Strategy

What Maisky Knew

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In the November 21 issue of The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed The Maisky Diaries, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. This fine volume covers the personal writings of Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom during the critical period of 1932 to 1943. Here’s a bit of my judgment of the man:

In the 1930s, British foreign policy was still a matter of balancing the continental powers, particularly France and Germany; and if we avoid the arrogance that hindsight can bring, we should also remember that Neville Chamberlain genuinely thought he was securing a course for peace in Europe. Britain knew how weak its armed forces were—its army, especially—and this knowledge, as Lloyd George told Maisky, was doubtless a factor in Chamberlain’s “deal” with Hitler at Munich.

Maisky, however, had nothing but contempt for such calculations, coming across at certain times here as a kind of thirties neoconservative. Indeed, it’s hard at times to discern that Maisky was a Communist at all, or that he represented a brutal, totalitarian government. His comportment in these pages is measured; his language free of cant. Even his looks—the well-fed, portly body, the kindly eyes, the authentic smile—will strike the reader as very different from the dour, self-defensive faces of that era’s most prominent Soviets.

Read the whole thing here.

In Memory of Arnaud de Borchgrave

In my first piece for The American Interest, I write about the amazing career of the late Arnaud de Borchgrave, whom I had the privilege of meeting about a year before his death. Arnaud was one of the last practitioners of a dead age of journalism we desperately need back:

When he talked, he peered at you, his head cocked down slightly so that his eyes, set behind wire-rimmed spectacles, seemed fixed behind rather than on you. It was not a creepy or uncomfortable stare; it was simply the confident gaze of a man born and cultivated in a very different era. I suspect Arnaud was always aware, and always proud, that he was becoming more of an anachronism as the years wore on.

Read the whole thing here.

Rest in peace, Arnaud. Thanks for returning my e-mail.

Why Are Iran and the Vatican Cooperating?

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I’m a bit late in posting this, but I have written the cover story for the January 29 issue of The Catholic Herald on the curious relationship between Iran and the Holy See. Here’s a taste:

Tiny though it is, the Holy See is an important sovereign entity – one with immense influence and moral force within the West. While not afraid to pour scorn on American-style capitalism, the Pope can influence US public opinion: witness the crowds of non-Catholics who gathered to applaud his stance on climate change. The influence works both ways, however. Without the 70 million American Catholics, the Vatican would struggle to keep afloat financially.

Iran seems to have concluded that courting the Holy See allows it to tap into the complex and important relations between the Catholic Church and America. Moreover, this week’s Francis-Rouhani dialogue serves to soften the image of Iran in countries all over the world with significant numbers of Catholics.

Read the whole thing here.

Yes, America should come first in its foreign policy

If Twitter is useful for one thing, it’s keeping your finger on the dying pulse of American intellectual debate. There was a point in the most recent Republican debate — was it the 42nd or 43rd such event? — when Ted Cruz mentioned that he wanted an “America-first foreign policy.” I’m late commenting about this, but it’s amazing what’s controversial these days: Cruz’s critics seized on the remark as evidence of some alleged “isolationism.” Their trick was to link Cruz to the America First Committee of the early 1940s, designed to keep the United States out of the Second World War and backed by genuine isolationists like Charles Lindbergh.

Of course, anyone who pays attention to what his opponents actually say, as opposed to what he wants them to have said so he can wage reputational warfare on them, knows that this is not what Cruz or his like-minded contemporaries believe. (more…)