I was about to say "I'm not sure I read this piece when it came out..." and then I see I made a comment below. I see also that I referred to Mr. Zeihan as a "dope". I hope you won't tell him I said that on Monday's call.

Anyway...I want to ask you (Claire), you write:

"A massive body of evidence supports the claim that we fought the Cold War because the prospect of a world enslaved under the Soviet boot revolted us."

But isn't Peter's claim as you articulate it, that we were really revolted by the prospect of nuclear war, not by the notion the the Soviet Union might enslave the world, or some of it? My view is that we did indeed fight the Cold War to thwart global communism, AND it's threat of nuclear war. But it seems Peter's view is a bit different than that? Maybe we can ask him. :-)

Expand full comment

"Zeihan’s thesis rests upon a striking claim that he asserts repeatedly but never justifies. Free trade, he writes repeatedly, did not and does not serve the United States’ economic interests."

I've not heard of this guy prior to your piece, but I have to say, he sounds like a dope to me. I was thinking to myself while reading (and I'm not done yet), "This sounds like a guy who doesn't think free trade is mutually beneficial..." Then you hit that nail on the head.

I've met folks like this before, who see America itself as nothing but a military industrial complex that must be fed, and all economic policy is aimed at providing it with juicy red meat. Most of the time, these folks are "on the left" (I write that from an American perspective) but in the Age of Trump I hear it more and more from the right. I don't buy it.

It may well be that Pax Americana has it's roots in the fight against the Soviet Union and the spread of global communism. But I take Thatcher, Reagan, and Wojtyła at their word (and Truman as well) when they claimed they were fighting against tyranny in order to make the broader world free.

Shifting gears a bit, as I read I'm thinking to myself "Yeah, but things are different now." I came of age in the 80s, and went off to fight the communists in West Germany in 1988. I say that so whomever is reading my comment will know where to place me in the timeline. In those days, for example when I was sitting on a tank overlooking the border between FRG and DDR, how did we learn about things that were going on in the world? We depended on relatively slow media outlets, of which there were only a few. Today I learn of what is happening in Ukraine by getting updates via Signal from a friend in Poland. This has some impact I think on how we....prevent or perhaps foresee what is coming? I may be overstating this a bit. A second point here is how we deal with aggression. Again, when I was sitting on that tank overlooking the Fulda Gap, I thought that tank was the very tip of the spear in terms of military advancement. And it was. Not any more. Our ability to fight wars has changed dramatically.

These two points, and probably a dozen others that I haven't thought of, are missing from Zeihan's analysis. At least they seem to be based on my reading of your explanation of his ideas, Claire.

But, what do I know?

Expand full comment
Oct 9, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

I have been listening to Mr Zeihan's podcasts and to your analysis with great interest.

He reminds me of Marx, who, after decades of research and analysis made predictions about the capitalists, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat that turned out to be spectacularly wrong. Remember Peak Oil, at $148/barrel? We were running out of the stuff. No one could see any reason why it would not continue to go up, and then........fracking came along.

On the other hand, Mr Zeihan's predictions are believable and his podcast with Claire was very convincing.

Claire rightly points out that economies and countries are complex systems, and that predictions for them are fraught, even for a year out.

Remember the beating I took from Dr X over climate change? I didnt feel competent to refute most of his detailed technical arguments. But, at the risk of another beating, can I suggest that climate is not just a complex system, but a complex matrix of complex systems, and the Western World is putting policies in place to create a fossil fuel free world based on models of climate going out five, ten and fifty years.

At that time I suggested that Germany relying on Russian gas was a big mistake ( the only thing I agreed with Trump on) and that the rush to net zero carbon would be politically and economically destabilizing, or words to that effect.

And I dont have any models. I just read the National Post, Quillette and the Cosmopolitan Globalist.

Love your blog. I read every word.


Expand full comment

Thank you!

Expand full comment
Sep 30, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Claire, we want you to talk like a pirate and become a pirate expert by embedding. Think of it as an expansion of your foreign policy expertise. Things you just can't learn in grad school!

Expand full comment

Cool! As I always say, making our readers happy is our top priority. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! (I just got a great idea: I'll ask Craiyon to illustrate my new career as a pirate expert. Stay tuned!)

Expand full comment
Sep 29, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

I wish people would pay more attention to the history of postwar U.S. foreign policy--and stop confusing the balance of payments policy of any given moment as some kind of grand U.S. strategy. In the 60s the government ran the economy too hot and it lead to inflation and BOP problems, the latter of which was tackled in the 70s. In the 80s Reagan used the improved international position to trade lower inflation for a higher trade deficit. This led to more balance of payments difficulties, which were solved by the Plaza Accords. Bush II pursued reckless fiscal policies, which combined with Clinton's globalizing reforms led to yet more BOP issues and caused a sudden stop in 2008. Obama and Trump (but mostly Obama) then cleaned up the mess, with the trade deficit dropping to safe levels and staying there until this year.

There is no grand strategy in any of this.

Expand full comment
Sep 29, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Balance of payments policy shifts often came with restrictions or liberalizations of trade. So we saw trade restrictions in the early 70s, liberalizations in the early 80s, more restrictions in the late 80s, fewer in the late 90s, more in the 2010s, etc.

Expand full comment
Sep 28, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Thank you Claire.

Hoping your surprise is interviewing/debating Zeihan. That would make for a very interesting hour or two.

Expand full comment
Sep 28, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Interesting analysis - definitely worth the build-up over the previous "parts".

I find it persuasive, but I'm aware that I want to find it persuasive - I would really prefer that westerners of my generation were not enjoying a peak time and place of peace and prosperity that must inevitably recede and not be reachable by future generations or in other parts of the world.

One question for Claire... You say "I think ideas—and people—matter more to history than Zeihan does.". I take you to mean that you think ideas and people matter more than Zeihan thinks they do, but it could be construed as suggesting that Zeihan matters less to history than ideas/people do. Kinda curious which it is :-)

Also intrigued by the mention of a Zeihan-related surprise. Have you inveigled him into a visit to the Cosmopolitan Globalist to set us all straight?

Expand full comment
Sep 28, 2022·edited Sep 28, 2022Author

As for wanting it to be true--I don't know that it isn't true. But I think I've demonstrated that it isn't *necessarily* true, or as Lawrence of Arabia said:


Expand full comment

For which thanks :-)

Expand full comment

Oh, goodness, you're right--that sentence is grammatically ambiguous. I think ideas and people matter more than Zeihan thinks they matter. I'd describe him as a materialist: He believes most of history is determined by geography and material resources. He assumes the ideas people have are largely a product of those. I definitely think those things matter--a lot--but I *also* think ideas and personalities and leaders matter. You could say I'm a dualist.

Expand full comment

My initial thought is that there’s enough right to go all around. The guy seems right on some things, wrong on others, and speculating the rest of the time. I was 11 years old when I first saw Europe in 1959. Much of London hadn’t been rebuilt and some areas looked like long-term construction zones. Paris, not so much. I didn’t see enough German cities, which means they were off the tour for whatever reason—still bombed out a bit?—but I recall Cologne and the scaffolding wrapping the the cathedral to repair the damage inflicted by Allied bombs. A street in Genoa was being finished and I remember photos of Il Duce hanging from a light post or something. That was the tourist zone. People talked at length of their worry that Italy was about to go Communist.

All of which to say is that I still don’t have a sense of how much of Europe was destroyed. My guess is that Germany and Poland were even dystopic in places, but as we now see Ukraine getting hammered, I have to appreciate that Europe was as bad, if not worse. That being the case, the U.S. could not hold back and do nothing and just hope it would all get built back better somehow. Point being, I guess, that certainly there were mercantile reasons for the Marshall Plan and subsequent trade deals, but there was also a fear of Soviet hegemony, which probably had both idealistic and mercantilistic concerns.

We had a housekeeper for a couple of years in the late 1950s, Lisa Ginschel, who was a DP from Germany. Her son was about my age and spoke almost no English. She was mortified of Russians, though. My wife and I had a dear friend from Baden-Baden in the early 1980s, and she likewise was mortified of Russians, saying that most Germans were as well.

Full circle, is Zeihan right? If he misses what I witnessed as late as 1959-Europe, and it seems to me he did based on your contrapuntals, then no. But some of his points are worth pondering fairly seriously.

Expand full comment
Sep 27, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Claire, you wrote, "Is Peter Zeihan right?" (about the imminent collapse of globalization and thus the end of civilization as we have known it) and then gave us a summary of his major arguments. , You agree with some and disagree with others, but in the end you conclude (if I understand you correctly) that although he is wrong on many of his assumptions, he could be right-ish because, after all, globalization is a complex system of inter-dependent sub-systems, and the collapse of one critical "node" can disrupt the smooth operation of the whole.

I have a less well-informed, unsophisticated way of answering the question you pose, based only on watching Peter Zeihan's video (haven't read the books; don't plan to). He is NOT right, because the theorhetical underpinnings of his theory are weak -- they only explain some things, they are not a theory of everything.

While his ideas are entertaining and thought-provoking, he suffers from the usual shortcomings of know-it-all didacticism: like many Brilliant People, he's so blinded by his brilliant insights he overlooks the boring little mundane factors that make a huge difference in how things ACTUALLY turn out (as opposed to the way the Brilliant Person's thought experiments say it OUGHT to turn out). If evidence is needed to buttress this assertion, I would cite how the poor morale and training affected performance of the Russian troops invading Ukraine upended the "conventional wisdom" that the UKR forces were doomed and the RUS would roll over them in a matter of days. Okay, I admit that I was one who fell for the CW, but then I recognize that am not a guy with brilliant insights. Of course, as a fellow with books to sell, Zeihan needs to have the courage of his convictions, so on the whole I think it is very helpful to our understanding of how things work that we consider his theories carefully, as you have, Claire (thank you).

I have another quibble with him: much as I agree that the US has been the essential superpower in post-WWII global affairs -- the present-day world would be a very different place, absent US leadership -- I think Zeihan affords American policy too much agency in affecting world affairs, and far too often our policy is made by ill-informed people in power, people all too likely to be careerists telling superiors what they think they want to hear, or political appointees in thrall to a particular political ideology. (the Dulles bros come to mind, or the innumerable Republican political zealots who infested the American administration of post-invasion Iraq).

Personally I find it thought-provoking and entertaining to listen to a very knowledgeable guy like Zeihan, who comes up with an fresh and appealing theory that seems to explain why things have happened the way they did (or the way the Brilliant Person portrays them), and then to uses theory as a kind of Automatic Turk prediction machine to foresee what will happen in future as a result. But human behavior is not so predictable as are physical laws of nature, and BP's do love to expound on their theories. And I certainly welcome hearing them.

Expand full comment

“It’s hard to say why Americans elect the presidents they do, but instinct tells me both Obama and Trump were ushered to power, in part, by a mood of deep disgruntlement with American engagement overseas, as Zeihan believes. But I suspect the cause of this disgruntlement was not a sense of strategic aimlessness in the absence of the Soviet Union, but rather the failure to achieve the outcomes we sought in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (Claire Berlinski)

Perhaps the cause of the disgruntlement that led to the election of both Obama and Trump was rooted in the unfortunate impact that the post Cold War international economy had on the American working class.

Whether free trade benefits the American economy as a whole may be less relevant than which Americans share in the largess that free trade affords. Working class Americans might have voted for Obama and Trump because they were fed-up seeing their manufacturing jobs shipped to Asia and Germany while the communities where those jobs once existed became dystopian hell-holes.

Perhaps those tens of millions of Americans who voted for Trump noticed that when it came to America’s role as the world’s policeman, most of the cops on the beat were working class kids who did a disproportionate share of the fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, while elite Americans spent their time obsessing about more posh concerns.

Then there’s another aspect of globalist ideology that bears mentioning; immigration. The same people (whether Democrats or Republicans) who were the prime advocates for Pax Americana were also advocates for a liberal immigration policy. Elites benefited while the working class took it on the chin. The point is that immigration policy is part and parcel of the globalist outlook that defined American policy since the end of the Second World War though admittedly, Americans were arguing about immigration policy long before that.

There is another possible explanation for the popularity of both Obama’s and Trump’s positions on American foreign policy. It comes from Adam Garfinkle’s friend and former colleague, Walter Russell Mead. Mead postulates that throughout American history, our foreign policy inclinations vacillate between four schools of thought which he labels as Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian and Wilsonian. Think of a pendulum that swings in two plaines rather than one. Perhaps it’s just the vibrations that naturally emanate from these quintessentially American foreign policy proclivities that account for the elections of Obama and Trump, at least to the extent that Americans care about foreign policy at all.

Expand full comment
Sep 27, 2022·edited Sep 27, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Something to point out is the US really didn't get involved in the Middle East and Persian Gulf in a big way until quite a few years after World War II so you can make a case that someone like Obama might not have viewed the US' presence in the Middle East as a "core" part of the post 1945 world order.

Second it is often forgotten that NATO not just includes the territories of it's member states(including both the US and Canada) but also the international waters of the Atlantic between Europe and North America and the lines of communication thereof. So perhaps it is better to think of NATO as an extension of North America including the Atlantic Ocean into Western and more recently Eastern Europe. Again you can see how someone might view then the Middle East which is not part of NATO(except Turkey) as being outside of this Europe/North America security perimeter and thus of no interest to the US(Much in the same way after 1990 the US hasn't been terribly interested in South America beyond issues of illegal immigration and drug trafficking)

Expand full comment