Digest 24: Project 2025; Breaking History; McFaul’s worldview
If you’d like to watch the video version of this post, rather than read, click here:
For now, video posted only on X.
Most interesting highlights from the past two weeks…
…Project 2025, a $22 million presidential transition operation that is preparing policies, personnel lists and transition plans to recommend to any Republican who may win the 2024 election. The transition project, the scale of which is unprecedented in conservative politics, is led by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has shaped the personnel and policies of Republican administrations since the Reagan presidency.
From the project’s site: ‘Our goal is to assemble an army of aligned, vetted, trained, and prepared conservatives to go to work on Day One to deconstruct the Administrative State.’
It’s very interesting to look at – even from a UK perspective and Special Advisor training.
Not to say that I agree with every policy being put forward. But I commend the ambition of thinking a year or two ahead, and planning in such an intentional way now.
I encourage anyone interested to check out their site.
Breaking History – highlights from Jared Kushner’s White House memoir
I was led to this book by Dominic Cummings:
My having spent a year as a 10 Downing Street Special Advisor, learning from Dominic Cummings, then in 2020 Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, how to jolt a bureaucracy to action – this intrigued me.
I went in to the centre of government as a 27-year-old, not a 36-year-old (like Jared); and with no comparable son-in-law connection.
But the book had great resonance. The alien environment for an entrepreneur entering government. And in a comparably anti-convention administration.
Prior to reading the book, I had an impression of Jared Kushner formed only from media spin. Going direct, I was thoroughly impressed.
The book is excellent – particularly on negotiating peace deals in the Middle East.
If you’d like to read my highlights, you can here.
Michael McFaul was a U.S. Ambassador to Russia under Obama, and I think he can fairly be described as a full-throttle supporter of defending Ukraine.
Wanting to listen to the opinion of those I disagree with, I listened to the below interview of McFaul with Andrew Roberts.
Here’s a fascinating 1-minute clip on how McFaul thinks about the world and international relations:
(I’ve not selectively/unfairly pulled out this clip. This is actually what he says!)
The principle of what he’s talking about here I would agree with in lots of contexts. Be objective-oriented.
But here, to me, this approach feels sub-optimal for what any country is trying to achieve.
By being so direct and self-interested, you’re likely conveying something to other countries that will mean your results aren’t as good as they otherwise could be.
In 2011, a book came out called Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly. You don’t need to read it – the concept is very simple.
To illustrate: the person who tries to become as rich as possible, will often not make nearly as much money as someone who wants to have a huge beneficial impact on the world (Elon), or someone obsessed with optimising customer experience (Bezos).
Another example would be dating. It’s usually quite a bad approach to say ‘I want to make this person my boyfriend/girlfriend’ – which would be the clinical objective-oriented approach. It’s typically better to say: I’m going to focus on making sure we have a great time together – and then something positive will surely come from it. This doesn’t creep people out.
In international relations: if you improve relations with a country first, you increase your mutual options for what’s possible in terms of managing and mediating situations.
McFaul’s outcome-oriented approach does, I fear, produce sub-optimal outcomes. Having warm relationships simply gives you more options!
F-16s in Taiwan
I found this from Paul Huang and Steve Hsu really interesting (~2 minutes):
Arms purchases being used by politicians – even though they’re unlikely to have any military efficacy.
I’m curious if Paul and others more knowledgeable than me on military tactics would say the same for Ukraine? Countries (including the UK) that are now promising to start training Ukrainian pilots… will this ultimately be for naught, and Russia will presumably just bomb runways to make efforts here fruitless, merely compounding destruction of infrastructure?
I thought this paragraph from Kim Dotcom to be thought-provoking:
Biden says that Russia has already lost the war because Finland and Sweden joined NATO. If that’s the measure of success then I would argue that the new military alliance between Russia and China with the 2nd largest defense budget in the world of US$300 billion is a massive loss for the West compared to adding 2 small budget NATO members (Finland $6.3 billion and Sweden $7.7 billion).
Thoughts from around the world…
Over the past week or so I’ve interviewed 12 people for a role of research assistant, to help in what I’m doing here.
It’s now had over 900 applicants, from all over the world.
I’ve spoken to people in Japan, Ghana, Pakistan, Uruguay, South Africa, the Philippines, and more.
The applicants weren’t by and large foreign policy experts, but smart people (capable of writing a top 12 from 900+ cover letter) who are on the ground in these countries – with enough interest in geopolitics and how the world works to apply for such a position.
Asking each about their own country’s politics, more than half cited Western (or really U.S.-led) attempts to foist LGBTQ+ rights onto them – in a way that doesn’t fit with their own traditions and culture.
One person in Cape Town, South Africa, memorably said to me: ‘We’re in the middle of an energy crisis. At the moment we frequently do not have power for seven hours in the middle of the city. We don’t have time to fight a culture war.’
Many put the question back to me – which I didn’t have a good answer for – Why is the West doing this?
Richard Haass on Oppenheimer
The movie understandably focuses on the horrors of nuclear weapons. Missing was the suggestion of what in fact turned out to be the case, that nuclear weapons introduced a significant degree of caution into what would become the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nuclear weapons are arguably the main reason the Cold War stayed cold, as they deterred not just nuclear use by either superpower but any use of military force by the United States or the Soviet Union directly against the other. It is another “What If” whether this would have been the case absent the use of nuclear weapons at the end of War World II.
Alas, this discussion (as interesting as I find it) does not necessarily make for riveting viewing, which helps explain why my career took me to Washington rather than Hollywood.
- With Trump now seeming ~50% likely to be President again in 2025, Putin will surely do everything he needs to stick around in Ukraine and see what happens in the 2024 U.S. election. Short of a complete collapse of Russia’s leadership, I don’t see any way Putin backs down before then. Ergo, the counteroffensive (which is expending many more Ukrainian lives than Russian) seems foolish.
- Why have we so badly miscalculated Nato’s artillery production capability? And why have we miscalculated the efficacy of sanctions? Why is no prominent British publication asking these basic questions, and holding the government to account? I consider this a failure of journalistic challenge – and hypocritical for all that has been said the past year about the need for ‘red team challenge’ looking back at Covid.
- From Seymour Hersh’s writing:
“How would President Biden react if China had established a base in Tijuana, Mexico, and met there with all the left-leaning governments of South America? That’s how Putin would be expected to react to the meeting… of all the NATO chiefs in Vilnius, close to the Russian border.”
Just look at a map and consider how provocative the location selection here was:
- From a year ago, I found these two sentences from Palmer Luckey very insightful:
‘Wars happen when one side or both mis-estimate their probability of winning… It’s when both sides disagree about the possibility of winning that conflict actually breaks out.’
- From Lee Slusher, a former U.S. intelligence analyst: ‘In a war between Russia and Ukraine, Russia wins easily. In a proxy war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, Russia wins eventually – but with a lot more death and destruction.’
- Lastly: there are back-channel attempts to broker peace with Russia happening:
(I’m almost certain this is Richard Haass.)
Let’s hope these secret diplomatic talks produce some positive outcome.
I’ve just started reading CIA Director Bill Burns’s 2019 book The Back Channel, and will report back with illuminating highlights in the next month or so.
Thank you for reading.