage, is, of course, absolutely the wrong one. There are few things I know, but the one thing I know when I do my first reading of history is that the New York Times always gets it wrong and if the New York Times gets it wrong you can only imagine what the media at large gets wrong. This is the idea of figuring out in real time, in contemporary time, what will matter in the long run. The media is very bad at doing that. Im going to use an example from the past thats very controversial to kind of highlight that and thats the Vietnam War. Now the Vietnam War, if you pick up any textbook on 20th century American history, any book on the 1960s, any book on U.S. Foreign policy, any discussion among policymakers of a certain age in Washington, the Vietnam War is, of course, of central defining importance. It was a brutal and to many minds misguided conflict that took thousands, tens of thousands of American lives, debilitated the U.S. economy and left a bitter political and cultural legacy that permanently effected American institutions. But, I would ask, looking back from the current perspective was the Vietnam War as important? Was it the only international policy issue of great significance that was going on at that time? Was the war in Southeast Asia, in fact, the most important long term U.S. foreign policy question of the day? If you picked up the New York Times at the time, of course it was. But if you thought historically and thought in terms of chronological proportionality, would it be that way? Ive already highlighted to you what I think the consequences and legacy of the 1967 Six Day War had for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Theres no denying that U.S. policy in the Middle East right now is at the forefront and the most important thing that most foreign policy people are thinking about particularly if you expanded to the greater Middle East. I would argue that the 1967 war was perhaps the key event in shaping the policies environment that we face today. Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, 1968, I alluded to some of its odd and unusual origins. If you were to poll most foreign policy experts today and say what is the most important global policy facing, the issue facing the United States, it would be nuclear proliferation. The Obama Administration has made it their priority, their foremost thing that they want as part of their legacy to be the question of nuclear proliferation. The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty was negotiated and signed during this period. If you pick up a New York Times during that period, you might see a mention on B-3 or something of the negotiations, but its dwarfed by any mention on the Vietnam War. Wasnt completely ignored, but it was certainly not given anywhere near the attention of the Vietnam War. Longer term developments such as the emerging stability in Dtente in Central Europe which starts to take root in the 1960s or the evolving fall between the United States and China which is perhaps one of the most important geo-political events of our lifetime began in the 1960s. These had extraordinary long term consequences for world politics. But lacking a singular event or crisis these tectonic shifts in world politics were often under played and in Chinas case at least until Nixons visit to China in 1972. Now, Im being purposely controversial here, this does not diminish the historical importance of the Vietnam War or even in our own times the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its merely to point out that such events can crowd out the focus on other less noisy developments that may have equal or even greater long-term consequences. I think its fair to say that there are a lot of other things going on in the world right now that 30 years from now will make us wonder why we were thinking about Afghanistan so much, any number of issues and we will see the same thing happen there. Developing the historian skill of chronological proportionality can help a policymaker see the bigger picture. The rise of China, shifting demographic trends, changes in the sources of energy supply, may turn out to have an equal or even greater long term consequence for U.S. global policy than Iraq or the Afghan War even if they do not dominate the front page of the newspaper in the same way that each of these wars do. The fourth concept, unintended consequences. History is also good at exposing the ironies, dilemmas and unintended consequences of policy. Consider again the consequences of the Vietnam War. What would have happened if the United States had won the Vietnam War? What if we play the counterfactual of a U.S. victory in Southeast Asia and see if we can play out what history might have looked like and whether it would have been a good thing or not? One plausible scenario, its not hard to imagine, that you would have had a United States bogged down in South Vietnam, drained, keeping its military resources and economic resources pouring into Southeast Asia, forever pouring in blood and treasure to support a weak state surrounded by enemies. If the United States had won in Vietnam, China and Russia may have assumed their mutual enmity to the larger goal of reducing American power in Asia. Remember the Russians and the Chinese hated each other, but that hatred did not really emerge until it was clear that the U.S. was leaving Southeast Asia. If we had stayed the Chinese and Russians would have had all the more reason to cooperate with each other. It is certainly hard to imagine the rest between Vietnam and China which emerged after we left, flaring an open conflict if the United States had won the war. But the United States, of course, did lose the war in Southeast Asia and it did bring its forces home. The military defeat of the United States, though a terrible humiliating drag on American power and reputation, ushered in a period of intense reassessment within many institutions, particularly military, which arguably had greater long term consequences for American military power. You talk to anyone in the U.S. military of a certain age and of a certain rank and they talk about the signal experience of the Vietnam War and how that shaped and changed the way they viewed the institution and how the U.S. military went through extraordinarily dramatic reforms which may not have ever happened if the war in Southeast Asia turned out differently. More importantly, of course, from the geo-political perspective is the U.S. withdrawal may have hastened the bitter Sino-Soviet split. Its not a coincidence that as we are leaving Southeast Asia were becoming friends with China and as were leaving Southeast Asia, Russia and China develop more and more bitter hatred for each other. Perhaps the biggest surprise in all of this is that China, once they successfully get the United States out of Southeast Asia, ends up having a war with the Unified Vietnam. Now from the perspective of geo-politics, a U.S. defeat which divided the communist world and Asia was much better than a victory which would have led to an expensive, long-term commitment in the face of the unified communist run. One might also speculate that the weakened status of the United States could have tempted the Soviet Union to intervene more deeply in places like Africa and Afghanistan in ways that certainly were of no help whatsoever to long-term Soviet position in the world. Understanding that history is not always linear and that the force of events can have powerful and unanticipated effects does not mean the policymakers can be expected to understand how the policies can produce unexpected and indeed unwanted consequences. Im the one who started out by saying you cant predict the future and you shouldnt try. But I also would not suggest just blithely using counterfactuals in order to try to predict whats actually going to happen. What I am saying, though, is that this kind of historical knowledge emphasizes that important events almost always have unforeseen and unintended results. It should provide some humility to the decision maker. It should sensitize people in positions of great responsibility to the fact that things can and will go wrong and the only thing that we can predict with any certainty is that things will turn out much differently than you had ever planned. The whole idea here is to look beyond disaster and defeat and paradise and victory. Whats the fifth concept? The fifth concept is to develop the skill to recognize when policy is insignificant. This is probably the hardest one for policymakers. This is what policymakers do, right. I teach at a policy school. And you ask policy students: how does the world work? Well, you know I join at NGO, I get into government and we shift and change the world and thats how things work. Ninety percent of the world is driven by the policy making process and the rest of it is kind of all fluff. Thats not how the world works. A familiarity with good historical work can help government officials and people in other organizations understand that when theyre making and implementing policy, policy is nowhere near as important as they are accustomed to thinking. In other words, history can provide policymakers or decision makers with the confidence to do nothing. This is a skill we would love people in Washington and lots of other places to have. Do nothing. This is true even when events and historical processes influence are even in shape with the policy environment. Reflect upon the global position of the United States in the mid 1970s. I want to give you sort of a story that as Californians youre all going to be very familiar with and very proud of but I think highlights what Im trying to get at. Again, the U.S. in 1975, how do things look? Not very good, we just lost a war; we had a president resign in disgrace; the economy is suffering greatly; theres a sense of political and cultural malaise. Was there anything in 1975 that would have led anyone to predict that the United States was about to begin an extraordinary three decade plus economic and technological surge, the likes of which the world had never seen before? In retrospect, this post Vietnam era, which at the time, anyone in any position of power, any commentator talked about as the decline of the United States actually were the seeds, the roots of a great American rebirth and a great sort of renaissance in American power. It was actually the birthdate of our current age of power triggered by globalization-led economic growth. There are three fun California events that I use to sort of highlight how no one could have seen this coming and theyre somewhat anecdotal, but its to show -- if national policymakers care about power and we live in an age where power is the tool you use and if these are the things that led to you having power and policy had nothing to do with it, that should be an important lesson. Now, consider these three events. The first, obviously, the creation of the first Apple computer in 1976 signaling the dawn of the high tech age dominated by Silicon Valley and a revolution in telecommunications and information technology. Who in Washington saw that coming? Anyone? The second event, the release in 1977 of the movie Star Wars, the highest grossing movie of all times highlighting the increased dominance of U.S. popular culture that would spread around the globe like wildfire. People are probably familiar with Joe Nyes A Notion of Soft Power, the idea that your culture and your ideas and your beliefs are an incredibly important instrument in spreading your national interest. Well, how does that manifest itself? Coca Cola, Levi Jeans, Star Wars. This is the signal that American culture which one could have imagined would be in a period of decline. This is the beginning when we see American culture actually stepping up and increasing its influence around the world. And the third is always my favorite and this sort of drives my policymaker friends nuts and thats the famous Stags victory over Paris Wines. The one complaint you get around the world: globalization, its as American as its sort of dumbing down of everything, the lowest common denominator. Yet here to a certain extent from a historical perspective the story of Napa Valley is almost more interesting than the story of Silicon Valley; right? Here is something that in the 1950s nothing is happening and by 1976 this event signals this ability of high end and value added American ingenuity to trump anyone in the world. Its not just making Schlocky films. The French cant just turn around and say its all Star Wars, we make better wine than you do; right? We figured something out. Now, all three of these stories are anecdotal, obviously. And alone explain little but combined they give you a sense of the tectonic shifts in American culture, its politics and, in particular, its economy that would reshape forever the global landscape and create the world we live in today and create the policy environment that policymakers have to deal with. Now, theres no way of knowing, of course, how the trends represented by these three unrelated events would have transformed the international order. Im sure that nobody at Apple computer or George Lucas or anyone in Napa Valley would think alright this is how were going to win the Cold War? But these stories serve as important reminders for policymakers that many of the events that have the most effect on the policy environment are not always the direct result of policy decisions. No one in Washington had much to do with the making of Star Wars, the first Apple computer, the fine wines of northern California, nor did these events have much to do with foreign policy, narrowly defined. All three, however, had enormous consequences for Americas power and role in the world for decades to come. So by emphasizing factors outside of policy, things like culture, demographics, economic trends, innovation, social changes, historians are more aware of these forces. And understanding this history and understanding how this shapes the world we live in can sensitize policymakers to the large complex and uncertain world outside of government decision making. Scholars and government officials often focus on narrow definitions on foreign policy and those that do that were operating in the 1970s thought that they lived in an era of decline and malaise. When we look back now and we see these are the seeds and the origins of something very, very important. And what a policymaker who sensitized to these ideas should be able to do is to recognize the world they operate in today had its seed in the supposed malaise and it shows you that history happens in all sorts of strange ways and it comes from all sorts of strange places. Many of them we cant control. And it should also act as a caution to pundants or policymakers who claim to identify an overarching trend in the world that we live in today who will make hard and fast assessments about Americas global position. This slide should make you, any time you hear anyone in 2010 to tell you anything about where Americas power is going, you should just shut your ears and laugh because there is no one in 1976 and 1977 who thought anything but the United States was in a period of decline. Im actually working on a paper right now with someone called That 70s Show, which is the United States now like the U.S. in the 1970s or is it like Great Britain in the 1870s. In the 1870s in Great Britain, Great Britain had everything going for it: leading technology, great military power, incredible education system. And that decade was the beginning of their long, slow and painful decline. To conclude. Its natural to think of events unfolding in a transparent and linear fashion. And its no surprise that we desire crisp, parsimonious explanations of the most important issues we face. Mix in the element of intense time pressure and its easy to see why most policymakers dont or cant embrace the complexities, uncertainties and ambiguities that mark historical explanations. The payoff for acquiring such skills is not always readily apparent. The familiarity with good historical scholarship will not necessarily help government officials make specific policies on a day-to-day basis. I dont know what this lecture would necessarily tell a person about how they should conduct policy in Afghanistan. I might have opinions like anyone else, but thats not really what these sets of skills are aimed to do to provide specific advice. Normal historical analysis provided an overarching framework or theory in which the viewer understand the world. I know people like this and it is natural to have this and historians, this is not what we provide. Acquiring these historical skills will, however, provide other important benefits. These five concepts discussed above will allow the policymaker to identify patterns and trends that shape the policy environment. It may allow him or her to recognize and go beyond the surface level picture of an event, to access a deeper logic, moving things underneath the surface. Historical analysis will provide a more finely tuned sense of the consequences, both of events and of policy responses. In the end, understanding these five concepts should make for a more deliberate, thoughtful and hopefully more successful view of foreign policy. There are no reasons policymakers and diplomats from other countries cannot benefit from applying these rules and methods as well. Historians would also benefit from considering the concerns and interests of the policy world. Keeping this important audience in mind, intelligent government professionals who are often overwhelmed by the complexity and difficulty of the policy choices they face and terrified of the consequences if they make a mistake. If these people were kept in mind while we were researching and writing about the past, I believe it could only sharpen and improve our scholarly work. Appreciating the past for its own sake is an important mantra for professional historians. I believe it and I think that history doesnt necessarily have to be useful, doesnt necessarily have to have a utility for it to be important, for it to make you wiser, to make you understand the world more. However, this value does not have to be sacrificed and, in fact, should not be sacrificed in order to write in a style and on subjects that will engage and educate the policy world. Like the workings of history itself, the benefits of a relationship between historians and policymakers are not obvious, particularly at first glance. The deeper one looks, however, the clearer it is that they share important interests and concerns and they are far, far better off with each other than without each other. Thank you.