The Thucydides Trap in the White House

Remember my post a few days ago on two new books about a possible Sino-American war? Well Graham Allison, one of the authors, recently discussed his book with a group of White House staffers.


The 77-year-old Allison is the author of a recent book based on the writings of Thucydides, the ancient historian famous for his epic chronicle of the Peloponnesian War between the Greek states of Athens and Sparta. Allison cites the Greek scholar’s summation of why the two powers fought: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” He warns that the same dynamic could drive this century’s rising empire, China, and the United States into a war neither wants. Allison calls this the “Thucydides Trap,” and it’s a question haunting some very important people in the Trump administration, particularly as Chinese officials arrive Wednesday for “diplomatic and security dialogue” talks between Washington and Beijing designed, in large part, to avoid conflict between the world’s two strongest nations.

It might seem curious that an ancient Greek would cast a shadow over a meeting between a group of diplomats and generals from America and Asia. Most Americans probably don’t know Thucydides from Mephistopheles. But the Greek writer is a kind of demigod to international relations theorists and military historians, revered for his elegant chronicle of one of history’s most consequential wars, and his timeless insights into the nature of politics and warfare. The Yale University historian Donald Kagan calls Thucydides’ account “a source of wisdom about the behavior of human beings under the enormous pressures imposed by war, plague, and civil strife.”

There are some big fans of Thucydides in the White House too, including Steve Bannon:

Thucydides is especially beloved by the two most influential figures on Trump’s foreign policy team. National security adviser H.R. McMaster has called Thucydides’ work an “essential” military text, taught it to students and quoted from it in speeches and op-eds. Defense Secretary James Mattis is also fluent in Thucydides’ work: “If you say to him, ‘OK, how about the Melian Dialogue?’ he could tell you exactly what it is,” Allison says—referring to one particularly famous passage. When former Defense Secretary William Cohen introduced him at his confirmation hearing, Cohen said Mattis was likely the only person present “who can hear the words ‘Thucydides Trap’ and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means.”

That’s not true in the Trump White House, where another Peloponnesian War aficionado can be found in the office of chief strategist Steve Bannon. A history buff fascinated with grand conflict, Bannon once even used “Sparta”—one of the most militarized societies history has known—as a computer password. (“He talked a lot about Sparta,” his former Hollywood writing partner, Julia Jones, told The Daily Beast. An unnamed former colleague recalled for the New Yorker Bannon’s “long diatribes” about the Peloponnesian War.)

In an August 2016 article for his former employer, Breitbart News, Bannon likened the conservative media rivalry between Breitbart and Fox News to the Peloponnesian War, casting Breitbart as the disciplined warrior state of Sparta challenging a decadently Athenian Fox. There’s also NSC spokesman Michael Anton, a student of the classics who owns two copies of Thucydides’ fabled work. (“The acid test for me is: Do you read the Hobbes translation?” he says. “If you’ve read that translation, you’ve got my respect.”)

Trump Wins “Referendum”

An important U.S. House election took place in Georgia’s sixth congressional district last night. The liberal media kept referring to it as a “referendum” on Trump’s presidency, and sure enough, Trump passed.

Fox News:

Republican Karen Handel on Tuesday night defeated rival Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s record-spending, special-election congressional race, keeping yet another House seat in GOP hands and denying Democrats a chance to deliver a rebuke to President Trump.

With all precincts reporting, Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, led Ossoff 52 percent to 48 percent — a margin of nearly 11,000 votes out of more than 250,000 ballots cast.

The race smashed fundraising records for a House contest — with both campaigns and outside groups combining to spend a record $50 million.

Ossoff’s defeat was another setback for Democrats hoping to capitalize on Trump’s low approval ratings to win a long-standing Republican seat.

It was the party’s fourth straight defeat this year in attempts to win a Republican seat and take the momentum into the 2018 midterms. They now must win 24 GOP House seats to retake control of the chamber next year.

Whenever the media thinks they have Trump in a corner, he manages to escape every time. He may not win every battle, but he won this one handily.

Two observations: 1) The polls heading into the election were wrong once again and 2) Ossoff spent $30 million and still lost. How many times have we seen this pattern of the Democratic candidate polling too high and the biggest spender ending up losing?

Meanwhile, Democrats are scrambling to figure out why they keep losing over and over again. The theories are numerous: focusing too much on the Russian investigation, being too reactive to Trump, not having a clear vision, losing touch with the average American, etc.

2018 is going to be an interesting election year.

Steve Bannon Has Sense of Humor, Liberals Don’t

When asked via text message why press briefings are no longer on camera, Steve Bannon responded with the following:

“Sean got fatter.”

Chelsea Clinton, like most liberals, take everything too seriously. So she tweeted this in response:

Yes, Chelsea, it is the current year. So what?

When informed it was a joke, she said this:

Well ok then.

Jeet Heer of New Republic has also written an article calling Bannon’s joke a prime example of “everything that’s wrong with the White House.” Tell us how you really feel!

Is a Sino-American War Inevitable?

The authors of two new books I just ordered argue that it could very well happen if both sides aren’t careful: “Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power” by Howard French and “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” by Graham Allison.

New York Times:

The Chinese superpower has arrived. Could America’s failure to grasp this reality pull the United States and China into war? Here are two books that warn of that serious possibility. Howard W. French’s “Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power” does so through a deep historical and cultural study of the meaning of China’s rise from the point of view of the Chinese themselves. Graham Allison’s “Destined for War: Can American and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” makes his arguments through historical case studies that illuminate the pressure toward military confrontation when a rising power challenges a dominant one. Both books urge us to be ready for a radically different world order, one in which China presides over Asia, even as Chinese politicians tell a public story about “peaceful rise.” The books argue persuasively that adjusting to this global power shift will require great skill on both sides if conflagration is to be avoided.

Read the rest here. 88 percent of those who reviewed French’s book on Amazon gave it five stars, and 93 percent gave five stars to Graham’s book.

Congressional Baseball Shooter Supported Bernie Sanders, Hated Both Trump and Hillary

UPDATE: Hodgkinson has apparently died from his injuries in the shootout.

Authorities are identifying the congressional baseball shooter as James T. Hodgkinson from Illinois. Here is his Facebook profile. He’s an anti-Trump (and anti-Hillary) Bernie Sanders supporter. He called Hillary “Republican lite” in one Facebook post. And most notably, he wrote in another that “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Did the Congressional Baseball Practice Shooter Specifically Target Republicans?

Early this morning a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), two Capitol Hill officers, and a congressional aide were injured but are expected to be okay.

The gunman is in custody, so keep your eyes peeled for reports of his motivation. Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) says he was there to “kill as many Republican members as possible.” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) recalled just before the shooting that “there was a guy that walked up to us that was asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there.”

Check back later for updates.

Tories Screw Up Bigly

So the UK held an election yesterday.

If you felt you were caught off guard, there’s a reason why. Theresa May decided to call for an election a whole three years early because she ostensibly felt so confident in the Conservatives’ poll ratings.

Well this risk turned out disastrously for her and her party. The Tories lost 12 seats, which isn’t that large of a number on its own, but it was enough to cost them the majority government.

New York Times:

Despite the loss of at least 12 seats for the Conservatives, Mrs. May will try to form a working majority with the Democratic Unionist Party, which won 10 seats on Thursday. With 318 Conservative seats plus the D.U.P. seats, Mrs. May would have 328 votes — just above the 326 needed for a majority. Mrs. May confirmed her plan to form a minority government after a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

The D.U.P., a historically Protestant party that seeks to maintain Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, has close ties with the Conservatives, and it supported Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Boris Johnson, a Tory himself, refuses to stand behind May. Ouch. He’s supposedly going to become the Tories’ new leader, which may explain why he won’t back her.

Labour candidate Jeremy Corbyn has called on May to resign, and so have many MPs. A conservative think tank in the UK has also exhorted the Tories to reconsider the direction and goals of their party.

May seems committed to not resigning, though we’ll see if that lasts as the pressure mounts.