America vs. the West

Dr. Kori Schake joined Brian Gongol for an interview on WHO Radio on March 19, 2019 about her new book, "America Vs. the West". Listen to audio of the interview, which is transcribed (with light editing) below:

[Brian Gongol]: There is one person out there, I would say, who I follow on social media on a regular basis on Twitter, whom, if I see anything that is posted by this individual and I disagree with it for any reason, I've got to check my own work, because I'm pretty sure that that means I'm wrong about something. Her name is Dr. Kori Schake. She is Deputy Director-General at an organization called the International Institute for Strategic Studies -- the IISS, not ISIS, but IISS. Kori Schake, thanks for being here with us on WHO Radio!

[Kori Schake]: It is such a pleasure to be back with you, my friend.

[Brian Gongol]: We had Kori on last year, talking about her fantastic book "Safe Passage", which if you haven't read it, or if you didn't catch that interview, it's actually still available on That book was about the transition from British leadership of the world to American leadership of the world and how that happened -- somehow -- peacefully. It was a hand-toss of the baton that happened and nobody got hurt, really, along the way. I mean, some people did, but by and large it was a good transition. And this new book that you have out is shorter, and I would say, essential reading. It's called "America Versus the West". Can you tell us what this is all about?

[Kori Schake]: Oh, so gladly. At the time of that G7 meeting, where President Trump left early, wouldn't sign the communique, went on a Twitter tirade of abuse about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the German Chancellor released a pretty extraordinary picture on her Twitter feed showing President Trump kind of leaning back in a chair, arms crossed, looking petulant, and she herself leaning forward across the table assertively engaging him, and all of the rest of the G7 leaders kind of gathered around taking sides...was the first time it really hit me just how much damage President Trump is doing to an international order that the United States built out of the ashes of World War II and has been the main guarantor -- and also beneficiary -- of for the last 70 years. An international order where we set rules of behavior that create cooperation, that reward cooperation, that have settlement of disputes, that has us protecting the weak from the strong. Having the rules institutionalized in a few things, like NATO and the United Nations, so that strong states get their power validated by weaker states, and weaker states get a sense of security because there are rules that govern the behavior of the stronger powers. And it hit me for the first time at the G7 just how damaging President Trump's erratic behavior toward America's closest friends has been. And so what I tried to do in the book was look at [the case] if the United States isn't going to remain the rule-giver and enforcer of this order, is it possible that it can be sustained if we are backing away from it? And so I tried to look at several different potential configurations. And the one that gives the most promise is if the middle powers -- that is, America's closest friends and allies, the NATO allies, Japan, Australia, South Korea, potentially India -- who are also huge beneficiaries of the liberal international order...can those states, by cooperating, sustain the order or at least buy enough time that the United States has a chance to think about whether we're going to like the consequences of our current policy path?

[Brian Gongol]: And when you come through all these these questions, I guess, when I even mentioned that we were going to talk with you about this idea on the air, I was told "Well, but everybody else hates us!" And I suppose I'm not sure if I buy into that notion. Is that what this is all about? Getting other people to like us or love us or hate us? Or is this about setting up rules so that we can have a world that we're going to want to live in 20 years from now?

[Kori Schake]: You know, the great thing about the international order that the United States created in 1945 is that countries don't have to like us for the system to work. They just have to comply with the rules and everybody has an interest in complying with the rules. Even the Chinese have an interest in complying with the rules. The Russians, not so much. But the Chinese are so webbed into the benefits of trade, of cross-border investments, of predictability in the international order. You know, one of the questions we kick around here at the International Institute for [Strategic Studies] from time to time is which country, the United States or China, could sustain their economy longer if a military conflict should erupt between the two of them. It's not an easy question to answer. It's an important one analytically, but we actually didn't have to ask that question during the Cold War. We believed the Soviet Union's economy was so much more autarkic that they had an asymmetric advantage in conflict because they weren't reliant on ships crossing oceans and bringing supplies one to another for economies to be sustained over a year's time. And both we and the Chinese are, so it changes the dynamic. The other thing I would say though, Brian, is that one of the really interesting things about watching President Trump's policies and personal comportment put a lot of pressure on the existing system is realizing how much America's friends are trying not to aggravate the situation. You know, the NATO Secretary General has done a genuinely brilliant job of understanding the validity of President Trump's complaints about NATO allies not spending more, and coaching allies on how to respond constructively to the President's challenges. If you look at the way -- I do in the book -- look at the way different American allies are trying to navigate these difficult times, the different countries have different strategies.

[Brian Gongol]: We are talking right now with Dr. Kori Schake. She is with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She has written a book called "America Versus the West: Can the liberal world order be preserved?" We're talking about this book which again, I strongly recommend. You can read it very quickly; it's like an hour, hour and a half. It's a shorter read, but essential reading, I would say. It won't kill you to read the whole thing, folks. We've gotten some responses here on the American Toppers and Accessories text line at 989-1040, and I think it's best encapsulated by what Stephen just texted in. He said, "All President Trump is asking is that other nations pay their fair share. We can't bankroll everyone, including the UN. Why does everyone else want to come to America?" So I turn it to you: When you say this, I would say in your book, you put it very well, saying that this wasn't a thing about being starry-eyed idealists. This is all because we learned lessons from World War II that we want America to have a certain place in the world. But how would you put it? How would you respond to that that contest from the other side?

[Kori Schake]: I like the answer that you just gave. I would separate out two elements of that listener's question. The first is about others doing their fair share and then the second about everybody wanting to come to America. On the first part, everybody doing their fair share, he's exactly right. America's allies don't do enough, and President Trump is right to raise the challenge that our allies aren't contributing as much to the common good as they ought to be contributing. There's another perspective to this, which is that it's an eternal problem for lesser states to hide behind and free ride off the strongest state in the order. It's always been a challenge getting America's allies to do their fair share. Dwight Eisenhower complained about it in 1951 and 1954 and 1956. The Mansfield Amendment of the 1970s, threatening the withdrawal of US troops from Europe unless European allies did more. And the question has gotten more pressing with time as Europe has gotten more and more prosperous. But the the other question is, how do we get allies to do it? And I don't think the answer is threatening to abandon them, because my experience with America's allies is that when we step back, our allies step back even further, and the countries that step forward are our adversaries. America's allies, prosperous as they are, strong as they are, vibrant as they are -- they're not us and they won't be major powers if we are not standing alongside them. It will just leave space for our adversaries. Again, that's the run-up to World War II. So we need to hold hands with our allies at drag them forward. And I don't object to President Trump trying to do that. I think he's exactly right. But I think the experience is that the path, the means he's taken in doing that, which is threatening to abandon our allies, or being nasty to our allies, challenging whether they love their children...I don't think it's productive policy for getting there.

[Brian Gongol]: Well, let's say, you know the metaphor I like for the world is, you know, some people think of America as the world's policeman. And I kind of object to that one, but I don't object to the one that says we are the world's sheriff. We are the most powerful authority, but we need deputies. We need a posse in order to get things done. And so, tell me what this world looks like if we decide to abandon the role of sheriff, let's say, and say, "You know, it's too expensive. It's too troubling. We're just going to pay attention to ourselves. We're going to turn inward. We're going to raise the borders. We're going to cut off trade. We're going to be our own thing." If we do that, does the world become a safer place or just China say, "Hey, there's a vacuum! We're moving in!", and we're going to hate what comes next?

[Kori Schake]: I definitely think we won't like what comes next. I think there are a couple of possibilities. One is that the world just gets more dangerous and chaotic but we don't care. So that will have economic consequences. We will probably be less prosperous. If we don't care about the rest of the world, then in the near term, we won't have to, because we have a wider margin for error than anyone else because we have great neighbors in Mexico and Canada and two oceans. But you know, the lesson of the 1930s is that if you don't police the commons, if you don't make the international order safe, what you are doing is allowing space for threats to gather because the international order isn't naturally peaceful and naturally prosperous: It's naturally predatory. And so what we did in the 1930s was not care about the order until the threats had grown so great that we had to do something about it, and we didn't have allies to help us other than Britain, for the most part. So the alliance-management strategy of the late 1940s forward has been "Let's play team sports", because even if allies don't do as much as we want, they will do more than they would otherwise, and the cooperation that we engender will keep the international order from becoming so dangerous a place that we have to respond in major ways -- in the way we did in fighting World War II. That we can -- as George Shultz, President Reagan's Secretary of State describes it -- we can tend the garden and keep weeds from growing. And that's what we do in cooperation with allies. We manage threats before they grow to dimensions that require the extremity of effort that World War II required of us, or that a risen China -- unhindered by the US and its allies -- sets rules that we are not going to want to comply with and might not be strong enough to counter.

[Brian Gongol]: And that, I suppose, is probably the most frightening place to leave it. But how about I steal one of your best lines from the book, which I think is -- and I quote -- "The arc of history only bends toward justice when people of goodwill grab onto it and wrench it in the direction of justice." I like that quote. I like the book. It's "America Versus the West: Can the liberal world order be preserved?" Not liberal in the left-wing sense, liberal in the sense of American-type values. But I know I have to let you go to go record your own podcast, Kori, so thank you so much for being here with us. Again. "America Versus the West", Dr. Kori Schake with the IISS. People can follow you online over on Twitter at where?

[Kori Schake]: @KoriSchake.

[Brian Gongol]: There we go. Thank you so much for your time today.

[Kori Schake]: And thank your listeners for caring about this subject!

[Brian Gongol]: We've got to make some decisions coming up here in the 2020 election cycle. We've got our job here in Iowa. So we've got to be thinking like we're the ones who make the decisions for the rest of the country, because kind of we do -- we kind of get first pass on these things. Again, thank you so much for your time.

Again, "America Versus the West". I understand that some people are objecting to the idea of American engagement and what we have to do as though it is expensive. I think her point, and I think I agree with it pretty strongly, is, yeah, it's costly for us to do things that look like leadership in the world, but it's a lot more costly if we don't do things that look like leadership in the world.

Brian Gongol

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