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W I N TER 2 017 NO. 1


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W i n t er 2 017 HOOV ERD I G E ST.O R G



Win ter 2017 H OOV ERD I G E ST.OR G
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Como un Solo Hombre (as one man)

proclaims this poster printed by the US
government during World War II. It was
part of an effort to blunt Axis influence in
Latin America and promote regional unity.
The image of a colossus standing guard over
North and South America was the work
of celebrated Mexican political cartoonist
Antonio Arias Bernal (19131960), whose
art was more often humorous; his mockery
of Nazi leaders both amused readers and
deflated Nazi propaganda in his native land.
See story, page 220.

(Bechtel Director of Public Affairs)
ERIC WAKIN (Robert H. Malott
Director of Library & Archives)






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Winter 2017


Shaken and Stirred

That tremor felt after Election Day was American democracy
in action. Donald Trumps allies and foes alike can make sure
American principles stand firm. By James W. Ceaser


Visions of Democracy
Global democracy is in trouble, and Donald Trump can either
help it or harm it. Where will he lead? By Larry Diamond


No, Prime Minister

Many Americans see our own political system as broken. But
would a parliamentary democracy like those of Europe fix it?
By David Brady


The Infrastructure Myth

Politicians always demand more infrastructureand the
spending that goes with it. Yet the United States already
spends vast sums on such things, much of it wasted. By Paul
R. Gregory


Return of the Forgotten Man

American leaders like to invoke this character to win
elections. What can the new administration do for him?
By David Davenport

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 3


Putting Words into Action

The new administrations economic policies range from good
to not so good. The time is short to straighten them out.
By Lee E. Ohanian


Globalism and Its Discontents

Pushing aside multilateral tradewith all its promisefor
multiple variations of America first. Is this what the world
needs now? By Michael Spence


A Thousand Things Going Wrong

Hoover fellow John H. Cochrane surveys the effects of
economic reality on economic theory. By Cloud Yip


Non-explanation for Non-recovery

The sharp downturn, as history suggests, should have been
followed by a sharp rebound. Why has the economy sagged
instead? Look to the feds. By Robert J. Barro


Work Long and Prosper

For robust economic health, more Americans need to work,
and to keep working. (Some solutions really are that simple.)
By Charles Blahous

H O O VER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


The Latest German Model

Germany knows how to get young people into good jobs without
a college degree: vocational training. America should follow its
example. By Edward Paul Lazear and Simon Janssen


Progressively Poorer
So-called progressives are hostile to free markets, capital, and
laborthe very things that would reduce the inequality they
claim to abhor. By Richard A. Epstein


Dont Poor Lives Matter?

Regulation that chokes off investment hits everyone in the
pocketbook, but the poor also pay with their health. By Henry
I. Miller


Allies First, Mr. President

Heres how Donald Trump can reassure our allies that the
United States wont abandon its friends. By Michael A. McFaul


Staying Power
Some of Americas founders would have liked Donald Trumps
America First foreign policy. After all, they were the original
foes of risky entanglements abroad. By Elizabeth Cobbs


General Mattis Advances on Washington

President Trumps choice for secretary of defense made his
name as both scholar and strategist, as a master of both
details and the big picture. Now he brings his wisdom to the
Pentagon. By James Mattis

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 5


The Other Forever War

Its been two long years since we launched a war against the
Islamic State, yet the American people have never had a
chance to debate itor consent to the sacrifices it entails.
By Jack Goldsmith and Matthew C. Waxman


Islamism Implacable
The terrorists are in some ways only Europes second-worst
enemy. Europes worst enemy is itself. By Charles Hill


Can Trump Handle Putin?

Forewarned is forearmed. Lets arm our new president with
the facts about Russia. By Paul R. Gregory


A Different Special Relationship

Whether allies or rivals, the United States and Russia have
deep ties. Its time for both nations to again pursue mutual
benefit in a complex, dangerous world. By Katya Drozdova


All Quiet on the Balkan Front?

With Yugoslavias successor states simmering with conflict
and discontent, problems of security, governance, and identity
could boil over. By Norman M. Naimark and Aleksandr

H O O VER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Pipe Dreams of a Normal Iran

Permit the rise of Iran? That wouldnt just be foolish. It would
represent an abdication of the Wests moral legitimacy.
By Thomas Donnelly


What Syrians Want

A survey of Syrian refugees shows just where their allegiances
lie. By Daniel Corstange


The Schools We Deserve

Old-style local control of public schools is fadingexcept,
that is, in charter schools. By Chester E. Finn Jr., Bruno V.
Manno, and Brandon L. Wright


Grading on an Invisible Curve

Evidence, not habit, should guide how we develop the best
schools. Why is evidence so scarce? By Michael J. Petrilli


Rust Belt Prophet

Family, sheer grit, and the Marine Corps rescued J. D. Vance,
author of the searching memoir Hillbilly Elegy. He wonders
what, if anything, will rescue his people. By Peter Robinson


A Miracle or a Relic
Hoover fellow Terry Moe argues that the US Constitution
is an anachronism that needs fundamental change. By Peter

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 7



Past Is Prologue
Determined to shape the future, the new president needs to be
reminded of the past. Lets convene a council of historians.
By Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson


Change for a Dollar?

Even his former enemy King George III called George
Washington the greatest man in the world. Tell that to the
activist trying to rename a San Francisco school. By Bill


A Bomb to Remember
The 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll were a shocking
introduction to the perils of the atomic age. Rare artifacts and
records tell the story. By Jean McElwee Cannon and
James Sam

209 Historical Harvest

Witold Sworakowski, diplomat and scholar, numbered among
those who gathered historical documents in Europe for the
Hoover Institutions collections. As he built, the secret police
watched. By Maciej Siekierski
220 On the Cover

H O O VER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Shaken and
That tremor felt after Election Day was American
democracy in action. Donald Trumps allies and
foes alike can make sure American principles
stand firm.

By James W. Ceaser

mericans awoke on the morning of 11/9 to a different political

world. There is only one word to explain what happened, and it
is called democracy.
The usual claims progressives invoke to deny that real democ-

racy exists in America do not seem to apply in this case. A bought election?
Hillary Clinton outspent her rival massively and enjoyed the support of many
more of the big donors. There are no Koch brothers to kick around this time.
Support from the big organized interests? Major unions, prestigious associations, and the denizens of the most powerful corporate board rooms were overwhelmingly in Clintons camp, just as Bernie Sanders had charged. Bias for one
side by the major media? No contest here; Clinton enjoyed a huge advantage.
Fabulists are sure to discover a few things to confirm their thesisinstances of
voter suppression, a right-wing conspiracy in the FBI and the bumblings of Director Clouseau, an electoral system that does not count the national popular vote.
But even the most ardent will be hard pressed to deny that the people spoke.
James W. Ceaser is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Harry F.
Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and director of the Program
on Constitutionalism and Democracy.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 9

Progressives face a difficult choice. Either they can blame democracy or

they can fault Clinton. Much might be learned, of course, if they offered, like
Americas own founders, an honest assessment of democracys limits. But it
is encoded in their DNA to flatter it, at least in public. Only in the back rooms
and among themselves do they define democracy as the rule of the deplor
ables. It is more likely,
therefore, that they
Trumps is not the art of theoretical
will turn their animus
thinking, but the art of the deal. Some in
against the Clintons
and blame them for
the conservative intellectual class even
pulling progressives
see this approach as liberating.
into their culture of
unseemly deals and continuing corruption. Democrats will need to look for
new heroes, as Bill Clintons luster was destroyed by this campaign and
Barack Obamas vaunted legacy looks more and more tenuous.
The 2016 election reminded many of the election of 1980. Both featured a
strong reaction on the part of the little people against an elite, especially
against a progressive intellectual elite. Economic hardship was no doubt a
factor in their arousal, but far more important was their angeranger at
being patronized by those who professed, or who had once professed, to be
their helpers. The uprising of the people was so overlooked that even the
scientists of democratic behavior, the pollsters, missed it. Hence the surprise
victories in both elections of a Republican president and the much-betterthan-expected performance of the GOP in congressional races.
Yet there is this difference. The 1980 movement was made in the name of a
guiding set of ideas, conservatism, to which its leader, Ronald Reagan, willingly
and publicly tethered himself. This public philosophy both enabled and set
limits to the movement. It naturally favored and honored thinkers and intellectuals, who in the aftermath of 1980 came to occupy an important place inside
the Republican Party. A vast conservative intellectual infrastructure was built,
consisting of institutes, think tanks, publishing houses, and journals. (Progressives had so successfully done the same earlier in the century that their movement had become virtually one with the entire culture of intellectual thought.)
The movement of 2016 has no such coherent philosophy. It is the product,
for now, of raw and powerful sentiments and of a set of discrete and inchoate
positions that can change by the day. It has been tied to one person, Donald
Trump, who eschewed this entire intellectual infrastructure, less really from
contempt than from indifference. Practicing politics (or anything else) by
reference to a structure of ideas is to him simply another world, a different


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

way of processing reality, of getting things done, and of managing affairs.

His is not the art of theoretical thinking, but the art of the deal. Some in the
conservative intellectual class have even taken to seeing this approach as a
liberating step, freeing conservatism from what they charge has become a
form of modern-day scholasticism.
Progressives and their followers in the media delighted in savaging both
Reagan and Trump as incompetent, ignorant, well beyond the pale. The more
these men were dismissed, the more many rallied to them in defiant solidarity. To this, Donald Trump added, often in plain sight, a shocking incivility
and vulgarity. Undisciplined by any ideology, his different positions wandered
into extremes and extravagances, which drifted in and out of a fluctuating
agenda. In his flamboyance he more than reflected the collapsing standards
of contemporary popular culture, where he has been an avatar of the changes. He clearly understood this realm better than any of his rivals.
Trumps unlikely emergence was akin to that of a party crasher. No one in
the GOP initially took him seriously, as he defied one conservative piety after
another. Some of his
rivals chose to coddle
The 1980 movement was made in the
rather than confront
him, hoping to absorb name of a guiding set of ideas, conservatism. The movement of 2016 has no
his growing support
once he was disposed
such coherent philosophy.
of. If there is blame
to be assessed for his rise, much of it goes to his major contenders who, each
naturally ambitious, refused to subordinate their personal careers to a larger
set of conservative principles that they held, roughly, in common. Consciously or not, Trump followed the age-old strategy of divide and conquer, and his
rivals played their part to perfection, offering themselves one by one to the
The prospect of selecting Donald Trump as the GOPs nominee led to the
so-called civil war within the party, as many leaders refused to countenance
his nomination and others endorsed it, with more or less enthusiasm. The
conflict grew most acute within the intellectual class, even as that class,
like the donor class, saw its influence within the political process collapse.
The less power the intellectuals had, the more heated grew the debate. The
greater part of intellectuals denounced Trump and joined to stop him by
forming a movement of their own, referred to as Never Trump, with or

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 11

without a hashtag. This group saw the danger of a demagogic candidacy and
a threat to democratic norms. Opposed were a smaller number of intellectuals, who jumped in, at first tepidly, to defend Trump, admitting some of the
flaws but advising others that this was not a decision made in a vacuum but
a choice between two evils.
Vexed by what they thought
Trump followed the age-old strategy
was a lack of realism and a
surplus of moralism among
of divide and conquer, and his rivals
their adversaries, many
played their part to perfection.
reached their limit when
they observed the same criticism of Trump being parroted by the sultans
of sanctimony on the left, who pronounced daily on Trumps outrages while
referring to any limitations of the Clintons as minor mistakes or flaws.
During the last months of the campaign it was said that this split represented a fundamental cleavage within conservative thought. And as the argument
grew more acrimonious, as political arguments invariably do, it came to be
thought that fundamental and systematic differences in conservative thinking
were somehow the original cause of the division. More sober voices, however,
tried to remind everyone that this dispute did not cause the nomination of
Trump; on the contrary, it was the nomination of Trump that caused the
dispute. Few if any conservative intellectuals had Trump as their first option
or favored him as the partys nominee, and there is practically no correlation
to be found between the kind of conservative one is and the position one took
during this argument. This fact led to the hope that once Trump was defeated,
which most thought likely, the war would eventually end.
Now that Trump has won, what happens? Can this difference be overcome
and is reconciliation possible? Restraint is a quality in short supply, especially
among intellectuals, and the temptation to settle scores is difficult to resist.
Those who thought themselves subject to being purged if Trump lost may be
inclined to seek purges now that he has won. What can be done?
The fate of the relations among conservative intellectuals is certainly not
among the top items of concern within the new circles of political power. But
its importance for the nation and for conservatism is real, even in the near
term. However much a campaign and election can be run, as we now know,
without much input from intellectuals, the nation cannot be governed, or
governed well, without their help. Facts have changed, and all are obliged to
work in the world we live in, not the one they thought we would live in.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

For the conservative intellectuals who opposed Trump, they knowand

knew all alongthat there are many items on his agenda that they favor,
from his likely picks for the Supreme Court, to his rebuke of political correctness, to his certainty of eliminating many regulations, to, perhaps, his
building of a beautiful wall, to mention only a few things. As the campaign
continued, in fact, the list of items on the agenda that included matters many
conservatives favor grew, even as other things remained anathema.
None of this will or should matter to conservatives, however, unless
Trumps provocations cease and he comes to govern as a president, not as
a strongman. Donald Trump is the head, on paper, of a unified government
with Republicans in the majority of both houses of Congress and in charge
of most of the state governments. This is the dream conservatives have been
pursuing for decades. Yet while unified on paper, the party is far from fully
unified in fact. Herein, paradoxically, may lie a great opportunity.
On the crucial question of the character of rule, Republicans in Congress
must now insist on the importance of constitutionality and adhere to the
same principles they planned to adopt had Clinton been elected. This election must not be seen as one Caesar replacing another, but as a restoration
of a serious balance in our political system. There will be more than enough
room in such an arrangement to enact a vigorous program, yet also enough
security to assure that Americas liberties remain safe. On this basis, conservatives who have opposed Trump should consider coming in from the
wilderness and lending their energies and talents to the new administration,
reserving their privilege to pull out if things go too far. And President Trump,
whether he realizes it now or not, should seek their help, for his good and for
the good of the nation.
Reprinted by permission of the Weekly Standard (www.weeklystandard.
com). 2016 The Weekly Standard LLC. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Milton

Friedman on Freedom, edited by Robert Leeson and
Charles G. Palm. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 13


Visions of
Global democracy is in trouble, and Donald Trump
can either help it or harm it. Where will he lead?

By Larry Diamond

resident Trump faces a world with more authoritarian momentum and greater democratic instability than at any time in the
past several decades. How he responds will be one of the great
challenges of his presidency.

In the political science literature, democratization is generally thought

to have occurred in waves. The largest and most recent of these, the third
wave of global democratic expansion that began in the mid-1970s and crested in the 1990s, had already begun to subside as early as 2005. Since then,
declines in freedom and political participation have come incrementally. But
in the past year or two, several developments have intensified global anxieties about the health and future of democracy.
The first is a trend toward authoritarianism that has popped up in several
emerging democracies.
Turkey: It has been under a state of emergency since the failed military
coup last July. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrested some thirty-two
thousand alleged coup plotters and more than one hundred journalists, while
Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a coordinator of
Hoovers Project on Democracy in Iran. He also is a senior fellow at the Freeman
Spogli Institute for International Studies and is the Peter E. Haas Faculty CoDirector of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

purging tens of thousands of other civil servants, military personnel, and

police officers from the government.
Thailand: Last August, the military imposed a new constitutionby
way of a referendum that was closed to opposition campaigningthat
obstructs democracy by giving the military enormous de facto power.
The Philippines: Since President Rodrigo Dutertes inauguration last
June, several thousand alleged drug traffickers have been killed without due
process. Duterte has also
cracked down on domesThere is no consensus on what we
tic opposition. Most
recently, he removed his
are witnessing, but its beyond disloudest critic from the
pute that populism and illiberalism
leadership of a senate
have been surging in the West.
committee investigating
the murderous wave of police and vigilante violence. Reacting against international criticism, Duterte even compared himself favorably to Hitler, saying that
while the German dictator had massacred three million Jews, he, Duterte,
would be happy to slaughter the Philippines three million drug addicts.
Another worrying development is that as democracies have stumbled,
authoritarian regimes have become more aggressive in projecting antidemocratic norms onto the world stage, even as they stifle political pluralism in
their own countries. Russia has been particularly dangerous in this regard,
using highly sophisticated social media interventions to promote confusion,
division, and doubt among democratic publics and intensify cynicism about
democracy. Russia is also believed by US intelligence agencies to be behind a
number of hacks, such as that of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podestas
e-mail account, designed to influence the US election. At the same time, Russia
and the worlds other most powerful autocracy, China, have been flexing their
muscles in more conventional military, economic, and geopolitical ways.
Perhaps the most ominous trend, however, has been the increasingly manifest problems of democracy within the United States and the advanced
nations of Europe. A crucial factor in the success of the third wave of
democratization was the unparalleled power of a seemingly successful US
democratic modelwhich President Reagan, channeling American colonial
governor John Winthrop, called a shining city on a hillto inspire admiration and emulation around the world. Of course, democracy in the United
States has always had many scars and imperfections. But during the 1980s

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 15

and 1990s, the world saw it as economically dynamic, politically functional,

morally self-confident, and militarily supreme. The fall of the Berlin Wall and
then of the Soviet Union left the United States as the lone superpower at a
time when its democratic allies in the EU were attempting to unify the continent in a common market based on liberal values and institutions.
In the postCold War era, democratic values became universalin the
sense that they appealed to large swaths of humanity in virtually every
region of the worldwhile all ideological rivals were in retreat or, as in Iran,
geographically contained. With financial and political support from Europe
and the United States during these two decades, freedom flourished, markets
expanded, civil societies grew, representative institutions strengthened, and
democracy became, for the first time in human history, the most common
form of government in the world.
During this third wave, democracy gained durable footholds in Africa and Asia
and became pervasive in Latin America, but its high quality and unquestioned
stability in the West remained the foundation of its global success. Europe and
the United States provided both an end state toward which emerging democracies could move and support to help them get there. It was thus possible to
imagine the turn of the millennium as the dawn of a new democratic century.
That vision has now begun to unravel. There is no consensus on what we
are witnessing, but it is beyond dispute that populism and illiberalism have
been surging in the West. Recent events in Europe have been particularly
worrisomeacross the continent, populist parties have sought to mobilize
the people against
allegedly corrupt elites.
As democracies have stumbled, author- In Hungary and Poland,
itarian regimes have become more
right-wing populist
aggressive in projecting antidemocratic governments have subverted the independence
norms onto the world stage.
of the judiciary, civil
service, and media. Antidemocratic parties have won significant vote shares
in Hungary and the Czech Republic, while illiberal, anti-immigrant ones,
such as Frances National Front and Germanys Alternative fr Deutschland,
have achieved impressive electoral gains in a number of West European
Last June, a further shock was delivered by Brexitthe stunning vote by
the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. For the 52 percent of the
British electorate who voted out, the referendum was the essence of democracy: a reassertion of national sovereignty and individual dignity against


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

elites in London and Brussels, who had grown distant from common people
and unresponsive to their concerns. But for more upwardly mobile and cosmopolitan British people, as well as for the bulk of Europeans looking at the
vote from the continent, Brexit was a turn away from inclusion, integration,
and a liberal democratic Europe.
On November 8, voters in the United States delivered an even more stunning
upset by electing the populist Donald Trump to the presidency, in a turn of events
that Trump himself had correctly predicted would be Brexit, plus, plus, plus. In
fact, the core constituencies that delivered the
Brexit vote and the Trump The most ominous trend is the
increasingly manifest problems of
presidency were similar: working class white
democracy in the United States and
voters with limited skills
the advanced nations of Europe.
and education, who feel
culturally displaced and economically threatened by immigration, globalization,
and racial and cultural diversity. Both votes pitted culturally diverse cities against
predominantly white rural areas, small towns, and decaying post-industrial rust
belts. Both campaigns left their countries more polarized than before. And both
have deepened worries about the future of the liberal democratic order.
Will the new Trump administration confront a gathering global crisis of
democracy? A new wave of breakdowns that could sweep away the democratic gains of recent decades? It depends. If Trump can bring the art of the
deal to Capitol Hill and fashion bipartisan agreements that address central
challenges such as economic stagnation, income inequality, and immigration,
the world may see that American democracy is working againeven if many
of Trumps policies draw opposition at home and abroad. Indeed, if the new
president pursues his little-noticed but progressive proposals on lobbying
reformwhich would make it much more difficult for former White House
and congressional officials to sell influence, especially to foreign governmentsthe quality of US democracy could improve in at least one respect
(though the prospective appointments of industry lobbyists to key government roles could largely vitiate that impact). And if Trumps pragmatic streak
in foreign policy leads him to recognize the value of supporting democratic
allies, his administration may be able to contain democratic backsliding.
There is reason to be skeptical: throughout his campaign, Trump made
it clear that his would be a foreign policy of realism, of pragmatism, and of

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 17

putting America firstnot of interventions to spread democracy. Authoritarian leaders such as Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi now probably
assume that under Trump, the Obama administrations pressure to democratize will vanish. Duterte, who offered warm post-election congratulations to
Trump, is visibly relieved to be getting rid of Obama, whom he called a son
of a whore after US officials expressed their concerns over extrajudicial killings. Silence from a Trump administration in the face of human rights abuses
by rulers such as these would exact a toll on democracys global prospects.
Yet previous US presidents, including Barack Obama, have made many compromises of this kind. And the world has changed since the days of Richard
Nixon, the last US president
to be a pure realist in foreign
Ronald Reagan understood that we
affairs. Today, there are many,
cant make America great again if we many more democracies
worldwide, and thus many
dont defend and advance our prinmore opportunities to pursue
ciples internationally.
common interests through
democracy. For instance, not enough attention has been given in policy circles
to existing but insecure and poorly institutionalized democracies such as those
in Indonesia, Peru, Tunisia, and most of postCold War Africa. Strengthening
the governing institutions and civil societies of these emerging democracies is
not inconsistent with Donald Trumps view of the world, which stresses friendship with countries that want to be friendly with the United States.
There is one further reason for hope. Part of what has made the United States
a great country has been its international standing as the worlds leading democracy. Ronald Reagan understood that we cannot make America great again if
we do not defend and advance our principles internationally. Whether Trump
understands that will be one of the most important tests of his foreign policy.
Reprinted by permission of Foreign Affairs (
2016 Council on Foreign Relations Inc. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is In

Retreat: Americas Withdrawal from the Middle East,
by Russell A. Berman. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


No, Prime Minister

Many Americans see our own political system as
broken. But would a parliamentary democracy like
those of Europe fix it?

By David Brady

record number of
Americans perceive their

Key points

government as ineffective.

During the Great Recession,

the US form of democracy acted
more nimbly than its parliamentary allies.

A Gallup poll taken a year

ago found that for the second consecutive year, dissatisfaction with government edged out the the
nations top problem. Last May, a poll
by the Associated PressNORC Center
for Public Affairs Research found that
just 4 percent [of Americans] say they
have a great deal of confidence in Congress, and only 15 percent say they
have a lot of confidence in the executive

The United States had a

quicker, more robust post-recession recovery than the parliamentary democracies of Europe.
Because parliamentary governments are more unified, they
can be more completely manipulated.
In a large, heterogeneous
country like the United States,
a system responsive to internal
dissent has clear advantages.

In a democratic republic, where

governing institutions are designed to reflect and respond to the will of the
people, such low grades speak to a corrosive sense of crisis. The public call
for the government to do something has become commonplace.
David Brady is the Davies Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and
the Bowen H. and Janice Arthur McCoy Professor of Political Science at Stanford
Universitys Graduate School of Business.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 19

Government inaction is most often the product of political gridlock. Our

presidential democracy is furnished with checks, balances, and veto points
intended to prevent either the legislative or the executive branch from
wielding outsize power. When the president and Congress can find agreement or compromise, laws get passed. But in polarized times such as our
own, these mechanisms are used to halt policy initiatives opposed by one of
the two major political parties. During the first two years of Barack Obamas
presidency, for example, his administration was able to pass the transformative Affordable Care Act in part because large Democratic majorities in both
the House of Representatives and the Senate made common cause with the
Democratic president. But in 2010 Republicans gained control of the House,
and in 2015 they won a majority in the Senate as well. Republican lawmakers were quick to slam on the brakes and stop what they saw as a runaway
liberal policy agenda. Republican obstructionism reached its apogee with the
2013 government shutdown over funding for ObamaCare.
In recent years, pundits have taken to decrying both obstructionism and
the system that allows it to gum up the works. That is to be expected. But
others are making a deeper, more revolutionary argument. Some members of
the press and academia call for the United States to replace its presidential
democracy with a parliamentary one. In a system more like Britains, they
say, gridlock would lessen or dissolve, obstructionism would no longer plague
us, and an empowered American prime minister would swiftly enact effective policy. The argument is timely and provocative, and often has a scholarly
gloss to it. But judging by the actual evidence, it is also wrong.
When faced with the greatest challenge of our young century, our presidential democracy acted more nimbly than its parliamentary allies. And
our success tells us much about the uniquely American understanding of
democracy itself.
The case for parliamentary democracy rests on the mobilization of power: a
majority-party parliament is elected by a countrys citizens. The parliament
then elects a prime minister. The executive and legislative powers are politically aligned and structurally fused. This makes for a relatively unopposed
head of government and the quicker and easier passage of laws.
Americans sympathetic to this argument are not so obscure as one might
think. In 2011, the journalist Fareed Zakaria wrote a blog post for CNN titled
Does America Need a Prime Minister? His implied conclusion: yes. Zakaria
writes that we are living in a world where you need governments that are


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

ON FURTHER REFLECTION: David Camerons defeat in the nation-changing

Brexit plebiscite he called left many Britons demanding reforms to weaken
the prime ministers office. In part because of an overconfident ruling party,
the vote left half the country reeling. [Andrew ParsonsZUMA Press]

able to respond decisively and quickly, which, of course, an American parliament could do. Its all very well to keep saying that we have the greatest
system in the history of the world, he writes in a follow-up post, but against
this background of dysfunction, it sounds a lot like thoughtless cheerleading. Similarly, in 2013, thenWashington Post columnist Ezra Klein claimed

H O O V ER D I G E S T W inter 2017 21

that our system of government is pretty unstable because both sides end
up having control over some levels of power...and incentives that point
in opposite directions. He went on: Our system is beginning to exhibit the
predictable, and terrifying, tensions of all presidential systems.
Taking a more urgent tone still is Matthew Yglesias in Vox. In 2015, he
wrote an article under the headline American Democracy Is Doomed.
Yglesias, sounding like the
early Christian apocalyptics,
The fond hope is that an empowered argued that someday there
US prime minister would swiftly
will be a collapse of the legal
and political order and its
enact effective policy.
replacement by something
else. If we are lucky, this would lead to a better, more relevant political system. He then cited the work of the late Spanish political scientist Juan Linz
to make the case that presidential systems simply cannot overcome gridlock.
In a parliamentary system, writes Yglesias, deadlocks get resolved. In
contrast, within a presidential system, gridlock leads to a constitutional
train wreck with no resolution. The conclusion was obvious: America needs
parliamentary government.
Writing in the Atlantic in 2015, Yoni Appelbaum was also dire. Noting first
that in parliamentary systems, governmental gridlock is relatively rare, he
delivers a harsh assessment of American democracy: Blind faith in the wisdom of the Constitution, and in its capacity to withstand the poor behavior of
its politicians, will ultimately destroy it.
Some American supporters of the Westminster system offer a more
thoughtful treatment of the question. The political scientists Thomas
Mann and Norman Ornstein claim that the problems for our presidential
democracy are now emerging in acute form because the Republican Party
is acting like a parliamentary-majority party without the mandate offered
by a parliamentary system. In their book, Its Even Worse Than It Looks:
How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of
Extremism (2012), they describe parliamentary parties as ideologically
polarized, internally unified, vehemently oppositional. In a system of
power-sharing and checks and balances, such unyielding organizations
cannot make anything happen.
The political system has become grievously hobbled at a time when the
country faces unusually serious problems and grave threats, Mann and
Ornstein write. The country is squandering its economic future and putting itself at risk because of an inability to govern itself effectively. In a


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

winner-take-all system, like Britains, the Republicans unity of purpose

would lead to action. Here, it means gridlock.
Other scholars have even explored the question beyond the written page.
NPR reported that the American Political Science Association convened a
special task force in 2013 to discover whether the United States can learn
lessons from European democracies where theres less paralysis. Unsurprisingly, these political scientists determined that we could learn much from
parliamentarians but also seemed to agree that stubborn Americans are not
likely to implement any of the lessons on offer.
How do we determine whether or not these claims for parliamentary government are true? Of course, the only way to know for sure would be to abandon
our presidential system, make the recommended changes, and examine
the results. But, short of that unfeasible option, we can get at a reasonable
assessment by moving away from the theoretical and examining the realworld results that we already have. That is, we can observe how the two
systems have responded to what Mann and Ornstein might call an unusually
serious problem.
The Great Recession that began in 2007 was a worldwide crisis that generated tremendous uncertainty for every government on the planet. It is therefore ideal for testing the responsiveness of different systems. The recession
began with a global credit crunch and led to low economic growth and high
unemployment. Its causes remain disputed but include the collapse of the
US housing market, spiraling mortgage-backed securities, falling consumer
confidence, and drops in exports. The important thing, for our purposes, is
that its effects were felt on
both sides of the Atlantic.
The Great Recession is the ideal test
The growth rate of real
GDP for both Europe and
of the responsiveness of different
the United States went into
negative territory in 2008
and did not become positive again until 2010. GDP fell between 3 and 5.5
percent in 2009 for France, Britain, and Italy. By 2010, high income countries
had an average of more than 9 percent unemployment. Some sixteen million
people were unemployed.
If the institutional arrangements of the US system are inferior to those of
Europe, then we might find that the United States managed the crisis more
poorly than its parliamentary counterparts. After all, this was a situation

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 23

that demanded the type of decisive policies that are supposedly beyond the
abilities of our presidential democracy. If parliamentary institutions are
better at making and implementing policy, then one would think they would
have done better economically than the United States.
Using data from the International Monetary Fund allows us to compare
the US performance to that of the parliamentary democracies of the euro
area on real GDP growth, unemployment, and hourly earnings between 2013
and 2015 (with projections for 2016).
The United States was first in growth in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and was first
in projected growth for 2016. The United States also had the lowest rate of
unemployment from 2013
through 2015 and the lowest
David Camerons defeat in the
projections for 2016. Likewise, the United States led
Brexit plebiscite left many Britons
in employment growth in
demanding that the prime minister
those years and was proactually be weakened.
jected to lead in 2016.
In regard to hourly earnings, the United States led in 2013 and 2014, was
at parity with the euro area in 2015, and was the projected leader for 2016.
Finally, consumer price data show that in 2013 the euro area lost 1.4 percent
and had risen to a projected 1.1 percent in 2016, while the United States was
projected to have slightly higher consumer prices through 2016.
These data point undeniably to the fact that the United States had a
quicker, more robust post-recession recovery than the parliamentary democracies of Europe. This is not to say that our recovery was optimal; but, relative to others, the United States fared best. To be sure, Americas lead over
parliamentary systems here was not absolute. In Germany (and Canada and
Japan) unemployment was lower than in the United States during this time.
And Germany edged out the United States in productivity and hourly earnings. The United States did better than Germany, however, in GDP growth
and job creation.
Surely, one might argue, this alone does not demonstrate that Americas
stronger recovery is the result of its presidential system. The objection is
fair, but when we consider the kind of action the United States took and why
European countries failed to do the same, the picture becomes clearer.
Critics of our presidential system, recall, claim that checks and balances
and veto points inhibit the swift implementation of bold, proactive policy.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Yet, thats not at all what we find in the case of the recession. The US
policy response was much more proactive [than the European response],
a group of Woodrow Wilson School researchers reported. Fiscal stimulus
was greater than in the eurozone in 20089....More important was the US
authorities active resolution of banking stress; eurozone banking problems
were allowed to fester. The researchers also found that US monetary policy
was much more aggressive [than in Europe]. American gridlock, it seems,
was not an issue.
Europes less decisive response to the recession was not accidental. In
fact, it gets to the heart of a deep structural problem with the Westminster
systema problem routinely ignored by its AmeriIts doubtful many Americans would
can enthusiasts. Because
tolerate a government that ignored
parliamentary governments
are more unified, they can
half the electorate.
be more completely manipulated. We live in a world where national governments are increasingly
buffeted by forcesnotably international financethat are very hard to
control, wrote the British political scientist David Runciman in the London
Review of Books. Decisive, single-party governments are not the way to resist
these forces, because their freedom of maneuver makes them easier to buy
off without anyone else being able to hold them to account.
That is precisely what happened during the recovery from the Great
Recession. International financial organizations, such as the International
Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission,
leaned on parliamentary governments after the recession to enact budgetreduction reforms that resulted in a slowed recovery. In a single-party
government, its much harder for dissenters to influence policy, so the acquiescence was essentially total. Although not speaking about the recession per
se, Runcimans diagnosis is apt:
What national democracies need is not more autonomy but more
barriers in the way of any single political faction or grouping being
able to call the shots. The presence in government of multiple
parties representing multiple interests helps to give democracy
a measure of defense against the whirlwind of money that swirls
around it.
Thus, in the birthplace of the Westminster system, there are those who wish
for a more decentralized, less decisive government.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 25

It is worth mentioning that while parliamentary systems erred on the side

of restraint after the recession, they are also susceptible to a specific type of
overreaction. Britains vote last July to leave the European Union delivered a
shock to that countrys institutions. The vote was the doing of one man alone,
thenprime minister David Cameron. Setting aside the merits or drawbacks
of Brexit, there is a lesson here about the consolidated power of prime ministers in single-party governments.
Camerons defeat (52 percent to 48 percent) in the nation-changing plebiscite he called left many Britons demanding reforms to weaken the potency
of the prime ministers office. Again, whether or not Brexit is good policy, its
adoption, due in part to an overconfident ruling party, left half the country
reeling. It should not escape notice that a number of the Americans who
have praised parliamentarianism, such as Zakaria and Klein, were opposed
to Brexit. Perhaps they are now reconsidering their enthusiasm for activist
Both the recession and the Brexit vote illustrate a larger point: without
overwhelming majorities in public opinion, democratic systems that are
responsive to internal dissent have undeniable advantages over parliamentary systems. This is especially true for a country as large and heterogeneous
as the United States.
Consider the most divisive issue in American politics: abortion. The two
parties platforms could not be further apart. While Republicans largely wish
to ban abortion, Democrats
generally favor little to no
Americans continue to believe that
restrictions on the practice. Yet, as the American
political arguments can be won and
Enterprise Institutes Karlyn
consensus can shift.
Bowman and Andrew Rugg
show in a 2013 study, 75 to 80 percent of the country would vote against both
of these two stark alternatives. What, then, would become of the vast majority if the United States were subjected to a Westminster-type government?
Would the country swing back and forth between the two policies depending
upon which party was in office? One can scarcely imagine it.
Abortion is an extreme case, but the data suggest that on a number of other
major issuesimmigration, deficit reduction, energythe majority is to the
left of the Republicans and to the right of the Democrats. Thus, the wise words
of the political scientist and Hoover senior fellow Morris Fiorina: However


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

unhappy the present state of affairs might be, citizens may prefer muddling
through to being whipsawed by two elite minorities governing by their own
For all the popular calls for government to do something about a given
problem, its doubtful many Americans would tolerate a government that
ignored half the electorate with impunity.
And muddle through we do. In the United States, ongoing arguments are
the source not merely of gridlock but also of policy refinement and innovation. Whats more, Americans continue to believe that political arguments
can be won and consensus can shift. Indeed, our history shows this to be
true. The recent presidential election season showed clearly that our politics are not static. Taking the broadest view of American history, this is for
the good. It means, among other things, that a people dissatisfied with their
government will ultimately be heard.
In our presidential system, for all its frustrations, things do change and government does respond. If we have to argue about it first, so much the better.
Reprinted by permission of Commentary (www.commentarymagazine.
com). 2016 Commentary Magazine. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is American

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call (800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 27


The Infrastructure
Politicians always demand more infrastructure
and the spending that goes with it. Yet the United
States already spends vast sums on such things,
much of it wasted.

By Paul R. Gregory

andidate Hillary Clinton called for a big increase in infrastructure spending as a down payment on what she termed a national
emergency. She warned: We have bridges that are right now too
dangerous to drive on, although people take a deep breath and

drive across them. We have roads that are so riddled and pitted and potholed
that people driving them are having to pay hundreds of dollars to repair
the damage. We have airports that are stuck in the midtwentieth century
instead of the twenty-first century. We have water systems that are unsafe
for children to drink the water from.
She promised, if elected, to send a $275 billion infrastructure spending bill
to Congress in her first one hundred days. In campaign stops, she invited
voters to dream of the hundreds of thousands of jobs that her infrastructure spending would create. Her promised infrastructure boondoggle drew
Donald Trump into the bidding game with his unseemly pledge to double
Clintons program.
Paul R. Gregory is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the Cullen
Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Houston and a research
professor at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Before embarking on an infrastructure spending spree, we should answer

three questions. First, what is the actual state of our infrastructure? How do
our roads, utilities, telecommunications, and airports compare to those of
other affluent countries? Second, have we created an infrastructure deficit
by underspending? Are we indeed spending too little? Third, if so, how much
spending is needed to bring infrastructure up to international standards?
The truth is that US infrastructure ranks near the top in the world.
No matter: the political script is that we need more government spending
on infrastructure, and we need it now. Democrats call for a publicly funded
infrastructure bank to address Americas crumbling infrastructure. A crisis
is ginned up to demonstrate that current levels of infrastructure spending
are woefully inadequate. Public spending lobbyists oblige with D-plus report
cards for aging and unreliable roads, bridges, and ports. The fifteen thousand
transportation lobbyists in Washington routinely contribute huge amounts to
politicians on both sides of the aisle. Opponents of infrastructure spending are
decried as wanting to poison grandma with polluted water and send school
buses over the guardrails of decaying roads. Good people want good roads,
safe bridges, and clean drinking water, but not these tight-fisted deficit hawks.
Advocates of infrastructure spending point to the glistening glass and
steel of the United Arab Emirates futuristic airports, of French and Japanese bullet trains reaching two hundred miles per hour, and of Germanys
dense autobahn network. Surely, they argue, the United States must be an
infrastructure laggard when compared to these masterpieces of twenty-firstcentury technology and innovation.
But are these images representative? The United States is a country of
almost four million square miles. Of course it will have some shaky bridges,
potholed roads, and suspect water systems. It has six hundred thousand
bridges. But over the past sixty-five years, just forty-five bridges have collapsed, for an infinitesimal annual failure rate.
The latest tally of the widely cited World Economic Forums (WEF) rankings puts US infrastructure in eleventh place, behind countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, France, and even Spain. But, at eleventh place,
the United States ranks ahead of Canada, Austria, Australia, and Scandinaviano slouches in infrastructure. The WEFs US ranking is artificially
depressed, first, by Americas low cell phone subscriptions per capita.
Second, the WEF ranking is determined by experts from each country,
who provide subjective scores ranging from 1 to 7 for each component of the

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 29

index. Will the 369 country specialists from the United States evaluate US
infrastructure by the same standards as the hundred experts from Egypt or
the thirty-nine from Haiti?
In its New Global Index of Infrastructure, the prominent Kiel Institute for
the World Economy has constructed an alternate infrastructure index based
on facts rather than expert opinions. The Kiel results are strongly correlated
with the WEFs, but the two differ on the US ranking. Kiel ranks it at fourth
behind Hong Kong, Singapore, and Germany. The first
two are city-states, which face lesser infrastructure
challenges. Among nation-states, therefore,
the United States comes in at number
two, just behind Germany.
If the Clinton campaigns
assertion that US
infrastructure is

[Taylor Jonesfor the Hoover Digest]


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

crumbling and the Kiel Institutes numbers are correct, citizens of Switzerland, Canada, Luxembourg, Japan, Britain, France, South Korea, and Sweden
should worry out loud about their more decrepit and dangerous infrastructure. Strange that such voices are silent.
The second question: does the United States spend too little on
The claimed US infrastructure crisis must be the result of too little spending relative to other countries. But thats not the case. According to OECD
statistics, the United States spent 3.2 percent of its GDP (200111) on public investment versus the European Unions 3 percent. With roughly equal
GDPs, the United States actually outspent the European Unionthe model
of infrastructure that our politicians frequently praise. Whats more, the
newly published McKinsey Global Institutes Bridging Global Infrastructure
Gaps confirms that US government investment (as a percent of GDP) has
outpaced those of Japan, Britain, and Europe since 2000.
The question, though, is how that money is spent. In both the
United States and Europe, public investment and procurement
are political processes characterized by waste and corruption. If
we get less bang per buck from our infrastructure dollar than
other nations, our problem is not too few dollars but too few
dollars efficiently spent.
We need fewer bridges to nowhere and less money
spent on propping up failing green businesses and public
employee pensions.
Finally, how much should we spend on
The McKinsey report estimates that
the world needs to increase its 201530
infrastructure spending from its
current $2.5 trillion to $3.3
trillion per

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 31

year to achieve a GDP growth rate of 3.5 percent. In other words, the world
economies need to raise infrastructure spending by $800 billion per year for
the next fifteen years for a total of $12 trillion, or 15 percent of world GDP.
McKinsey, however, recommends that virtually all of the increased infrastructure spending go to those poor countries with alarming infrastructure
deficits. In fact, McKinsey
offers a list of countries
With roughly equal GDPs, the United whose current spending levStates actually outspent the Euroels are sufficient to produce
pean Union on infrastructure.
robust growth rates, among
them the United States. The
United States has a 30 percent surplus between current rates of infrastructure spending and infrastructure spending needs between now and 2030. In
other words, we do not need an infrastructure bank and a stimulus disguised
as infrastructure. We are already spending enough.
The American Society of Civil Engineers does not agree with McKinsey. These
civil engineers have decided that the United States must spend $3.4 trillion
between now and 2030 to correct our infrastructure deficit. If our civil engineers
had their way, the United States would gobble up 30 percent of the worlds extra
infrastructure spending that McKinsey says should go to the developing world.
Asking the civil engineers how much infrastructure spending we need is akin to
asking defense contractors how much we should spend to keep America safe.
A new president who is indeed a citizen of the world would direct our
infrastructure spending surplus to less-fortunate countries, not to campaign
contributors. Our builders, construction workers, and infrastructure lobbyists may not agree, but it would be the right thing to do.
Reprinted from Defining Ideas (, a Hoover Institution journal. 2016 The Board of Trustees of the
Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

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at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreements
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H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Return of the
Forgotten Man
American leaders like to invoke this character to
win elections. What can the new administration
do for him?

By David Davenport

n his first tweet as president-elect, Donald Trump promised that the

forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again. Indeed, the
forgotten man and woman were recurring characters in Trumps flurry of campaign rally speeches the day before the election. In Sarasota,

Florida, for example, he said, We are going to massively cut taxes for the
middle class...who I call the forgotten people. These forgotten men and
women are the ones who built our country. He made similar references to
this key constituency at pre-election rallies in Raleigh, North Carolina, and
Grand Rapids, Michigan.
But this leads to an interesting question: who are Trumps forgotten man
and woman? Are they related to Franklin Roosevelts famous forgotten man
around whom he built his New Deal in the 1930s? And, going even further back
in history to seek a deeper understanding, where did the term originate?
What we find is a flexible expression that has varied widely in its meaning, a character whom Donald Trump resurrected and reinvented to fuel his
political victory.
David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He and Gordon
Lloyd are co-authors of the new Hoover Institution Press book Rugged Individualism: Dead or Alive?
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 33

President Roosevelts forgotten man became the centerpiece of his New

Deal policies and political constituency. Blaming Herbert Hoovers rugged
individualism policies for the Great Depression, Roosevelt said he would
focus governments efforts instead on the forgotten man. When Roosevelt
incorporated the term in
his fireside radio chat
Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid,
the twentieth-century
even ObamaCare have all been carried
version of Twitteron
out in the name of the forgotten man. April 7, 1932, the new
president said: These
unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the
unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power for plans...that
build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once
more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
Roosevelts forgotten man would become the object of government policy
not only during the New Deal but arguably for the next eighty-five years
and counting. The welfare state Roosevelt began to construct with Social
Security, and which President Lyndon Johnsons Great Society expanded
with Medicaid and Medicare, and to which President Barack Obama added
ObamaCare, has all been carried out in the name of the forgotten man. Roosevelts implementation tool was bigger government, especially the executive
branch of the federal government, and more central planning and control. It
was, in todays parlance, the elites holding the reins of power in the name of
helping the forgotten man.
But the origin of the forgotten man held a different meaning still. A Yale
professor, William Graham Sumner, coined the term to describe the man
who pays for someone elses reforms that, in turn, benefit yet another person.
In some ways he sounds
more like Richard Nixons
silent majority than RooTrumps forgotten man sounds like
sevelts forgotten man.
Nixons silent majority.
Sumner said, The forgotten, votes, generally he praysbut he always pays. Indeed,
Trump did appeal to a silent majority, even a politically disengaged population, who are frustrated that they always pay for more and more government,
but feel as if they gain nothing from it.
Perhaps Trump brings together both the original Sumner and the revised
Roosevelt understandings of the forgotten man. By winning the largest share
of white working class men among any presidential candidate since World


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

War II and also winning white working class women at high levels, Trump
has reached down to the lower rungs of the economic pyramid, as Roosevelt
put it. Like many victims of the Great Depression of the 1930s, many of these
are unemployed or underemployed. But they are not impressed by what big
government has done for them. They seem to want more of the American
Dream rather than more government welfare.
The important question now is: what can Trump do for the forgotten men
and womenwhat will he do? He says he will cut their taxes. Of course he
alone cannot accomplish that, but with a
When the term was coined, it meant
the man who pays for someone elses
Congress, perhaps tax
reforms that, in turn, benefit yet
reform is possible. It
seems that the rest of his another person.
solutions are more like
Hoover than Roosevelt, more about building walls and rebuilding the economy, allowing them to create more jobs, rather than providing more government welfare or control.
So the forgotten man and woman rise again. Each president who embraces
them sees them a bit differently, but they have become a convenient political
appeal and a way to structure domestic policy.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Rugged

Individualism: Dead or Alive? by David Davenport and
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H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 35


Putting Words
into Action
The new administrations economic policies range
from good to not so good. The time is short to
straighten them out.

By Lee E. Ohanian

resident Trumps economic vision for America is an unprecedented, unlikely combination of economic policies from both the far
left and the far right that he argues will right Americas economic
ship. Trump claims that his policies of trade restrictions, immi-

gration restrictions, tax cuts, and higher federal government spending will
create twenty-five million new jobs and nearly double the current economic
growth rate over the next decade.
These policies have given hope to a large group of voters who blame
globalization and government for the declining economic opportunities
and lower incomes many Americans have experienced. However, several
of these policies provide nothing more than a false sense of hope, particularly to workers who are the least skilled and the most vulnerable
to economic dislocations arising from globalization and technological
Many see Trumps trade proposals as a critical policy tool to restore highpaying US jobs. The new president argues that existing trade policies have
Lee E. Ohanian, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a professor of economics and director of the Robert Ettinger Family Program in Macroeconomic
Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

devastated the economic lives of many Americans and proposes to renegotiate trade deals and raise tariffs on China if the Chinese do not stop what
Trump calls unfair trade practices. These proposals have resonated with
a surging populist sentiment, but they are perhaps the most destructive of
Trumps policies.
The United States benefits enormously from international trade. It not only
provides a much wider range of goods for Americans to purchase but also
benefits the average American household by about $10,000 per year in lower
prices. Moreover, US trade restrictions would not make our industries more
Take sugar production, for example. The United States has protected
domestic sugar producers since 1789. After two hundred years of protection,
our sugar industry is nowhere close to being competitive, and it will never
be competitive. Todays sugar protection raises domestic sugar prices about
60 percent above the world price. The Commerce Department estimates
that three jobs are lost in the candy industry alone for every sugar job that is
saved by protection.
Moreover, raising US tariffs would raise the cost of the raw and intermediate imported goods that make up our complex international supply chain.
There is wide agreement among economists that increasing trade protection
could benefit a handful of workers but would significantly reduce economic
opportunities and incomes for everyone else.
Some of Trumps proposals for tax reform are more sensible. While lacking
in detail, Trump proposes to eliminate many tax credits and subsidies and
reduce marginal tax rates. This view of tax policy is consistent with the recommendations of every bipartisan tax reform commission since the 1990s.
Unfortunately, these recommendations have never been followed. Todays
US tax code is more
than seven hundred
thousand pages long. Future Congresses and presidents may
The corporate tax
inherit a very large fiscal problem.
code is the poster
child for tax complexity and inefficiency. The 35 percent statutory corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world, yet corporate tax revenue
accounts for only 10 percent of federal tax revenue. In 2002, the IRS declared
that corporate tax rules were so complicated that it was nearly impossible to
summarize them. They are even more complicated today.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 37

The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research center that analyzes the

economic effects of taxation, concludes that the Trump plan would expand
the economy by ultimately creating an additional two million jobs. However,
they also find that his
tax plan would decrease
Increasing trade protection could benetax revenue by about
fit a handful of workers. It would signifi- $3 trillion over the
cantly reduce economic opportunities
next decade. This suggests that the federal
and incomes for everyone else.
deficit will rise, not only
because of lower revenues but because of Trumps proposal to raise federal
spending in a number of areas without offsetting spending cuts in other
Trump also has not offered any proposal to deal with the looming imbalances of Social Security. This means that future Congresses and presidents
may inherit a very large fiscal problem that will require more drastic changes
in the future than what would be required now to address this issue.
Trumps immigration plans make his goal of creating twenty-five million
jobs virtually unattainable. Because of the accelerating retirement of workers from the baby boom generation, economists broadly agree that there is
almost no chance the United States can create twenty-five million jobs in the
next ten years without considerable immigration.
Economists also agree that it is critical to increase the number of highskilled immigrants, particularly those who wish to start businesses. Immigrant entrepreneurs
disproportionately account
High-skilled immigration is perhaps
for successful US start-ups;
the closest economic policy akin to a more than half of successful high-tech start-ups were
free lunch for our country.
founded or co-founded by
immigrants, and about half of the Fortune 500 was founded by either an
immigrant or the child of an immigrant.
Restoring our entrepreneurship rate to its preGreat Recession level
is important for increasing economic growth because a small share of
todays start-ups will become tomorrows economic giants. Increasing
high-skilled immigration is perhaps the closest economic policy akin to
a free lunch for our country, as this would significantly increase new


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

opportunities. Trumps immigration proposals, however, suggest this will

be unlikely.
US economic growth is well below its historical average, and has been for
some time. Trumps policies may increase economic growth and job creation
modestly, but they will not come close to achieving what he has advertised.
In fact, achieving his goals of doubling economic growth rate and creating
twenty-five million new jobs over the next decade will require policies that
are an about-face from some of his most dearly held proposals.
Reprinted by permission of the San Francisco Chronicle. 2016 Hearst
Communications Inc. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is

Government Policies and the Delayed Economic
Recovery, edited by Lee E. Ohanian, John B. Taylor,
and Ian J. Wright. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 39


Globalism and Its

Pushing aside multilateral tradewith all its
promisefor multiple variations of America first.
Is this what the world needs now?

By Michael Spence

ince the end of World War II, the hierarchy of economic priorities
has been relatively clear. At the top was creating an open, innovative, and dynamic market-driven global economy, in which all
countries can (in principle) thrive and grow. Coming in second

one might even say a distant secondwas generating vigorous, sustainable,

and inclusive national growth patterns. No more.
In fact, a reversal seems to be under way. Achieving strong, inclusive
national-level growth to revive a declining middle class, kick-start stagnant
incomes, and curtail high youth unemployment is now taking precedence.
Mutually beneficial international arrangements governing flows of goods,
capital, technology, and people (the four key flows in the global economy) are
appropriate only when they reinforceor, at least, dont undermineprog-

ress on meeting the highest priority.

This reversal became apparent last June when Britonsincluding those
who benefit significantly from the existing open economic and financial
Michael Spence is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a professor of economics at New York Universitys Stern School of Business, and the Philip H. Knight
Professor Emeritus of Management in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford
University. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

systemvoted to leave the European Union, based on what might be called

the sovereignty principle. EU institutions were perceived to be undermining Britains capacity to boost its own economy, regulate immigration, and
control its destiny.
A similar view has been animating nationalist and populist political movements across Europe, many of which believe that supranational arrangements should come second to domestic prosperity. The EUwhich actually
does, in its current configuration, leave its member governments short of
policy tools to meet their citizens evolving needsis an easy target.
But even without such institutional arrangements, there is a sense that
emphasizing international markets and linkages can hamper a countrys
capacity to advance its own interests. Donald Trumps victory in the US
presidential election made that abundantly clear.
In keeping with Trumps main campaign slogan, Make America Great
Again, it was his America First comments that were most revealing.
While Trump might pursue mutually beneficial bilateral agreements, one
can expect that they will be subordinated to domestic priorities, especially
distributional aims, and supported only insofar as they are consistent with
these priorities.
Developed-country voters frustration with the old market-driven global
economic architecture is not unfounded. That order did allow powerful
forces, at times beyond the control of elected officials and policy makers,
to shape national economies. It may be true that some of that orders elites
chose to ignore the adverse distributional and employment-related consequences of the old order, while reaping the benefits. But it is also true that
the old order, taken as
sacrosanct, hampered
National-level growth is seen as a
elites capacity to
way to revive the middle class, kickaddress such problems,
start stagnant incomes, and curtail
even if they tried.
This was not always
high youth unemployment.
the case. In the wake of
World War II, the United States, motivated partly by the Cold War, helped
create the old order by facilitating economic recovery in the West and,
over time, creating growth opportunities for developing countries. For
thirty years or so, the distributional aspects of the global growth patterns
that these efforts underpinned were positive, both for individual countries
and for the world as a whole. Compared with anything that came before,
the postwar order was a boon for inclusiveness.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 41

But nothing lasts forever. As inequality across countries has declined,

inequality within countries has surgedto the point that the reversal of
priorities was probably inevitable. Now that the reversal has arrived, so have
the consequences. While it is difficult to say precisely what those will be,
some seem fairly clear.
For starters, the
As long as peoples identities are
United States will be
mainly organized around citizenmore reluctant to absorb
ship in nation-states, a country-first
a disproportionate share
of the cost of providapproach may be most effective.
ing global public goods.
While other countries will eventually pick up the slack, there will be a transition period of unknown duration during which the supply of such goods may
decline, potentially undermining stability. For example, the terms of engagement in NATO are likely to be renegotiated.
Multilateralismlong enabled by the same sort of asymmetric contribution, though typically proportionate to countries income and wealthwill
also lose steam, as the trend toward bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements accelerates. Trump is likely to be a leading proponent of
this tack; in fact, even regional trade deals may be ruled out.
This creates an opportunity for China to lead the establishment of a trade
pact for Asiaan opportunity that Chinese leaders are already set to seize.
In conjunction with its one belt, one road strategy and its creation of the
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Chinas influence in the region will
expand significantly as a result.
Meanwhile, for developing countries that lack Chinas economic might,
the trend away from multilateralism could hurt. Whereas poor and lessdeveloped countries found opportunities to grow and prosper under the old
order, they will struggle to negotiate effectively on a bilateral basis. The hope
is that the world will recognize its collective interest in keeping development
pathways open for poorer countries, both for these countries benefit and for
the sake of international peace and security.
Beyond trade, technology is another powerful global force likely to be
treated differently in the new order, becoming subject to more national-level
regulations. Cyber threats will all but require some regulations and will
demand evolving policy interventions. But other threatsfor example, the
fake news that has proliferated in the West (and, in particular, in the United
States during the recently concluded presidential campaign)may also call
for a more hands-on approach. And the adoption of work-displacing digital


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

technologies may need to be paced so that the economys structural adjustment can keep up.
The new emphasis on national interests clearly has costs and risks. But
it may also bring important benefits. A global economic order sitting atop a
crumbling foundation
in terms of democratic
Expect the United States to be more
support and national
reluctant to absorb a disproportionpolitical and social cohesionis not stable. As
ate share of the cost of providing
long as peoples identities global public goods.
are mainly organized, as
they are now, around citizenship in nation-states, a country-first approach
may be the most effective. Like it or not, we are about to find out.
Reprinted by permission of Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.
org). 2016 Project Syndicate Inc. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Central Bank

Governance and Oversight Reform, edited by John H.
Cochrane and John B. Taylor. To order, call (800) 8884741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 43


A Thousand
Things Going
Hoover fellow John H. Cochrane surveys the
effects of economic reality on economic theory.

By Cloud Yip

Cloud Yip, EconReporter: Do you think a new general theory has been emerging since the Great Recession? Where do you think macroeconomics is heading?
John H. Cochrane: Eighty years ago, Keyness General Theory of Employment,
Interest, and Money inaugurated a very simple view of recession. There is
only one element: lack of demand. It doesnt really matter where the lack of
demand comes from. When theres not enough water in the pool, you fill it up
with more demand. There is just a single thing wrong with the economynot
enough demandand there is just a single dimension of cureto stimulate
demand. You can interchange monetary and fiscal stimulus. Thats a beautiful, simple view of the world, very easy to understand. All the complexity of
the economy stays away.
Medicine in the eighteenth century had its theory of four humors. It was
very simple: everything wrong in the human body came down to imbalances
of the four things. Similarly, in the view of Keynesian economics, everything
John H. Cochrane is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Cloud Yip is a
reporter for EconReporter (Hong Kong).

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

comes down to this one thing: demand or lack of demand. That is an unbelievably simplified view of how the economy works.
In modern medicine you would no longer say things like Aha! You need more
zinc in your diet and that will cure all your diseases! We now understand that
there are thousands of diseases, each with its own treatment or cure.
Whats wrong with the economy now is that there are a thousand things
going wrong. Every market is screwed up in its own way. There is no single
thing wrong so that you can come in and say, Aha! We will have a stimulus
program and solve it all! You have to cure it the way you cure diseases.
I think the difference between microeconomics, macroeconomics, and
growth theory will disappear. Its as if were trying to help an addict living in
a house crammed with junk, and old-fashioned demand-side macroeconomics says: Just forget that the house is a mess. All you need is a magic ten-day
cure, then everything will be fine. No, Im sorry. Youve got to diet, got to eat
right, got to clean up the house.
By the way, Keynesianism was a really useful idea for its time. The economy was in crisis, and dont forget how widespread communist and fascist
ideas were back thenthe notion that the government needs to take over
the economy and run it. By telling a story that demand management alone,
generic fiscal stimulus, could heal the economy, Keynesian ideas allowed the
core of a market economy to survive. But just because the story was useful
once doesnt mean we should cling to it forever. And just because a story was
useful doesnt mean it was right!
Yip: Do you agree that the major macroeconomics trends that emerged after
the Great Recession are mostly reboots of old ideas?
Cochrane: I think you have the observation quite right. A lot of economists,
both in finance and macroeconomics, said the financial crisis and the Great
Recession just proved they were right all along.
This is actually a good approach. If economics is a discipline in which
every data point requires a brand new theory, its not much of a discipline.
When physicists see something new in the sky, they tend not to say, Einstein
was wrong! We have to start from scratch. The first thing you do is try to
fit the new phenomenon in with the theory you already have, what Thomas
Kuhn called normal science. I dont think most of what we have seenfor
example, the financial crisis and slow growthare facts that demand a particularly new theory, as we have so many theories already.
The events we have seen are quite similar to events in the past. Weve had
financial crises on and off since 1700. At its core, this financial crisis was a

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 45

run, just like many other financial crises. I think that is the most productive
way to approach it. Similarly, were having a period of very slow growth, so
lets blame overregulation and an economy that has too much
sand in its gears. Just apply what we get off the shelf and it
seems to fit pretty well.
Yip: Lets go back to your medicine analogy. I
would say macroeconomics doesnt have its
germ theory yet. I think we dont really
have a consensus view of what
caused the financial crisis.
Cochrane: Why
was there a

[Taylor Jonesfor the Hoover Digest]


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

recession after the financial crisis? I dont think this is a difficult problem.
Lack of aggregate demand, though vastly oversimplified, does explain why
we have a sharp recession after the financial crisis. The puzzle is why we
didnt grow quickly afterward.
Almost all economists, Keynesian or monetarist, and all the official forecasts said in 2008 that after the recession we will have a very quick bounce
back, just as we did in the early 1980s. Once the banks were settled in March
2009, everybody thought, Good, well bounce back up to where we were.
The puzzle is why we never bounced back.
I think this is illuminating. The traditional Keynesian theory really bites
the dust here. It makes explicit predictions that failed pretty dramatically in
the past eight yearsa deflation spiral.
Yip: You have mentioned the puzzle of slow growth. I think this is a good
entry point for our discussion of the Neo-Fisherian view of inflation.
One of the issues suggested by the Neo-Fisherian is that the Fed
should not keep the interest rate this low, am I right?
Cochrane: Well, lets separate the question of how
does the economy work? from what should the
Fed do?
When you think about it, zero percent
interest and deflation is actually perfect
monetary policy. This is an idea of Milton
Friedmans from a long time ago. If the
interest rate is zero, you get your rate
of return from the slight deflation.
That is just about perfect. The
only objection is it cant last,
but the past eight yearsand
Japans twentyprove that
Since it doesnt show
up much in popular
let me

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 47

remind you why zero interest rates are ideal: normally, the interest rate is
higher, and you have to spend a lot of time making sure you dont have cash
lying around; as much as possible is in your bank account, earning interest
all the time. If somebody owes you money, you have to make sure that you
collect that bill quickly before you lose interest on it.
At a zero percent interest rate, who cares? Cash lying around is just fine.
Furthermore, the United States and most other countries charge taxes on
interest, which is a bad idea. It is an important tax distortion, ensuring that
people put in a lot of effort to try to avoid the tax. If we are not paying interest, then there are no taxes on interest. Thats wonderful too.
So, your question presumes that there is something bad about low rates
and that the central bank should raise the interest rate and raise inflation. Im
not so sure that is right. Im happy where things are.
Now, lets leave aside what they should do, and just ask the cause and effect
questionhow does the steering wheel work? We take it for granted that if
the central bank raises the interest rate, that lowers inflation. But look at what
happened over the past few
years. Central banks set
Were having a period of very slow
interest rates to zero, and
growth, so lets blame overregulation what happens to inflation? It
slowly declines, back down
and an economy that has too much
toward where the interest
sand in its gears.
rates are. Doesnt it look a
lot like if the central bank lowers the interest rate, that lowers inflation? In fact,
thats always been the long run view; the question has been about the short run.
The standard view is that the central bank is controlling the interest rate
the way you would balance a broom on its head. Its unstable, so you always
have to move the interest rate around to keep the inflation rate in check. If
you move the bottom of the broom one way, the top of the broom falls off the
other way. If you cant move the bottom of the broom, it topples over.
Thats why old-style Keynesians, and monetarists, predicted a deflation
spiral once interest rates hit zero. They are exactly right to predict that, as
thats what their model says. Once central banks started enormous quantitative easing operations, monetarists say we are going to have hyperinflation.
Again, they were exactly right to predict that, as thats what their model said.
But nothing happened. The interest rate is zero and inflation is just very
quietly doing nothing.
I call this the Michelson-Morley moment. This refers to a very famous
experiment in physics that proved there was no aether.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

The fact that nothing happened and the standard economic models used
in policy circles predicted an explosion is very revealing, I think. It suggests
that if the central bank holds the interest rate steady, inflation will eventually
settle down to where the interest rates are, not the other way around. Thats
the core of the Neo-Fisherian idea.
Yip: So the Neo-Fisherian view suggests that if the central bank pegs the
interest rate, the inflation rate will be stabilized?
Cochrane: Yes, but with a big asterisk. If you look at the past eight years of
the United States and Europe, and twenty years in Japan, it certainly looks
that way. The interest
rate is zero, inflaIf economics is a discipline in which
tion is very stable.
every data point requires a new theory,
We have had a more
stable inflation rate
its not much of a discipline.
over the past eight
years than pretty much ever before. That certainly suggests inflation can be
stable at zero interest rates, but it does not mean that inflation must be and is
always stable at zero interest rates.
Many interest rate pegs fell apart in the past. The traditional view came
from hard experiences of interest rate pegs that collapse, just like exchange
rate pegs collapse.
Thats where the Neo-Fisherian and fiscal theory of the price level (FTPL)
come together. When we look at those episodes in which interest rate or
exchange rate pegs fell apart, those were all episodes where the governments
were in fiscal distress. They were borrowing a lot of money and spending too
much, and didnt have enough tax revenue. They were using monetary policy
to try to cover things up. In order for lowering the interest rate to lower inflation, you need people to trust the governments fiscal policy. If people dont
trust the governments fiscal policy, then its not going to work, and theres
little a central bank can do about inflation.
Yip: Are there any other historical episodes that suggest the Neo-Fisherian
view is right?
Cochrane: In the postWorld War II era, the United States pegged the interest rate. Starting in the 1940s the US central bank simply said, The interest
rate on long-term government debt is going to be 2 percent, period. That
lasted from the 1940s to the mid-1950s. Interestingly, it fell apart on the fiscal
pressure of the Korean War. So one way to read that episode is a successful

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 49

peg that then fell apart when fiscal policy wasnt enough to take care of it.
When you read Milton Friedmans famous 1968 address that proclaims an
interest rate peg must fall apart, you see the influence of this episode, as well
as similar postwar European countries.
Another important episode in monetary economics is the end of hyperinflation. For example, Tom Sargent wrote the classic paper The Ends of Four
Big Inflations on this. Germany after World War I had huge hyperinflation.
The reason is that it had to pay reparations under the Treaty of Versailles and
wasnt able to do it, so it was basically printing money to pay the governments
bills. Printing up money to pay the fiscal deficitthat causes huge inflation.
So what stopped the inflation? Not the central bank monkeying around
with the interest rate, or even the money supply. What stopped the inflation
was that Germans reached
an agreement that solved
The traditional Keynesian theory
the fiscal problem, and
really bites the dust here. It makes
which enabled the governexplicit predictions that failed pretty ment to pay its bills. Then
inflation essentially stopped
dramatically in the past eight years.
overnight, interest rates fell
immediately, and the money supply grew because people were more willing
to hold German marks and the central bank was able to print lots more. So
think about this: if you look at the data, what you see is that inflation stops,
interest rates go down uniformly, theres no period of high interest rates to
remove the inflation, and the money supply grows. That looks really strange
from standard monetary views that said you need to shrink the money supply or raise the interest rate to get rid of inflation. But exactly the opposite
happened. So thats a nice example either for FTPL or the Neo-Fisherian
Yip: Do you think this is the best time for FTPL?
Cochrane: I think this is the moment for FTPL. People are naturally intellectually conservative. They should be: each issue of each journal has about ten
new theories, and 9.99 of them are destined to be forgotten. But I think the
moment has come when people realize that the standard thinking just cant
work anymore. More deeply, I think we are all realizing that the view that the
central bank is tremendously powerful is no longer tenable. People used to
think central banks can just set the rate of inflation. Well, central banks have
been desperately trying to set the rate of inflation for eight years now and
have gotten nowhere.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

This is an interesting change indeed. Its become standard to think that

central banks are the most important actorswith just the right monetary
stimulus, they set inflation, they stop the recession. Theyre the captain of
the ship with the hand on the rudder, steering the economy. But actually, this
is a very new idea. In the 1960s, the central bank was considered just a little
bunch of guys with green eyeshades who worry about the payment system.
Standard Keynesian economics was all about fiscal policy, investment multiplier, confidence, et cetera.
Then Milton Friedman came along and said: No, fiscal policy is kind of
irrelevant. Central banks are the truly immensely powerful thing. So that
idea has only been with us since 1968. When you compare the roughly 2007
consensus that monetary policy is all powerful to the pre-1968 consensus, its
just amazing not just that Friedman won, but how thoroughly opinion shifted.
I think central bankers and economists are now realizing that central banks
are much less powerful than this zenith of opinion. There is only so much they
can do, and now we have to look around to figure out why they are so much less
powerful than everybody thought. In my view, the answer is not back to oldschool Keynesianism, but to realize that macroeconomics sits on top of microeconomics. You cant screw up every market and expect demand to fix it all.
As for money and inflation, the FTPL and Neo-Fisherian ideas, which pop
out of modern economics models if you let the equations sing what they want
to sing, give a good account of the limits of the central banks power. I think
thats why people are naturally turning to them.
Yip: I am under the impression that you might not be a fan of New Keynesian
economics. But New Keynesian economics has been dominating economic
policy making in the recent decade. Do you think New Keynesian economics
is still useful in the current economic environment?
Cochrane: Actually, Im quite a fan of New Keynesian economics!
I am not a fan of old Keynesian economics, like the static IS-LM curves
that we all had to drag through in undergraduate classes if we managed to
stay awake that long. There is just no economics in it. Its been repudiated so
much by both data and theoretical incoherence. But thats what most of the
policy world still uses.
New Keynesian economics, just to clarify, is well-written-down economic
modeling. They follow the rules of economics, they impose budget constraints, they do things right, and they introduce some stickiness in prices.
I like the New Keynesian economics up till the 90 percent point. You need
one last equation to finish up the model. I would prefer to use the FTPL to

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 51

finish up the model and explain where the inflation comes from. But people
choose to throw away this equation. Instead, we assume that central bankers
can threaten to blow up
the world if all but one
thing happens. So just
I think we are all realizing that this view
put the FTPL equathat the central bank is tremendously
tion back in, get rid of
powerful is no longer tenable.
this assumption that
the Fed will blow up the world if we dont do what theyd like us to do. That
changes the properties of the model quite a bit, that one little assumption.
I also need to point out strenuously that the policy world does not use newKeynesian models. They write very old-Keynesian executive summaries and
introductions, use old-Keynesian verbal analysis throughout actual policy
making, and then plaster some new-Keynesian equations in the back. The
actual models are enormously different.
Yip: So New Keynesian model plus FTPL would be perfect?
Cochrane: Who knows if it would be perfect? But I think that its the most theoretically coherent structure to start exploring the worldreally its the only theoretically coherent structure we have right nowand see how things work. Then
we let the data tell us whether it is really true. Also, like any theory, 99 percent of
the work is in the elaboration and application, not just in the basic ingredients.
Excerpted and edited by permission of EconReporter (www.econreporter.
com). 2016. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The New

Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining
Rivalry, by Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport. To order,
call (800) 888-4741 or visit


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


for Non-recovery
The sharp downturn, as history suggests, should
have been followed by a sharp rebound. Why has
the economy sagged instead? Look to the feds.

By Robert J. Barro

ome economists argue that the recovery since the Great Recession ended in 2009 has been unusually weak because of the recessions severity and the fact that it was accompanied by a major
financial crisis. Yet in a recent study of economic downturns in

the United States and elsewhere since 1870, economist Tao Jin and I found
that historically the opposite has been true. Empirically, the growth rate
during a recovery relates positively to the magnitude of decline during the
In our paper, Rare Events and Long-Run Risks, we examined macroeconomic disasters in forty-two countries, featuring one hundred and eighty-five
contractions in GDP per capita of 10 percent or more. These contractions are
dominated by wartime devastation such as World War I (191418) and World
War II (193945), and financial crises such as the Great Depression of the
1930s. Many are global events, some are for individual or a few countries.
On average, during a recovery an economy recoups about half the
GDP lost during the downturn. The recovery is typically quick, with an

Robert J. Barro is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard University.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 53

average duration around two years. For example, a 4 percent decline in

per capita GDP during a contraction predicts subsequent recovery of 2
percent, implying 1 percent per year higher growth than normal during the
recovery. Hence, the growth rate of US per capita GDP from 2009 to 2011
should have been around 3 percent a year, rather than the 1.5 percent that
Arguing that the recovery has been weak because the downturn was
severe or coincided with a major financial crisis conflicts with the evidence,
which shows that a larger
decline predicts a stronger
Increased transfer payments dont
recovery. Moreover, many
of the biggest downturns
promote productivity growth.
featured financial crises. For
example, the US per capita GDP growth rate from 1933 to 1940 was 6.5 percent per year, the highest of any peacetime interval of several years, despite
the 1937 recession. This strong recovery followed the cumulative decline in
the level of per capita GDP by around 29 percent from 1929 to 1933 during
the Great Depression.
Given the lack of recovery in GDP, strong employment growth is a surprising aspect of the post-2009 period. The growth rate of total nonfarm payrolls
averaged 1.7 percent a year from February 2010 to July 2016, despite the drop
in the labor force participation rate. The post-2009 period is not a jobless
recovery; it is a job-filled non-recovery. Similarly, the drop in the unemployment ratefrom 10 percent in October 2009 to 4.9 percent in July 2016has
been impressive, though overstated because of the decrease in labor force
What accounts for the
strong recovery in the labor
The growth rate of per capita GDP
market combined with
from 2009 to 2011 should have been
the non-recovery in GDP?
around 3% a year, not the 1.5% we
Mainly weak growth of labor
productivity. The growth
rate of GDP per worker from
2010 to 2015 was 0.5 percent per year, compared with 1.5 percent from 1949
to 2009. The recent productivity slowdown is clear since 2011 but may have
started as early as 2004.
What could have promoted a faster recovery by enhancing productivity
growth? Variables that encourage economic growth include strong rule of
law and property rights, free trade, rolling back inefficient regulations and


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

HUMAN CAPITAL: Strong employment growth is a surprising aspect of the

post-2009 period. The growth rate of total nonfarm payrolls averaged 1.7 percent a year from February 2010 to July 2016. But labor productivity has grown
much more slowly. [Frances M. RobertsNewscom]

other constraints on market activity, public infrastructure such as highways

and airports, strong institutions for education and health, fiscal discipline
(including a moderate ratio of public debt to GDP), efficient taxation, and
sound monetary policy as reflected in low and stable inflation.
The main US policy used to counter the Great Recession was increased
government transfer payments. Federal social benefits to persons as a ratio
to GDP went from 8.7 percent in 2007 to 11.7 percent in 2010, then fell to 10.9
percent in 2015. The main increases applied to Medicaid, Medicare, Social
Security (including disability), and food stamps, whereas unemployment
insurance first rose then fell. Unfortunately, increased transfer payments do
not promote productivity growth.
The 20078 financial crisis was also followed by vast monetary expansion involving increases in the balance sheets of the Federal Reserve and
other central banks. The Feds expansion featured a dramatic rise in excess
reserves, used to fund increased holdings of treasury bonds and mortgagebacked securities. Remarkably, the strong monetary growth came without
The absence of inflation is surprising but may have occurred because weak
opportunities for private investment motivated banks and other institutions

H O O V ER D I G E S T W inte r 2017 55

to hold the Feds added obligations despite the negative real interest rates
paid. In this scenario, the key factor is the flight to quality stimulated by the
heightened perceived risk in private investment.
Given the need for productivity-enhancing policies, it is sad that recent
policy suggestions by the presidential candidates emphasized restrictions on
trade and immigration and higher minimum wages. The former policies are
equivalent to constraining technological progress. Expanded trade in
The post-2009 period is not a jobless
goods and people is like
recovery, it is a job-filled non-recovery.
better technologyboth
raise the total real value of goods and services that can be produced for given
inputs. Mandating a higher minimum wage amounts to inefficient regulation
of the labor market by pricing young and less-productive workers out of the
job market.
At this point, it is hard to imagine US policy makers participating in serious policy discussions aimed at promoting economic growth. But maybe I am
too pessimisticafter all, the report on the US fiscal situation in 2010 by the
Simpson-Bowles Commission was very good. Its unfortunate that the Obama
administration ignored it.
Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. 2016 Dow Jones &
Co. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Energy

Efficiency: Building a Clean, Secure Economy, by
James L. Sweeney. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Work Long and

For robust economic health, more Americans need
to work, and to keep working. (Some solutions
really are that simple.)

By Charles Blahous

ts increasingly clear that reforming federal policies to keep people

Key points

in the workforce is the primary

Our total labor forcethose

available for employmentis no
longer growing as fast as it did.

economic policy challenge of our

time. Americans future quality of life

depends on our getting this right.
Americans standards of living, and
indeed our economic power as a nation,
are reflections of our productive output.
Only what we produce can be transmuted
into desirable things ranging from the
goods that we buy and consume privately,
to the public goods that we share, to the
strength of our defenses in a dangerous
world. While a great deal of our public pol-

Americans are spending a

greater part of their lives out
of the workforce, collecting
Poorly designed federal
programs persuade workers to
work less.
Corrections to federal programs would tend to help
people in the long runfor
instance, if workers delay retirement age and thus collect a
bigger benefit.

icy debate focuses on how national wealth

Charles Blahous is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 57

GREETINGS: Because of out-of-date age thresholds for programs such as

Social Security and Medicare, labor participation among American seniors
is lower today than it was a half century ago, even though they generally lead
longer, healthier lives. [Paul BersebachZUMA Press]

is distributed, we cant distribute what we dont have. More fundamentally, our

economic output is what determines the quality of life Americans enjoy.
Our economic growth basically depends on two factors: how many Americans are working, and how productive we are during the hours we work. Its
straightforward to understand that the more productive we are, the more
wealth we will have together. Indeed, data on recent annual growth in gross
domestic product (GDP) show that it is generally higher when our productivity grows faster. Thus a good deal of our prosperity comes from Americans
learning to work faster, better, smarter, and more efficiently. (Note: multifactor
productivity incorporates not only labor productivity but also output on capital
services; the GDP decline of 20089 arose primarily from decline in the latter.)
As striking as the correlation is between productivity growth and total
economic growth, employment growth is perhaps even more important. To


H O O VER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

be productive, Americans must work. Assuming given levels of productivity,

the more Americans who work, the more wealth our society generates. Our
economic output generally rises and falls alongside the numbers of Americans in jobs.
This is why discussions of the economy often focus on the unemployment
rate, long defined as the percentage of Americans seeking work who are
unable to secure it. But in recent years it has become increasingly apparent
that the health of the labor market isnt measured solely by the unemployment rate; we must account for the total numbers of Americans making
themselves available for
work. The growth of this
available labor force is a
Our economic output determines the
strong determinant of the
quality of life we enjoy.
numbers of those employed.
Indeed, total labor force growth and employment growth tend to move
together quite closely. The rare exceptions are years such as 2008 and 2009,
when unemployment rates suddenly changed.
Even though the unemployment rate has recovered from the recent recession, we have reason for continuing concern. Our total labor forcethose
available for employmentis no longer growing as fast as it did. If we want
continued improvements in our living standards as previous Americans had,
we must fix this.
Whats behind our sluggish workforce growth?
Americans are spending a higher percentage of their lives out of the
workforce collecting benefits from various retirement programs. This is
largely because of our inadequate response to demographic change; even as
longevity has increased, the age of first eligibility for such benefits as Social
Security (sixty-two) and Medicare (sixty-five) has not. As a result, labor participation among seniors is lower today than it was a half century ago, even
though we generally lead longer, healthier lives.
Various federal benefit programs are poorly designed. They apply high
marginal tax rates to employment earnings. Individuals receive substantial
benefits if they lack paying work, but lose them as they receive job income. People make the rational decision to have less work and earnings than they otherwise would. A prominent example is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has
been shown by the Congressional Budget Office and academic economists like
Casey Mulligan to be driving many people out of the workforce.
Other factors are not fully understood. To take but one example, its
widely documented that workforce participation has long been declining

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 59

among young adult men. We lack a single, agreed-upon explanation for this
persistent decline.
We need to correct these various causes of labor participation decline if
the United States is to resume the economic growth rates that made it the
leading economic power in
the world. We simply can
We cant afford to keep letting federal no longer afford to let our
programs shift productive people out largest federal retirement,
health care, and income
of the workplace.
security programs deprive
the workplace of people who, based on their health, age, skills, and general
inclination, would otherwise be working. Lawmakers will have no choice but
to confront these realities at some point, and would do well to do so sooner
rather than later.
Its important to understand that corrections would generally tend to
benefit individuals. This is because, while the current designs of programs
from the ACA to Social Security often induce workforce withdrawal, the
temporary inducement often comes at the cost of the individuals long-term
interest. For example, retiring on Social Security at age sixty-two reduces
ones annual benefits and increases the risk of outliving ones savings and
experiencing poverty in old age. Similarly, those who forgo employment to
receive substantial subsidies like those in the ACA often do so at the cost of
skill development that would otherwise result in higher wages later.
Only if we surmount our labor force participation challenge will we be able
to address other economic policy desires such as higher living standards,
lower poverty, and sound federal government finances. For these and other
reasons, reorienting federal policies to keep people in the workforce is likely
to remain the pre-eminent economic policy challenge of our time.
Reprinted by permission of e21. 2016 Economic Policies for the 21st Century. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is

Inequality and Economic Policy: Essays in Memory of
Gary Becker, edited by Tom Church, Chris Miller, and
John B. Taylor. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


The Latest
German Model
Germany knows how to get young people into good
jobs without a college degree: vocational training.
America should follow its example.

By Edward Paul Lazear and Simon Janssen

he presidential candidates maintained that foreign competition and unfair trade practices hurt the United States. Yet the
problems of many American workers come not from the global
market but from poor training. The success of Germany, which

faces competition from developing countries, shows that well-trained workers can thrive amid pressure from abroad.
Only about one-third of American adults twenty-five and older have
completed a bachelors degree, according to our analysis of the Current
Population Survey. Most workers entering the labor force rely on skills they
acquired in high school. Meanwhile, about 75 percent of Germanys privateeconomy workforce has taken part in the countrys system of vocational
training with apprenticeships.
This system prepares millions of Germans for careers as machine operators, medical assistants, bank clerks, and countless other occupations. The
Edward Paul Lazear is the Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow at
the Hoover Institution, co-chair of Hoovers Conte Initiative on Immigration Reform,
and the Jack Steele Parker Professor of Human Resources Management and Economics at Stanford Universitys Graduate School of Business. Simon Janssen is a
research fellow at the Institute for Employment Research in Nuremberg, Germany.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 61

[Taylor Jonesfor the Hoover Digest]

GEARED UP: A mechanic assembles electric bikes on a production line in

Sangerhausen, Germany. About 75 percent of Germanys private-economy
workforce has taken part in the countrys system of vocational training with
apprenticeships. [Jens WolfDPA Picture-Alliance]

United States has associate-arts degrees awarded by community colleges,

but only about 5 percent of American workers schooling ends there.
Higher education has a large payoff in the United States. In 2015, the average annual earnings of a high school graduate working at least forty weeks a
year was $38,400. Those with a bachelors degree took in $78,600.
Contrast this with Germanys vocational-training system for those who
do not attend university. Although Germans are about half as likely to go to
college, more than 85 percent of private-economy workers without college
degrees have had vocational training and an apprenticeship. In 2014, Germans
with apprenticeships earned about two-thirds as much as those with at least a
bachelors degree.
Germans with vocational apprenticeships earn about 92 percent of the
average German wage; American high school grads earn only 70 percent of
the average American wage. Germans with vocational apprenticeships are
considerably better off than their American counterparts. Data show this to
be true for nearly fifteen years.

H O O V ER D I G E S T W inter 2017 63

Lost manufacturing jobs tend to draw the most attention from free-trade
critics. Foreign competition affects these jobs directly, because countries
tend to trade manufactured goods and not services. Yet the wage figures in
manufacturing are virtually identical to those for the economy as a whole:
American high school graduates in manufacturing earn 45 percent of their
college-educated counterparts, while Germans with vocational apprenticeships earn two-thirds of their counterparts. The relatively high wages of
Germans imply high productivity among those with vocational training.
Germanys model has its shortcomings. It places students onto separate
educational tracks as early as age ten and sometimes creates rigidity in a
technologically changing world. But misclassified students can, and often
do, switch academic tracks. Employer associations and trade unions steadily
update the training curricula to keep pace with shifting demand for skills.
A recent University of Zurich study found that training changes fluidly with
technology to accommodate the market.
While Germans with vocational training do well relative to university graduates, neither group has experienced much wage growth in the 2000s. But this
has little to do with trade: earnings outside manufacturing have fared even
worse than those in manufacturing, even though trade affects the latter more.
The different outcomes that American and German workers experience
provide an important lesson: cutting the United States off from the global
economy isnt an effective way to fight income inequality. Policy makers
can enhance the skills of the majority of Americans who do not get college
degrees by providing them with knowledge more suitable to working life.
Political candidates may rile up their base with anti-trade speeches, but
moving Americans toward practical job-market training could actually make
a difference.
Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. 2016 Dow Jones &
Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Making

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Too Big to Fail, edited by Kenneth E. Scott, Thomas H.
Jackson, and John B. Taylor. To order, call (800) 8884741 or visit


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


So-called progressives are hostile to free markets,
capital, and laborthe very things that would
reduce the inequality they claim to abhor.

By Richard A. Epstein

olitical life is rich with contradictions. In her acceptance speech

at the Democratic National Convention last July, Hillary Clinton
insisted that the economic performance of the past eight years
was much stronger than it was during the Bush years. More

than fifteen million private-sector jobs were created under President Obama,
she said; many more people are now on health insurance; and the automobile
industry is booming. Her argument seemed to be that the Obama administrations progressive policies led to this economic growth. But a closer look
reveals a less rosy picture.
The day after her speech, the Commerce Department reported that
the slowest economic recovery since 1949 was getting slower still. Gross
domestic product (GDP) growth for the second quarter of 2016 was
down to 1.2 percent. The cumulative growth rate during the years of
the Obama administration was down to 2.1 percent. Consumer spending
Richard A. Epstein is the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover
Institution and a member of the steering committee for Hoovers Working Group
on Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Prosperity. He is also the Laurence A.
Tisch Professor of Law at New York University Law School and a senior lecturer
at the University of Chicago.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 65

held up for the short run, but capital investmenta more reliable predictor of future economic growthhad fallen. So how can these disappointing figures be reconciled with interventionist progressive policies
of the past eight years?
The standard Democratic response is that the decline of the middle
class is the source of our social and economic problems. But given the
high levels of consumer
demand, it is hard to
Theres no reason why capitalism (in
argue that rising levels
of inequality are to
contrast with crony capitalism) should
blame for our sluggish
tend toward inequality of wealth.
economy. Nonetheless,
given their populist aversion to free markets, the Democrats propose to
double down on existing policies: they want to move to a national $15-perhour minimum wage, add paid family leave, increase the strength of public
and private unions, and raise taxes on the richand then, presto, we shall
reverse the steady decline in median household income, which has fallen
from about $57,000 in 2008 to about $53,660 in 2016. The median household income reached its highest level of $58,000 in 2000 at the end of the
Bill Clinton era. Household income also fell, but less precipitously, when
George W. Bush was president.
Political campaigns are notable for their lack of reasoned argument, and
those of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were no exception. Thus it
is useful to turn to the circle of advisers and the intellectual elites that back
both parties.
There was, for instance, a largely misguided economic critique offered, in
the Wall Street Journal no less, by Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American
Progress. It was chock full of fatal errors of economic reasoning. His intellectual case was summarized in four propositions derived from Thomas
Pikettys well-known but highly flawed book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Teixeiras expos of the perils of unvarnished capitalism offered a causal
explanation filled with missing links:
First, the basic dynamic of the system tends toward higher
inequality. Second, this tendency makes economic growth less
effective at raising living standards. Third, faster overall economic
growth, even if unequally distributed, could potentially solve the


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

[Taylor Jonesfor the Hoover Digest]

problem. Except that, fourth, rising inequality slows down economic growth, rather than speeds it up.
There is no reason why capitalism (in contrast with crony capitalism)
ought to tend toward inequality of wealth. Piketty starts with the basic
assumption that the rate of capital growth is always greater than the overall growth in GDP, at which
point the long-term domiNo iron law guarantees that initial
nance of capital becomes
success in the market leads to safety. a mathematical necessity.
The only way to stay ahead of the
One glaring weakness is his
failure to note that much
curve is to keep on innovating.
capital investment is in
depreciable assets, so that capital accounts can move downward as easily
as they can move upward. Under his view, labor should be virtually wiped
out today, which ignores the simple point that huge portions of the upper
1 percent derive their income from delivering high-skilled labor services
doctors, lawyers, bankers, developersto the public at large. In addition,
the huge fortunes acquired by present-day mogulsBill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezosmay be represented in corporate shares, but much of
that wealth derives from their early labor in some small garage or office.
Teixeira also failed to take into account the role of entry and exit into
labor and capital markets. The first entrant with a new technology can
reap billions. Those gains come in part from undermining older and less
efficient technologies, and thus act as a brake on any abnormally high
returns garnered by current entrepreneurs and investors. Yet in the next
phase of the cycle, new inventors and entrepreneurs will target those soft
areas in the formerly new generation of incumbents and garner their own
abnormally high rates of return. The only way to stay ahead of the curve is
to keep on innovating. There is no iron law whereby initial success guarantees safety over the long term. Individuals and firms rightly exit markets
when they can no longer compete. Inherited wealth tends to divide and
shrink, not multiply and increase.
Nor is there any reason to believe that the innovations that generate high
rates of return are less effective in raising the overall standard of living.
As a theoretical matter, the typical innovator captures about 10 percent of
the wealth that he or she creates, which means that the rest of that wealth
is distributed through market transactions to employees, suppliers, and,
most important, the customers, who receive a panoply of new products and


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

services at prices far below their reservation pricesthat is, the maximum
amount they are prepared to pay.
It follows that it is very difficult for any single group in a market economy
to preserve its outsize returns against the competition of others. It is therefore false to insist that rising inequality operates as a barrier against further
economic growth. It is always worth remembering that the period of most
rapid growth in the United Statesbetween 1870 and 1940was achieved
under a legal order that had a relatively strong commitment to laissez-faire
economics and classical liberal political theory.
The best evidence of the wide distribution of these gains is found in the
enormous increase in life expectancy over that period, which spread to all
segments of the population regardless of
Most of the wealth generated by innovageography, race, or
tion is distributed through market transsex. There is no way,
for example, that the actions to employees, suppliers, and,
overall increase in
most important, the customers.
life expectancy from
forty-seven to fifty-four in the twenty years between 1900 and 1920 could
be concentrated in the top 1 percent of the population. It had to be widely
dispersed, and that could have happened only by a combination of felicitous
events: the improvement of public health and infrastructure, whose benefits
extended to the whole population even if its costs were largely borne by the
relatively rich; the increase of superior products for consumption; and vastly
safer working conditions on the joball fueled by technological advances in
every area of life.
Nor did Teixeira offer any sensible explanation for how rising inequality
could ever slow down the economic growth achieved by voluntary market
transactions. The great virtue of a market transaction is that it leaves both
sides better off, even if the two gain in unequal measures. The higher the
rate of overall transactions, the greater the improvement in wealth and the
greater improvement in utility for all individuals, who can take advantage
of the plethora of choices made available to them in an open environment.
Ordinary transactions in goods and services are positive sum for the parties
to them, and generate greater opportunities for third persons everywhere.
It is now possible to see how the progressive agenda thwarts the engine for
growth in ways that private ingenuity finds it difficult to overcome.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 69

The initial observation is that virtually every progressive reform undermines free markets and tends to establish monopolies in labor, agriculture,
and other industries. These rules frustrate the free entry into new markets.
It is therefore inexcusable that the first impulse of the determined progressive is to impose restraints on voluntary exchange. These new taxes and
regulations are always described benevolently as restrictions on the bad
partieson landlords, employers, insurers, health care providers. But in
practice they always operate as devastating constraint on both sides of the
The labor law regime of collective bargaining that protects some employees also snuffs out opportunities for their nonunion competitors. Yet the
Obama administration tried strenuously to place new obstacles to workforce
access by marginal and teenage workers. It sought to force franchisors like
McDonalds to be subject to liability for the alleged unfair labor practices of
their franchisees; the Department of Labor works incessantly to subject ever
larger segments of the economy, including the gig economy, to more serious
regulations. These added regulations drive down employment opportunities
and net wages, which keeps the next generation out of the middle class.
When government raises the price of labor relative to capital, firms can
diversify in ways that workers cannot. Hence the greatest blows are landed
on the intended beneficiaries of this misguided legislation.
The recent figures
all point to a decline
The great virtue of a market transaction is
in business investment: capital, we
that it leaves both sides better off, even if
are told, is on strike.
the two gain in unequal measures.
And well it should
be. The rise of economic populism sparks an increase in tax rates for both
ordinary income and capital gains. The legal uncertainties over our vast
regulatory apparatus also exert a downward force. The hyperenforcement
of the securities laws makes potential entrepreneurs and investors factor
into their calculations the prospect of civil fines and criminal sanctions. The
widespread hostility toward free trade warns future investors that they will
face added difficulties in acquiring factors of production from abroad. The
massive subsidies for wind and solar energy impose higher taxes on more
productive elements of society.
Those burdens will be further compounded by the insatiable drive for
revenue to fund expansion in free tuition, Social Security, and other transfer
payments. The whole redistributive scheme bears little or no relationship to


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

the classical liberal theory of taxation, which uses taxes chiefly to fund public
goods for the benefit of all. The prospect of diminished returns thus explains
diminished investment, sans any of Pikettys intellectual diversions.
There is no single big story here. It is the accumulated distortions from
multiple levels of misguided regulation and taxation, each of which is celebrated with scant regard to the negative synergistic effects of the entire
Reprinted from Defining Ideas (, a Hoover Institution online journal. 2016 The Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The Case

against the Employee Free Choice Act, by Richard A.
Epstein. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 71


Dont Poor Lives

Regulation that chokes off investment hits
everyone in the pocketbook, but the poor also pay
with their health.

By Henry I. Miller

ew Americans give much thought to the scope, magnitude,

and impact of regulation on their lives. They should. Economist and Hoover senior fellow John Taylor has pointed out
the negative productivity growth of recent quarters. And

thats only part of a trend that is having corrosive effects on the nation.
Former Office of Management and Budget director and former governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels put it this way in recent congressional
A near-decade of anemic growth and the weakest post-recession
recovery on record has eroded Americans economic optimism.
A 2015 Rasmussen survey found that nearly half (48 percent) of
likely voters think Americas best days are in the past. As this
new pessimism has deepened, it has turned into an ugliness, a
meanness, a new cynicism in our national life, with a search for
scapegoats on the left and the right.

Henry I. Miller, MD, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and
Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

These economic trends may portend a period of declining income growth

and lower standards of living. The culprit? Flawed economic policies, including excessively burdensome regulation, which blunt both productivity and
innovation, according to Taylor.
The economic burden of Americas accumulating mountain of regulatory
requirements is almost unimaginable: according to a recent study from
the Mercatus Center at George Mason University that used a twenty-twoindustry dataset covering the years from 1977 through 2012, by distorting the
investment choices that lead to innovation, regulation has created a considerable drag on the economy that amounts to an average reduction in the
annual growth rate of the US gross domestic product (GDP) of 0.8 percent.
That translates to a US economy that is a whopping $4 trillion smaller than it
otherwise would have been.
There are numerous reasons for this. For a start, as regulations become
more and more complex and burdensome, prospective entrepreneurs and
managers must expend more resources on issues related to regulation
and less on innovation and corporate growth. The Competitive Enterprise
Institutes report Ten Thousand Commandments 2016 examines many of the
governments own cost estimates (which are notoriously low, as bureaucrats
tend to lowball the costs of their rules and overstate the benefits). The study
still found that federal regulation alone costs consumers and businesses at
least $1.9 trillion every year in compliance costs and lost economic productivitymore than 11 percent of current GDP. According to the author, federal
regulation is, in effect, a hidden tax that amounts to nearly $15,000 per US
household each year.
The gatekeeper regulatory agencies, whose affirmative approvals are
necessary before a product, process, or technology can be commercialized,
are the source of much of the massive burden of regulation. Such agencies
wield enormous power. The FDA alone regulates products that account for
more than a trillion dollars annuallytwenty-five cents of every consumer
dollar. The average cost to develop and bring a new drug to market is $2.6
billion, but many of the largest drug companies spend significantly more than
thatfor pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, the figure is almost $12 billion
per drug, and for GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and Roche, it is around $8 billion.
Environmental regulations also exact a huge toll: the cost of compliance
with EPA regulations, many of which are notoriously non-cost-effective, is
around a third of a trillion dollars a year.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 73

Although regulation provides some assurance about the safety of drugs,

pesticides, and other products, and the cleanliness of our air and water, it
also imposes unobvious but prodigious indirect costs. Regulation that is
wrongheaded or merely fails to be cost-effective actually costs lives, so the
number of lives saved or other benefits derived from government regulation
should always be large enough to offset the costs.
The diversion of resources to comply with regulationgood, bad, or
indifferentexerts an income effect that reflects the correlation between
wealth and health. It is no coincidence that richer societies or segments of
the population have lower mortality rates than poorer ones. This is evident
at the local level as well: Marin County ranks number one in both health and
per capita income, while the poorer parts of California, such as the Central
Valley, score poorly on measures of health.
To deprive communities of wealth via regulations that lead to inflated
consumer prices or lower wages, therefore, is to increase their health risks,
because wealthier individuals are able to purchase better health care, enjoy
more nutritious diets, and lead generally less stressful lives. Conversely,
the deprivation of income itself has adverse health effectsfor example, an
increased incidence of stress-related problems, including ulcers, hypertension, heart attacks, depression, and suicides.
Although it is difficult to measure precisely the relationship between mortality and the deprivation of income, academic studies suggest as a conservative
estimate that approximately every $7 million to
Regulation reflects the preferences of
$10 million of regulatory
high income households and effectivecosts will induce one additional fatality through this
ly redistributes wealth from the poor to
indirect income effect.
the middle class and the rich.
Because unnecessary
deaths result from regulators erring on the side of safety, risk-analysis scholar
John D. Graham has dubbed excessive regulation statistical murder.
The poorest and most vulnerable in society disproportionately bear the costs
and impacts of excess regulation while they enjoy relatively few benefits. In a
study titled Regressive Effects of Regulation, economist Diana Thomas describes
the harm that attends regulation that fails to consider the real-world impacts
on consumers of increasing costs of goods and services or lowering wages:
People make private decisions determining their diets, how safe
of a car to buy, whether to install smoke detectors, the type of


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

neighborhood in which to live, and counseling for drug and alcohol

problems. As regulatory agencies address smaller and smaller
risksthereby driving up the prices of many consumer goods and
lowering wages of workers in regulated industriesthey crowd out
expenditures people would make in their private lives that address
larger risks and perhaps cost less than government risk regulation.
This crowding-out phenomenon will affect the less well off before
it affects the wealthy because lower-income consumers may face
higher risks in some areas of their lives and might wish to spend
less on risk reduction overall. In this sense, regulation of health and
safety risks, particularly regulation of small risks that are expensive to mitigate, can have a regressive effect on household income.
Thomas concludes that not only do current trends in regulation make the
less wealthy less safe, but by focusing on the mitigation of low-probability
risks with higher cost,
regulation reflects the
preferences of high income
Regulations that lead to inflated
households and effectively
consumer prices or lower wages
redistributes wealth from
increase health risks.
the poor to the middle class
and the rich. Thus, the Obama administrations anti-innovation policies,
actions, and attitudes actually increased the income inequality that he and
other Democratic politicians so often decry.
There is always tension between regulation and economic growth, but currently it is imbalancedand that imbalance is disproportionately harming
poor Americans. Maybe we need a grass-roots regulatory reform movement
called Poor Lives Matter.
Economist and Hoover senior fellow John Cochrane has characterized the
US economy as overrun by an out-of-control and increasingly politicized
regulatory state. A few enlightened legislators agree, and one has a solution. No major regulation should become law unless Congress takes a vote,
House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a June news conference in Washington, adding that most of us have no idea what goes on inside federal agencies as they enact regulations.
In a strange way, such ignorance might make sense. According to economists, rational ignorance comes into play when the cost of gaining enough

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 75

understanding of an issue to make an informed decision about it outweighs

the benefit that one could reasonably expect from doing so. For example,
many who are preoccupied with family, school, work, and mortgage may not
consider it cost-effective
to sift through a mass of
Regulatory drag translates to a US
often-inconsistent data to
economy that is $4 trillion smaller
understand, for example,
the risks and benefits of
than it otherwise would have been.
nuclear power, plasticizers
in childrens toys, or the Dodd-Frank financial regulations.
That is precisely why instead of conducting plebiscites to determine policy
on such issues, in a republic we entrust decisions to our government. (Californias ballot propositions, which are an exception, illustrate the problems of
direct votes, including inconsistency, incoherence, and unconstitutionality.)
The eighteenth-century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke spoke to
the appropriate role of legislators. He observed that in republics, your representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays,
instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
The bottom line is that if we are to maintain our standard of living, we
must have vigorous economic growth. To get that, our elected leaders
will need to loosen the shackles on Americas scientific and technological
Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Puzzles,

Paradoxes, Controversies, and the Global Economy,
by Charles Wolf Jr. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Allies First, Mr.

Heres how Donald Trump can reassure our allies
that the United States wont abandon its friends.

By Michael A. McFaul

round the world, our allies are worried. In South Korea, Donald
Trumps unexpected presidential victory fueled a deep sense of
uncertainty about the future of American leadership in Asia and
the world. Government officials and foreign policy experts have

been scrutinizing every Trump utterance about South Korea, trade, and security made during the campaign, and they dont like what they find. As I was
asked repeatedly during my recent visit to South Korea, does he really believe
that the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement kills American jobs, that South
Korea does not contribute substantially to the costs of basing our soldiers
here, or that South Korea and Japan should defend themselves against the
maniac of North Korea, including by acquiring their own nuclear weapons?
A similar frightened discussion about the credibility of the United States commitments has occurred in Japan, Australia, and most countries in the NATO alliance. In conversations, e-mails, and public statements I get from foreign policy
officials from Estonia to Canada, the question is always the same: does Trump
really believe all the crazy things he said on the campaign trail about our allies?
Michael A. McFaul is the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
at Stanford University, and a professor of political science at Stanford. He recently
served as US ambassador to Russia.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 77

Historically, uncertainty never enhances alliances. As a candidate, Trump

suggested that his unpredictability could increase his negotiating leverage,
keeping those on the other side of the table guessing as to what he might do
next. That strategy might work when negotiating construction contracts and
may even be effective in deliberations with foes, but it does not work with
allies. Above all else, uncertainty about our security commitments to our allies
tempts our competitors. We dont want Russia challenging our commitments
to our NATO allies, North Korea poking at our fortitude to defend the Republic of Korea, or China testing the waters about our staying power in Asia.
As his first order of business regarding foreign policy, President Trump
should reset relations with all US allies before thinking about a reset with
Russia or anyone else. Reassuring allies in Europe and Asia is actually lowhanging fruit: three signals could change the negative dynamics in our alliance relationships overnight.
Acknowledge the shared burdens. First, President Trump could state
clearly that our resolve to defend our allies is not conditioned by what our
allies pay us for security. Alliances are not protection rackets. Early in his
administration, Trump could add credibility to his statements by expressing
support for recently announced but not yet implemented enhancements of
our defense commitments to our allies, such as the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South
Korea or the $3.4 billion increase in defense spending planned for Europe to
enhance our contributions to NATO deterrence against Russia.
Trump could then affirm his desire to pursue new burden-sharing arrangements with our allies. Regarding our Asian allies, he could start that conversation by acknowledging the facts about the serious expenditures that Japan
and South Korea already provide to underwrite the costs of US troop deployments in these two countries. Doing so would create the permissive conditions for renegotiations about upping their share. Regarding NATO, Trump
could simply reaffirm existing policy: every ally should spend 2 percent of its
budget on defense. No one would balk, incremental change would begin to
happen, and Trump could declare victory.
Look at free trade objectively. Second, to further reset relations with
our allies, President Trump should moderate his hostile campaign pronouncements about free trade. In Seoul, business and government leaders fear the
negative consequences for the South Korean economy of 45 percent tariffs
on all Chinese goods, since Korean companies provide many of the parts
for products assembled in China that are then sold to the United States.
More generally, all of our allies in Europe and Asia would suffer from global


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

economic declines triggered by a trade war between the two largest economies in the world. Trump needs to back away from these extreme ideas,
which are gross violations of our own World Trade Organization obligations,
and instead take a more pragmatic, evolutionary, and cooperative approach.
Trump also could reassure allies in Europe and Asia by continuing, not
stopping, negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with our European partners and agreeing to explore amendmentnot complete abandonmentof the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
in Asia. Prematurely walking away from the TPP would be particularly
insulting and destabilizing to our Asian partners who have already signed
the agreement. President Trump must understand that our retreat from the
TPP would create a vacuum for China to fill with its own Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Talk about values. President Trump could utter the words democracy,
freedom, or liberty when describing what makes our alliances special. As one
senior Korean official told me, Trump only talks about money, and never
about values. It might be too much to hope that Trump might commit to
promoting democracy abroad, but at least he could pledge to defend democracy abroad.
Unlike some other foreign policy rethinks, signaling support for our
alliances would not alienate Trumps core electoral constituencies. On the
contrary, public opinion polls show deep support for our alliances among
the American people. And a reset with our allies would be cheap, requiring
mostly rhetorical statements, confirming existing commitments and adding
very few new resources. So, for an easy and early win in his new administration, President Trump should focus first on resetting relations with our
allies. Russia can wait.
Reprinted by permission of the Washington Post. 2016 Washington Post
Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The

Troubled Birth of Russian Democracy: Parties,
Personalities, and Programs, by Michael McFaul and
Sergei Markov. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 79


Staying Power
Some of Americas founders would have liked
Donald Trumps America First foreign policy.
After all, they were the original foes of risky
entanglements abroad.

By Elizabeth Cobbs

eople who dont get heard have a tendency to shout. Eventually

they get mad. For too long, foreign policy experts have stuck
their fingers in their ears when confronted by citizens ambivalent
about playing global police officer.

Republican candidate Donald Trump channeled their voices through his

electric bullhorn, whipping up the crowd and questioning the validity of

institutions like NATO. Regardless of whether one liked the messenger, its
time to listen.
Trump was right when he claimed that a policy looking out for America
first was based on a timeless principle. When George Washington penned
his famous Farewell Address of 1796, he asked his Revolutionary War comrade Alexander Hamilton to edit the speech. Hamilton crystallized the presidents sentiment against foreign entanglementsthen shared by mostinto
the Great Rule.
Interweaving our destiny with others, Washington and Hamilton argued,
would entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition,
rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice. America should therefore pursue economic integration with the world but maintain strict neutrality in its feuds.
Elizabeth Cobbs is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Melbern
Glasscock Chair of American history at Texas A&M University. Her documentary,
American Umpire, aired on public television last fall.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

John Quincy Adams reiterated this principle on July 4, 1821, when he

reminded Congress that America
goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the wellwisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
At the start of the Cold War, President Harry Truman proposed a new
great rule to replace the old. Like Washington, Truman had public opinion
behind him. After a vigorous debate, Congress accepted Trumans contention
that it was imperative to support free peoples who are resisting attempted
subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
Citizens agreed that it was the United States job to defend the so-called
free worldalone, if necessary. Anything less was deemed un-American.
Decision makers stoked this sentiment to forestall isolationism. They encouraged Manichean thinking to scare the hell out of the American people, as
Senator Arthur Vandenberg put it.
The Truman Doctrine meant global military assistance on a scale never
before seen. Since 1947, America has fought more foreign wars than any
other nation. It maintains large permanent bases throughout Europe and
Asia. As a former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton knew the Truman Doctrine fostered a safer world. In the recently concluded presidential campaign
she advocated staying the course preferred by establishment Democrats and
Republicans, arguing that change would result in chaos.
Yet the conditions that gave rise to the doctrine no longer exist, as citizens
intuit. Europe and Asia have rebuilt, territorial invasions on a continental
scale have vanished, physical conflict between nations has plummeted since
1947, and the United States is no longer the sole prosperous country in a
world bankrupted by war. Meanwhile, Americans continue doing a grubby
security job that leaves many feeling tired and dirty.
As a consequence, Washingtons advice feels relevant again. In 2011, libertarian congressman Ron Paul called for closing all foreign bases. Fellow
politicians derided him but many voters found his arguments arresting. They
also were drawn to Bernie Sanders, who said during the primaries last year
that America should not be policeman of the world.
Hyperconscious of economic insecurity since the Great Recession of 2008
and in hock for college tuition, millennials are perplexed at the four to one
disparity between what America spends on defense and what most of its
NATO partners spend. Millennials parents, displaced in the workforce by
globalization, dont understand what the United States gains from the trade

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 81

agreements that government officials deem necessary. The persistence of

terrorism despite fifteen years of war makes young and old alike wonder
whether we should accelerate military interventionism or end it.
In 2013, for the first time since the Pew Research Center began polling
Americans on the question five decades earlier, the majority (52 percent) said
the United States should mind its own business and allow other countries to
get along on their own. Today, Pew finds, the number has risen to 57 percent.
The public is abandoning the Cold War consensus. Americans are sick of
being told they must pay for policies they dont understand by elites whose
explanations make less and less sense.
Persistent elitism triggers reactive populism. Voters turn to political
outsiders when insiders wont listen. There are now more people registered
independent (42 percent) than Democrat (29 percent) or Republican (26 percent). Britains revolt against the European Union, opposed by responsible
leaders but approved by an alienated populace, should be considered an early
warning signal.
Historians agree that the Truman Doctrine stabilized world politics.
The question now is how long much longer the United States can carry the
burden as it is currently distributed without destabilizing itself. The nations
approaching 241st birthday is a time to think as boldlyand carefullyabout
the future as our founders did.
Reprinted by permission of the Los Angeles Times. 2016 Los Angeles
Times. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Andrei

Sakharov: The Conscience of Humanity, edited by
Sidney D. Drell and George P. Shultz. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

THE GREAT RULE: John Quincy Adams appears in his official White House
portrait (left) by George P. A. Healy (181394). Adams reiterated George
Washingtons advice, telling Congress in 1821 that the nation goes not
abroad, in search of monsters to destroy....She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. [White House Historical Association]

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 83


General Mattis
Advances on
President Trumps choice for secretary of defense
made his name as both scholar and strategist, as a
master of both details and the big picture. Now he
brings his wisdom to the Pentagon.

By James Mattis

General James Mattis, most recently an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow

at the Hoover Institution, has been chosen to be secretary of defense. Thomas W.
Gilligan, director of the Hoover Institution, welcomed the news, saying, I congratulate President-elect Trump on the nomination of our esteemed colleague General
James Mattis as secretary of defense. Theres no one better suited to guide our
military and nation in these consequential times. We wish General Mattis the best
of luck in his new endeavor and commend President-elect Trump on choosing one
of the smartest minds and most strategic thinkers of our time.
In 2014, not long after retiring from the Marine Corps, Mattis reviewed for the
House Intelligence Committee the threat posed by Islamic State, the long gestation
of Islamist terrorism, and the pressing need for a coordinated regional strategy.
Here are excerpts of that testimony.
General James Mattis (USMC, Retired), most recently an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of Hoovers Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict, is the new
secretary of defense.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

e all recognize that the Mideast is dissolving into crises, and

we know terrorism did not start with 9/11. Two fundamental strains of violent Islamic jihadists pre-existed 9/11 and
provide the backdrop for what is manifesting now. Both are
dressed in false religious garb.
First are the violent Shia-inspired movements supported by Iran. We know
them as Irans Lebanese Hezbollah militia and associated groups. In the early
1980s they commenced war on us when they attacked our Beirut embassy,
killing sixty-three people, and also attacked the French paratrooper and US
Marine peacekeeper barracks then in the city. They continue their murderous and destabilizing legacy: fighting to keep Bashar al-Assad in power in
Syria; murdering Israeli tourists in Bulgaria; trying to murder the Saudi
ambassador to Washington a few short miles from where we sit today. They
continue to spread mayhem.
The other strain of terrorism declared war on us in the mid-1990s, and is
well known to this committee as Al-Qaeda (AQ) and its associated violent
Sunni movements. Having attacked our east African embassies and the USS
Cole in a neutral port, the dramatic events of 9/11 earned them a strong US
response. We have shredded much of their senior leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, yet the movement has franchised: Al-Qaeda in
the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen; Al-Shabaab in Somalia; Al-Nusra in
Syria; and Boko Haram in the Maghreb, to name several.
Out of this franchising effect has arisen ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In 2010
Iraq was in a post-combat, pre-reconciliation phase, with then-AQI unable
to sustain their intended level of violence that they hoped would spawn a
Sunni-Shia civil war. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, released from American restraint, acted on his worst instincts, creating enormous distrust in
Iraqs Kurdish population and deeply embittering Sunnis in western Iraqs
Al-Anbar, who lost any confidence in a Baghdad government they saw as
adversarial. The reformed but still nascent Iraqi army was purged by Maliki
of its effective leadership as he jury-rigged the command structure, undercutting what had been the growing effectiveness of that force. In Al-Anbar,
Al-Qaeda began its growth into todays ISIS.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, Assad created a civil war against his own
people, heavily targeting the Sunnis. Abetted by Russias regrettable veto in
the United Nations and sustained by Irans full support, Assads war created
a cycle of violence that led to the expanded rise of ISIS, ideologically similar
but operationally distant from Al-Qaeda. The growth of ISIS illustrated the
usual adaptations of terror groups. By winnowing its ranks, sharpening its

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 85

ideology, and adapting its methods, ISIS morphed into a much more robust
threat. Combining Al-Qaedas significant fighting capabilities with a stronger
focus on the administrative capabilities that might permit it to hold ground,
ISIS copied the latter from Hezbollahs model.
Basically, ISIS is a combined Al-Qaeda and Lebanese Hezbollah on steroidsdestabilizing the region, dissolving borders and changing the political geography in the Mideast, and hardening political positions that make
Mideast peace-building more remote by the day.
Gaining strength as they draw to their banner the most hardened and disaffected violent Sunni radicals, todays ISIS holds ground in a continuation
and significant maturation
of the modern violent jihadSaying that these maniacs are on
ist terror war that began
against us in 1983. In 1984
the wrong side of history will not
stop them. History is written by good thenSecretary of State
George Shultz noted that
people and bad.
the violence was no longer
random, and he rejected any moral confusion when it came to Americas
special responsibility to firm resistance against terrorism. Today ISIS
represents a threat to governance across the Middle East and a threat that
extends far beyond that tumultuous region. Having dealt with the mutating
threat of terrorism since 1979, I believe that, left unfettered, its only a matter
of time before ISIS launches transnational operations. We should approach
their threat in this manner and determine how to take away their initiative.
The enemy is not waiting. I understand and appreciate the desire to pull us
out of the poorly explained Mideast fights weve engaged in. But as we say in
the military, the enemy gets a vote. In light of what weve seen...we must
now change what weve been doing, challenging or validating our assumptions about this threat, determining our political objectives, and building a
fully resourced strategy in concert with allies. Potential allies exist in the
region and around the globe, but nothing can replace American leadership in
bringing the interested parties together.
Friends matter in todays globalized worldjust as they have always
mattered. Alliances and coalitions are high priorities when we confront
todays challenge: we need to embrace those who reject terrorism, working
with allies even when they are not perfect because our friends stood by us
when we fell short of perfection. When the United Arab Emirates stands tall


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

MAKE IT CLEAR: General James Mattis speaks in 2007 at his confirmation

hearing for the post of commander of US Joint Forces Command. [Chief Mass
Comm. Spec. Shawn P. EklundUS Navy]

condemning ISIS and its atrocities [and how it] aims to kill, terrorize, and
displace civilians, we hear our own thoughts in their blunt words.
So long as we demonstrate firm reliability, there are many allies hoping
for our leadership, both in the region and around the world....This will be
a long-term effort involving fighting alongside our partners; it will not be
solved with humanitarian airdrops to the surviving victims of ISIS barbarism. Additionally, forecasting the amount of time we will commit to this
effort is unwise, giving hope
to our foes that they can
ISIS represents a threat to goveroutlast us. Saying that these
nance across the Middle East and a
maniacs are on the wrong
side of history also will not
threat that extends far beyond that
stop them, for history is
tumultuous region.
written by good people and
bad. If history teaches us anything and we want to leave a better world for
the next generation, we learn that we must stand with those who share our
security interests. Throughout history it has been nations with allies that
defeated those without.
Today in ISIS we see again those who thinklike those on 9/11that they
can scare us by hurting us. While we didnt ask for this fight, we must again
show that we dont scare and we wont abandon our friends. By their very
barbarity ISIS has created a strong motivation for a wide range of countries
to move against themif America will lead. The barbarism of ISIS is a vulnerability worth exploiting to the maximum degree possible.
The strategy we choose must no longer deal with each emerging Mideast threat as a one-offthere is no single vexing threat to be dealt
with as an immediate, stand-alone problem. Nowhere is the impression of
American withdrawal more pronounced than in the Mideast. To counter
that impression and take necessary steps before our enemies grow stronger, we need an integrated regional strategy that avoids unintended consequences that come from dealing with individual problems without regard
for their regional context. In league with our allies (those who find their
purpose in moderate policies and being responsive to the needs of their
people), we must build a politically unambiguous, guiding vision. That
starts with a policy that provides clarity: objectively and persuasively laying out to the American people and the global audience what we stand for,
but also what we will not tolerate toward innocent people, either our own
or others. Recognizing that in the Mideast today vacuums are not filled by
tolerant elements, we must stand with those opposed to terrorism.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

While we recognize that we may have previously confused and even

dismayed our friends, or unintentionally emboldened enemies sworn
to our destruction, we must now accept that the international order
promoting peace and prosperity is not self-sustaining. We must choose
sidesstanding with those willing to fight what President Obama rightly
called a cancer, and outlining our approach using clear strategic
ISIS, born of regional warfare and violent religious extremism, has grown
into a strategic threat. Occupying an area as large as Great Britain with millions of inhabitants, its hold is not yet firm. Even as ISIS tries to strike ever
more deeply into Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, their intent is clearly to set up a
safe haven in the Mideastlike the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on
the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderfor direct destabilization of the region and
for use as a launching pad for transnational attacks. We must not patronize
them or dismiss the threat their words and actions clearly proclaim, even if
they cannot yet carry out their more grandiose pronouncements.
A robust and coherent strategy to shatter the enemys designs must start
with our comprehending their irreconcilable worldview. In confronting that
reality and rigorously defining our political objectives, we will enlist allies
and avoid mission creep,
recognizing the limits
I understand and appreciate the
of what outsiders can
desire to pull us out of the poorly
do while strengthening
our friends who live in
explained Mideast fights weve
that area. As Dr. Nadia
engaged in. But as we say in the miliSchadlow has advocated, tary, the enemy gets a vote.
we must use all means to
carry out our strategy, one that does not rely solely on military activities to
fight what is at heart a violent political argument against the values that for
us grew out of the Enlightenment.
With regard to the immediate threat of ISIS, the critical first step to
restarting the Iraqi political process was supporting the removal of Maliki
as prime minister. Using American airpower to buy time is also necessary as
the Iraqis get their political and military act together and we align international support.
The strategy that follows must define with carefully chosen words where
we intend to go in this campaign: degrading or defeating or destroying

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 89

ISIS, for example, portend different endgames that demand different levels
of effortand thus different strategies.
Whichever strategy we choose, we should be reticent in telling our adversaries in advance any timeline that governs us, or which of our capabilities
we will not employ. Specifically, if this threat to our nation is as significant as
I believe it is, we may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they
will not see American boots on the ground. If a brigade of our paratroopers or a battalion landing team of our Marines could strengthen our allies at
a key juncture and create havoc or humiliation for our adversaries, then we
should do what is necessary with forces that exist for that very purpose. The
US military is not war-weary; our military draws strength from confronting
our enemies when clear policy objectives are set and we are fully resourced
for the fight.
Properly used, a mix of our troops can help set the conditions for the
regional forces that can carry the bulk of the fighting on the ground.
Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us
and actually strengthen our foes credibility, reinforcing his recruiting
efforts, which are already strong. I do not necessarily advocate American
ground forces at this point, but we should never reassure our enemy that
our commander-in-chief would not commit them at the time and place of
his choosing. When we act, it should be unequivocal, designed to end the
fight as swiftly as possible. No one is more reluctant to see us again in
combat than those of us who have signed letters to the next of kin of our
fallen. But if something is worth fighting for, we must bring full strength
to bear.
When one side resorts to barbarity against our fellow Americans and tears
up the rulebook about protection of the innocent, then the moral choice is
obvious. The only questions
lie in our wise choice of a
The international order promoting
coalition strategy and full
peace and prosperity is not self-susresourcing by America if we
want the same commitment
taining. We must choose sides.
by our allies. As British
Prime Minister David Cameron has said, true security will only be achieved
if we use all our resources.
Without firm action this poison will spread. The geography of the globalized world does not permit us to look away as if this is not our problem.
Geopolitical realities must be confronted, and the enemy of our enemy may
still remain our enemy, so the construction of an integrated Mideast strategy


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

to include confronting ISIS will not be simple. But that is now our duty to
ourselves and to the world that our children will inherit.
Without exaggerating the ISIS threat, we must bring objective purpose
and strong heart to this
fight to determine which
When we act, it should be unequivvalues will govern our
ocal, designed to end the fight as
future. With both the
swiftly as possible.
power to inspire as well
as to intimidate, America
should now bring both to bear with firm leadership and robust resources.
Vacillation or tentative American moves absent an integrated regional
strategy will not work to sustain the civilized international order in the face
of barbarians. Delay can only cost us as the enemy grows stronger. Failure to
act multidimensionally, decisively, and in concert with allies can only leave us
vulnerable to future enemy attacks.
These remarks were delivered September 18, 2014, before the House Intelligence Committee.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Iraq after

America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance, by Joel
Rayburn. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 91


The Other
Forever War
Its been two long years since we launched a war
against the Islamic State, yet the American people
have never had a chance to debate itor consent to
the sacrifices it entails.

By Jack Goldsmith and Matthew C. Waxman

e have now marked the fifteenth anniversary of the beginning of the longest armed conflict in American history.
But another significant anniversary in the forever war
has also come and gone: as of September 10, two years had

passed since Barack Obama announced his comprehensive and sustained

counterterrorism strategy to defeat the Islamic State.
The United States had been bombing the Islamic State sporadically
throughout the summer of 2014, under the presidents Article II commanderin-chief power. But at about the time when then-president Obama announced
the United States ramped-up efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy
the Islamic State, he also shifted the legal basis for the effort to the 2001
Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that had been the foundation

Jack Goldsmith is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-chairman of

Hoovers Jean Perkins Working Group on National Security, Technology, and Law.
He is the Henry L. Shattuck Professor at Harvard Law School. Matthew C. Waxman is the Liviu Librescu Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, where he
chairs the Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security, and is an adjunct
senior fellow for law and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

for the conflict against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and associates since a few
days after the 9/11 attacks. Obama said he welcomed congressional support
for this effort in that address while making clear that he did not require it.
One month later, the Pentagon named the campaign Operation Inherent
The inclusion of Operation Inherent Resolve under the AUMF rubric was
controversial and not entirely persuasive, since the Islamic State was not at
that time (and has not since then been) a force associated with Al-Qaeda. Yet
for more than two years now Congresss long-ago approval for war against
the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks has been the legal foundation for war
against the Islamic State as wella war that, many Obama administration
military officials said, will last at least decades.
We do not fault Obama for enhancing US military efforts against the obvious threat posed by the Islamic State. But his decision to expand the war
unilaterally on the basis of the 2001 AUMF rather than return to Congress
and the American people and insist on a new authorization for this new war
was a fateful one.
The claim of authority under the 2001 AUMF to fight the Islamic State
took away every political incentive that the responsibility-shy Congress
might have had to debate and authorize the war. And that in turn has stunted
robust and extended debate about the nature of the threat the Islamic State
poses and the sacrifices the nation needs to make to defeat it.
Nor have events in the world necessitated such debate. The war against the
Islamic State was the epitome of former president Obamas light footprint
warfare characterized by heavy reliance on airpower (especially drones), special operations forces, and cyber-operations. Light-footprint warfare takes
place largely in secret, largely from a distance, and largely without threat to
US personnel. By design, it does not attract nearly the same level of congressional and especially public scrutiny as do more conventional military means.
Congress and the American people of course know about the war against
the Islamic State, and Congress has gone along with the stealth war via what
are in effect stealth appropriations, even while declining to approve the presidential actions explicitly. But Congress as an institution has refused to weigh
in explicitly on the military efforts against the Islamic State. Deadlock over a
new AUMF for the Islamic State is unlikely to be broken soon. Among other
reasons, the White Houses legal needs are served by a stretched 2001 AUMF,
and many members of Congress see possible political downside but little

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 93

NO FINISH LINE: A boy joins civilians returning to their village near Mosul,
Iraq, after it was recaptured from Islamic State militants. Over two years
of fighting in Operation Inherent Resolve, a light footprint campaign, the
United States conducted 11,442 strikes in Iraq and Syria and three US soldiers
were killed. [Thaier al-SudaniReuters]

upside to committing themselves in a vote on an express authorization. Nor

did the presidential candidates broach the subject in any detail.
Light-footprint warfare might be off the American radar screen, but it
is still lethal and very consequential warfare. In his farewell news conference last fall, Operation Inherent Resolve commander General Sean MacFarland recounted the extraordinary intensity of the war in the previous
eleven months. During that period alone, the United States and its coalition
forces conducted approximately fifty thousand sorties in Iraq and Syria that
dropped over thirty thousand munitions on the enemy (two-thirds in Iraq,
one-third in Syria), killing over twenty-five thousand enemy fighters (in
addition to twenty thousand killed the year before). A Defense Department
report stated that over two years of fighting in Operation Inherent Resolve,
the United States alone had conducted 11,442 strikes in Iraq and Syria.
According to the Pentagon, three US soldiers had been killed in action in
Operation Inherent Resolve, and sixteen wounded.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Operation Inherent Resolve is but one of many intense operations against

Islamic terrorists around the globe, including Operation Freedoms Sentinel
(the military operation in Afghanistan that in 2014 succeeded Operation
Enduring Freedom, which began in that country in 2001), Operation New
Dawn (the name of the successor operation in Iraq since 2010, which began
as Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003),
Islamic State has never been a force
and scores of stealthier
reported operations by
associated with Al-Qaeda.
special operations forces
and US intelligence agencies around the globe. Almost all of these operations
are now being conducted pursuant to the 2001 AUMF. And though there are
thousands of US personnel in both Afghanistan and Iraq, almost all of these
operations are conducted in light-footprint fashion, with (thankfully, so far)
relatively few American casualties.
What are we to make of Obamas dramatic extension of indefinite war of this
intensity, without debate or express authorization by Congress, and with
little engagement by the American people? We recently addressed that question in an essay on The Legal Legacy of Light-Footprint Warfare (Washington Quarterly, summer 2016). In that study, we showed that the extension of
the AUMF to include the Islamic State was one of several significant legal
moves by the Obama administration that established very broad authority
for light-footprint but high-potency military operations.
As we noted in conclusion, some argue that there is little to worry about
here from a constitutional perspective:
The United States has a long history of presidential military
initiative borne of responsibility and opportunity, and congressional acquiescence borne of irresponsibility and collective action
hurdles. This historical pattern of executive unilateralism has
not meant that the president is unchecked. It has simply meant
that the checks were political, not legal, and were imposed by
the threat of congressional retaliation if the presidents initiatives go terribly wrong, and by the US public through electoral
It may be that Obamas light-footprint warfare fell within this tradition. Neither Congress nor the public opposed Obamas use of light-footprint military

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 95

toolsespecially against terrorist threatsthat dont cost the United States

heavily in blood or treasure compared to President Bushs military adventures.
The single time Obama considered a military intervention that the US public
did not appear to support
the threatened bombing of
The claim of authority to fight the
Syria in 2013he backed
Islamic State took away every politidown. In many respects,
Obama was less hawkish
cal incentive Congress might have
had to debate and authorize this war. than the Republicans who
had controlled both Houses
of Congress since 2014. Especially in an era marked by fierce partisan gridlock
in other contexts, the formalities of overt congressional approval might matter
less than the reality of broad congressional and public support for the presidents military actions.
This is a respectable position with a long pedigree in American history.
But we lean toward what we described as a more pessimistic view that
recognizes light-footprint warfares costs to US democracy and its risks to a
politically sustainable foreign policy over the long run. As we explained:
The United States wields military force today in ways starkly different from 2001. The conflict that began fifteen years ago has been
characterized by ever-morphing enemies, an uncertain though
expanding geographical scope, and an indefinite duration unlike any
war in previous eras in US history. The United States has stumbled
into its current military posture with stunted public debate and
intermittent congressional attention. This is no accident, since
light-footprint warfare takes place largely in secret, largely from
a distance, and largely without threat to US personnel. President
Obamas legal approach to war powers emphasizes the very factors
that invite low domestic scrutiny to support unilateral presidential
action. It reflects the idea that the smaller the footprint and the
lower the risk of substantial US casualties, the less the imperative
to obtain overt approval by Congress or the US people.
As a matter of democratic principle, this attitude probably has
matters backwards. Light-footprint warfare is still lethal and very
consequential warfare, and the lightness of the tools make them
relatively easy for a president to deploy extensively. Light-footprint warfare thus has large foreign policy, strategic, and reputational consequences for the United States, akin to much heavier


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

deployments, yet much less public examination. The presidents

legal theories treat this as a feature of such warfare. But it is also
a bug for US democracy, since the stealthy features mean that
public debate and political checkswhich reduce error as well as
excess, and promote legitimacyfunction ineffectively.
This is not just an issue of principle, but of practical consequence for long-term security strategy. While operational stealth
is often critical to successful war fighting, robust checks on presidential unilateralism help ensure that a chosen strategic path can
withstand tough scrutiny. Congressional buy-in certainly does not
guarantee it, but it does help sustain broad political support for
strategy over timeespecially in the face of later setbacks.
The problem is easy to state, but solutions are hard. The most obvious partial solution is to have Congress engage with and approve and take partial
responsibility for the longest war in American history. But we are at the
moment stuck in an unfortunate equilibrium in which both Congress and
the White House have little
real interest or incentive
in an extended debate
The United States stumbled into its
on war strategy and war
current military posture.
And so for the foreseeable future, as we wrote, the sprawling, indefinite,
and stealthy light-footprint warfare will continue apace for years and years,
enabled to a large degree by the unilateral stretch of the AUMF to include
the Islamic State.
Reprinted by permission of Time ( 2016 Time Inc. All
rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Eyes, Ears, and

Daggers: Special Operations Forces and the Central
Intelligence Agency in Americas Evolving Struggle
against Terrorism, by Thomas H. Henriksen. To order,
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H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 97

T ERRORI S M and defense

The terrorists are in some ways only Europes
second-worst enemy. Europes worst enemy is

By Charles Hill

specter is haunting Europeagain. Now, as in Marxs proclamation, an idea generated in Europe has had consequences
elsewhere that threaten modern civilization.
Modernitys world-spanning influence has been accurately

and derogatorily labeled Eurocentric. Born in the Italian Renaissance, the

German Reformation, and the English scientific revolution, the Modern Age
was given a procedurally universalist structure by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the religion-driven Thirty Years War.
The strands were gathered together in the Enlightenment as cross-cultural
ideals: quantitative and experimental reasoning, a recognition that all mankind is one, universal human rights, the values of open trade, open expression,
and consent of the governed within an international system of states with
restraints on the worst horrors of war, and, in retrospect, a determination
that religions should not be inserted into political, military, and diplomatic
world affairs. The progress of modernity, Max Weber proclaimed, would be
measured by the extent to which it erased religion from human consciousness.
Charles Hill is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-chair of Hoovers
Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Over the past four centuries this became the framework of what was called
modern and generally accepted around the world as the only system that
made room for wide cultural diversity through a simple set of procedures
founded on the improbable but imperative juridical doctrine of the equality
of states, creating historys first-ever liberal world order.
Looking back with fresh eyes we can see that every major modern war
Napoleonic, the first and second world wars, the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions, and the Cold Warwas launched by a neoimperial or radical ideology bent on destroying and replacing the modern state system. This
countercurrent has been carried, forcibly and subversively, into the twentyfirst century by the revolution that produced the Islamic Republic of Iran, by
Saudi-supported Wahhabi Salafism, and most recently by the Islamic State
(also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh).
As the Modern Age has been Eurocentric, the main battle for modernitys
survival is taking place in Europe. Here is the fulcrum on which historys next
phase has begun to turn because Europe in the late Cold War years decided
to urgently redefine itself against its own history and the international state
system it had created in order to carry the concept of modernity as secular,
scientific, administrative, and ethical to a perfected degree.
This was propelled by the German Historikerstreit (the historians dispute), a
late 1980s controversy about the causes and justifications of guilt in the past.
This aroused an intellectual-moral reaction of Enough! That was then; this
is now. Europe would pride itself by accelerating the European Union into
a new form of transnational entity that would eschew war, abolish sovereign
borders, exalt diplomacy,
and supersede the WestphaThe European Union made itself the
lian system by offering the
epitome of the Modern Age by relentworld a compelling model of
how to dismantle the state
less secularization. Islamism made
by devolving some of its
itself the implacable adversary of
powers downward according that modernity.
to the concept of subsidiarity while pulling other powers up into a pan-European bureaucracy in Brussels which, however defined, would not be a state. There would be a new flag
bearing no hint of national identity and a new currency depicting unidentifiable architecture of no discernable origin. While some worried that subsidiarity originated with Saint Thomas Aquinas and that the flag recalled the

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 99

Blessed Virgin Marys iconography, the EU assured all that it was entirely
unreligious and noted the care with which the text of its voluminous constitutionunratifiedavoided any reference to Europes Christian heritage.
Put simply, the European Union made itself the epitome of the Modern Age
by relentless secularization. Islamism, emerging from the postWorld War
I collapse of the Ottoman empire and caliphate, made itself the vanguard of
jihadist religions rise to become the implacable adversary of modernity. If
Europe is where the siege is to take place, the drawbridge already is up:
Islamism abhors the state; the EU has emasculated it.

[Taylor Jonesfor the Hoover Digest]


H O O VER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Islamism recognizes only one border: between itself and regions yet to
become Muslim; Europe has opened its borders to the point of abolishing the
concept altogether.
Islamism regards democracy as un-Islamic because it enacts laws other
than sharia; the European Union from its inception has acted assiduously to
prevent people from governing themselves democratically.
Islamists, like Machiavelli, know that armed prophets are victorious and
unarmed prophets are destroyed; the European Union has deliberately diminished its capacities to defend itself or to back its diplomacy with strength.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 101

And while Islamists declare religion to be the answer, the EU has seen
religion as the problem. As Pierre Manent has pointed out, had Europeans
maintained their identity as sovereign states with a Christian heritage, the
assimilation of Muslims could have been possible on the basis of comity,
whereas now it lacks an answer to assimilation to what?
Americans need to understand that the Modern Age with its pluralistic
structures, societies, and beliefs is under assault and that the enemies of
modernity are uniate, unwilling to accept others on an equal basis. In this
context Americas involvement in the Middle East must take the side of pluralistic states and parties compatible with the international system.
Only Europeans can rectify the flaws in the European Unions design to
enable Europe to act on the world stage as a bordered state incorporating its
historic nation-states in confederation. And only Europeans can attend to the
needs of the European soul.
But however the relationship between Britain and Europe comes out, the
United States must regard its relations with both as special. Transatlantic
unity has been the keystone of the defense and extension of freedom in wartime for a hundred years and must remain so.
It is not the European Union but NATO that has been the key to transatlantic solidarity. Strengthening NATO as a military alliance with political
consequences in support of a reformed European Union must be at the core
of American policy. NATOs role out of area will be vital along with continued efforts to integrate like-minded partners to the extent possible: Russia,
Israel, the gulf Arab states. The Modern Age itself is at stake.
Subscribe to The Caravan, the online Hoover Institution journal that
explores the contemporary dilemmas of the greater Middle East (www. 2016 The Board of Trustees of the
Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The

Weavers Lost Art, by Charles Hill. To order, call (800)
888-4741 or visit


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Can Trump
Handle Putin?
Forewarned is forearmed. Lets arm our new
president with the facts about Russia.

By Paul R. Gregory

or the first time in decades, we have a president who is not

beholdena president who can ignore special interests and do
what he believes is for the good of the country. The stars are
aligned for Donald Trumps success in domestic policy. With

both houses of Congress, he will enjoy considerable power. His Democratic

opponents, who argue for a living Constitution, will now have to rely on the
1789 version to check a president they fear. The major threat to the Trump
presidency would come from a different direction: if Trump and his advisers
were to fall for Vladimir Putins parallel universe narrative about Crimea,
Ukraine, and the Middle East.
The unbeholden Trump raised relatively little money for his campaign, and
that largely from small donors, and he won the election at $5 per vote. Thus
we have a president elected by the people; Trump owes his allegiance to
them and not to financial, educational, or political elites, even those of his
own, albeit recently adopted, party.
Paul R. Gregory is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the Cullen
Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Houston and a research
professor at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 103

The new president should be able to restore growth and economic confidence with the ready remedies of deregulation, tax reform, and the end of
zero interest rates. He will be able to reverse the Obama administrations
legacy items passed by executive order. He can replace ObamaCare at
the height of its unpopularity as rate increases kick in and doctors opt out.
Conservatives can embrace
much of a Trump economic
As someone who prides himself on
program of tax cuts, dereguhis negotiating ability, Trump will
lation, and the freeing of the
energy sector.
readily grasp the first rule: you must
Globalists will have to
understand the party on the other
and see how the Trump
side of the table.
administration renegotiates
trade deals. If Trump wants them re-examined for special-interest wheeling and dealing and lack of compliance, they could indeed end up improved.
Trump would be prevented by checks and balances from using arbitrary
penalties to dissuade companies from moving abroad. Most important, his
tax policy would remove tax advantages as a reason for relocating to other
Progressives will lament the decline in political correctness. Trumps own
manner of speaking is bereft of political correctness, and his concern about
the vulgarity of the pop culture that influences our children is widely shared.
I believe a wide swath of the American public is tired of safe spaces, transgender bathrooms, and multiple gender identifications. Trumps campaign
message is that we have more important things to consider, like jobs. Americas main street seems to agree.
Environmentalists will lament the loss of an anti-carbon president. Under
Trump, we will see declining support for green energy and UN climate
deals, and an actual discussion of the science of climate change. Americas
main street will respond to environmentalist outrage with the question:
how many jobs and how much economic growth has the green economy
The major threat to a successful Trump presidency lies in the area of foreign
policy, namely, in his relationship with Russian president Putin.
Trump admittedly knows little about world affairs and is acquainted with
few world leaders. His views of the world are still being shaped. Let us hope
that he will surround himself with the right people and be a quick study.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

As a new president, Trump should indeed sit down with Putin to probe for
areas of common interest. As someone who prides himself on his negotiating ability, Trump will readily grasp the first rule: you must understand the
party on the other side of the table. Putin would be no exception.
Despite widespread angst, I consider that the few loose remarks Trump
made about Russia, Putin, and NATO during the presidential campaign do
not define a Russian policy. The exchange of compliments and expressions of
willingness to re-engage follow standard diplomatic protocol and have little
meaning. Trump, however, should prepare his Russian policy with an understanding of the facts, all of which the Kremlin narrative disputes.
First, it is a fact that Putin has declared the United States enemy
number one since his February 2007 speech in Munich. In Putins world,
the United States and its NATO allies are intent on surrounding and dismembering Russia. Any aggressive actions of Russiasin Georgia, Crimea,
Ukraineare therefore purely defensive in nature. Putins entire domestic
repression policiesremoval of potential opponents, state control of media,
arrests of protestersis justified by the American threat. His regime could
not survive as is without this purported threat. How can Trump get along
very well with a negotiating partner whose regimes very existence requires
that the United States be Russias major enemy?
Second, it is a fact that Putin ordered the Crimean annexation and
the hybrid war against Ukraine. That conflict has killed more than nine
thousand people and wounded nearly twenty-one thousand. Combatants and
civilians are still being killed daily despite a so-called truce brokered by Russia and European leaders at Minsk. Oddly, in this peace negotiation, Russia,
the aggressor and string-puller, sits at the table as a peacemaker. Trump
would understand the idiocy of such an arrangement.
Third, it is a fact that Putin lies publicly on matters of fact and great
diplomatic importance. In an April 2015 press conference he stated that
there are no Russian troops in Ukraine. (He backtracked at his December
press conference.) Putin lied that the March 2014 annexation of Crimea
was a spontaneous act of the Crimean people. Only later did Putin publicly
admit that he had ordered work on returning Crimea well before the
Crimean takeover. Despite overwhelming official evidence, the Putin regime
still blames Ukraine for the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner. How can
Trump enter into a deal with a leader whose word has no value?
Fourth, it is a fact that Putin is not a natural ally against Islamic
terrorism. Russian forces are in the Middle East to prop up a client and
to strengthen Russias ally, Iran. Putin can cite large numbers of Muslims

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 105

in Russia, but he has used past terrorist incidents (the Chechen wars, the
Beslan massacre, the Ost-West Theater fiasco) for political advantage. He is
confident his police state can infiltrate Islamic groups. To show how Putin
distorts his war on terror, dissident politician Alexei Navalny faces the
bizarre charge of cooperation with ISIS as an agent for the CIA. Jehovahs
Witnesses have been declared a terrorist organization. In other words, a
terrorist is anyone whom the
Kremlin does not like.
Trump should prepare his Russian
World leaders must negotiate
with unsavory leaders,
policy with the facts, all of which the
but Putins crimes and misKremlin narrative disputes.
deeds place him near the top
of the list. Putin is, at best, an accomplice to murder of politicians, investigative journalists, and opposition figures. Trump should read the convincing
evidence that Putin deliberately blew up apartment buildings in three Russian cities, killing more than three hundred, to pave the way for the second
Chechen war. Before the bombings, Putin had a minuscule favorability rating
and stood little chance of being elected president. Under Putin there have
been eight political assassinations of national importance, not counting the
murders of numerous regional and local politicians and investigative reporters. Only low-level assassins take the fall.
With his armies of secret police, FSB agents, and informants, Putin does
not want these cases solved and is hence himself complicit in a cover-up.
President Trump should examine the finding of a British high court that
the Russian government
and Putin were most likely
Putin has declared the United States responsible for the polonium
murder of a former FSB
enemy number one.
agent who had become an
English citizen. Trump should be wary of a leader who resorts to the ultimate domestic violence to stay in power.
Fifth, it is a fact that Putin and his inner circle have stolen a large
portion of Russias wealth. Putin runs Russia as a criminal enterprise in
which the right to property is entirely conditional upon the property owners
loyalty. Putins own wealth will never be known. I doubt that President
Trump would welcome the praise of national thieves with names such as
Marcos, Mobutu, or Duvalier. Trump is proud of how he made his fortune.
He did not steal it, as did Putin. For proof, Trump might wish to consult his
treasury officials who follow Russian illegal money flows.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

We Americans must hope that what Trump thinks is right is actually right.
If he understands what makes Putin tick, we, NATO, Ukraine, and other
regions threatened by Russia will be all right. He must resist the advice of the
many experts in the West who peddle the Russian line that we are to blame
for everything that is wrong in our relations. The dread that Trump will
be Putins puppet will prove as wrong as the election-eve pollsotherwise,
Trump will lose the right to call himself a master of the art of the deal.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Women

of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives, by
Paul R. Gregory. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 107


A Different
Whether allies or rivals, the United States and
Russia have deep ties. Its time for both nations
to again pursue mutual benefit in a complex,
dangerous world.

By Katya Drozdova

he United States and Russia have a unique opportunity to

reforge their historical ties in the face of a common threat. History shows how this can be done.
Together, the United States and Russia have faced recurrent

periods of major geopolitical strife marked by common threats. Their successful resolution has been consistently promulgated through mutually beneficial US-Russian efforts. Even as rivals, the two nations have found reasons
to work together since the era of the United States founding, and they can
again return to being rational partners. We are overdue for a renewed phase
of such reciprocal cooperation.

Katya Drozdova is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate

professor of political science at Seattle Pacific Universitys School of Business, Government, and Economics. She is the co-author of Quantifying the Qualitative:
Information Theory for Comparative Case Analysis (SAGE, 2016).

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

This renewal should be reinvigoratedand become a policy prioritywith

the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Vowing to
always put Americas interests first in his election-night victory speech,
the president-elect laid out his general view of international relations under
his administration as follows: We will get along with all other nations willing
to get along with us. Russias president, Vladimir Putin, reciprocated in his
congratulatory remarks, saying, We are ready to do our part.
Both seek to rebuild the relationship between the two countries based
on the principle they have practiced throughout their careersthe same
principle that has underpinned all successful phases in the historical relationship between the United States and Russia: the principle of self-interested
cooperation. In this context, Putin emphasized the special responsibility of
Russia and the United States to sustain global stability and security, while
Trump noted that Russia and the United States should be able to work well
with each other towards
defeating terrorism and
Mutual self-interestrather than
restoring world peace, not
to mention trade and all of bonds of friendship or shared idethe other benefits derived
alsguided Catherine the Great in
from mutual respect.
her support of the United States durIndeed, during their
ing the Revolutionary War.
first official conversation,
President-elect Trump and President Putin set the course of US-Russian
relations toward pursuing constructive cooperation on the broadest possible
range of issues, as the Kremlin phrased it.
Both leaders noted that next year it will be two hundred and ten years
since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States, the Kremlin continued, which itself should encourage a return to
pragmatic, mutually beneficial cooperation in the interests of both countries,
as well as global stability and security.
In fact, such constructive relations extend much further into history, to the
very beginnings of the United States. And the historical lessons of US-Russian cooperationa self-interested yet mutually beneficial relationshipwill
help President Trump navigate the challenges of dealing with Russia.
A natural way to start is to apply these historical lessons while opposing
common adversariesnamely, the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS) and other
extremist jihadists. The next step is to seize mutually beneficial opportunities to emerge from a stable world order, such as profiting from more secure
energy relations.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 109

As US-Russian relations deteriorated during the Obama administration,

options for possible dtente with Russia around shared geopolitical interests largely disappeared from discussions in the United States. Meanwhile,
tensions between the two nations escalated across the strategic landscape:
threats of cyberwarfare, the dismantlement of nuclear security accords,
instability in global energy relations, economic sanctions, and disagreements
over freedom fighters, terrorists, and tyrants. The risk of a major-power war
is in neither nations interests, yet the long decline in mutual understanding
has hindered solutions. Fortunately, despite the recent dominance of the ominous downs, there have also been many momentous ups on the historical
roller coaster of US-Russian relations, when they have thrived even under
the most difficult circumstances. President Trumps options for tackling a
number of crises would be greatly informed by these historical examples of
such reciprocal cooperation.
Historical ties were first forged during the American Revolutionary War,
when Russia not only refused then-superpower Britains request for troops
to help pacify the rebels but also provided essential political support to the
colonies in Europe. And it was Russiaalone among the world powersthat
delivered meaningful assistance to the North during the American Civil War,
in stark contrast to support in Britain and France for the Confederacy. In
turn, the same spirit of mutual benefit led the United States to cooperate
with Russia in distracting these major European powers in the nineteenth
century, enabling Russia to be more effective in dealing with its contemporary jihadist adversaries in Crimea, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.
Importantly, throughout most of this history, the reciprocal moves made by
either the United States or Russia were driven as much by their mutual selfinterest as by the bonds of friendship or shared ideals.
This approach is typified by Empress Catherine the Greats strategy of
prioritizing covert measures and diplomatic efforts in Russias support of
the United States during the American Revolutionary War. Yetunlike the
French monarchyCatherine shrewdly eschewed any outright military
involvement, thus also ensuring the stability of her own empire in a turbulent
ON THE MARCH: An American poster from World War II depicts the Soviet
soldier as an ally who fights for freedom. [Hoover Institution ArchivesHistoric
Poster Collection]

H O O V ER D I G E S T W inte r 2017 111

period. The Frank A. Golder Papers in the Hoover Institution Archives shed
light on these developments as well as on Russias aid to the North during the
American Civil War.
During the critical stages of the American Civil War, when the danger of
direct British and French intervention was threatening to swing the tide in
favor of the Confederacy, President Lincolns government appealed to Russia
for assistance. And Russia responded. At the beckoning of the US government, Russian warships docked in New York and San Francisco. The official,
though secret, mission they fulfilled was to disrupt enemy commerce and
provide strategic military deterrent against any hostilities launched by European or other powers. The Russian fleet received a very warm welcome from
common US citizens and dignitaries alike. The gratitude of San Franciscans
was especially heartfelt: Russian officers and sailors played a prominent role
in helping extinguish a major firean act for which they were cheered by
San Franciscans and officially commended by city leaders.
Two years after the Union victory, Mark Twain, on a trip to Russia detailed
in Innocents Abroad, wrote a note of gratitude on behalf of the nation to Czar
Alexander II, proclaiming that America owes much to Russia: is indebted
to her in many ways; and chiefly for her unwavering friendship in the season
of her greatest need. Twain avowed Americas reciprocal response toward
Russia in that 1867 address, which he personally presented to the czar during
an audience in Yalta, Crimea, wishing that the same friendship may be hers
in time to come.
One of the most progressive and reform-minded czars in history, Alexander had freed the serfs in Russia before slavery was abolished in the United
States and was about to convert the empire into a parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately, he was assassinated by a terrorist just as these reforms
were about to be put in place and any further attempts at liberalization then
In some of the other historical episodes involving the United States and
Russia, the self-interests of all sides have not been well balanced. These too

TO HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY: Author and humorist Mark Twain, touring

Europe with the other passengers of the Quaker City, drafted an address
saluting Alexander II during a port call in Yalta in August 1867. The Americans
hailed the czar as a steadfast friend who had freed millions of Russian serfs
just as the US Civil War had led to the freedom of former slaves. [Courtesy of the
Mark Twain Project, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley]


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

offer important strategic lessons for President Trumpparticularly applicable to contemporary global developments.
In one of its first acts of international leadership, the United States reciprocated earlier Russian support by helping it negotiate ostensibly favorable
terms of a peace treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War (19045). Spearheaded by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Treaty of Portsmouth did stop the
bloodshed, but it also left both warring sides unsatisfied and relatively weakenedthus serving Americas tactical geopolitical interests at the expense of
its potential rivals. At the time, it was considered a masterstroke of international diplomacy. Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role.
Strategically, however, this treaty proved to be a Pandoras Box of interand intranational conflict. In Russia, some viewed it as a betrayal of those
lost in an ultimately winnable war, and soin an early example of stab in
the back rhetorichelped fan the flames of the 1905 Russian Revolution.
(Although the revolt was put down, it ushered in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that led to the creation of the Soviet Union.) At the same time, imperial
Japan felt slighted by what it saw as a forced acceptance of a one-sided deal.
Later, some in Japan would view the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor as avenging,
in part, these alleged injustices.
The Second World War that followed saw the United States and Soviet
Russia become close allies against their mutual enemies, the Axis powers.
The United States provided the USSR with massive materiel assistance and
eventually opened a second front in Europe. The Soviet Union reciprocated
by acquiescing to President
Franklin Roosevelts request
Constructive US-Russian relations
to help the United States
extend deep into history, to the very
against imperial Japan in
Asia. Russias enormous sacbeginnings of the United States.
rifice in defeating the Nazis
on the Eastern Front paved the way for Allied victory and the survival of the
Free World led by the postwar United States. Even during the height of the
subsequent Cold War, the rival superpowers cooperated on nuclear deterrence, disarmament, and nonproliferation.
Today, US-Russian collaboration must be brought to bear on Islamist
extremism, which endangers the interests of both countries. As terrorists
are learning to turn each nations capabilities against itself, the need for a
joint response is becoming ever more urgent.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Amid the tensions of what some call a new Cold War, US and Russian
counterterrorism forces have failed to prevent jihadi extremists from
metastasizing into a worldwide threat. Weapons and resources shared with
regional allies frequently end up in extremist hands, while elite counterterrorism operatives betray their oaths and training to join ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and
other militant organizations.
A case in point is the reported new ISIS minister of war, Gulmurod
Khalimov. He is alleged to have replaced Abu Umar al-Shishani, reportedly
killed by US forces. Shishanithe nom de guerre of Tarkhan Batirashvili, a
jihadi of Chechen origin
from post-Soviet Georgiawas formerly a
During the Civil War, Lincoln
sergeant in the Georgian
appealed to Russia for assistance.
military trained as a
And Russia responded.
commando by NATO.
But ISISs new military chief has an even more distinguished pedigree. A former colonel and special forces commander, Tajikistans former lead security
officer, and a member of the elite Presidential Guard, Khalimov is a defector
to ISIS who possesses not only counterterrorism expertise but also links
to the worlds top defense and policy establishment. Remarkably, Khalimov
was able to clear rigorous security vetting and then receive elite training in
counterterrorism and special operations from both US and Russian military
programsbefore turning his back on his privileges and wealth to fight for
the jihadi cause.
In a sleek ISIS propaganda video posted online, Khalimov had challenged
Russian, American, and allied security personnel by asking: Are you ready
to die...for this democracy?
One would be prudent to avoid dismissing Khalimovs question as mere
rhetoric. Indeed, such cases represent a troubling trend of counterterrorism brain drain to the enemy. Individuals come and go, but the little-noticed
phenomenon of terrorist turncoats reveals a largely unaddressed systemic
problem: that the enemy is learning, through compromised human networks,
the covert measures used to hunt terrorists. A highly capable defector can
teach the hunters thinking to his prey. This brain drain empowers terrorist
organizations and helps them marshal other talent more effectively.
According to a World Bank study, ISIS recruits come from around the
globe, including from democracies with market economies. They tend to be
just as educated as their compatriots and often more so. At least a quarter
of them are university educated, nearly half have secondary schooling, and

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 115

fewer than 2 percent are illiterate. The proportion of those willing to become
suicide bombers actually increases with education. ISIS has attracted skilled
professionals to help build its caliphate, people with experience in management, the professions, and the military.
ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other radical jihadi groups assimilate these capabilities and benefits of Western-style education to fight the very world that
produced them. Prominent among those abilities are cyber skills, which ISIS
uses for sophisticated online propaganda, social networks, and a hacking
division featuring groups such as the United Cyber Caliphate. Well-placed,
professionally trained adherents can cause even more damage. Competent
suicide bombers may infiltrate organizations and attack hardened targetsa
threat very difficult to detect and counter. Other adept jihadists may compromise critical infrastructure, thanks to their education, skills, and credentials.
The United States and Russia share a leading role in counteracting these
threatsand the terrorists treat both nations as equally historic foes. This
was recently underscored when Abu Mohammed al-Golani, leader of Jabhat
Fateh al-Shamformerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al-Qaeda branch in
Syria, and engaged in violent infighting with ISIScalled upon fellow mujahideen to fight their common enemies, singling out both America and Russia.
Despite many ideological and even violent conflicts among the extremist
jihadists, they tend to agree on combating the United States and Russia.
The two nations should respond in kind. Divided, they have failed to eradicate extremist ideology and stop attacks. Their discord has run the gamut
from interfering in civil
wars, reshaping alliances,
The troubled treaty that ended the
and manipulating markets
at one anothers expense
Russo-Japanese War struck some as
to disagreeing over sorting
out terrorists from freedom fighters. There is much cautionary history, for instance, in the modern
wars in Afghanistan, as shown in the Soviet Politburo files in the Fond 89
Collection of the Hoover Archives. US support for friendly or moderate
mujahideen groups against the Soviet invasion was an effective Cold War tacticyet some see it in retrospect as perilous and strategically shortsighted.
Several of those groups have since become dangerous threats, facilitating the
9/11 attacks on the US homeland and continuing to fight the United States
and its allies in what has become Americas longest warin Afghanistan and
beyond. Al-Qaeda, having emerged from the Soviet Afghan war, spawned
ISIS and Al-Nusra, among other common threats. Yet the Afghan playbook


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

is once again shaping battlefields involving Russian forces and US proxies

most notably in Syriawith potentially far worse global consequences.
The inability of Russia and the United States to work together, particularly
in Syria, undercuts their own national interests as much as it undermines
humanitarian causes. It prolongs the brutal war, risks direct US-Russian military confrontation, and
undermines the global
Terrorists have learned to turn the
economy and security.
However, no one else
capabilities of both Russia and the
is better equipped to
United States against them.
handle this conflicts
Pandoras Box, and neither country can succeed alone. Together, the United
States and Russia would be able to assemble and employ the resources
from military and intelligence assets to knowledge and access, whether
directly or through their respective alliesthat would enable them not only
to defeat the cutthroats but also to create a lasting resolution. This solution
would need to contain age-old hatreds and balance multiple conflicting interests. Here is how to start.
To avoid major blowbacks, such as the aftermath of the lopsided US-brokered Russo-Japanese peace, the interests of all key players must be aligned.
In the present-day Middle East, this means aligning US and Russian interests against common threats, and balancing other priorities and interests
within a mutually beneficial framework.
First, how would the United States and Russia benefit from reciprocal
cooperation against extremist jihadists? Both countries seek to curtail violence and create stabilityconditions necessary for economic development.
The United States needs Russias cooperation to achieve a viable political
solution in Syria. In turn, Russia needs the United States to halt the flow of
weapons and resources to Syrian rebels whom Russia considers terrorists.
Both stand to gain from defeating ISIS and Al-Qaeda and from successfully
concluding their direct military engagements in the Middle East. This would
please domestic audiencesbanishing painful allusions to their respective
quagmires in Afghanistan. It also would help facilitate economic development, such as regional energy projects.
Second, the United States and Russia can use such a cooperative framework to gain leverage over other key players, including supporters of some
jihadist groups, and reach lasting solutions to persistent sources of regional

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 117

conflict. Energy relations are among such vital issues, especially regarding
the resources located in the Gulf and the broader Middle East.
All energy players, but particularly major ones like the United States and
Russia, need relative long-term stability and security to plan and develop
their projects. Gulf countries have been seeking to diversify their economies
away from oil to survive. One emerging issue is the struggle over control and
export of natural gasthe most momentous being whether Iran or Qatar
will dominate supplies to Europe from the largest-in-the-world Pars gas field
they share. Qatar owns about two-thirds of the reservoir known as North
Dome; the rest, South Pars,
belongs to Iran. Freed from
international sanctions by
Energy security is perhaps the most
its nuclear deal with the
vital shared interest in the broader
United States, Iran has been
Middle East.
advancing a pipeline project
spanning Iran, Iraq, and Syria; it is looking to supplant earlier Qatari plans
for a Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Jordan-Syria-Turkey pipeline. It is no coincidence
that the intersection of these two pipelines has come to define the respective
stances of these two countries and their allies over the Syrian conflict.
Several other regional pipelines and liquefied natural gas export schemes
are in the works. The success or failure of each project critically depends on
the results of the eventual political settlement of the war in Syriawhere
Russia is currently the dominant outside military and political force; and
on the progress of the war against ISIS in Iraqwhere the United States
is in a similar position. At the same time, all major energy infrastructure
and supply players are involved, tangled up in alliances or covert interactions with multiple warring sides, some including jihadists. Deep sectarian,
religious, ethnic, and political animosities further supercharge this economic
In this context, the United States and Russia need each other to untangle
and direct these relationships toward a stable, mutually beneficial outcome.
They are the dominant players on the overlapping battlefields, and only by
working together will they be able to muster the diplomatic forces to effect
a multilateral solution. Some of the critical political and economic players
tend to align more with Russia (for example, Iran and Syrias government);
others with the United States (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraqalthough
notable Shia elements within Iraqs government and anti-ISIS militias align
closely with Iran, and US-Saudi relations have recently been strained). Yet
others are tilting in new directionssuch as Americas traditional allies


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Egypt and Turkey, which have recently renewed stronger ties with Russia
or, like Qatar, have pursued independent agendas. One should also beware of
oversimplifying regional relations. Understanding and balancing their many
intricacies requires serious concerted efforts by both sides.
Against the backdrop of history, emerging geopolitical challenges represent
an even more complex chessboard with fewer rules, more players, and more
powerful weaponsfrom cyber, nuclear, and conventional to economic,
low-tech, and hybridwhich pose great danger to both the United States
and Russia. A major power for nearly a thousand years, Russia has more
experience than the United States at succeeding in such long geostrategic
struggles. It also knows the price of failure and the rewards of success. A
lack of constructive engagement eventually risks irrelevance on the world
stagesomething the United States must take into account when short-term
political goals emerge. Informed by historical insights, President Trump and
the entire country could profit from finding lasting solutions through rational
engagement with Russia in the service of US national interests.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is One Day We

Will Live Without Fear: Everyday Lives under the
Soviet Police State, by Mark Harrison. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 119


All Quiet on the

Balkan Front?
With Yugoslavias successor states simmering
with conflict and discontent, problems of security,
governance, and identity could boil over.

By Norman M. Naimark and Aleksandr Matovski

he Western powers have frequently ignored the explosive potential of the Balkans at their peril. This happened at the turn of
the twentieth century, when the Balkan Wars (191213) exploded
unexpectedly on the European scene, causing enormous suffer-

ing and death. The great powers were also shocked when, on July 28, 1914,
the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by
Bosnian Serb terrorists plunged the world into a long and disastrous conflict.
When war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide erupted in former Yugoslavia in
the 1990s, the international community was aghast at what Warren Christopher called a problem from hell. There was an almost complete lack of
comprehension in the West of a region that was essential to European and
NATO security interests.

Norman M. Naimark is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He is also the Robert and Florence
McDonnell Professor of East European Studies at Stanford University, where he is
the Fisher Family Director of the Global Studies Division. Aleksandr Matovski
was the Bittson National Fellow at the Hoover Institution for 201516 and is a
postdoctoral fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

The price was steep. To stabilize the Balkans in the 1990s, the United
States and its allies were eventually compelled to engage in the largest peaceand nation-building exercise since the Second World War. Just in Bosnia,
the international community invested about $300 per person per year in
reconstruction aid
from 1996 to 2007.
Western involvement now could help
Afghanistan, by
comparison, has
prevent costly intervention once again.
received $65 per
resident per year since 2002. The Balkans have been the largest and one of
the most expensive peace-, nation-, and democracy-building laboratories
in the world. Trying to bring order and progress to a chronically unstable
region, and among ethnically and religiously divided societies, is a task of
major consequence. There is little hope that the Western allies can stabilize
other conflict regions like the Middle East if they still cannot get things right
in the Balkans and learn from this experience.
But today, the Balkans have again fallen off the screen of Western observers even though the severe problems of the area may well erupt into conflicts
that eventually demand the attention of the United States, the European
Union, and NATO. This essay provides an overview of the problems of the
region and suggests that Western involvement now could help prevent costly
intervention once again.
The focus here is on the countries of the Western BalkansAlbania and the
former republics of Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. With the exception of Serbia (7.1 million
people), these lands are tiny. The smallest is Montenegro, with 630,000 people.
The others have 2 million to 4 million people. The populations are decreasing, as there are generally low birthrates (with the exception of the Albanian
populations in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia) and a net outflow of labor, both
legal and illegal, to the countries of the EU. Europes biggest sources of illegal
migrants, even during the Syrian crisis, have been Kosovo and Albania.
The countries of the region are extremely poor, with the exception of Croatia, which has a GNP per capita of over $10,000 per year. Kosovo is the poorest by far, with a GNP per capita of approximately $2,000 per year. The others
range between approximately $4,000 and $6,000 per year. The economies of
the region depend heavily on remittances from immigrant labor in Europe.
This is especially the case for Kosovo, where remittances account for over 11
percent of GNP, and Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they are close
to 10 percent. Unemployment rates across the region are at Great Depression

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 121

levels: with Bosnia-Herzegovina at the highest, 43 percent; Kosovo at 30

percent; and Macedonia at 27 percent. The others average around 20 percent,
though Montenegro is notably lower at 13 percent. Youth unemployment in all
of the countries of the region is estimated to be a devastating 60 percent.
Growth rates in the region are low, averaging 1.5 percent in 2015. This is
particularly worrisome, given how devastated these countries economies
were from the conflicts in the 1990s, and the setback they suffered as a result
of the 20089 recession. Most of the dinosaur industries and mining operations in these countries have


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

closed down, leaving workers to seek employment elsewhere. Tourism is a

major source of income for Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania, but it is limited to the Adriatic coast; the agricultural regions inland suffer from chronic
underdevelopment. As a consequence, the government is the main employer
and source of economic activity in these countries, making it bloated by an
excess of employees, and prone to capture by political parties that are little
more than corrupt patronage machines.
The countries of the Western Balkans look to EU membership as a panacea
for their dismal economic prospects and the conflicts these may
create. In the EU, they see
greater prospects for

[Taylor Jonesfor the Hoover Digest]

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 123

foreign direct investment, which they hope will produce employment for
their workers in European-built factories and workshops. They envy the
programs of infrastructure
development that have
The Balkans have been among the
helped propel the economies
largest and most expensive laboraof countries like Poland
and Bulgaria and will soon
tories in history.
have an impact on Croatia.
They seek the advantages of a single labor market and of price and currency
Croatia joined the EU as the twenty-eighth member state in 2013, while
the other countries of the region look longingly in the same direction. Even
Serbia, which maintains a kind of schizophrenic stance towards Europe
and Russiaone day praising Vladimir Putin, the next talking about
Serbia as part of the Westis agitating for EU entrance. But these countries path to EU membership is blocked not just by their own domestic
problems but also by disputes with their neighbors and the multiple crises
in the EU, which make Brussels all the more reluctant to take on new
members. Serbias road to the EU had been blocked in the spring of 2015
by Croatia, which had objected to Serbias treatment of its Croat minority. Croatia then stepped out of the way, allowing Serbia to open accession
talks in 2016. But future roadblocks remain a distinct possibility.
Even more complicated is Kosovos potential road to the EU. Kosovo split
from Serbia after the NATO-led bombing campaign in 1999, and its independence is still not recognized by many countries, including several EU
member states. It is likely that the Serbian government, once in the EU,
would attempt to block Kosovos accession. Lack of progress in Kosovo carries a high risk for a
violent implosion. Like
Youth unemployment in all of the Balkan its neighbors, though
more so, Kosovo is rent
countries is a devastating 60 percent.
by corruption (even
its president, former KLA fighter Hachim Thaci, has been accused of ties to
organized crime and trafficking circles, including organ trafficking), extraordinarily high unemployment, low productivity, and political ineptitude. Ethnic tensions remain high, as the small Serbian minority (less than 5 percent)
continues to disrupt the process of consolidating Kosovos statehood, while
ethnic Albanian nationalists mobilize angry outbursts against the Kosovar
Serbs, the international community, and their own government.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

A FULL RECKONING: A girl prays amid green-draped coffins near Srebrenica,

Bosnia-Herzegovina, during a ceremony in 2015 marking the twentieth anniversary of the massacre there of eight thousand Muslim men and boys. Burials
continue at the Potocari memorial cemetery, with 127 new coffins interred
there last year. [Haris MemijaXinhua]

Most worrying, Kosovo has gradually transformed from the most proAmerican Muslim country in the world to a hotbed of radical Islam. Spurred
by dashed hopes and a complete lack of economic opportunities, young
Kosovars have been increasingly drawn in recent years to radical preachers
and ideologies imported from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states. As a
result, Kosovo has become the highest per capita contributor of foreign fighters to ISIS among European nations.
Neighboring Montenegro appears to be in much better shape. Given
heavy Russian historical connections and influence, investment, and even
physical presence in Montenegro (including a sizable expat community),
it is surprising how determined the Montenegrin government has been
to join the Western community. Despite Russian grumbling, Montenegro
sought an invitation to join NATO, which was granted on December 2,
2015. With Albania and Croatia already members, Montenegro would
solidify NATOs hold on the Adriatic Sea and its entry point at the Gulf of

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inte r 2017 125

ON GUARD: Soccer players walk past security police in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Divided historical memory compounds the already severe difficulties of dealing with the administrative chaos left by the Dayton Agreement,
which ended the war in Bosnia in 1995. [Fehim DemirEPA]

But Montenegro has a long way to go in terms of its EU accession, which

began in 2012. Corruption is rampant, with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic,
who has been in power in one office or another since 1991, winning the dubious 2015 award by a journalists association of Person of the Year in Organized Crime, narrowly beating out the wife and children of Ilham Aliyev,
president of Azerbaijan, and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of Macedonia.
Though fully independent since 1991, Macedonia has problems similar to
Kosovos in getting into the EU and NATO. Here the stumbling block is
Greece, which utterly rejects Macedonias right to the name Macedonia,
insisting that the country call itself the Former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia (FYROM). Citing concerns that its tiny and frail neighbor has
territorial claims on its northern province of the same name, the Greeks
have vetoed Macedonias entrance into both NATO and the EU. But domestic
politics and nationalism, rather than real security concerns, are at the heart
of this dispute. Successive Greek governments have used this issue and the
patriotic sentiments it provokes as a convenient distraction from their
domestic problems.

H O O VER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

The blocked road to European integration exacerbates Macedonias

already severe economic woes. It has also reduced the costs of corruption and exposed the country to an extremely toxic and dangerous brand
of revanchist nationalism. The response of Macedonias former prime
minister, Nikola Gruevski,
to the Greek blockade was
Like its neighbors, though more so,
summed up in a recently
completed program to
Kosovo is rent by corruption, extraorbuild a series of statues
dinarily high unemployment, low
scattered over the central
productivity, and political ineptitude.
plazas of Skopje. The largest is of Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus. More recently, the
government erected a similarly imposing likeness of Philip II of Macedon.
With an airport also named after Alexander the Great, it is clear that the
nationalist government in Skopje not only thumbs its nose at the Greek
objections but seeks to forge a new Macedonian identity based on mythical
links with the past. The cost of this building spree is exorbitant. Estimates
place the final bill at up to a billion euros, which is beyond absurd in a
country where up to a third of the population is unemployed and lives
below the poverty level.
The real purpose of these dangerous shenanigans, however, is to divert
attention from the countrys economic woes and the atrocious levels of
corruption at the highest level of Macedonian politics. These issues blew
up spectacularly in public in 2015, when it was revealed that Gruevski was
involved in a secret effort to tape the conversations of some twenty thousand
Macedonians, including his own ministers.
When the opposition
released the tapes, there
Most worrying, Kosovo has shifted
was a strong outcry among
from the most pro-American Muslim
the population that was
already weary of the govern- country in the world to a hotbed of
ments incompetence, corradical Islam.
ruption, tinpot nationalism,
and ludicrous spending on monuments. A protest movement that emerged
has been called a colorful revolution, as protesters have spray-painted the
oversized and overpriced statues in the capital in a variety of bright colors.
But, despite pressure from the United States and the EU, a government
crisis threatening to split and bankrupt the country, and continuous protests,
Gruevskis party still holds power.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 127

In the proud tradition of Putins Russia, Gruevski blamed the demonstrations on George Soros and his democracy-promoting Open Society organizationa desperate attempt to lay responsibility on a foreign conspiracy. His
power base comes from hard-core nationalists and the thousands of supporters of his party employed in the public sector, as well as their families.
On July 11, 2016, the annual ritual of burying Bosnian Muslim victims of the
Srebrenica massacre concluded with the interment of 127 newly found bodies, in addition to the six thousand already in the Potocari memorial cemetery. While Bosniaks mourned their victims, Milorad Dodik, president of
the Bosnian Serb Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina, denied that genocide took
place at Srebrenica and discounted the generally accepted number of eight
thousand massacred. At the same time, a Serb counter-demonstration took
place in nearby Bratunac to commemorate Serb losses.
The Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in
November 1995, left the country split not only administratively between
the autonomous Serb Republic and the Bosniak-Croat federation, but also
between a largely unrepentant Serb minority and a resentful and angry
Bosniak population.
Divided historical memory compounds the already severe difficulties of
dealing with the pure administrative chaos left by Dayton. To make matters worse, a European high representative is still the highest authority in
the land. Despite its good intentions, the Office of the High Representative,
currently led by Valentin Inzko from Austria, is itself tied into knots. On the
one hand, the office typically does not like to intervene in the domestic affairs
of the country, because that
tends to infantilize the leadThe Balkans are still going through a
ers of all the nationalities
triple transition: from communist to
and to make it more difficult
democratic, from state-run economy for them to learn the art of
compromise in governance.
to capitalist, from wartime trauma
On the other hand, without a
and hatred to peace.
periodic show of determination by the high representative, it is almost impossible to reach any reasonable solution to even the most straightforward problems.
A good example of the kind of impasse that has held a stranglehold over
the country is the delay in releasing data from the Bosnia-Herzegovina census taken in the fall of 2013. Finally published in July 2016, the census results


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

demonstrate not only that the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina has declined

by 20 percent from the last prewar census in 1991 but that the Bosniaks are a
narrow majority in the country (at 50.1 percent, up from 43.5 percent in 1991).
At the same time, the Serb and Croat populations have decreased by a few
percentage points to 30.8 and 15.4 percent, respectively.
For the first time, then, the Bosniaks can claim to be the majority population in a country with two minorities. Allied with the Croats, they can seek to
govern the state on their own. The Serbs have rejected the census results and
reiterated the threat to
hold a referendum for
Bosnia is still divided between a largely
independence by 2018.
unrepentant Serb minority and a resentSupported by officials
in neighboring Serbia
ful and angry Bosniak population.
seeking compensation
for the loss of Kosovo, and in newly resurgent Moscow striving to stir trouble
in Europes backyard, the referendum would tear apart the Dayton Agreement
and raise the prospect of an incendiary conflict in the Balkans.
To call attention to the severe problems in the region does not mean to predict outright war. In fact, the peoples of the region still seem perplexed and
utterly exhausted by the bloody struggles that engulfed most of them in the
1990s. But ethnic tensions remain high: between Bosniaks and Serbs, Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, Macedonians and Macedonian Albanians, Montenegrins and Albanians, and Serbs and Croats. Attempts to ameliorate these
tensions have made some progress since the 1990s, but the ongoing political
manipulation of history makes such programs difficult in the extreme.
The countries of the region are still going through a triple transition: from
a communist political system to a democratic one; from a state-run economy
to a capitalist one; and from war-induced trauma and hatred to peace. This
is made all the more difficult by the fact that with the exception of Albania,
these are brand new countries in the process of establishing their identities,
which are often called into question by their neighbors and hostile international actors. The continuing crises in the EUGreek finances, refugees,
Brexit, and so onhave made it much more difficult for Brussels to take
responsibility and ensure progress on criteria for admission to the European
club. NATO provides external security guarantees but turns away from
dealing with key domestic issues. And in this power vacuum, US policy in the
Balkans has been weak and lackluster.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 129

Together, domestic troubles and international indifference could well lead

to more severe problems that would raise the issue of borders (especially
between Kosovo and Serbia, and between Serbia and Bosnia), which could
then start an avalanche of border claims and attract, in defense of the Serbs,
Russian political if not military intervention. The United States essentially
handed off the security problems of the Western Balkans to the EU in the
course of the past decade. But the EU cannot provide the hard power needed
to prevent conflict. Even more important, if the EU proves to be mortally
wounded by the crises of the past few years, that will spell disaster for the
Western Balkan countries, which depend on steady progress toward EU
membership for their very survival.
To ensure that the Balkans will not once again become the source of new
surprises for the international system, the United States and the European
Union will need to step up their game.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is

Macedonia and the Macedonians: A History, by
Andrew Rossos. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Pipe Dreams of a
Normal Iran
Permit the rise of Iran? That wouldnt just be
foolish. It would represent an abdication of the
Wests moral legitimacy.

By Thomas Donnelly

n June 2014, as the forces of the Islamic State swept toward Baghdad,
President Obama began to recommit American military forces to Iraq.
He also observed that Iran can play a constructive role, if it sends the
same message to the Iraqi government that were sending, which is

that Iraq only holds together if it is inclusive. In an instantly famous article

by Atlantic correspondent and White House amanuensis Jeffrey Goldberg,
Obama indicated that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states had to learn to
share the Middle East with Iran.
In imagining a kind of strategic partnership with Tehran, Obama
recycled a deeply held belief of late Cold War realists like former
national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. Indeed, a passing quip in the
Goldberg articleI love that man!is revealing. Nor was it an accident
that Obama chose Scowcroft acolyte Chuck Hagel to be his third defense
secretary. The two collaborated on a 2012 study for the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, a
subsidiary of the Atlantic Council, concluding that, For US strategy, Iran
Thomas Donnelly is a member of the Hoover Institutions Working Group on
the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict. He is the co-director of the
Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 131

should be viewed as a potential natural partner in the region, as it was

until 1979, when Shah Reza Pahlavi was toppled in the Khomeini revolution. The report, titled Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western
World, foresaw that a post-mullah-dominated government shedding Shia
political ideology could easily return to being a net contributor to stability
by 2030.
That this is a triumph of faith over reason may be true but irrelevant. And
beyond the belief that the revolutionary Islamic Republic would soon simply shed the ideology that
keeps the state intactand
Sharing the region with Iran would sublimates the nationalist
tendencies of Kurds, Baluperhaps create a quiet-of-the-gravechis, and Irans other ethnic
yard sort of stability.
minoritieslies an even
deeper faith that reckons international politics as the structural interaction
of states and ignores the character of regimes. Thus, the Peoples Republic of
China can be a responsible stakeholder or relations with Vladimir Putins
Russia can be reset at the push of a button.
But at the core of the realist religion is the credo that sovereignty and
legitimacy are one, an idea premised upon a false understanding of the 1648
Treaty of Westphalia as simply an expression of an international order based
upon state structures and the principle of nonintervention. Realists thus
regard Iran as a potential reinforcement to a tottering state-based order in
the Middle East.
Thus, to Obama, Scowcroft, and others, the nuclear deal with Tehran
was a win-win proposition. It not only postpones the progress of the Iranian nuclear program but encourages Iran to behave like a normal state.
By acquiring more traditional means to power, Tehran will behave more
traditionally, hastening the arrival of a post-mullah government and the
shedding of revolutionary Shia ideology. And anyway, concludes the Atlantic
Council report, Opportunities for Irans Shia expansionism in the region
would be extremely low.
While that was a forecast for 2030, the initial returns on the nuclear deal in
particular and the mainstreaming approach to Iran are not encouraging.
Scowcroft once observed that President Hassan Rouhani of Iran represented a big change from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Setting
aside the question of how much influence Irans presidents command in


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

relation to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Scowcroft made an apt comparison, though one that undermines his argument for normalizing relations.
Ahmadinejad yelled more, but Iran under Rouhani has done more: encouraging the US withdrawal from Iraq and the region, slowly transforming the
Baghdad government into an Iranian proxy, rescuing and resuscitating the
Assad regime in Damascus, even cobbling together a weird but working
partnership with Putin.
Slowly but surely, Iran is establishing hegemony over not only the Persian
Gulf but also the northern Arabian Peninsula. Moreover, the domestic dissatisfaction that erupted in the protests of 2009 appears to have been quelled,
or at least successfully repressed.
In fact, it appears more likely that the nuclear deal will end in a lose-lose
proposition for the United States and its allies. In the near term it has given
the green light to Iranian expansionismwhich has, if anything, become
more Shia-sectarian rather than less sowhile guaranteeing and legitimating its right to a nuclear deterrent once it wins the current regional war. It is
already clear that even if a future American president wished to reverse the
Iranian tide across the
region, it would be tough:
The Iran deal springs from a wouldour traditional Arab and
Israeli allies have lost
be realist faith that ignores the charmuch confidence, and the acter of regimes.
retreat of US forces from
the region and the US military capacity and capabilities lost over the past
decade cannot quickly be restored. This sort of sharing of the region would
give Iran a huge slice of the power pie, and perhaps create a quiet-of-thegraveyard sort of stability.
But the nuclear deal does more than acknowledge and materially aid Irans
bid for hegemonyit legitimates Iranian dominance. This is a serious threat
to the liberal international orderthe American-led orderin two ways.
To begin with, this contravenes the fundamental principle of American
strategy and statecraft since the early twentieth century: that critical
theaters of the Eurasian landmass should not be in the hands of a hostile
hegemon. In Europe, this meant opposing the rise of Wilhelmine and Nazi
Germany; in East Asia, of imperial Japan. During the Cold War, this meant
containing the Soviet Union not just in Europe but globally. In the Middle
East, it has meant battling not just Soviet intrusions from outside revolutionary Iran, but Saddam Hussein and the proliferation of revolutionary Sunni
Salafist movements in the region.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 133

Even if Irans drive for regional dominance ultimately fails, Americas

acquiescence in the effort has had an effect on the global balance of power.
European countries have long salivated at the prospect of doing business
in Iran; indeed, it has been
difficult to keep European
Its ironic that self-styled realists
companies from undermining or ignoring sanctions.
should be so deaf to the power of
India, desperate to develop
moral legitimacy.
and chronically short of
energy, is knocking on the mullahs door as well. Geopolitically, Russia has
capitalized on the opportunities offered by the Syria war not only to reclaim
a Middle East role but also, by exacerbating the migration crisis caused by
the war, to pressure Europe. China, methodically pushing its way outward
not just in the western Pacific but across inland Asia and into the Indian
Ocean, approaches Iran with nervous optimism.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this shift in power is the way in
which Western elites seem to welcome and embrace a post-Western world.
Columnist Fareed Zakarias rise of the rest is not, in actual fact, about the
inexorable progress of revisionist powers; by most material measures, the
United States and the global West retain innumerable advantages over any
and all challengers, advantages that may well increase rather than decrease.
To acknowledge and legitimate Irans bid for Middle East hegemony marks a
crisis in Westernin Americanconfidence.
To legitimate a sharing of power with a maniacal and often millenarian regime like that in Tehran is to undermine the universal claims of the
current liberal international system. This is not like aligning with Stalin
to destroy Hitler and imperial Japan, nor, to put it in an American context, allying with a French monarch to defeat a British one. Those were
one-time transactions made from a position of weakness, not concessions
made from strength.
Granting Irans claim to a share in the international order is to diminish
the share that the claims of human justice can receive. The United States
long has sought to harmonize its exercise of power with its political principles; that it has become historys sole superpower is a measure not only
of its military and economic strength but of the strength of these principles.
The American revolutionaries doubted not George IIIs sovereignty but the
legitimacy of his government. If the United States and the rest of the West


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

abandon their pretensions to moral legitimacy, there is nothing to commend

their power against any other.
It is ironic that self-styled realists should be so deaf to the power of moral
legitimacy in politics. The men who agreed to the Treaty of Westphalia most
certainly were attuned to the need for legitimacy as well as sovereignty.
As historian Brendan Simms puts it in his magisterial work Europe: The
Struggle for Supremacy, the geopolitical and ideological clauses of the pact
were intertwined. Moreover, the treaty outlined rules not just of nonintervention but of intervention. Along with France, Sweden was designated as the
guarantor of the deal and expected to step in should an aspiring hegemon
again threaten to deprive others of their just political rights. As Swedish
negotiator Johan Adler Salvius asserted, his aim was to restore German
liberties...and in this manner conserve the equilibrium of all Europe. Only
by ensuring legitimacy, the Westphalians understood, could they preserve
sovereignty or stability.
Subscribe to the online Hoover Institution journal Strategika (www. for analysis of issues of national security in light of conflicts of the past. 2016 The Board of Trustees of the
Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Syria,

Iran, and Hezbollah: The Unholy Alliance and Its War
on Lebanon, by Marius Deeb. To order, call (800) 8884741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 135


What Syrians
A survey of Syrian refugees shows just where their
allegiances lie.

By Daniel Corstange

ive years into the war in Syria,

most reporting focuses on the ebb

Key points

and flow of the fighting, incessant

A little over 50 percent

of Syrian refugees support
the opposition, and a little
under 40 percent sympathize with the government.

foreign meddling in the conflict,

and the spectacular brutality of extremist

groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS). Aside

Virtually all the Syrian

minorities that side with
anyone pick the government. Majority Sunni Arabs
are split between government and opposition.

from the occasional human-interest story on

the plight of the refugees, however, ordinary
Syrians have largely been lost in the shuffle.
Yet what ordinary people think of the
war, and of the groups claiming to fight on

Only about a third of the

refugees agreed that religion is even somewhat important in either economic
or political affairs.

their behalf, is of direct interest to policy

makers, humanitarian organizations, and
peace negotiators. Popular support is how
the factions get fighters, material resources,
information, and refuge. But it is hard to

Daniel Corstange is the Bittson National Fellow at the Hoover Institution and
an assistant professor in the department of political science and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

say what people actually want. Thanks to decades of dictatorship and five
years of war, Syrian public opinion has been terra incognita.
Journalists and scholars now have unprecedented access to Syrian views
on politics, but there is a major caveat. Whether due to physical security
concerns, personal sympathies, or simple accessibility, many interviewers
have gravitated toward the mainstream oppositionand often its most
articulate members. As a result, observers have much better coverage of
the latters views than they do of Syrians who support the government or
one of the militant jihadi factions.
Talking with only one part of the Syrian body politic, no matter how
agreeable to ones views, gets no one closer to understanding that body as
a whole. Gathering systematic data on Syrian public opinion is, of course,
hardif it were not, it would already be done. A recent survey of two
thousand Syrian refugees in Lebanon is meant to fill a small part of this
immense gap. Although they cannot speak for all Syrians, they can illuminate some blind spots.
The findings substantiate some of the basic stories we tell ourselves about
the Syrian civil war, but they also suggest that we need to revise things we
thought we knew. They show that the majority of the refugees support the
rebels, but that a substantial minority sympathize with the government.
Poverty and religion both factor into who supports whom, but religion is
not nearly as divisive as the rhetoric of the militant groups would suggest.
And the opposition is indeed split between nationalists and Islamists, but
foreign fighters are no ones first choice. Far from the stereotype of young
firebrands bent on imposing Islamic law, the support base for the latter
concentrates among old men who are politically disengaged and no more
religious than their peers.
The Syrian civil war has caused massive population displacement
since fighting began in 2011. Fatality estimates range from a quarter to
a half a million peoplethe United Nations stopped counting deaths
in 2014and over half of the country has been displaced at home and
abroad. The staggering humanitarian disaster makes it impossible to
gather a truly representative sample of the entire Syrian population.
Consequently, the focus here is on a more modest target: the 1.5 million
displaced Syrians in neighboring Lebanon, which hosts more Syrians
per capita than any other country in the world, and where one in four
residents is a refugee.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 137

WAITING, WATCHING: A refugee family socializes in their tent in a camp in

Greece that has been filling up with people fleeing Syria and Iraq. Popular
support is how Syrian factions get fighters, material resources, information,
and refuge, but because of polling difficulties and subtle distinctions among
respondents, it is hard to determine what people actually want. [Maro Kouri

Drawing a representative sample of Syrians in Lebanon is challenging

because only about two-thirds of them have registered with the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But refugees cluster
togetherpartly for family reasons, partly due to housing costsso area
sampling techniques help us locate households regardless of formal status.
Working with Beirut-based Information International, we used UNHCR data
to sample in refugee-heavy areas and random walk patterns to select households within those localities in order to interview two thousand Syrian adults
in late spring 2015.
These procedures yield a reasonably representative sample of displaced Syrians, but not a perfect one. Security constraints, for example,
prevented us from accessing the border town of Arsal. The sample is
only 40 percent women because about 10 percent of households refused
to let a female participate; the male substitutes tend to be older and less


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

educated, but, surprisingly, are otherwise not much different from the
other participants.
Finally, by building on UNHCR data, we almost certainly underrepresent
people at the wealth extremes. The most destitute Syrians are hard to locate,
and the wealthiest Syrians neither need UNHCR benefits nor live in the lowincome areas where refugees concentrate.
So whom do the refugees support in the civil war? There isnt an easy
answer. We can probably agree on what we mean when we say the government. But when we say the oppositionwell, who is that? Is ISIS
part of the opposition or not? Where do the Kurds fit in? Asking people
to line up behind the government or the opposition is too ambiguous in a
conflict that is no longer a two-sided civil war, but neither is it illuminating to get a babel of answers about the ever-changing rebel factions and
To strike a balance between too much information and too little, we
asked people to rank their top three choices among the Free Syrian Army
(FSA), Syrian Islamist groups, foreign Islamist groups, the Syrian government, Kurdish groups, and Hezbollah. Not all those surveyed used all of
their choices, but declining to offer support when given the option to do so
is itself informative. The rank-order format helps us capture not only the
core government-opposition cleavage but also some of the nuance in peoples
choices, especially among opposition supporters.
A little under 10 percent of refugees offered no preferences at all; unsurprisingly, people who were uninterested in politics also had little to say about
the factions. Second, about 40 percent expressed sympathies for the governmentperhaps a bigger number than many in the West would like to believe,
but a smaller one than the regime or its foreign backers would like to claim.
The rest of the samplea little over 50 percentpicked an oppoReligion is not nearly as divisive as
sition faction. People
the militants rhetoric suggests.
almost invariably cited
the FSA as their first choice to express generic support for the rebels, and
then used their second and third choices to express sympathies for domestic
and foreign Islamist factions. A little under half of those in the opposition
supported the FSA but not the Islamists. We call these people nationalists
in the absence of a better label. Meanwhile, virtually all Islamist supporters

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 139

cited Syrian groups as their second choice, and only sometimes cited the
foreign factions as their final choice.
Taken together, the survey data suggest that a little over 50 percent of
the refugees support the opposition, and a little under 40 percent sympathize with the government.
But who supports whom?
Observers have come up
Opposition is ambiguous in what
with a number of stories:
is no longer a two-sided civil war.
minorities and secularists
line up with the government, and poor people and the religiously devout support the opposition. There is some truth to these stories, but also a lot that
needs updating.
One of the most common tropes of the civil war is that there is a minoritydominated dictatorship pitted against a demographic supermajority of Sunni
Arabs. This narrative is accurate to a point, but it is also misleading. Precise
figures on Syrias sectarian and ethnic composition do not exist, but mainstream estimates place the Sunni Arab population at roughly 70 percent of
the total, with the remainder comprising the Kurds, Muslim minorities such
as the Alawis and Druze, and a variety of Christian denominations.
Displaced Syrians in Lebanon come disproportionately from the majority
community: a little under 90 percent of the sample is Sunni Arab. Meanwhile,
virtually all of the minorities that side with anyone pick the government.
Only one minority in the samplenot 1 percent, one personsided with the
opposition. This breakdown does lend credence to sectarian narratives of the
war. Still, it is worth retaining a sense of perspective.
Government sympathizers amount to 40 percent of the sample, but minorities add up to little more than 10 percent. The difference between these
figures? Sunni Arab loyalists. It is true that Sunni Arabs break two to one
in favor of the opposition. Yet it is also true that they nonetheless comprise
75 percent of the governments support base. So is the civil war a sectarian
one? The data are ambivalent, with two yeses and a no. Most of the refugees are Sunni Arabs, most of the minorities line up with the government,
but the majority community is itself split between the government and the
Another interpretation of the conflict focuses on the religious claims of the
warring parties. In this version, religious zealotssome imported, some
homegrownare trying to impose a puritanical form of religious law on


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

society. Pitted against them are the beleaguered forces of the mainstream
opposition as well as those of the government that, although by no means
respectful of civil rights, at least hold the line against religious extremism.
There is at least a grain of truth to this narrative, but this version of events
is also deceptive. Like their peers in other Arab societies, Syrian refugees
express a great deal of personal religious devotion. More than three-quarters
claim to pray daily, and half say they read the Quran or the Bible at least
weekly. Yet demands that religion play a role in public life are not correspondingly high. Only about one-third of the refugees agreed that religion is
even somewhat important in either economic or political affairs.
That said, there are important differences between opposition and government supporters. About 60 percent of the former, but only about 40 percent
of the latter, are personally pious on the Quran/Bible metric. More starkly,
opposition supporters are twice as likely as their government counterparts
about 50 versus 25 percentto see an important role for religion in politics.
Nor is this a sectarian difference masquerading in government-versus-opposition terms. Minorities are, indeed, less religious; yet Sunni Arab loyalists
are far more similar to their minority allies than to their co-religionists in the
What, though, of differences within the opposition? Surely the Islamists
are more religious than the nationalists, and supporters of the foreign
Islamist groups the most religious of all? In a word: no. There is no noticeable difference between
the opposition facDisplaced Syrians in Lebanon come
tionsbarely anything
disproportionately from the majority
on personal piety and
only a modest distinction
community: a little under 90 percent
between the domestic
of our sample are Sunni Arab.
Islamists and the rest. In
other words, nationalist supporters are no more secular than their Islamist
counterparts. The latter, in turn, are far less insistent on an Islamized public
sphere than the rhetoric of the militant factions would have us believe.
Poverty and corruption were two of the original grievances of the Syrian
uprising, but they have largely fallen out of the narratives that reach Western
audiences. Material deprivation takes many forms, including obvious ones
such as drops in household income and knock-on effects like deteriorating
health and nutrition. In this setting, questions about income are unlikely to

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 141

ON WHOSE SIDE? A Syrian refugee boy brandishes a toy gun in the Delhemiyeh camp in Lebanon. Surveys indicate that foreign fighters in Syria are
backed not by the firebrand young but by old men. Younger people are more
drawn to Syrias nationalist opposition. [Jamal SaidReuters]

tell us much since many people no longer have regular incomes. Instead, we
can examine crowding in family dwelling spaces: the number of household
members per bedroom.
A comparison of the typical households crowding rate from prewar Syria
and the current residences in Lebanon shows that living standards have
dropped sharply across the board. Three-quarters of the refugees have
poorer housing now than before the war, with accommodations that are some
50 percent more crowded for the median household. Second, it shows that
opposition supporters are much poorer than government sympathizers. The
typical pro-government household deteriorated to two people per bedroom
from a prewar norm of one and a half, whereas the median opposition household now crams three people into a bedroom compared to two before the war.
Distinctions in material well-being show up in peoples stocks of human
capital as well. Over half the sample has no more than a primary education,


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

and just one in five refugees has completed secondary school. Based on
data from the Arab Barometer project, these educational attainment rates
are on par with Morocco and Yemen, the regions laggards, but are broadly
consistent with the low levels of education that prevailed in Syria before the
uprising. Yet there are sharp
governmentopposition differences in the sample that
Opposition supporters are twice as
mirror the crowding rates,
likely as their government-backing
with the former nearly
counterparts to see an important role
twice as likely as the latter
for religion in politics.
to have a secondary school
In short, opposition supporters are significantly poorer, and more
poorly educated, than government sympathizers. That is consistent with
what we already knew, so no surprises here. But the data do dispense
with some wishful thinking about the opposition. One of our long-standing
claims about terrorism is that it is born out of poverty and ignorance.
Finer distinctions notwithstanding, many of the foreign fighters flowing
into Syria certainly fit the bill of terrorists, but their sympathizers do
not match up to our expectations. As with religiosity, there is virtually no
difference between the opposition factions in either material well-being
or education. Foreign Islamist supporters may be poor and uneducated,
but they are no worse off, and no less educated, than their nationalist
In broad brushstrokes, the survey data confirm some of what we thought
we knew about the factional breakdown of the civil war: minorities and the
relatively secular lean toward the government, whereas the poor and less
educated side with the opposition. Yet some of the core distinctions we might
expect to see between the different opposition factions fail to materialize:
the nationalists are no less religious than the Islamists, and the base for the
foreign fighters is not poorer or less educated than anyone else. Yet there
are differences in the opposition support basessome banal, but some quite
The first distinction is demographic. Generational and sex structures differ between the factions. Notwithstanding early images of young men and
women protesting together against dictatorship, government support is basically constant across the age cohorts and the same among men and women.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 143

Although the same pattern holds for the domestic Islamists, it diverges
among the nationalists and foreign Islamists, who are mirror images of each
other. Nationalist support concentrates among the young, while older Syrians
tend toward the Islamists. And, although men support the two factions at virtually identical rates, women split in intuitive directions: leaning toward the
nationalists and away from
the foreign Islamists, whose
The support base for foreign Islamist views on womens rights are
fighters is no poorer or less educated by far the most regressive.
More important than the
than anyone else.
raw demographic differences, however, are differences in political engagementdo people care about
public affairs, or do they not? There are several ways to measure engagement, including interest in, understanding of, and knowledge about politics.
Each account tells the same basic story: nationalist supporters are far and
away the most politically engaged of the refugeessome 50 percent more
so than their government-aligned peers and four times as engaged as the
foreign Islamist sympathizers, who bring up the rear.
This surveya snapshot in time, and one that only includes Syrians in Lebanonshows more popular support for the government than the opposition
would like to believe, but more support for the opposition than the government would like to admit. The precise figures are less important than the
core takeaway, however: Syrians are split in their loyalties, and those splits
are comprehensible.
There is some truth in many of the existing narratives about the conflict,
but they are inevitably oversimplifications. Minorities and people who prefer
a more private role for
religion tend to sympathize
Support for the government does not with the government, whose
efforts to portray the opposiimply support for its human rights
tion as dangerous religious
abuses or its dictatorship.
fanatics may have paid off
in shoring up a support base. Nonetheless, support for the government does
not imply support for its massive human rights abuses or its dictatorship;
as others have suggested, it may be more accurate to describe much of this
constituency as anti-revolution rather than pro-government.
Opposition supporters conform to some of the conventional wisdoms, but
not others. They are poorer and more religious than their government counterparts, but they do not appear to be demanding a religious state. Indeed,


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

the foreign fighters most insistent on establishing an Islamic state in Syria

are no ones first choice, nor even their second.
Ironically, their tepid support base leans heavily toward old men who are
no more religious than their peers, but are far less interested in politics. In
contrast, the nationalist opposition, for all its imperfections, still commands
the sympathies of the young, civic activists from the uprisings early days.
One may hope that, once the shooting stops, this constituency contains the
kernel of a new civil society that can help Syria reconcile with itself.
Reprinted by permission of Foreign Affairs (
2016 Council on Foreign Relations Inc. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The

Consequences of Syria, by Lee Smith. To order, call
(800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 145


The Schools We
Old-style local control of public schools is fading
except, that is, in charter schools.

By Chester E. Finn Jr., Bruno V. Manno, and Brandon L. Wright

mericas devotion to local control of schools is dying, but

it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools.
These independently operated public schoolsnearly
seven thousand across the country, and countingprovide

a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in forty-three

The enterprise responsible for educating them is changing in ways that
few people are aware of. Charters are fomenting a quiet revolution in governance in public education.
The prevailing arrangement in Americas fourteen thousand school systems starts with an elected board. The board appoints a superintendent, who
manages more-or-less uniform public schools staffed by a unionized workforce of government employees. This setup functioned well for an agrarian

Chester E. Finn Jr. is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, former chair
of Hoovers Koret Task Force on K12 Education, and president emeritus of the
Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Bruno V. Manno is a trustee emeritusof the Fordham Institute and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Brandon L. Wright is
the managing editor and a policy associate at the Fordham Institute. They are the
authors of Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes,
Possibilities (Harvard Education Press, 2016).

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place,
towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community.
This arrangement does not perform nearly so well in a country of
mobile and cosmopolitan citizens, where states make most education
rules and furnish most
of the money, where
Charter schools attract to their
government intrudes in
boards selfless citizens and commyriad ways, and where
discontent with educamunity leaders who see a chance to
tion outcomes is rampromote change.
pant. It doesnt meet
the requirements of people who change neighborhoods and cities as well
as jobs and careers, and its ill-suited for an era of fervent agitation about
equalizingand compensating forthe treatment of children from different backgrounds, locales, and needs.
Nor does local control mean what it once did. Some ninety school
districts today struggle to educate more than fifty thousand students
each in systems sprawling over many miles and run by massive bureaucracies. The Houston Independent School District is responsible for
two hundred and fifteen thousand pupils, Chicago for four hundred
thousand, Los Angeles for seven hundred thousand, and New York City
for more than a million. The governance of these systems doesnt work
well when elected boards have evolved from panels of public-spirited
civic leaders into gaggles of aspiring politicians and teacher-union
The feebleness of traditionally governed public schools explains the
burgeoning alternatives. Yet far from undermining local democratic
control, these new schools are reinventing itdown to small communities
of families that now run their own schools, each with six or seven board
Because these boards function more like nonprofit organizations than
political bodies or public agencies, their members need not stand for election. Being generally union-free, they dont have the headaches of collective bargaining. And with freedom to engage and deploy principals and
teachers, and to adjust budget, curriculum, and instruction to do their
students the most good, charter schools are attracting to their boards
selfless citizens and community leaders who see a plausible chance to
promote change.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 147

The charter phenomenon is also reinventing the school district. Instead of

geographically bounded municipal units run in top-down fashion, charter
management organizations comprise virtual networksconfederations,
reallyof similar schools that may be hundreds of miles apart, that mostly
run themselves, but that can
draw on the organization
Charters may be a new species but
for expertise and services
that individual schools may
they remain public schools, open to
all comers, paid for by taxpayers, and not be able to muster for
themselves. The Knowledge
licensed by the state.
Is Power Program (KIPP)
started as a single classroom in Houston and now boasts two hundred
schools in twenty states. Eva Moskowitzs high-performing Success Academy
began in Harlem and now has forty-one schools in four boroughs of New York
Charters dont answer every education prayer. Their test scores are all
over the place, though the best studies show strong, positive effects for poor
and minority children. Funded with about three-quarters of the per-pupil
dollars that traditional schools receive, many charters have trouble making ends meet and rely heavily on private philanthropy and entrepreneurial
Established education interest groupsalways more attentive to adult jobs
than to kids learningfight them relentlessly, as do a few civil rights groups
aligned with the unions. Some charter leaders and board members have been
guilty of self-dealing and corrupt behavior.
But thats where democracy comes in. While autonomous in many ways,
charters are ultimately accountable to public authority. Theyre a new species of school but they remain public schools, open to all comers, paid for by
taxpayers, and licensed by
the state. If they fail to meet
standards of academic perThe old arrangement doesnt work
formance and fiscal soundwell in a country of mobile, cosmoness, chartersunlike dispolitan citizens.
trict schoolsare supposed
to be closed or restarted under fresh leadership. More than twelve hundred
charters closed between 2010 and 2015 even as more opened. Some states
are still figuring out how to make this work, but most are getting better at it.
Twenty-five years from its beginnings, chartering portends profound
changes in the structure of American public education. Thats why the


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

battles around it are about more than market share, test scores, and discipline codes. Theyre proxies for whats really in dispute: power and control
over a K12 education behemoth that spends more than $600 billion a year
and employs some six million adults.
Local control as weve known it is growing obsolete. Lets hail the kind of
local control that charter schools embody.
Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. 2016 Dow Jones &
Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The Best

Teachers in the World: Why We Dont Have Them and
How We Could, by John E. Chubb. To order, call (800)
888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 149


Grading on an
Invisible Curve
Evidence, not habit, should guide how we develop
the best schools. Why is evidence so scarce?

By Michael J. Petrilli

t is not reasonable to expect research to resolve all issues

or to erase all differences of opinion. We can but supply
some information that we think reliable, and we will continue in the future to supply more. But it is up to the Ameri-

can people to decide what to do. The better their information, the
wiser will be their decisions.
So wrote my colleague Chester Finn in his introduction to a compendium
of research findings about teaching and learning.
The book was called What Works, and it was published in March.
March of 1986.
In the thirty years since, America has gone through several waves of
reform, but were still talking about establishing research-based practices in
our schools. Figuring out how to do this better is another way that reformers and funders might improve our education system without overhauling
laws and regulations. (I have identified other tactics, besides policy change,
for reforming our schools, namely building a new system via charters or
Michael J. Petrilli is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, executive editor
of Education Next, and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

education savings accounts; spurring disruptive innovations that target students, parents, or teachers directly; and investing in leadership.)
No, its not easy. Policy makers can exhort educators to adopt evidence-based
practices, as Congress did in both No Child Left Behind and the Every Student
Succeeds Act. Philanthropists and advocates of every ideological stripe can
do the same, and they frequently do. Think tanks and scholars and evaluation
shops and the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) can pump out studies and
practitioner guides. Structures can be put in place to give education leaders the
incentive to seek evidence about what worksresults-based accountability
systems, for instance, or the competition that comes with school choice. Insights
from research can be embedded into academic standards like the Common
Core. Yet it seems to me that all of these efforts have gotten limited traction.
Education remains a field in which habit, intuition, and incumbency continue to play at least as large a role as research and data analysis.
The question is why, and what might be done about it. Many people much
smarter than I have thought hard and long about these questions, among
them Vivian Tseng at the W. T. Grant Foundation, Tom Kane at Harvards
Center for Education Policy Research, and Michael Barber at Pearson. Here
are some of the key problems they identify.
Limited supply. Theres undoubtedly more research findings to guide
practice today than there were a generation ago; its no longer fair to call the
What Works Clearinghouse the Nothing Works Clearinghouse. As Institute
of Education Sciences (IES) founding director Russ Whitehurst told me, the
Clearinghouse has identified one hundred and eleven effective educational
interventions in the past twelve years. Rigorous studies have made a big
impact on teacher evaluations (for better or worse) and helped make the case
for high-quality charter schools. Ruth Neild, acting director of the IES, points
to yet more examples. Still, we could all name dozens of practical questions
for which education research still hasnt provided definitive guidance.
Too much supplyof the wrong kind. Education is awash in a deluge of
reports, journal articles, e-mails, tweets, and news stories, all making claims
about what the research shows. Its too much for anyone to sift through,
and much of it is bogus to start with, so some educators understandably
shun it all and keep doing what theyve always done.
Poor dissemination. A recent study from the National Center for
Research in Policy and Practice found that fewer than one in five district
administrators checks the What Works Clearinghouse often or all the time
for research findings. Instead they look to books, turn to peers in professional associations, pick up ideas at conferences, and rely on state education

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 151

departments and the news media. Maybe if the WWC and similar outlets did
a better job pushing out their findings, theyd have a better uptake rate. (A
new and improved WWC website and social media strategy was rolled out
last fall.)
Weak incentives. Maybe test-based accountability and competition
from school choice arent enough to entice leaders to seek out evidencebased interventions. Maybe whats needed is an FDA for education, an entity
with explicit regulatory authority to keep districts from purchasing dubious products and services. (Then again, if you thought Common Core was
Ideology. Its those education school professors! Theyre fundamentally
opposed to the reform agenda, measuring schools via student outcomes, and
hard-nosed quantitative analyses. Our teachers and principals get trained to love
the warm-and-fuzzy while in college or grad school, and they never recover.
Habits of practice in schools and districts. Maybe the problem is that
educators arent particularly open to new research in the first place. Perhaps
theyre weary of the reform of the month. Maybe educators distrust the
external validity of national studies and put faith only in findings from studies about their own students and contexts.
Theres surely some truth in all those explanations, which means we should stay
open to a variety of solutions for addressing the problem. Some options include:
Book it! If education leaders often turn to books for ideas and evidence,
lets develop evidence-based books that might have an impact. Doug Lemovs
best-selling Teach Like a
Champion demonstrated a
market demand for specific,
Education is still a field in which
practical advice for teachhabit, intuition, and incumbency
ers. Id personally love to
play a large role.
work on evidence-based
elementary schools, which could share practices that boost achievement
especially for disadvantaged kidsincluding teaching a broad, content-rich
curriculum. It would help if universities rewarded junior scholars for publishing well-read books when making tenure decisions.
Get together! Professional associations and personal networks are key
sources of information and ideas, so reformers and researchers should do a
better job partnering with the key education groups that already exist, like the
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD); AASA,
the School Superintendents Association; and the National Council of Teachers
of English (NCTE). Another option, naturally, would be to create ones. Tony


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Bryks Networked Improvement Communities represent one promising model.

And how about a national network, or at least an annual gathering, for chief
academic officers from large districts and charter management organizations?
These folks dont have their own association yet, perhaps because the role is
relatively new. Yet they make key decisions that could and should be guided by
evidence, including textbook selection, daily schedules, and so on.
Go small! As Tom Kane and others have been arguing, we might shift a
hefty chunk of our research funding from large, national impact studies to
smaller, local, short cycle evaluations. These publications can help districts
and charter networks learn quickly whats working and whats not, and
adjust appropriately. And we should strive to produce studies that go beyond
simply what works on average to uncover what works for particular kinds
of students in specific situations.
To be frank, Im not sure any of these strategies will gain traction, at least
in our traditional school system. Nobody seems to know how to transplant
the DNA of our best charter management organizations like KIPP into
central office bureaucracies that have learned to pay more attention to the
dictates of elected boards than whats best for kids. I dont know why so
many schools and school systems, including some Im personally familiar
with, seem so uninterested in tweaking their curricula, or hiring, or schedule,
or student assignments, or anything else that might make them 10 or 20 or
30 percent better.
One final thought: What Works circa 1986 was an earnest effort undertaken
because thensecretary of education Bill Bennett said it was neededand
devoted much of the departments discretionary budget to dissemination. I
can think of no better mission for whoever takes that post this year than to
push not just his or her agency but the field itself, to infuse American schools
with practices that actually help kids to learn.
Reprinted by permission of Education Excellence (
2016 The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is What

Lies Ahead for Americas Children and Their Schools,
edited by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Richard Sousa. To
order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 153


Rust Belt Prophet

Family, sheer grit, and the Marine Corps rescued
J. D. Vance, author of the searching memoir
Hillbilly Elegy. He wonders what, if anything, will
rescue his people.

By Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson, Uncommon Knowledge: A graduate of Yale Law School,

J. D. Vance grew up poor amid the dysfunctional culture of Appalachia. I
believe we hillbillies are the toughest goddamn people on this earth, he writes
in his new memoir, but we hillbillies must wake the hell up. J. D. Vance
grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town
of Jackson, Kentucky. He was raised for the most part by his grandmother,
whom he credits with saving his life. After high school, Mr. Vance enlisted in
the Marine Corps and served in Iraq. He then graduated from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. Now a principal with a Silicon Valley investment
firm, Mithril Capital Management, Mr. Vance is the author of Hillbilly Elegy: A
Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. J. D. Vance, welcome.
J. D. Vance: Thank you.
Robinson: Lets talk about the people in Hillbilly Elegy. I do not identify with
the WASPs of the Northeast, you write. Instead I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scottish-Irish descent. OK, quick
Peter Robinson is the editor of the Hoover Digest, the host of Uncommon
Knowledge, and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. J. D. Vance is
the author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
(HarperCollins, 2016).

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

history lesson: who are the Scots-Irish, when did they come to this country,
what makes them distinctive?
Vance: Scots-Irish is a bit of a misnomer because its basically rural people
who came from the broad UK. They tended to settle in the United States in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and to cluster along the Appalachian Mountains in what we now know as West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, southern Ohio. I dont have a fantastic argument for why they clustered in those regions.
Some people have argued
that they were drawn to
the mountains of Appalachia in the same way that
they were drawn to the
mountains back in the
highlands. But they were
a very distinctive subculture and what is relatively interesting, if you look at the ethnography of these
areas, they still are very heavily overrepresented in these parts of the country. There is still a disproportionate share of the Scots-Irish in Appalachia.
Robinson: They come to this country in the early- to mid-eighteenth century,
when the borderlands of England and Scotland and Ireland are still very
rough, violent places, and they take a certain level of violence for granted. Its
part of their lives in those regions, as opposed to southern England, which is
much more settled and becomes wealthier, and frankly I suppose the term is
more civilized, much earlier. And in those regions, much more is based on
clan. Family has a different weight among these people. Is that correct?
Vance: I think thats right. Whatever the causes, theres a lot of evidence
that suggests the Scots-Irish valued honor and family loyalty in a very, very
personal and deep way. And because of it, they werent afraid to enforce
that family honor code in a way that sometimes led to violence. And again,
the cause is something that I dont have great insight into, but its just there.
Not just violence against others, but also violence inside the home, which is
something I write about.
Robinson: One more characteristic of the Scots-Irish before we move on.
The point Id like to stress and that is implicit in your book: they are a long
way from the media centers of the East Coast and the West Coast. So were
talking about a distinctive culture of people who have been here for a couple

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of centuries that the rest of the country, the media and the culture tend to
overlook. Is that fair?
Vance: I dont really think that is fair. Though there is definitely a regional distinction and a sort of cloistering of the Scots-Irish in a part of the country that is
very cut off from the media
centers, I think its fair to say
Theres a lot of evidence that sugthat Scots-Irish culture has
gests the Scots-Irish valued honor
been very, very influential
on what we call American
and family loyalty in a very, very perculture more broadly.
sonal and deep way.
Theres an interesting book
by Jeff Biggers, The United States of Appalachia, that chronicles the ways in which
Appalachian culture influences mainstream American culture. So there is a sense
in which a lot of the things that we think of as American are at least somewhat
related to and influenced by Scots-Irish culture.
Robinson: They break through at the national level with Andrew Jackson.
Vance: Thats right.
Robinson: And well come back to politics in a moment. But first, your
family...the move from Jackson, Kentucky, which is Appalachia proper, to
Middletown, Ohio. Why?
Vance: Well, for very stark economic reasons. This is the 1940s; this is before
especially generous social welfare programs. And if my grandparents hadnt
moved from Jackson, Kentucky, they would have faced a choice: poverty,
potential starvation, maybe scraping by with a relatively successful life. But
if they moved to the industrial powerhouses that were developing in the Rust
Belt (what we now call the Rust Belt, but back then was the land of opportunity), they had an opportunity at the steel mill or at the paper mill to earn
a decent, middle class, livable wage. Thats what brought not just them but
millions of others into those Midwestern factories.
Robinson: And yet you observe in Hillbilly Elegy, that when they moved to
middle class Ohio they did not behave like middle class Ohioans. They did not
become suburban.
Vance: Thats right. It took a while to adapt to the cultural norms of Midwestern middle class life. One of the takeaways from the book is that culture
is really sticky in a certain way. You dont suddenly acquire material comfort


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

and then all the habits, all the attitudes you grew up with, are completely
cast off. Its something I learned myself as an adult.
Robinson: Let me quote from Hillbilly Elegy: Our homes are a chaotic mess. We
scream and yell at each other. At least one member of the family uses drugs. We
dont study as children and we dont make our kids study when were parents.
And that was your way of life until you were thirteen or fourteen years old or so.
Vance: More or less, yes.
Robinson: When you were about fifteen, you stopped moving from home to
home to home with your mother and moved in with your grandmother, Mamaw.
Vance: Sure.
Robinson: The same woman who doused your grandfather with lighter fluid
and tossed a match on him.
Vance: Sure.
Robinson: Once again from Hillbilly Elegy, Those three years with Mamaw,
uninterrupted and alone, saved me. She was uneducated, she swore like a
sailor, and she could be dangerous. How did she save you?
Vance: Well, the part of my grandma that would potentially set somebody
on fire if they crossed her had a good side too. Or at least a partially good
side. I was like a lot of kids who grew up in this environment. I was not doing
especially well in school; I was starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol;
I was starting to hang out with the proverbial wrong crowd.
I started hanging out
with this kid who was
One of the takeaways from the book
sort of known to be a little
is that culture is really sticky.
druggie. My grandma
found out and she leaned
in and said, J. D., I want to tell you something. If you dont stop hanging out with
that kid, I am going to run him over with my car and no one is ever going to find
out. Now do I think in hindsight that Mamaw would have actually run over a
thirteen-year-old kid? Absolutely not.
Robinson: Im not so sure...
Vance: Mamaw was always very protective of kids, and I think in her own
way, she probably felt bad for him. But what she did believe, and what I
believed, is that she would enforce that rule. So when she made that promise,

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 157

unlike a lot of kids who grew up in those circumstances whod say, aw screw
it, Im gonna hang out with the bad kid in secret or maybe just ignore what my
parents say, I believed her. So I completely cut off all contact with that kid.
Robinson: She expected you to do your homework, to behave, and if you
didnt she was going to come after you.
Vance: Thats right. She was very hard on me in a way that I needed. She
demanded that I get a job, that I work hard on the job, that I pay my own
way. She demanded that I go to school and that I get good grades. By the
time I lived with Mamaw, I was probably the poorest I ever was growing up.
I had very, very little money. I remember that she went and bought a TI-89
graphing calculator, because I was in the advanced math class at school . . .
Robinson: That was the hot calculator at the time.
Vance: ...and Mamaw said, Look, you lazy bastard, if I can pay for this
calculator with as little money as I have, then you are going to work hard in
school. You are going to do well. That meant a lot. So I did. And in a lot of
different ways, she had this influence on me that set me on the right path.
Robinson: Heres the feeling I get, and correct me if Im wrongthe feeling I get
is that when you moved from Middletown, Ohio, into the United States Marine
Corps, you were not moving from one world into a completely foreign world.
The Marine Corps had enough continuity with the best of the tradition in which
you grew up. These people are patriots, they understand the importance of hard
work, but the Marine Corps gave you the standards. It forced you to perform,
but it didnt seem as I read Hillbilly Elegy a really foreign world to you.
Vance: Thats right.
Robinson: But when you moved to Yale, you were on another planet.
Vance: Thats absolutely fair. The Marine Corps is very racially diverse in
terms of experiences and in terms of income classesits primarily middle
income, working class kids. Its not kids who were especially poor or especially wealthy. That was not true at Yale Law School.
Robinson: Do you feel any sense of dislocation, that youve left good people
Vance: Well, let me say first, I do think Im a hillbilly, and if you think that Im
so different from hillbillies, then my sense is that you ought to give them just
a little bit more credit, if I may say that.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

SPEAKING UP: The people in this book are obviously struggling profoundly
and its not just an economic struggle. Its not just material deprivation, its
also partially a feeling that the coastal elitesthe people who have financial
and political powerlook down on people like you. [Hoover Institution]

Robinson: Sure, sure.

Vance: A lot of the folks I grew up with, I think, would defy the stereotypes
in a lot of ways. Hopefully, I sort of give credit to my people, though maybe I
make them look a little bad at times. But my sense of whether I have a certain remorse for having leftthe answer is absolutely, yes.
Maybe its just because of the way I am, but I definitely feel that I owe people
back home a lot more than Im currently giving. There are a number of different ways to get involved, and Ive thought since the publication of the book,
whats the best way for me to really give back? I sense that I owe something
to the folks back home, and I think thats a good thing. Its good to be attached
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 159

to a community and to feel like you should be doing a little bit more. Maybe it
comes along with some feelings of survivors guilt, but I dont think thats an
especially heavy burden to bear.
Robinson: Back to the people you left behind: alone among all American
ethnic and demographic groups, working class whites in recent years have
seen their lifespans get shorter. Every other kind of American is living longer
and your people are dying sooner.
Vance: Sure.
Robinson: They are also the most pessimistic people in America. Im quoting Hillbilly Elegy: Well over half of blacks, Latinos, and college-educated
whites expect that their children will fare better economically than they
have. Among working-class
whites, only 44 percent
These attitudes can simultaneously share that expectation. You
provide a very disheartening
be right and self-destructive.
Vance: I think the combination of the economic pressure placed on these
families and the fact that, for the first time in many generations, they found
themselves outside the extended network of kin, created a lot of family pressures that produced some of the things that I write about in the book.
My guess is there is a certain measure of hopelessness and a consequent
lack of agency that sets in. In the 1970s, if you are a working class white person, you have a lot of confidenceand that confidence is well-placedthat
even if you only get a high school diploma, youre going to be able to earn a
middle class wage.
That supposition and that confidence have been pulled out from beneath
you. A lot of people who assumed they were going to be able to have those
jobs created alternative explanations for why they dont have them.
Robinson: Its not as if this is a lazy or shiftless culture. Those people worked
hard to survive on that land for a couple of centuries before they started
moving out to mine coal, for example, which is hard physical labor. So you
contend that at least a large part of whats taking place now is not that a
culture of laziness is taking over, its that there is no work to do.
Vance: Thats important, but in the face of the absence of work, people have
to deal with that psychologically. One of the ways they deal with it is to sort
of give upto say that no matter how hard they work, no matter how much


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

they do to try to get ahead, its not going to lead to good consequences. Now
that is partially true, of course, in an economy where there arent as many
good middle class jobs. But its also very self-destructive. So one of the things
I try to hit upon in the book is that these attitudes can simultaneously be
right and self-destructive.
Robinson: But two hundred years ago they had the gumption, the courage,
to get up and leave the Scottish Highlands or Northern Ireland and come to
this country. They know how to get out and start over again. Theyve done
it again and again across the generations. And now suddenly theyre stuck?
What explains that stuckness?
Vance: Its very complicated. Part of it is a lack of jobs, and part of it is the
despair, the hopelessness, that sets in because of the lack of jobs. But another
part of it is that the government antipoverty programs we have are designed
for a different time and different purposes. The purpose of the Great Society,
whether you think its good or bad, is fundamentally to provide assistance so
people dont starve to
death, so the basic needs
I definitely feel that I owe people
dont go unmet. I think
thats a valuable purpose
back home a lot more than Im curand a valuable thing
rently giving.
the government can be
doing. But we have to recognize that when the government does that it can
also provide disincentives and reasons not to work. It can make it harder to
become self-sufficient.
My sense is not that the government has caused this problem and therefore we should pull a lot of these programs away. My sense is that we should
recognize the government has a role in these programs and we should be
thinking about how to create a safety net geared more toward work and
participating in some of these institutions in society. If we dont do that, were
going to continue on the same path weve followed for the past fifty years,
and its just not working.
Robinson: OK, this brings us to you. You are conservative, politically conservative. And yet, through this whole conversation, youve been extremely
moderate and balanced and theres some of this and theres some of that.
Im looking for the firebrand. Dont you feel encouraged to take some
lighter fluid and squirt it over some of these welfare programs and toss on
a torch?

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 161

Vance: Sometimes I feel the urge, but I think that the best part of conservatism is maybe its moderation. I dont think moderation and conservatism are
at war. Im a conservative for a couple of reasons. One, I recognized growing
up and I continue to recognize that for these people I really care about and
I want to have better opportunities, a lot of things the government has done
either have not been super helpful or have even been counterproductive. We
have to think about the social safety net with much different goals in mind.
Second, people on the left have a certain discomfort with talking about
actors other than the state
and other than the individuNever be like those kids who think
al. If you read my book, the
the deck is stacked against them.
theme that runs throughout
it is that family is an important actor; the community is an actor; neighborhoods and churches are important actors. So thats a long way of saying that
culture matters in a way distinct from the way that individuals act, and in the
way that the state acts. And conservatives seem to be much more comfortable
in recognizing that and dealing with it as they approach global policy. I say in
the book, look, government policy can help, but at the end of the day we have
to have a role in fixing some of these problems.
But things did happen to these communities. A lot of good economics
papers have come out in the past few years that show, for example, that areas
of the country most exposed to free trade are the very areas where you have
rising mortality rates, rising heroin rates.
Robinson: Particularly trade from China.
Vance: Particularly trade from China. Theres a sense in which globalization
may have been net good but its been very, very hard on these communities.
Robinson: All right, were recording this not quite two weeks before the election. All the polls show that Donald Trump is losing in every ethnic group. I
think that is literally the case: Asians, Latinos, African Americans, college
educated whites...but hes winning in one: the Scots-Irish, your people.
Vance: Sure.
Robinson: Your people, who are poor and having a hard time and located in
Appalachia and the upper Midwest and the upper South, have fallen in love
with a billionaire from New York City. Would you explain that, please?
Vance: [Laughter] Ill try my best. There are two things happening here with
Trump. One is the tone and the way he conducts himself in politics. People


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

are just sick of hearing candidates who are so unfamiliar and unrelatable.
The way they talk about politics, how filtered and clean their accents are
theres something about Trumps offensiveness, something about his brashness, that appeals to the
people I write about in
We have to think about the social
the book and who grew
up like I did. Im not even safety net with much different goals
a Trump supporter, but I in mind.
feel a certain attachment
and I get a little bit cheery when he says certain things on the campaign trail
and criticizes the elites in such strong language. Its refreshing, even if you
disagree with the substance.
Look at the substance of what hes going after. The people in this book are
obviously struggling profoundly and its not just an economic struggle. Its the
addiction, its the family breakdown.
Robinson: I couldnt help feeling while reading Hillbilly Elegy that part of the
sort of subterranean anger or discontent is that they feel left out; overlooked
and left out.
Vance: Thats absolutely true, and that was actually going to be the other
part of the Trump answer. Its not just material deprivation, its also partially
a feeling that the coastal elitesthe people who have financial and political powerlook down on people like you. And for the past thirty years, the
Republican Party has basically run the same candidate. You think about the
debate stage, where there were seventeen people and sixteen of them were
fundamentally running a campaign not dissimilar to the one that George
W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney ran. And every single one of them
lost to the guy who was saying, look, were going to blow the whole thing up.
Everything that the elites have been telling you is wrong, this is why your
life sucks, were going to go in a new direction politically, substantively. And
thats appealing, I think, to people who feel left out and left behind.
Robinson: Do the elites look down on them, or is this just a self-indulgent,
self-pitying attitude?
Vance: I think theyre partially right. People I know who are very well
educated typically have sophisticated attitudes about politics, and will talk
as if Donald Trump is the dumb, redneck candidate that these dumb, racist rednecks deserved all along and who they wanted. There is a complete
failure to recognize that folks are complicated and that they can be driven

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 163

to vote for someone beyond just racism. It proves in a lot of ways the very
worst supposition that my people have about the elites, which is that they
dont really care about us. They dont try to think and understand us, they
just judge us. And as much as I disagree with so many folks back home about
Trump in particular, I think the reaction of a lot of the elites to Trumpism or
the Trump voter feeds into the very worst scenarios of how elites feel about
the rest of the country.
Robinson: I am going to ask you to talk to somebody. Lets suppose that some
place in Jackson, Kentucky, or Middletown, Ohio, theres a boy watching this
interview; his father left when he was little, his mother was in and out of
rehab, and so hes sitting in front of a computer screen with his grandmother
down the hall in the kitchen making dinner. What does J. D. Vance want to
say to that boy?
Vance: Well, I would say the same thing my Mamaw said to me, which is that
life is unfair for you. You are going to face barriers that other kids in similar
situations dont have to face, but you still have control over your life. Never
be like those kids who think the deck is stacked against them. Your job is to
recognize the unfairness, to overcome it, and then to give back once youve
overcome it. I think thats something kids like me really like to hear. Even
though the deck may be slightly stacked against you, you still have to believe
in your own agency or you will never make it out alive.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


A Miracle or a
Hoover fellow Terry Moe argues that the US
Constitution is an anachronism that needs
fundamental change.

By Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson, Uncommon Knowledge: Hold fast, my friends, to the Constitution. Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in six thousand years may not happen again. The Constitution of the United States as
a miraclein speaking those words, nineteenth-century statesman Daniel
Webster was giving voice to a view that is still common today. Our guest sees
the document not as a miracle but as a hindrance.
Terry Moe, the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science
at Stanford, is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Dr. Moe has
written extensively on education reform and the presidency, and with his
co-author, William Howell of the University of Chicago, Dr. Moe has published Relic: How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government and Why
We Need a More Powerful Presidency. Terry Moe, welcome.
Terry Moe: Great to be with you.
Peter Robinson is the editor of the Hoover Digest, the host of Uncommon
Knowledge, and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Terry Moe is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the William Bennett Munro Professor of
Political Science at Stanford University.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 165

Robinson: First, lets start with a kind of summary statement. Im quoting
from Relic: It is folly to think that what may have worked quite well in that
world [the eighteenth-century world of the founders] will also work well in
ours. We live with all kinds of premodern institutions; democratic assemblies date back twenty-five hundred years; English common law remains the
foundation of a great deal of American law. Why is it folly to suppose that an
eighteenth-century document will work in the twenty-first century?
Moe: Well, look at it. The founders designed the government for a tiny agrarian society in 1789. There were four million people in that society; seven
hundred thousand of them were slaves. Of the free people, 95 percent were
farmers. It was a very simple society. The government wasnt expected to do
much, and they designed a government that couldnt do much: government
separation of powers with a very parochial Congress at its lawmaking center.
And that kind of government may have been fine for the late 1700s, but as
society became much more modern, industrialized, and urbanizedand
generated a whole range of very serious problems such as monopoly, child
labor, pollution, disease, and other issues that people thought government
needed to do something aboutgovernment was simply incapable of acting.
The founders had created a government for their times, but the kind and
structure of government they created was simply ill-suited to take effective
action in modern times. Thats the real problem. Now, we cant blame the
founders for that. I mean, how could they have foreseen any of this? They
knew they couldnt, and Jefferson and others fully expected that the Constitution represented an experiment in government, and that future generations would adapt it
to suit the needs of a
changing society. But
that didnt happen, so,
basically, were stuck
with this structure
that they gave us two
hundred and twentyfive years ago.
Robinson: Let me see if I can sum up your argument to about a century ago.
Eighteenth century: you get a document that I get the feeling you wouldnt
have written it that way even to start with, but government was so small and


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

so little was expected of it that it worked, it was OK. Then you get an adjustment from the Progressive movement: it takes place within the existing
structure of the Constitution, but you get Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow
Wilson saying, within this structure, we need to rebalance power and we
need a more vigorous
and assertive presidency.
The government wasnt expected to
With Wilson, as I recall,
do much, and they designed a govtheres civil service
reform; hes the first
ernment that couldnt do much.
president to give State of
the Union addresses in person; he is more assertive in every way in sending
up legislation and attempting to direct Congress. And you argue that was a
fix or workaround for that time as well: the Progressive movement achieved
a great deal of what needed to be done at that time?
Moe: Yes, I think they found themselves prisoners of the past and they
needed a government that could be more effective. They had a government
that was totally ineffective, and so they needed to do what they could. They
created a civil servicebased bureaucracy that could actually do things
carry out policyand a more powerful presidency. From that point on, weve
had what some people call a presidentially led bureaucratic government.
Thats basically the nature of modern American government. The problem is
that it didnt do away with the fundamental problem. We still have the same
basic structure of government. Presidents dont make the laws; Congress
makes the laws.
Robinson: Under the Constitution, Congress is granted the authority to
make the laws, and the fact that it makes them badlyand indeed, is wired
to make them badlyfatally undermines the ability of American government to meet the challenges of modern society. Bring out that part of the
Moe: Well, its simple but profound. It goes back to the Constitutions design
of Congress, which ensures that members are elected from districts and
from states, and theyre going to be responsive to the constituencies and special interests of those districts and states, and theyre going to be concerned
about getting re-elected. That makes them parochial, and it makes it almost
impossible for them, as a two-house collective institution, to really do whats
right for the national interest. Theyre acting in hundreds of different special
interests. Congress is just not capable of effectively pursuing the national

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 167

interest, and that is the heart of the problem. It goes back to the Constitution. Its still there, and nothing has changed that.
Robinson: Its one thing to say that each individual member of the House
will be, above all, sensitive to the interests of his own district, but its another
thing to say that the counterbalancingthe deal-making and compromises
necessary to produce any
legislation at allmakes
Weve had what some people call a
Congress, as a whole,
presidentially led bureaucratic govincapable of pursuing the
ernment. Thats basically the nature
national interest. The founders idea is wrong in prinof modern American government.
ciple? The founders set it up
so that the only way to get legislation through would be a protracted process
of compromise, and your argument is that even that doesnt work. Congress
as a whole cant function.
Moe: No, the first argument is that they were operating in 1789 and they
never thought Congress would be doing the kinds of things that its doing
today, that this vast array of problemspoverty, inequality, immigration,
infrastructure, terrorism, disruptive technology, globalizationwould be
dumped on Congress and people would say, do something. And there Congress is. Its just pathetic. Its incapable of taking effective action. They didnt
see that back in 1789. How could they? Theyre living in a completely different
world. Its up to us to do something. They expected that we would. We didnt.
So were left with an ancient Constitution that never anticipated any of this.
Robinson: Now, lets take your proposal. From Relic: The most promising
way to move our governmental system in the right direction is by amplifying the powers of the presidency. Presidents should be granted enhanced
agenda-setting powers to propose bills to Congress, which Congress should
then be required to vote on without amendment, on a strictly majoritarian
basis, within a fixed period of time. This is the way fast track authority currently works in the realm of international trade. Lets go through all that.
First of all, explain fast-track authority.
Moe: It was adopted in 1974 under Richard Nixon, and it was a recognition by
Congress that if they didnt do something like allow for fast track, we would
really never have trade agreementsthey would never work. Imagine if the


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

president were out trying to negotiate trade agreements with Europe or any
other nations, and when he brought an agreement back to Congress, Congress just picked it apart and said, Oh were going to do this, but were not
going to do that, and were not going to do that. Go back. And then the president, as the bargainer, would lose all credibility with these other countries,
and he would have no bargaining authority. So that doesnt work. Congress
decided that the only way were ever going to get anywhere in international
trade is by letting the president negotiate these things. He comes up with the
package, and then he presents the proposal to Congress, and Congress has
to accept the whole thing without changing it. They can vote no or yesno
amendments, no special-interest provisions. Plus they cant delay, cant sandbag the thing. They have to vote on it within x number of days. Thats the key
to the whole thing. Its a very simple mechanism that gives both the president
and Congress a role, and it ensures that if anything is going to become law,
both the House and the Senate must vote yes.
Robinson: You write that Congress would have to vote on a strictly majoritarian basis. Explain that one.
Moe: No filibusters.
Robinson: The point is that it takes sixty votes in the Senate to shut down a
filibuster, so it requires a supermajority. Thats what youre opposed to there.
Moe: Right.
Robinson: One of your criticsmaybe one of your severest criticsis Richard Epstein, our colleague here at the Hoover Institution. Richard takes the
example of ObamaCare, which passed Congress without a single Republican
vote in either the House
or Senate. It was literally
Youre going to get much more
as partisan as a vote can
getall the Democrats
coherent and better-justified attacks
and no Republicans in
on social problems than Congress
both houses. Richard
would come up with.
argues that if a president had been responsible for drafting the legislationthat is, if Terry Moes
reform had been in placethen the Democrats could have enacted legislation
that was even more partisan. Or, if the Republicans had a majority, they could
have voted it down outright. I quote Richard Epstein: This new proposed
system will thus lead to one of two equilibrium positions. Either a partisan

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 169

president gets all that he wants, or a determined Congress forces us back

into the legislative pathologies that are rife today. In other words, give Terry
Moe his reform and you get either an imperial presidency or just the same
dysfunction weve already got.
Moe: Richards just totally wrong on that. Theres a big literature on how
agenda control works, how these bargaining situations work. You dont get
these polar outcomesjust one or the other. It can be outcomes in between.
For instance, presidents submit a policy proposal, or theyre thinking of submitting a policy proposal to Congress, and they have to look over the distribution of votes in Congress, and they have to think, OK. I want to win. How
am I going to get these votes?
Robinson: And so you start doing the deals that you find so offensive in the
first place. They start giving guys dams in their district and a little federal
grant for beekeeping.
Moe: Except presidents dont like those things, so you get a lot less of it.
Youre still going to get this horse-trading.
Robinson: You do not eliminate politics; you just tidy it up.
Moe: Thats right. So youre going to get much more coherent and betterjustified attacks on social problems than Congress would come up with.
Congress is a disaster. Congress is not formulating effective solutions to
national problems. Presidents actually try to do that. Now, theyre not going
to be perfect. Theyre going to have to corrupt the things they do in order to
sell them to Congress, but theyre not going to be as gutted and eviscerated
as the kinds of things that Congress passes regularly.
Robinson: You devote special attention in Relic to the conservative argument for your reform. Let me quote you: Conservatives who favor smaller
governmenta perfectly legitimate thing to wantshould ask themselves:
how successful have Republican presidents been at paring back the American welfare state and achieving a smaller, less wasteful government? Answer:
despite occupying the White House about 50 percent of the time during
the entire postwar era, they have not been successful at all. True, but the
reform you propose would make the president more powerful in the legislative process, and thats a two-edged sword. It can be used to shrink the
administrative state or it can be used to expand the administrative state. Is it


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

not the case that conservatives ought to be in favor of a single-edged sword

that presidents would use overwhelmingly just to cut, to reduce, to shrink?
And that could be accomplished pretty simply by repealing the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. (Richard Nixon impounds funds, Congress gets
very angry, it passes a law making it virtually impossible for presidents to
impound funds;
that is, to refuse
The biggest problem facing this country
to spend money
is not who will win the election. Every four
that Congress
years, the people get wrapped up in that
Repeal that, and like its the number one question. The most
Congress can
important question is: how will this country
go ahead and
be governed?
allocate money,
and presidents at that point get to refuse to spend it. It would enormously
increase the presidents authority in the budget negotiation. If you wanted
to, you could also argue that one amendment to the constitutional line-item
veto would have the same effect. It would permit presidents to veto specific
items in bills without having to veto the entire bill. Those two reforms would
overwhelmingly have the effect of giving presidents the ability to shrink, to
control, to limit the growth of government in the national interest, but would
be very hard to use to expand the welfare state. Isnt that what conservatives
ought to want?
Moe: Look, this book is not about whats good for Republicans or Democrats.
We dont take a stand on whether the United States should have small government or big government. I think youre right that if you really want small
government you can easily come up with constitutional revisions that would
work to your advantage. But we purposely favored a constitutional provision
that basically says that if the people elect a presidentRepublican or Democratthat president is going to have policies that he or she will pursue in a
much more effective manner than Congress will. So if the American people
want to get the policies that they vote for, if they want to have real accountability in their government and a government that can be effective, this is the
way to do it. It doesnt prejudge whether Americans should want big government or small government. Thats up to them. When Richard Epstein weighs
in and says, We should have smaller government, fine. He has one vote. He
wants smaller government. Not everybody wants that. This is a democracy,
right? We need to have institutions that work for everybody. If people vote in

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 171

Ronald Reagan, and he wants to pare back the welfare stateand hed been
voted in on that basiscan he do that? And the answer is no, he cant do that.
Why? Because we have a separation-of-powers system, and Congress is right
there at the center, and they were not going to go along with itand they
Robinson: I can remember Ed Meese describing to me his shock when he
came back from Capitol Hill after talking to the leadership for the first time.
Meese was then counselor
to the president, and the
Amending the Constitution is hard.
first thing leadership said
was, You guys are not
Why? Well, the founders made it
eliminating the Department
hard. Thats another thing where
of Education. Boom! That
were prisoners of the past.
was the first week after
Reagan was inaugurated.
A few last questions, Terry. The Constitution provides for two mechanisms
for amendments: either Congress calls for an amendment, which the states
then ratify; or the states call for a constitutional convention, which, if there
are enough votes, Congress must put in place. So youve got two mechanisms. How are you going to get your amendment enacted?
Moe: William Howell and I see our first job as being one of trying to understand the nature of the problem. I think the biggest problem facing this country is not who will win the election. Every four years, the people get wrapped
up in that like its the number one question. The most important question is:
how will this country be governed? And the fact isand has always been
that this country is governed very ineffectively. Presidents come into office
and they cant actually take effective action. That is the problem. What are
we going to do about that? The number one problem is to connect ineffective
government to the Constitution and show why Congress is at the center of
Now, its helpful to move on from that and say, OK. Is there anything we
can do? I personally consider that a second-order issue. Maybe Im just a
dyed-in-the-wool academic, but I think people need to understand that this
is a problem, and that it goes back to the Constitution, and that rather than
just worshiping the Constitution and the founders, we should actually think
objectively about the Constitution.
What effects does it actually have on our governance today? Well, it has
some very negative effects. What can we do about that? It turns out that its


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

hard to do something about it, because amending the Constitution is hard.

Why? Well, the founders made it hard. Thats another thing where were
prisoners of the past. Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, they did this
thing and they said, Hey, its almost impossible to amend the Constitution.
Good luck to you guys.
Well, here we are. So you point out that its difficult to do. It is difficult to
do. First point, will Congress pass resolutions that limit their own power?
Unlikely. Will the states thenif we go the second routeagree that we
should have constitutional conventions to do this? I think thats the more
likely route, if the argument gets out there and people get convinced that
this is a system that doesnt work. So this is the way to do it, and I think the
potential danger of that is if the conventions cant somehow be limited to this
issue, and they can be opened up, then I think all of us see that there could be
risks in that.
Robinson: The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times. Each
time its been an amendment that Congress called forthe first mechanism
has been used. Having the states require Congress to hold a constitutional
convention in the history of the republic has happened zero times. Thats what
Im kind of probing here. Fair enough. Your argument is Relic is starting a
very important conversation. You are not shouldering the responsibility for
organizing a political movement. First, persuade, inform, start an argument
Moe: Ideas for a free society.
Robinson: Got it. I was going to say, do you think five years from now youll
have a constitutional amendment? But now I understand your position that
youre just at the beginning of the process and just making the argument;
the specific political mechanisms will follow. So let me ask you this then:
What happens next? Is there a follow-on book? Does this cause get taken
up in the academy? Are you working with grad students on this? Whats the
next step in the argument? When does it move from argument to political
Moe: Well, this is really what Hoover is all about: ideas for a free society.
I mean, put the ideas out there, and the hope is that people will listen to
them, debate them, and get out in the public sphere and influence the way
people think about things. People in academia and think tanks will do that.
And the good ideas will rise to the top, theyll stick around, and theyll
cause people to begin thinking about policy solutions. So it really is a twostep process.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 173

As an academic, my view is that our most important job is to get people to

understand the nature of the problem: that the failures and ineffectiveness
of American government are not due to polarization and to things that you
can just point to today. They go much deeper than that, back to the Constitution. Were living with a Constitution that wasnt designed for us. We dont
have a government that allows us to address problems effectively. And what
were trying to say is that if you recognize that its a constitutional problem,
then you begin to think about this in a different way. You need to think about
changing the Constitution to make American government more effective for
Democrats and Republicansfor everybody.
Robinson: Thank you, Terry.
Moe: Thank you.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Past Is Prologue
Determined to shape the future, the new president
needs to be reminded of the past. Lets convene a
council of historians.

By Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson

t is sometimes said that most Americans live in the United States of

Amnesia. Less widely recognized is how many American policy makers live there too.
Speaking about his book Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relation-

ship from Truman to Obama, the American diplomat Dennis Ross recently
noted that almost no administrations leading figures know the history of
what we have done in the Middle East. Neither do they know the history of
the region itself. In 2003, to take one example, when President George W.
Bush chose to topple Saddam Hussein, he did not appear to fully appreciate
either the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims or the significance
of the fact that Saddams regime was led by a Sunni minority that had suppressed the Shiite majority. He failed to heed warnings that the predictable
consequence of his actions would be a Shiite-dominated Baghdad beholden to
the Shiite champion in the Middle East: Iran.
The problem is by no means limited to the Middle East or to Bush. Former
president Barack Obamas inattention to the deep historical relationship between
Russia and Ukraine led him to underestimate the risks of closer ties between
Graham Allison is the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International
Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow at the
Hoover Institution and a member of the Hoovers Working Group on the Role of
Military History in Contemporary Conflict. They are co-directors of the Harvard
Kennedy Schools Applied History Project.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 175

Ukraine and Europe. I dont really even need George Kennan right now, Obama
told the New Yorker for a January 2014 article, referring to the great Cold War
era diplomat and historian. By March, Russia had annexed Crimea.
To address this deficit, it is not enough for a president to invite friendly
historians to dinner, as Obama was known to do. Nor is it enough to appoint a
court historian, as John F. Kennedy did with Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. We urge
the new president to establish a White House Council of Historical Advisers.
Historians made similar recommendations to Presidents Carter and Reagan
during their administrations, but nothing ever came of these proposals. Operationally, the Council of Historical Advisers would mirror the Council of Economic Advisers, established after World War II. A chair and two additional members would be appointed by the president to full time positions, and respond to
assignments from the president. They would be supported by a small professional staff and would be part of the Executive Office of the President.
For too long, history has been disparaged as a soft subject by social scientists offering spurious certainty. We believe it is time for a new and rigorous
applied historyan attempt to illuminate current challenges and choices
by analyzing precedents and historical analogues. We not only want to see
applied history incorporated into the Executive Office of the President,
alongside economic expertise; we also want to see it developed as a discipline in its own right at American universities, beginning at our own. When
people refer to applied
history today, they are
I dont really even need George Ken- typically referring to trainnan right now, President Obama
ing for archivists, museum
curators, and the like. We
said in an interview. Two months
have in mind a different sort
later, Russia annexed Crimea.
of applied history, one that
follows in the tradition of the modern historian Ernest May and the political
scientist Richard Neustadt. Their 1986 book, Thinking in Time, provides the
foundation on which we intend to build.
Mainstream historians take an event, phenomenon, or era and try to
explain what happened. They sometimes say they study the past for its
own sake. Applied historians would take a current predicament and try
to identify analogues in the past. Their ultimate goal would be to find clues
about what is likely to happen, then suggest possible policy interventions
and assess probable consequences. You might say that applied history is to


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

PAY ANY PRICE? A display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and
Museum in Boston shows Kennedy addressing an anxious nation during the
1962 Cuban missile crisis. The nuclear faceoff is among historical examples
that could be used to inform current presidential decision making. [Brian SnyderReuters]

mainstream history as medical practice is to biochemistry, or engineering is

to physics. But those analogies are not quite right. In the realm of science,
there is mutual respect between practitioners and theorists. In the realm of
policy, by contrast, there is far too often mutual contempt between practitioners and academic historians. Applied history can try to remedy that.
Imagine that the president had a Council of Historical Advisers today.
What assignments could it take on?
Start with the issue that national security officials have been struggling
with most: the Islamic State, or ISIS. Recent statements indicate that they
tend to see ISIS as essentially a new version of Al-Qaeda, and that a top goal
of US national security policy is to decapitate it as Al-Qaeda was decapitated
with Osama bin Ladens assassination. But history suggests that ISIS is quite
different in structure from Al-Qaeda and may even be a classic acephalous
network. When we searched for historical analogues to ISIS, we came up
with some fifty groups that were similarly brutal, fanatical, and purposedriven, including the Bolsheviks of the Russian Revolution. By considering
H O O V ER D I G E S T W inte r 2017 177

which characteristics of ISIS are most salient, a Council of Historical

Advisers might narrow this list to the most relevant analogues. Study of
these cases might dissuade the president from equating ISIS with its recent
The US governments response to the 2008 financial crisis illustrates the
value of this approach. That September saw the biggest shock to the world
economy since the Great Depression. In a stroke of luck, the chairman of
the Federal Reserve at the time, Ben Bernanke, was a student of earlier
financial crises, particularly the Depression. As he wrote in his 2015 memoir,
The context of history proved invaluable. Bernankes Fed acted decisively,
using unprecedented tools that stretchedif not exceededthe Feds legal
powers, such as buying up mortgage-backed and treasury securities in what
was called quantitative easing. Bernankes knowledge of the Depression also
informed the Feds efforts to backstop other central banks.
To be sure, historical analogies are easy to get wrong. History is not, of
course, a cookbook offering pretested recipes, observed Henry Kissinger, the
most influential modern practitioner of applied history. It can illuminate the
consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must
discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable. Amateur analogies were commonplace in the wake of September 11, ranging from President
Bushs invocation in his diary of Pearl Harbor to the parallels drawn by his
administration between Saddam Hussein and the Axis leaders in World War II.
To guard against such faulty parallels, May advised students and policy
makers to follow a simple procedure: put the comparison you are consideringfor example, ISIS and the Bolshevikson a sheet of paper, draw a line
down the page, and label one column similar and the other different. If
you are unable to list three points of similarity and three of difference, you
should consult a historian.
Were a Council of Historical Advisers in place today, it could consider precedents for numerous strategic problems. For example: as tensions increase
between the United States and China in the South and East China Seas, are
US commitments to Japan, the Philippines, and other countries as dangerous to peace as the 1839 treaty governing Belgian neutrality, which became
the casus belli between Britain and Germany in 1914?
The council might study whether a former presidents handling of another
crisis could be applied to a current challenge (what would X have done?).
Consider Obamas decision to strike an imperfect deal to halt or at least delay
Irans nuclear program, rather than bombing its uranium-enrichment plants,
as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoped he might. Obamas


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

deliberations have significant parallels with John F. Kennedys decision during the Cuban missile crisis to strike a deal with Nikita Khrushchev, rather
than invading Cuba or learning to live with Soviet missiles off Floridas coast.
A president might also ask the council what if? questions. What if some
action had not been taken, or a different action had been taken? (These
questions are too seldom asked after a policy failure.) In this spirit, the next
president could ask the council to replay 2013. What if Obama had enforced
his red line against the Assad regime, rather than working with Russia to
remove Syrian chemical weapons? Was this decision, as critics maintain, the
biggest error of his presidency? Or was it, as he insists, one of his best calls?
Finally, the council might consider grand strategic questions, including
perhaps the biggest one of all: is the United States in decline? Can it surmount the challenges facing it, or will American power steadily erode in the
decades ahead?
During the recent presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offered answers to these questions. Indeed, Trump proposed to
make America great again, implying that decline has already occurred, and
to put America first, reviving a slogan with, to put it mildly, a problematic
history. The presidential campaign gave us little confidence that Americas
history deficit was about to be closed.
We suggest that the charter for the future Council of Historical Advisers begin with Thucydidess observation that the events of future history...will be of the same natureor nearly soas the history of the past, so
long as men are men. Although applied historians will never be clairvoyants
with an unclouded crystal ball, we agree with Winston Churchill: The longer
you can look back, the farther you can look forward.
Reprinted by permission of the Atlantic. 2016 Atlantic Monthly Group.
All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Learning from

Experience, by George P. Shultz. To order, call (800)
888-4741 or visit

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 179


Change for a
Even his former enemy King George III called
George Washington the greatest man in the
world. Tell that to the activist trying to rename a
San Francisco school.

By Bill Whalen

ts not just the clever minds under the state Capitol dome that
make America wonder sometimes if California has taken leave of its
The Golden State is also blessed by the likes of Matt Haney, presi-

dent of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, who
recently posted this on his Twitter account (since set to private):
We should rename Washington High School after San Francisco
native, poet and author Maya Angelou. No schools named after
slave owners.
By George, Haney didnt get the memo about first in the hearts of his
countrymen. Or maybe Haney has it in for quarters, one-dollar bills, and
Purple Heart medals.
But its not strictly anti-Washington. In San Francisco, Jefferson Elementary and Francis Scott Key Elementary (The Star Spangled Banner author
also owned slaves) could be subject to renaming.
Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

This might be the reality of a republic whose founding days are long past:
the early shapers are subject to sanitation, if not eradicationwell, unless
theyre playing on Broadway (without a bagful of Tony Awards, would Alexander Hamilton still be
on the $10 bill?).
Some very bright kids attending elite
Ill cop to a bias both
Southern and premodWestern universities know next to
ern: Im a graduate of
nothing about their nation.
Washington & Lee University, a double offender in the world of politically correct crusading. And I
grew up in Virginia, which has struggled with its heritage for decades.
With GW under siege in SF, I have two concerns.
First, if we unleash the PC dragon on the presidency, where do we stop?
The National Park Service will have to take a jackhammer to Mount Rushmore. Thomas Jefferson? Slave owner. Abraham Lincoln? Waged war,
revoked civil liberties. Theodore Roosevelt? An imperialist who slaughtered
Good luck finding clean icons in the past century. Woodrow Wilson is on
the hot seat at his alma mater, Princeton, for his segregationist ways. Franklin Roosevelt turned away Jewish refugees before World War II and didnt
bomb Nazi death camps during it. John F. Kennedy consumed women like an
Olive Garden never-ending pasta bowl. Ronald Reagan? Slow to react to the
AIDS health crisis.
My second concern: as we erase reminders of the era of slavery, how do we
ensure that younger generations still get an education in the root causes of
the American experiment?
Years ago, when I worked in the governors office in Sacramento, Id give
my summer interns a history quiz. Sadly, some very bright kids attending
elite Western universities knew little about their nation predating 1850 and
California statehood.
If Californias school
districts want to swap
Washington was the rare foundout slaveholding figures
ing father who actually freed his
for names more palatslaves
able in the present day,
the trade-off should be an increased classroom focus on at least three
aspects of the earliest chapters of American history: religious freedom in
the New World, the economic causes behind the uprising, and the drafting
of the nations Constitution.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 181

But if San Francisco and other California cities give Washington and his
contemporaries a reprieve, I have another request: please show the kids
what makes these figures historically significant.
Washington High, for
example, has a mural depictThe founders are often victims of
ing the future president in
historical amnesiaunless theyre
the company of slaves.
piling up Tony Awards on Broadway. Where does that slice
of colonial life rank in
Washingtons biography? Well behind his assuming the presidency
and then voluntarily stepping down, multiple Revolutionary War
campaigns (Yorktown, Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware
River), or surveying the frontier.
As for slavery, why not a mural noting that Washington
was the rare slave-holding founding father who freed
his slaves in his will?
Such wrinkles are what make Washington,
like Jefferson and other giants of their
time, such complex figures. They


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

sought a better society; they wrestled with their consciences over what
defined libertya struggle that continues to this day.
Erase Washington? Like the quarter bearing his image, its a two-bit suggestion.
Reprinted by permission of the Sacramento Bee. 2016 Sacramento Bee.
All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Ronald

Reagan: Decisions of Greatness, by Martin and
Annelise Anderson. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or

[Taylor Jonesfor the Hoover Digest]

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 183


A Bomb to
The 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll were a
shocking introduction to the perils of the atomic
age. Rare artifacts and records tell the story.

By Jean McElwee Cannon and James Sam

ast summer, the Hoover Library & Archives released a cache of

rare sound recordings that document the July 1946 detonation
of nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islandsone of
the most significant events in the history of nuclear energy. The

recordings, part of Hoovers United States Foreign Broadcast Intelligence

Service records, detail the preparation, process, and aftermath of the nuclear
testing known seventy years ago as Operation Crossroads.
Since the first detonation on July 1, 1946, the Bikini Atoll tests have become
emblematic of the dawn of the nuclear age and the beginning of the Cold War.
According to military records, the primary objective of the tests was
to gauge how ships would withstand a nuclear blast. Remote Bikini Atoll,
sparsely populated with Micronesians whom the military persuaded to
relocate, was chosen for its distance from established shipping lanes. The
military filled the deep lagoon next to the island with damaged ships from
World War II, including many captured from Germany and Japan. A total of
ninety-five vessels, ranging widely in size and make, surrounded the coastline
Jean McElwee Cannon is the assistant archivist for communications and outreach at the Hoover Institution. James Sam is the digital migration analyst at
the Hoover Institution.

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

during the tests, and carried ammunition, vehicles, and equipmentas well
as mice, guinea pigs, and rats that would be tested for radiation levels after
the detonations. Forty-two thousand people, including military personnel,
scientists, technicians, and independent contractors, assembled to witness
the blasts.
The military detonated a first bomb, Able, from the air, and a second,
Baker, underwater. In both cases, the destructive fallout of the twentythree-kiloton devices exceeded the expectations of the military. Able sank
five ships, contaminated the remaining ships, and supplied lethal doses of
radiation to the animals on board. The Baker bomb, however, proved even
more destructive, causing a base surge and tsunami that sank nine ships,
and emitting nuclear fallout that contaminated nearly every ship of the
fleet. Working under unprecedented contamination levels, many of the servicemen involved with the tests were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. A third planned test, Charlie, was abandoned in light of the results of
Able and Baker.
Seventy years after the initial tests on Bikini Atoll, the island remains a
symbol of the dangers and consequences of nuclear testing. The military
carried out other nuclear tests in the atoll until 1958. The geologic and
environmental damages caused by the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests render the
area uninhabitable to this day. The 167 residents of Bikini Atoll who agreed
to relocate for the good of all mankind in 1946 have never returned to their
homes. Servicemen who worked on the ships at Bikini Atoll have suffered
sickness and early death due to radiation exposure.
The sound recordings of 1946, however, broadcast an air of excitement in
publicizing Americas new weapon in an era of postwar victory: the nuclear
tests are presented as a spectacle set on an international stage. The giddy
coverage raises questions in the listeners mind. Were US scientists entirely
ignorant of the long-term effects of radiation? Were the Bikini Atoll tests part
of a strategy of intimidation against the Soviets? Was the attitude surrounding Bikini Atoll a mask for the anxiety of entering the nuclear age?
Immediately after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,
the American public and in particular the press questioned whether mass
atomic attack against civilians rendered World War II a pyrrhic victory; an
editorial in the New York Herald Tribune, for example, stated that dropping
the atomic bomb was not only the most important single event in the course
of the war, it is an announcement more fateful for human history than the

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UNCERTAINTY AND FEAR: The Bikini Atoll tests of 1946 were meant to
answer questions about warfare after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the end,
simple answers were few. The Bikini tests began to bring into sharper focus
the tactical challenges and humanitarian dangers of the nuclear era. [Hoover
Institution ArchivesDavid Monroe Shoup Collection]

whole war itself. The prescient Edward Murrow stated, Seldom if ever
has a war ended leaving the victors with such a sense of uncertainty and
fear, with such realization that the future is obscure and that survival is not
While the press focused on the humanitarian consequences of the bomb,
members of the military entertained tactical concerns: would atomic warfare put an end to traditional strategies of combat? The efficacy of the bomb
caused deep consternation particularly in American naval circles, who
feared it would establish the supremacy of the air service and make the naval
branch obsolete. In 1946, the air service was still under the auspices of the
Army. The Army argued that firebombing raids in Europe and Japan and the
new dominance of the atomic bomb were largely responsible for Americas


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

victory in World War II, establishing the Army as the countrys most important branch of military power. Representatives of the US Navy, meanwhile,
reminded the public of the dangerous hardships of seamen who served in the
Pacific theaterand that the pilots who fought in such battles as Midway and
Guadalcanal were able to do so because of aircraft carriers, supported by
battleships. In the end an independent US Air Force would be established on
September 18, 1947, as part of the National Security Actlargely in response
to the rivalry between the Army and the Navy that emerged in the wake of
the war, and which would be dramatized during the tests at Bikini Atoll.
Before the National Security Act was passed, however, Navy officers
were keen to prove that ships were not excessively vulnerable to atomic
attack and were just as useful and valuable as aircraft for transporting
atomic weapons. The officers pointed out that nuclear torpedoes would be
just as effective as aerial bombs, if not more so, given that the bombs would
be harder to detect under the sea rather than in the air. Eager not to allow
the Army to gain mastery over the United States most important new
weapon, the Navy proposed an atomic test to be conducted underwater.

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The chief of naval operations approved the project that would take the form
of a bomb named Baker.
Thus, mere months after the peace agreements that officially ended the
Second World War, US military commanders had begun to lobby Congress
for permission to test and study the new weapon that had forced the surrender of Japan. In late December 1945, President Trumans Joint Chiefs of
Staff formed a plan for a series of three nuclear detonations (both aerial and
underwater) that would allow military and civilian scientists and engineers
to assess the strategic, tactical, and biological effects of atomic power on
naval and military forces. To guarantee a balanced, unbiased evaluation of
the experiments, the Joint Chiefs created a joint task force including members from the Army, the Navy, the Manhattan Project, and civilians. The
atomic tests were publicly announced on December 10, 1945, at which point
the New York Times reported on the squabbling between Navy and Army
officials, with the Army in particular working aggressively to get a leading
role in the experiment to make sure it will not be an all-Navy affair. On January 10, 1946, President Truman approved the plan, bringing Joint Task Force
One, the organizing unit for the tests, into existence. The operation was given
a budget of $1.3 billion, making it one of the biggest military operations of its
The Joint Chiefs chose Vice Admiral William Henry Purnell Spike
Blandy to command the task force. Tagged by the press the Buck Rogers
of the Navy, Blandy was known as a resourceful, energetic combat leader
who had commanded significant World War II ships such as the destroyer
Simpson and the battleship Utah, and was probably best known as the
organizer of the campaigns at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. At the wars end, he
had been promoted to deputy chief of naval operations for special weapons,
where his job was to assess the costs and benefits of guided missiles and
nuclear bombs.
Interviews with Blandy recently released by the Hoover Archives reveal
that he held no illusions about the impact of his research. When asked to
name the forthcoming tests in early 1946 he chose the name Operation

SHOCK AND AWE: Many of the reporters and witnesses gathered at Bikini
Atoll were awed and intimidated by the explosion. After the blast, as smoke
and flames filled the sky, an eerie silence replaced the giddy, nervous chatter
that had characterized early morning conversations. Afterward, radioactive
rain began to fall. [Library of CongressCurtis E. LeMay Papers]

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AT PLAY: Entertainment involving islanders, scientists, military personnel,

and visitors was a feature of the build-up to the Crossroads tests. The testing
zone bustled with thousands of visitors and sailors playing volleyball and
basketball, swimming, fishing, and drinking cheap beer bought in clubs such
as the Up and Atom. [Hoover Institution ArchivesBeth Flippen Scheel Papers]

Crossroads, because it was apparent that warfare, perhaps civilization itself,

had been brought to a turning point in history by this revolutionary weapon.
In both radio interviews and press releases, Admiral Blandy stressed that the
primary goal of Operation Crossroads was to determine the effects of atomic
explosions against naval vessels, thus improving the Navy and preparing
the United States for the possibility of an atomic attack by future enemies.
Blandy repeatedly emphasized that the tests were not a show of aggression:
If...we failed to carry out these experiments, to learn the lessons which they can teach us, our designers of ships, aircraft and


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

ground equipment, as well as our tacticians, strategists, and medical officers, would be groping their way along a dark road which
might lead us to another and worse Pearl Harbor.
In addition to its value for defensive strategy, Blandy argued, the operation
would give military and civilian researchers the chance to test a nuclear
attacks effects on airplanes, tanks, animals, radio and radar equipment,
ammunition, food,
clothing, and medicine.
After the first atomic bombs fell on
Scientific goals included
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one newsdiagnosing and measurpaper called the news an announceing radiation sickness,
and studying oceanic,
ment more fateful for human history
seismographic, and
than the whole war itself.
meteorological changes
wrought by the bomb.
Military officials insisted that because the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been dropped on enemy territory during wartime, scientists had
not been able to study the effects of gamma radiation. Under a controlled
environment, scientists could measure the pressure, impulse, and shockwave
velocity of nuclear energyand predict radiations effect on humans and
Detractors immediately branded the tests a demonstration of power aimed
at the Soviet Union. Many journalists also argued that nuclear testing was
a pompous show of wealth. Even the size of the castoff fleet to be bombed
nearly a hundred ships, some of them enemy vessels captured during wartimeunderscored the image of a wealthy, powerful nation with resources
to waste. Joint Task Force One press releases noted that the ships to be sunk
(they would come to be known as the Guinea Pig Fleet) represented the
worlds fourth- or fifth-largest navy, despite decrepitude. Equally significant,
three of the Guinea Pig ships were vessels captured from the once-feared
Imperial Japanese Navy, a symbolic sign of victory over Americas premier
enemy. Reversing the memory of Pearl Harbor, the servicemen at the tests
put the three Japanese revenants in the fatal zone, where they were all but
sure to be destroyed by a bomb.
Navy officials were especially keen to include the Nagato, the flagship of
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto when he commanded the attack on Pearl Harbor.
At wars end the Nagatonicknamed the Nasty Naggie by sailorswas the
last Japanese battleship left afloat. By 1946 the Nagato was heavily damaged

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SAVE THE DATE: A pinup calendar highlights the month of July 1946, when
tests Able and Baker were carried out. (Charlie, the projected third test, was a
no-show, the military having decided it was unneeded.) Of some forty thousand witnesses to the tests in the Pacific, only thirty-seven were women.
The bomb used in the Able test was named Gilda, after a character played
by the actress Rita Hayworth, and the Baker warhead was dubbed Helen of
Bikinipresumably for its ability to launch ships skyward. [Hoover Institution
ArchivesBeth Flippen Scheel Papers]

and covered with debris. The seamen assigned the precarious task of sailing
the leaky Nagato to its imminent demise in the Marshall Islands discovered
a macabre reminder aboard: nearly a hundred corpses of Japanese servicemen, found locked in a compartment below decks. Victims of Americas last
bombing raids against Japan, the bodies served as ghostly reminders of the
death and destruction of the recent past.
One of the biggest decisions the Operation Crossroads task force faced in
early 1946 was finding an area suitable for nuclear experiments. Officials
unfolded world maps in search of sites; in the early stages of planning, they
considered the Caribbean Islands and even
Military officials argued that because
the outer banks of North
the bombs at Hiroshima and NagasaCarolina. Finally, they
ki had been dropped during wartime,
settled on the Marshall
scientists had not been able to study
Islands, a cluster of coral
islands and atolls halfway the effects of gamma radiation.
between Hawaii and Australia. Known for white sand, coconuts, reefs, turtles, sharks, crabs, and clear
blue water, the Marshall Islands touted several sheltered lagoons deemed
ideal for underwater explosions, a mild climate that would facilitate testing
preparations, and a location far away from established shipping routes.
The Marshall Islandsin particular Kwajalein Atoll, where troops would
be stationedheld symbolic military significance as well. Japan had seized
the Marshall Islands from Germany during World War I and made them into
a military base; during World War II, the Japanese turned Kwajalein Atoll
into a fearsome prisoner of war camp known as Execution Island. The late
Louis Zamperini, subject of the recent book and film Unbroken, spent fortytwo days on the island, where he was interrogated and tortured before being
removed to a camp on the Japanese mainland. In a gruesome battle in 1944,
the United States had captured Kwajalein Atoll from Japan and turned it into
a base of operations for its own military maneuvers.
Besides being remote, the Marshall Islands held a further advantage: a
small population. As Admiral Blandy put it after the tests, It was important
that the local population be small and cooperative so they could be moved to
a new location with a minimum of trouble. After a survey of the Marshalls,
military officials targeted Bikini Atoll, which had a deep, sheltered lagoon
and only one hundred and sixty-seven inhabitants. In a meeting staged and

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 193

filmed by the military, Commodore Ben Wyatt met with the native Bikinians
after their weekly church service and asked, Would you be willing to sacrifice your island for the welfare of all men? Using biblical imagery that compared the Bikinians to the children of Israel, Wyatt implored the Bikinians to
yield their home island to
the service of an experiment
In American naval circles, there were
that would be for the good
fears that the bomb would establish
of humanity. After a days
discussion, the Bikinians
the supremacy of the air service and
leader, King Juda, reported
make the Navy obsolete.
to military authorities that
members of the native tribe on Bikini were willing to abandon their homes.
Within a month, the Bikinians were transported to nearby Rongerik Atoll.
With the native population removed, US soldiers and sailors mobilized
to prepare for the first test. The military had to assemble their test crews
quickly, since the majority of the scientists needed to be back on American
college campuses for the fall semester. The large-scale operation required a
wide variety of personnel: not just scientists but engineers, divers, veterinarians, bomb disposal experts, photographers, oceanographers, meteorologists,
and naval captains.
Working during postwar demobilization also proved tricky. In April 1946,
desperate to finalize operations, the task force issued a memorandum
imploring men in reserve to volunteer for Operation Crossroads, promising
that no serviceman would be kept on duty after January 1947. A second and
more heavy-handed measure included rerouting ships ferrying troops home
from the Pacific, and ordering these troops to assist with bomb site preparation before returning to the United States for demobilization. Finally, the task
force assembled a group of thirty-seven thousand sent from all corners of
the globe. They were joined by five thousand civilians, mostly scientists from
leading American universities and members of the press from around the
Of the total force assembled, only thirty-seven of the witnesses to the
tests were women. One of them, a Red Cross volunteer named Beth Flippen
Scheel, amassed a collection of memorabilia from the event that is now held
HAVING A BLAST: One of multiple temporary news products created by the
Crossroads personnel, the Atomic Blast reported not just on the bomb tests
but on the media circus. Journalists had their own floating press headquarters,
the USS Appalachia. [Hoover Institution ArchivesBeth Flippen Scheel Papers]

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 195

SOON HOMELESS: Before the bomb tests, Commodore Ben Wyatt, military
governor of the Marshall Islands, had asked the Bikini islanders, Would you
be willing to sacrifice your island for the welfare of all men? The Bikinians
leader responded that they would, believing that everything is in the hands
of God. Islanders such as the children in this photo left their home, never
allowed to return. Their descendants today are scattered among several
islands, largely dependent on US support. [Hoover Institution ArchivesBeth Flippen
Scheel Papers]

in the Hoover Archives. The newsletters, postcards, newspaper clippings,

and photographs in Scheels collection bear out the overall air of spectacle
that attended the tests, and emphasize that the Bikini Girls were a welcome addition to the community of servicemen and animals. Scheels collection includes a jocular certificate inducting her into a fanciful Exclusive
Order of the Guinea Piga confederation of Brother Pigs that recognize
that through an exaggerated sense of patriotism Flippen had agreed to
subject her body to the rigors attendant to atom bombs, hundred-foot tidal
waves, mermaids, vampires, sandfleas, typhoons, mal-de-mer, cannibals,
canned beer, etc. and therefore is honored as a Brother Pig of the common


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

trough. Convivially coupling the Bikini Atoll test with mythical beasts, the
spoof certificate emerges as a haunting testament to the carnival atmosphere
that attended the bomb sites in the days before the detonations.
Operation Crossroads was not only one of the most expensive military operations of the twentieth century but also perhaps the best documented. More
than one hundred and thirty newspaper, magazine, and radio correspondents
from the United States, Australia, Canada, France, the Republic of China, the
Soviet Union, and Britain came to the Marshalls to witness the tests. They
were given their own floating press headquarters, the USS Appalachia. In
addition, four newspapers for military and civilian personnel were printed
on Kwajalein; rare copies of one of the newspapers, the Atomic Blast, are
found in Hoovers Beth Flippen Scheel Collection. Radio Bikini was established for daily broadcasts and interviews with soldiers, sailors, officers, and
volunteers. The military estimated that over fifty thousand photographs and
two hundred and eighty-four miles of film were taken at the Bikini testing site
and its surroundings.
Between January and July 1946, Navy construction battalions built six
basketball courts, sixteen volleyball courts, and several lifeguard platforms
on the beaches of their base island, Kwajalein. Despite the grueling work
required to prepare for the tests, Kwajalein, once a hellish camp for American pilots taken prisoner, was converted into a billet with the distinct air of
an adult summer camp.
Footage from the days
The decrepit ships to be sunk (they
before the detonation
would be known as the Guinea
shows sailors playing
games, drinking sodas on Pig Fleet) represented the worlds
the beach, fishing, flirting fourth- or fifth-largest navy.
with the few women on
the island, swimming, and eating ice cream. The military reported that their
personnel required seventy thousand candy bars per day. Every afternoon,
thousands of officers, sailors, and scientists swarmed ashore to buy cold, tencent beer at the makeshift officers club known as the Up and Atom. The
walls of the club were decorated with life preservers stripped from the ships
of the Guinea Pig Fleet.
Sailors even became playful with the subject of the actual bombs to
be detonated: the Able bomb was nicknamed Gilda after the newly
released Rita Hayworth movie in which Hayworth played a beautiful,

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DELIVERABLES: The 58th Bomb Wing flew B-29 Superfortress bombers

over Japan during World War II. One of its units, the 509th Composite Group,
dropped the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in 1946 the
509th still deployed the worlds only nuclear-capable aircraft. Both warheads
tested at Bikini in 1946 were of the Fat Man implosion type that had been
used against Nagasaki; one was dropped by a bomber, the second detonated
in an underwater caisson. [Hoover Institution ArchivesBeth Flippen Scheel Papers]

destructive heroine. A print of Gilda had been flown from the United
States to Bikini Island in early spring 1946 and played nightly; nearly
every serviceman in the preparation crew had seen it. Sailors stenciled a
likeness of the voluptuous Hayworth on the nose of the plane that would
drop her namesake bomb. The Baker bomb, meanwhile, was christened
Helen of Bikini.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

The sense of spectacle surrounding the Bikini tests was not limited to the
Marshall Islands; it was communicated throughout the international press
and in popular culture. Early in 1946 Life magazine began to refer to Hollywood starlets as anatomic bombs and later the hit pop song Atom Bomb
Baby secured the metaphorical association of the bomb and the erotic in
pop culture. Perhaps no
cultural product secured
In 1946, Life magazine started referthe sexual imagery of the
ring to Hollywood starlets as anabomb so well, however, as
the bikini itselfa new,
tomic bombs. A hit song, Atom
scant, and scandalous item
Bomb Baby, also linked the bomb
of swimwear introduced
and the erotic. And then came that
by French designer Louis
notorious two-piece swimsuit.
Rard just four days after
the detonation of the Able bomb. Not surprisingly, Rita Hayworth was one
of the first of Hollywoods glamour girls to be photographed poolside in the
explosive two-piece.
As media coverage of the tests spread, however, voices of opposition were
raised as well. The most outspoken critics of the bomb tests were led by Senator Scott Lucas of Illinois, who criticized the tests as a grandiose display
of atomic destruction. Admiral Blandy, called the Atomic Playboy by his
detractors, was summoned to testify before the Senates Naval Affairs Committee, who were concerned over the destruction of a fleet of American ships
that collectively had originally cost $450 million to build. Blandy argued that
the damaged ships in 1946 could only be sold for the value of scrap metal, and
sacrificing them to the grand nuclear experiment was a better value.
Protests concerning the ships also flooded in from veteran seamen
who had served on vessels slated for destruction. The state of New York,
lobbied by ex-servicemen and sensitive to regional pride, requested that
its namesake battleship be returned to its home state as a war memorial rather than being bombed at Bikini. Denying the request, Joint
Task Force One responded, this gallant battleship could perform no
more valuable or distinguished service for our postwar Navy than it will
render in the historic tests. Eventually, because of considerable public
feeling that valuable vessels were going to be destroyed, Congress limited the number of American combat vessels to be sacrificed during the
tests to thirty-three; the Navy, however, bolstered the Guinea Pig Fleet
by adding what it referred to as merchant type shipstransport and
landing craft.

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 199

The target ships that sailed for Bikini included two aircraft carriers, twelve
destroyers, eight submarines, nineteen attack transports, forty-one landing
craft, two oilers, and an advance-repair dry dock. The majority of damaged
combat vessels in the fleet were victims of Pearl Harbor or late-war kamikaze attack.
By far the most vocal opposition to the tests came from civilians outraged
by the announcement that the military would place animals on the decks
to study the effects of radiation on living creatures. A month before the
tests the Navy deployed the USS Burleson, nicknamed Noahs Ark, to
Bikini, carrying animals as well as the veterinarians and seamen assigned
to care for them and test them for radiation after the blasts. The military
shipped five thousand rats, two hundred and four goats, two hundred
mice, and sixty guinea pigs to Bikini Atoll. The pigs were selected because
their skin and short hair was similar to humans. The goats were included
because their weight and volume of body fluid were close to that of an
average adult man.
Early in 1946, Blandy denied that animals would be tested at Bikini, but as
news of the plans circulated, he stated that a minimal number of animals
will be used. We regret that some of these animals will be sacrificed, but we
are more concerned about the men and women of the next generation than
we are about the animals of this one. Dogs were originally part of the animal
test group, but dog lovers protested so loudly that dogs were removed from
the roster. The Burleson was one of the few areas of the Bikini and Kwajalein
Atoll community strictly off-limits to the press.
Before Able was detonated, sailors placed animals on twenty-two ships of
the Guinea Pig Fleet, at duty stations that humans would typically occupy
during battle: decks and
bridges, gun turrets, engine
rooms. Goats were shaved
Were US scientists entirely ignorant
of the long-term effects of radiation? to imitate military haircuts;
some of the animals were
covered in sunblock to test whether it screened flesh from the nuclear flash.
A few pigs were dressed in Navy uniforms, both as dark humor and as a way
to test radiations effect on uniform fabric. An Operation Crossroads press
release reported, It is not the intention to kill a large portion of the animals,
since dead animals are of less value for study. We want radiation-sick animals, not radiation-dead animals.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Nevertheless, one-fourth of the animals died outright during the Able

explosion. Two weeks after Able a crew member on the Burleson reported
that the animals were dying like flies. A few months later nearly all the
exposed animals would be dead.
Amid final preparations in spring 1946, the military announced that July 1
would be the day for, as radio broadcaster Bill Chaplin phrased it, the greatest experiment in history. Extensive preparations commenced, including
two full dress rehearsals with their own radio coverage.
On Able Day,
Chaplin hosted a
Dogs were originally among the test subdramatic countjects, but dog lovers protested so loudly
down to the
detonation that
that they were spared. Not so lucky: rats,
mimicked the
mice, goats, and guinea pigs.
dropping of the ball
at Times Square on New Years Eve. Early in the morning of July 1, a B-29
bomber named Daves Dream, piloted by Major Woodrow Woody Swancutt,
took off from Kwajalein, followed by a fleet of smaller planes that would photograph and film the event from the air. Flying the plane over the Guinea Pig
Fleet assembled in the lagoon, Swancutt dropped the bomb and banked back
toward Kwajalein. Personnel aboard support ships, wearing standard-issue
welders glasses, were instructed to shut their eyes and look down at the deck.
The airborne device unleashed a fireball with an internal temperature of
several million degrees, nearly the same as the center of the sun. The dull roar
of the nuclear burst, followed by a sky filled with smoke and flame, awed and
overwhelmed eyewitnesses. Many reporters and witnesses commented afterward that the explosion had an air of unrealitya dystopian feeling that seemed
borrowed from science fiction. The majority of reports from the onlookers boats
near the lagoon noted that after the blast an eerie silence replaced the giddy, nervous chatter that had characterized the early morning conversations on board.
After the initial flash, the heat of the explosion produced a luminous
cascade of fire that swept up dust and debris, simultaneously sending out
a shock wave that raced across the water and smashed into the ghost fleet
below it. Ten minutes after the detonation the water that had been vaporized
or sucked into the mushroom cloud condensed, and radioactive rain pelted
Bikini Atoll, sinking into the soil, sand, and water table. Meanwhile, several of
the target ships burned, and five sank.

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BATTERED BUT UNBOWED: Sailors inspect the damage to the port side of the
light aircraft carrier Independence after the Able air burst. The carrier was 560
yards from ground zero. Commissioned in 1943, the Independence fought at
Tarawa and was damaged by torpedo planes at Rabaul; after repairs, the ship
returned to combat and served out the war. It was among ninety-five vessels
exposed to the Operation Crossroads tests. [National Archives]

Almost immediately, military personnel in planes and ships began taking Geiger counter readings of the fallouta haste that the Army and Navy
would later regret. By early afternoon radiological monitors sounded the all
clear in the lagoon. Support vessels came steaming back into Bikini Atoll to
inspect the Guinea Pig Fleet, and boarding teams raced ship to ship to rescue
surviving animals. One archival photograph from the nuclear tests shows
laughing sailors, some of them bare-armed or bare-chested, swabbing down
decks full of radioactive fallout.
Even though most of the target fleet was damaged, the press at Bikini
Atoll was quick to point out that the destruction of the blast failed to live up
to its hype: a New York Times article published just after Able, for example,


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

THE LAST GUINEA PIG: The ravaged Independence rests at anchor in San
Francisco Bay. After the 1946 atomic tests at Bikini Atoll the carrier was taken
to San Francisco, where the Navy studied it to learn about radiation and blast
exposure. Eventually the ship was towed out to sea and, after being used as
a naval gunnery target, was scuttled in January 1951 off the Farallon Islands,
where it rests upright in 2,600 feet of water. A robot submarine explored the
wreckage in 2015 and scientists proclaimed it amazingly intact. [San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park]

bemoaned that the bomb sank only a few ships, and interpreted this as
evidence of the weapons failure. Before the explosion, radio broadcaster
Don Bell reported the expected death cloud to reach sixty thousand feet.
Foreign observersparticularly Russian onlookerswere quick to publicize
the seemingly unimpressive results of the test. Wags in the American service
began referring to Bikini as No Atoll Atoll or Nothing Atoll.
While some nuclear scientists warned that the medias unmet lust for
cataclysmic destruction masked the alarming radiation levels of the explosion, their measured view received little to no publicity. Also largely ignored

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 203

by media conglomerates was a short Associated Press article stating that

25 percent of the test animals on the target ships had been killed outright,
and within two weeks after the blast the remainder were dying like flies.
Classified military documents from the time, however, stated that Able
proved that during a nuclear explosion ships would be virtually dead in the
water...their crews dead or dying from radiation. For reasons possibly
having to do with national security or naval politics, the documents remained
classified for nearly two decades.
Disappointed by Able, the press quickly moved on to pin expectations on
Bakerthe worlds first underwater nuclear detonation, a novelty that raised
hopes for a spectacle of never-before-seen destruction. Don Bell wondered
if the explosion would crush [the ships] hulls like tissue paper. Baker Day
was set for July 25, and Helen of Bikini was encased in a watertight steel
caisson and suspended below a landing ship, to be detonated by high-frequency signals sent through a wire cable attached to the bomb. Triggered at
8:35 a.m., Baker lit up the Bikini morning with a fireball of white-orange light
and a shock wave that moved faster than the speed of sound. Superheated
gas erupted from the surface of the lagoon and a huge mushroom cloud shot
upward. Totally astounded by the colors and movement of the explosion,
radio broadcaster Clete Roberts reported immediately after the blast, the
entire target array with the exception of [counting] one, two, three, four, five
vessels is completely obliterated. Remote television monitoring was lost during the blast. One minute after the detonation the mushroom cloud, spewing
boiling water and pulverized rock and coral, had reached seven thousand,
six hundred feet. The blast had also excavated a twenty-foot-deep crater on
the ocean floor beneath the bomb; thousands of miles away on the mainland
of America, California geologists registered the aftershock of the blast as an
earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale.
Soon a radioactive fog settled on the lagoon as a toxic sludge of sediment
rained onto the decks of the surviving ships. When the fog cleared, four ships
had been sunk; five others would succumb to the waves during the next few
days, while others proved hopelessly irradiated and damaged. Though logging a more impressive casualty list than Able, Baker still failed to impress
the public and live up to the promise of full destruction. Reporter William
L. Laurence astutely registered the effect of the bombs perceived failures
on the psyches of postwar citizens: Before Bikini the world stood in awe of
this new cosmic force....Since Bikini...this feeling has largely evaporated
and has been supplanted by a sense of relief unrelated to the grim reality of
the situation. Because the tests failed to return dramatic results familiar


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

FUTURE SHOCKS: The bomb tests at Bikini Atoll proved that nuclear weapons could toss ships around like toys. What they did not do was settle the
Army-Navy rivalry that had largely set the experiments in motion. Bomb tests
would continue in the atoll until 1958, and elsewhere in the Pacific Proving
Grounds until 1962. Signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963 brought an
end to atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing. [Hoover Institution Archives
Bonner Frank Fellers Collection]

to wartimesinking of ships, fire, human death, destructionthe average

citizen grasped at the flimsiest means that would enable him to regain his
peace of mind.
The amount of radiation on the target ships immediately after Baker was
twenty times greater than that of a fatal doseyet only forty minutes after
the blast, patrol boats entered the lagoon to inspect damaged vessels. By the
end of the day fifteen thousand military officials, sailors, and scientists had
entered the lagoon to carry out post-detonation testing and cleanup. Indeed,

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 205

despite calling it a lagoon of death, within twenty-four hours Don Bell was
aboard a ship in the southeastern part of the lagoon, safe and within four
miles of the target array, and recalling the details of how and when individual vessels sank for his radio audience.
At first, the Navy believed that the target ships could be decontaminated
by washing. When multiple washings of the exteriors failed to bring down
radiation levels significantly, the Navy decided to sandblast the ships to
bare metal, and bathe the
ships brass and copper in
In the end, military documents connitric acid. After the initial
cluded that during a nuclear attack
controversy surrounding
ships would be virtually dead in the the expense of the Bikini
water...their crews dead or dying
experiment and the sacrifice
of storied ships, the Navy
from radiation. Those documents
wanted to make sure that
remained classified for nearly two
the remains of the target
fleet could be sold for scrap
metal, offsetting some of the costs of the bomb testing. Sailors boarded the
ships and removed all exposed organic material, such as ropes, canvas, and
wood, and removed all paint that had been exposed during the blasts. All the
sailors scrubbings, however, did not significantly reduce the radiation levels,
and many of the most contaminated ships were purposefully sunk.
Plagued by contamination on an unprecedented scale, inadequate equipment, inexperienced personnel, and difficult working conditions, attempts
to understand the impact of the Able and Baker tests faltered. Worse still,
the contamination spread at an alarming rate throughout Bikini Atoll,
moving quickly from the target fleet to the support fleet, and infecting the
water supply. By early August, radiation levels had reached such alarming
rates that Admiral Blandy was implored by nervous colleagues to abandon
the atoll. The remaining ships in the support fleet were so contaminated
that sailors were forced to pass Geiger counters over the salt water in the
ships toilets before using them. Blandy ordered mandatory withdrawal
from Bikini on August 10, 1946. On September 7, President Truman canceled the last planned test of Operation Crossroads, citing the difficulty of
keeping support crews on remote islands during demobilization, and the
need for nongovernment scientists to return to their home universities and
At the same time, classified documents written by members of the Manhattan Project stated the reasons for halting the tests more bluntly: The


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Navy considers this contamination business the toughest part of test Baker.
They had no idea it would be such a problem and they are breaking their
necks to find a solution.
The Navys temporary solution was to move the ships to Kwajalein and
continue cleaningyet this proved futile. In a confidential memo dated September 4, 1946, Blandy was granted permission to sink the remaining target
vessels that were badly damaged or severely contaminated. Only nine of the
original fleet of ninety-five were saved; these were shipped to Pearl Harbor
and San Francisco for further testing. After thorough investigation, the
remaining ships were sold to civilians as scrap.
Ironically, the inconclusive results at Bikini failed to settle the Army-Navy
rivalry that had largely set the experiment in motion. The Army Air Forces
pointed out that only nine ships survived the destruction and contamination,
taking this as proof of the Navys ineffectiveness in the atomic age. The Navy
countered that the results of Able and Baker were qualified; if the ships had
been manned, even by sailors exposed to radiation, crews could have countered the fires and damage caused by the initial explosions. The armed services faced the same speculative stalemate as after Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
The Navy moved forward by arguing that the gross contamination caused
by Baker was proof that the US military should invest in the production of
nuclear torpedoes. Slowly, public and political pressure to merge the Navy
with the Army receded.
Admiral Blandy and members of Joint Task Force One celebrated the
end of Operation Crossroads in Washington in November 1946, marking
the moment with an enormous angel food cake in the shape of a mushroom
cloud. At the same time the native Bikinians removed from their homes were
suffering severe food shortages on Rongerik Atoll, which lacked the resources of their former home. In 1947 the United Nations intervened on behalf of
the Bikinians, announcing that the Marshall Islands and Micronesia would be
a Strategic Trust Territory to be adminisAll the sailors scrubbing couldnt sigtered by the United
nificantly reduce the radiation levels.
States. It was the only
such trust ever established by the United Nations. The Bikinians, still exiled
today, continue to subsist in the Marshalls through heavy subsidies paid by
the US government.
Despite the high-level fallout of Baker, the US government reinstated the
nuclear testing program on Bikini Atoll in 1948. In 1954 the fusion bomb
Castle Bravoa thousand times as powerful as the bomb dropped on

H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 207

Hiroshimaspread radiation poisoning to nearby Rongelap Atoll, affecting

civilians who had been neither warned nor relocated. Some critics accused
the US government of ineptitude, others of deliberate human radiation testing and a cover-up. Natives of Bikini and Rongelap Atolls continue to seek
reparations for their loss and exile through the Marshall Islands Nuclear
Claims Tribunal, established in 1988 to handle claims for damages and compensation. In 1996, the US government sponsored a study of the veterans of
Operation Crossroads, finding that the men who boarded target ships after
the Baker explosion, almost all of whom had done so without any protective
gear, had a 5.7 percent increased risk of premature death.
Seventy years after explosions that were touted to be for the good of all
mankind, the newly released sound recordings from the Bikini Atoll tests
remind us that nuclear warfare remains, as Hoover distinguished fellow and
former secretary of state George P. Shultz wrote in The War That Must Never
Be Fought, the gravest threat to humanitys survival. The broadcasts, documents, and photographs about Bikini Atoll in the Hoover Archives encourage
researchers to reflect on the balance between humanitys power to destroy
and the power to make peaceand the responsibilities we must uphold to
Special to the Hoover Digest.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Zhivagos

Secret Journey: From Typescript to Book, by Paolo
Mancosu. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Historical Harvest
Witold Sworakowski, diplomat and scholar,
numbered among those who gathered historical
documents in Europe for the Hoover Institutions
collections. As he built, the secret police watched.

By Maciej Siekierski

e began one of his presentations for Hoover donors with

an apology: Ladies and gentlemen...please excuse my is the last of six languages which I learned to
speak, and I learned it when I was over thirty. Besides speak-

ing Polish, Romanian, German, French, Russian, and slightly accented English, Witold Sworakowski (190379) read a dozen more languages, making
him perhaps the most linguistically adept Hoover staff member in the history
of the institution. His historical and legal knowledge, as well as his archival
collecting and management skills, were complemented by a rich personal
experience acquired through several decades of life on the frontier of Western civilization, in East Central Europe.
He was one of the great builders and promoters of the Hoover Library &
Archives. Because his many contributions are not chronicled as well as those
of his predecessorsEphraim Adams, Frank Golder, and Ralph Lutzit is
worth reviewing his biography and Hoover career, and furthermore, taking a
look at some newly discovered and declassified documentation about Sworakowski compiled half a century ago by Communist Polands security police,
the infamous Suba Bezpieczestwa (SB).
Maciej Siekierski is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and senior curator of Hoovers East European Collections.
H O O V ER D I G E ST W inter 2017 209

Witold Saturnin Sworakowski was born in 1903, in the city of Suceava

in southern Bukovina, Austro-Hungarys easternmost province, which was
inhabited by a national mosaic of Romanians, Ruthenians (Ukrainians),
Germans, Jews, Poles, and several smaller ethnic groups. His father was an
Austrian government official as well as one of the leaders of the Polish community in this largely Romanian and Jewish city. Witold received his primary
and secondary education locally in Austrian Bukovina, moving on to study at
the technical university in Lww (now Lviv) in neighboring, newly independent Poland. In 1926 he returned to Bukovina, which after the First World
War was awarded to Romania, to study law at the university of Cernuti
(now Chernivtsi), only to move permanently to Poland in 1930. Sworakowski
studied at the School of Political Sciences in Warsaw, from which he received
a graduate degree in 1933, and worked at the Institute for the Study of
Nationality Affairs and later at the World Congress of Poles from Abroad
(wiatpol), the Polish-government-inspired central cultural and political
organization of the Polish diaspora.
Sworakowskis prewar publications included a book on Polands international legal obligations toward its national minorities, another on the Polish
minority in Cieszyn Silesia, and a series of studies of the Polish minorities in
Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania and on the German minority in western and
northern Poland. In 1937, Sworakowski joined the Polish foreign service and
received successive assignments in Riga, Prague, and Kaunas, the capital of
prewar Lithuania. He continued work on a doctorate in political science but
the outbreak of the war and the Nazi and Soviet occupation of the country
prevented its completion.
Sworakowski left Kaunas in October 1939 and made his way to France,
where he was employed by the Polish exile governments Ministry of Information in its Paris embassy. The German invasion of France a few months
later forced him to escape to England, where the Polish government moved
in mid-1940, and then to accept new assignments, to Curitiba in Brazil, New
York, and finally to Chicago, where he served as vice consul until early July
1945, when the United States withdrew its support from its wartime ally and
recognized the Soviet puppet government in Warsaw.
One of the last trips Sworakowski made from the Polish consulate in Chicago was in the spring of 1945 to San Francisco, to attend the United Nations
Conference on International Organization. Free Poles could come only as
unofficial observers, as the State Department did not wish to provoke the
Soviets. It was the supreme irony of this event. Of the fifty-one nations that
by 1945 had signed the original 1942 Declaration by the United Nations, only


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

TO COLLECT AND CURATE: Witold Sworakowski examines a page from

Pravda on a microfilm reader in the Hoover Library. Besides speaking Russian,
Polish, Romanian, German, French, and English, he read a dozen more languages. When he arrived in the mid-1940s, Sworakowski was the odd member of the Hoover staff, conservative and decidedly anti-Soviet and anticommunist. [Hoover Institution Library & Archives]

fifty were seated in the San Francisco Conference. The place of Poland was
vacant, although it had been the original victim of the war that began in 1939
and, along with France and the United Kingdom, one of the three original
Allies. At the end of the war Free Polish forces made up the fourth-largest
Allied army in Europe, after the Soviet, American, and British. Unfortunately
for Poland, the first country to resist Hitler, one that lost nearly six million of
its citizens during the war, it was not represented at the conference because
one of Hitlers former allies, Stalins Russia, did not approve of its presence.
Adding even more intrigue to the event, Sworakowski had learned from
a Polish intelligence colonel who was also observing the conference that
its general secretary, Alger Hiss, was a Soviet agent. This was three years
H O O V ER D I G E S T W inte r 2017 211

before the Whittaker Chambers revelations about Hiss before the House
Un-American Activities Committee and five years before Hiss went to prison
for perjury. Sworakowski did not then know that a close associate of Hiss, C.
Easton Rothwell, would be his boss at the Hoover Institution during 195259.
Sworakowski arrived at Hoover in 1947 on a Rockefeller Fellowship, which
after several months turned into a permanent appointment. The Hoover
Library needed a qualified archivist who could handle the mass of Central
and East European documentation brought in after the war by its curators
and acquisition agents. The most famous of these agents was the legendary
Polish Home Army courier Jan Karski, who during the war first brought the
evidence of the Holocaust to the Allies. Karski was engaged by former president Herbert Hoover to travel to Europe during 194546 to collect fugitive
archives of exile governments and politicians, and Sworakowski was hired a
little later as curator of the Polish collections, to manage these remarkable
archives and to build on Karskis success.
Despite outstanding qualifications, Sworakowskis own path to professional
success was not assured. The political tone of the Hoover Institution under
the directorship of Harold Fisher and his successor, Rothwell, was decidedly
progressive, and very much in tune with the prevailing atmosphere of the
Stanford academic community. Sworakowski was the odd member of the
staff, conservative and decidedly anti-Soviet and anticommunist in his views.
Very early in his Hoover career, Fisher unjustly scolded him over his supposed statement that there were several communist sympathizers on the
staff. Such suspicions were
not unfounded, but Sworakowski was savvy enough
Sworakowski was perhaps the
not to express them publicly.
most linguistically adept Hoover
Later, Rothwell was offended
staff member in the history of the
by Sworakowskis passing
critical comment, completely justified, about Rothwells former State Department associate Alger
Hiss. As the only conservative fellow on the staff, Sworakowski was a natural
ally to the institutions founder, former president Hoover. The meddlesome
reactionary, as Hoover was dubbed by some Stanford faculty, was engaged
in a protracted struggle with Fisher and Rothwell to bring balance to the
research program, and with Stanford over the autonomy of the institution
bearing his name and financed largely by the money donated or raised by


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

WELCOME: Cardinal Karol Jzef Wojtya, the future Pope John Paul II, talks
with Witold Sworakowski and others during a 1976 visit to the Polish American Congress of the Bay Area. Sworakowki, who was retired from Hoover but
active in the Polish-American community, gave Wojtya a tour of San Francisco sights and treated him to lunch. When the new pope was chosen two years
later, Sworakowski said, I was completely caught by surprise. [Hoover Institution Library & Archives]

him. The conflict played out against the background of the publicity of the
Hiss case, the fall of Republic of China leader Chiang Kai-shek, the McCarthy
hearings, and the brutal Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution.
Sworakowski was in telephone contact with the Chief and visited him in
Suite 31A of the Waldorf Towers in New York before each of his annual collecting trips. Sworakowski reported the latest news of Stanford and Hoover
provided instructions and useful information on whom to contact in Europe.
In 1956, Hoover succeeded in persuading the institutions advisory board to
order that the librarys publications should be documentary and not interpretive in character, and prevailed on Easton Rothwell to appoint Sworakowski
assistant director of research and publications.
The new program included three major projects: one on the 1917 Provisional Government of Russia, co-edited by the former prime minister of the
Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky; a second on France under
H O O V ER D I G E S T W inte r 2017 213

German occupation during 194044; and a third, in which Sworakowski was

particularly interested, on Soviet international treaties and the USSRs dismal record of observing them.
Sworakowskis directorial appointment and the new publication program
were a step in the right direction but they did not end the conflict. Negotiations and recriminations, sometimes quite public, between Hoover and
Stanford president Wallace Sterling continued for three more years, until
Rothwell resigned in 1959. Even then, Hoover was disappointed by Sterling,
who blocked Sworakowskis appointment as acting director. Final agreement came several weeks later, with the institutions autonomy assured and
a mechanism created for the selection of the new director. The arrival of the
new director, W. Glenn Campbell, at Hoover on January 1, 1960, opened a new
chapter in the history of the Hoover Institution, one not without its controversies and contention, but in the final analysis certainly more productive
and financially secure.
Despite underlying ideological conflicts with Campbells predecessors,
Sworakowski was recognized by his superiors as a highly skilled, motivated,
and effective curator, and his position within the Hoover Institution advanced
steadily. From his initial position of curator of the Polish collection, in 1948
his responsibilities expanded into the West European collections, and in
1953 into all of the East European collections, a position he held for the next
decade. His administrative rank moved forward from assistant director in
1956 to associate director for library operations in 1967, and upon his retirement in 1969, Sworakowski
was asked to continue as
One of the last trips Sworakowski
consultant to the director.
made as a Polish diplomat came
Hoover curators of the
in 1945, when he was an unofficial
1940s and 50s held the
observer to the UN organizing confer- academic rank of university
ence. Polands seat was vacant, so as professors, though without attachment to specific
not to provoke the Soviets.
departments. Sworakowski
was made assistant professor in 1952, associate professor in 1956, and full
professor in 1965. Unlike the other curators in the Hoover Institution, who
were encouraged by Easton Rothwell and the university to attach themselves
to departments most closely corresponding to their interests and qualifications, Sworakowski declined the opportunity of being associated with the


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

GUIDE: As associate director for library operations, Witold Sworakowski also

held the rank of full Stanford professor. After retiring in 1969, he stayed on as
a consultant to the director. Among other career high points, Sworakowski
doubled Hoovers extensive Polish archival holdings, with virtually complete
World War II records of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry
of Information and Documentation. [Hoover Institution Library & Archives]

history department. He did so on the advice of former president Hoover, who

told him that joint appointments would produce split loyalties. Sworakowski
was first of all a Hoover man, with primary loyalty to the Chief and his institution, so he remained the only Hoover professor of his generation, while
the other curators gradually left the institution.
Sworakowski traveled not only to Western Europe but also to Eastern
Europe and the USSR. The record of one such trip, along with other documents, has been located in the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw, which houses the surviving Polish Internal Ministry and
Security Service (SB) documents. The file is incomplete, as many of the
documents were probably destroyed after Sworakowskis death in 1979, or in
the frenzied final days of the Soviet-style government a decade later. Nonetheless, what is left offers ample testimony to Sworakowskis high standing
among the enemies of the Communist regime in Poland. The dates of the file
are 196473, though one document is dated 1962. The operation bears the

H O O VER D I G ES T W inte r 2017


code name Zy (The Evil One in Polish) and it calls for surveillance and
information gathering on Sworakowski, the associate director of the Hoover
Institute, who is engaged in activities against our state system.
One document contains a plan to organize every detail of Sworakowskis
planned visit to Poland, to use eavesdropping and wiretapping, and to assign
agents with code names Awa, Astoria, Rudzki, and Sac, presumably
former visitors to Hoover and people he might have known from his diplomatic work before and during the war, to seek contact with Sworakowski
during the visit and to report on his conversations, plans, and professional
Two reports summarize Sworakowskis visit to various institutions and
people in Poland, along with topics of discussion and significant quotes. The
case officer suggests that the security organs interview several of the people
involved. An end note, written in mid-1973, declares that operation Zy should
be terminated because of the subjects hostility toward us; there was no possibility of starting an effort to recruit him, and because the subject is of an
advanced age and retired from Hoover.
Sworakowskis most important contribution to the Hoover Institution was
in acquisition of library and archival materials. During his thirty years of
association with the institution the number of volumes in the Hoover Library
doubled, with much of the archival and library documentation picked up
personally by Sworakowski during his acquisition trips. He was instrumental in acquiring scores of
important collections and
Hoover needed a qualified archivist
archives; a good example
is the crowning glory of
who could handle the mass of CenHoovers Russian collectral and East European documents
tions, the Boris Nicolaevsky
brought in after the war by curators
trove of twenty thousand
and acquisition agents.
rare books and pamphlets.
He also acquired several hundred archival units on Russian revolutionary
Sworakowski doubled Hoovers extensive Polish archival holdings, with
virtually complete World War II records of the Polish Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and the Ministry of Information and Documentation, which were
stored securely in Dublin until 1959. Sworakowski used his extensive wartime contacts in Paris, London, New York, and Chicago to gather important


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

collections of East European political migrs and exiles. He successfully

negotiated with the State Department for authorization to microfilm the
archives of the Nazi Party, housed in the Document Center in Berlin. Finally,
in 196264, Sworakowski
organized and oversaw a
Sworakowski was the only Hoover
project, in cooperation with
professor of his generation.
the Central Intelligence
Agency, to process the
Russian Imperial Police archives, the so-called Paris Okhrana. The principal
organizer of these papers was Dr. Andrej Kobal, a Slovene writer and scholar,
as well as a counterintelligence expert with OSS and CIA connections, whose
linguistic prowess approached that of Sworakowski.
Witold Sworakowski was also a scholar, bibliographer, and teacher. In
the 1950s and 60s, when history was perhaps the most popular major at
Stanford, Sworakowski helped dozens of students embark on new projects
and guided them to documentation with his encyclopedic knowledge of the
Hoover collections. He was the author or editor of several books and many
articles. He compiled the first guides to Hoovers Polish and Russian collections. His publication The Communist International and its Front Organizations
was the first annotated bibliography of the Comintern. Another book he
edited, World Communism: A Handbook, 19181965, became a widely used reference tool and an introduction to the longest publication series in Hoovers
history, the Yearbook of International Communist Affairs, which produced
yearly volumes between 1967 and 1991. Finally, Sworakowski initiated,
co-directed, and hosted a
KQED-TV documentary, The
Polish secret police files urged surRed Myth: Communism from
Marx to Khrushchev, which
veillance of Sworakowski, but agents
was shown on over one
concluded it was useless to try to
hundred educational and
recruit him.
commercial stations in the
United States during 196063, bringing him wide recognition and acclaim in
the outside world, and lingering scorn and resentment from campus radicals
and some tenured progressives.
After his retirement, he devoted much of his time to the political and
cultural activities of the local Polish and East European migr communities.
He assisted refugees from countries that had come under Communist control. He was a leading member of the Polish National Congress and the Polish
Institute of Arts and Sciences in America. He served as the president of the

H O O V ER D I GE S T W inter 2017


Captive Nations Committee for Northern California. Together with his wife,
Helena, a historian who was a part-time specialist in the Hoover Archives, he
taped a weekly Polish cultural-historical program, which aired for years on
Sunday evenings on radio station KQED-FM, until he succumbed to cancer in
Witold Sworakowski was an outstanding individual with great experience,
knowledge, and wisdom. It was an honor and pleasure to know him and to
participate in a small way in some of his endeavors.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Helena

Paderewska: Memoirs, 19101920, edited by Maciej
Siekierski. To order, call (800) 888-4741 or visit www.

OUTREACH: Sworakowski, shown in this photo with Hoover archivist Marina Tinkoff, pursued

many public-education efforts, including a KQED-TV documentary, The Red Myth: Communism
from Marx to Khrushchev, which ran on educational and commercial stations during 196063.
The production earned him recognition and acclaim in the outside world, along with lingering
scorn and resentment from campus radicals. [Hoover Institution Library & Archives]


H O O VER DIGES T Wi n ter 201 7

On the Cover

ne of Mexicos best defenders of democracy is a young, tousleheaded artist named Antonio Arias Bernal, Life magazine
reported in early 1942. At the time, Arias Bernal (19131960) had
never visited the United States, but he had many American

traits, Life assured its readers, including a liking for baseball, cigarettes, and
playing loud music on the radio. Born in Aguascalientes, he was the son of a
funeral-home owner and as a boy had a job making and painting coffins. As a
budding artist, the young man once won a gold medal. When he tried to pawn
it, it was revealed to be brass.
After moving to Mexico City he trained briefly and quickly found work. His
splashy colors, his impish irreverence, and his excellent drawing won more
and more followers, Life reported. He devoured tens of magazines and newspapers a day for ideas. The images that poured from his pen ranged from
barbed commentary about national politics to humorous takes on ordinary
life. Nor did he ignore that elefante in the room: Mexicos fraught relationship
with the United States.
In that respect, Arias Bernal was part of the established flow of Mexican
visual arts, which had a long, enthusiastic tradition of caricature, especially
the political kind. Much of the population couldnt read, and Mexico had seen
violent and confusing events: wars, revolution, elected authoritarianism after
the revolution, and invaders. Arias Bernal grew famous for his ability to crystallize Mexican fears, hopes, and resentments and serve them up with wit.
After joining the countrys largest newsmagazine, Hoy (today), Arias
Bernal found a calling beyond his borders. His fierce anti-Nazi covers and
cartoons, the product of what one writer called a personal and professional
crusade against demagogy, drew the attention of both Axis sympathizers in
his homelandwho threatened him at firstand the US government, which
decided to put his talents on a larger stage.
Teddy Roosevelts Big Stick policy toward Latin America had given
way to Franklin Roosevelts Good Neighbor policy, but suspicion about US
power and motives was still strong. Enter the Office of the Coordinator of

S ubject H eader

Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), established by presidential order in 1940 to

drum up Latin American support for Allied war aims. Being a good neighbor would mean opposing the same foreign foes as Washington. The CIAA
dispatched goodwill ambassadors such as Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, and Rita
Hayworth. It also distributed news, films, advertising, and radio shows to

H O O V ER D I GE S T W inter 2017


counter the effective Italian and German propaganda, which tried to keep
Latin America neutral and open for business. In 1942, the CIAA hired Arias
Bernal to create posters such as this one.
Arias Bernal earned a nom de guerre among his fellow artists: the Brigadier. His Uncle Sam is rangy and well-armed, with a protective eye for his
Latin compadres. Hitler, Mussolini, and other fascist figures are strutting
buffoons in outlandish uniforms, liable to end up impaled on the thorns of a
Mexican cactus. Mexicans, bristling with pistols and bandoliers, easily best
the hapless Nazi invaders. In the poster from the Hoover Institution Archives
shown here, with its motto Como un Solo Hombre (as one man), the artist
makes a more solemn statement about the peoples, north and south, rising
up to face the totalitarian menace together.
After World War II, the nature of the menace changed, and so did Arias
Bernals targets. Now the Cold War was on, and the cartoonist cast a critical
eye on its players, not sparing his erstwhile ally. He saw warmongering and
cynical deal-making on all sides. He was willing to take Uncle Sam to task,
not just for belligerence but for mistreating Mexican migrant workers. Thus
he returned to an established theme, the awkwardness and risk of living in
the same neighborhood as the United States.
His anticommunist views never wavered. Stalin he caricatured as a canny
plotter with a huge mustache, wreathed in pipe smoke, and often protruding
from a tank. Once he drew the Soviet leader as a thick-armed siren luring
Europe to its doom on the rocks. Khrushchev was also lampoonedbut so,
on occasion, were President Eisenhower and his vice president, Richard
Nixon. He drew Eisenhower and Nixon carrying shotguns, la Elmer Fudd,
and hunting the dove of peace.
In 1956, Arias Bernal criticized Mexican university students who were
about to launch a massive strike as dangerous puppets of the Communist
Party, manipulated by manos extraas, or foreign hands. In 1958, he was
celebrated as a famous son of Aguascalientes. Two years later he was dead of
cancer, at age 47.
If he were alive today, Gustavo Vzquez Lozano wrote in a commemorative
book, surely the Brigadier would be ready, with a smile on his lips and the
radio turned all the way up, sketching a new cover....He always knew who
needed his voice, who should be made to tremble, who would heave a sigh of
relief, and who would return the wink.
Charles Lindsey and Aryeh Roberts


H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7


Board of Overseers
Joel C. Peterson

Vice Chairs
Paul Lewis Lew Davies III
Mary Myers Kauppila

Neil Anderson
Barbara Barrett
John F. Barrett
Robert G. Barrett
Donald R. Beall
Peter B. Bedford
Bruce Benson
Peter S. Bing
Walter E. Blessey Jr.
Joanne Whittier Blokker
William K. Blount
James J. Bochnowski
Jerome V. Jerry Bruni
James J. Carroll III
Robert H. Castellini
Rodney A. Cooper
James W. Davidson
Steven A. Denning*
Herbert M. Dwight
Jeffrey A. Farber
Henry A. Fernandez
Carly Fiorina
James E. Forrest
Stephen B. Gaddis
Samuel L. Ginn


Michael W. Gleba
Cynthia Fry Gunn
Paul G. Haaga Jr.
Arthur E. Hall
Everett J. Hauck
W. Kurt Hauser
Warner W. Henry
Sarah P. Sally Herrick
Heather R. Higgins
Allan Hoover III
Margaret Hoover
Preston B. Hotchkis
Philip Hudner
Gail A. Jaquish
Charles B. Johnson
Franklin P. Johnson Jr.
Mark Chapin Johnson
John Jordan
Steve Kahng
Richard Kovacevich
Carl V. Larson Jr.
Allen J. Lauer
Howard H. Leach
Walter Loewenstern Jr.
Hamid Mani
Frank B. Mapel
James D. Marver
Craig O. McCaw
David McDonald
Harold Terry McGraw III
Burton J. McMurtry
Mary G. Meeker
Roger S. Mertz

H O O V ER DIGEST Wi n ter 201 7

Harold M. Max Messmer Jr.

Jeremiah Milbank III
Mitchell J. Milias
Charles T. Munger Jr.
K. Rupert Murdoch
George E. Myers
Robert G. ODonnell
Robert J. Oster
Stan Polovets
Jay A. Precourt
George J. Records
Christopher R. Redlich Jr.
Kathleen Cab Rogers
James N. Russell
Peter O. Shea
Roderick W. Shepard
Thomas M. Siebel
George W. Siguler
Boyd C. Smith
James W. Smith, MD
William C. Steere Jr.
David L. Steffy
Thomas F. Stephenson
Stephen K. Stuart
W. Clarke Swanson Jr.
Curtis Sloane Tamkin
Tad Taube
Robert A. Teitsworth

H O O V ER D I GE S T W inter 2017

Marc Tessier-Lavigne*
Thomas J. Tierney
David T. Traitel
Victor S. Trione
Don Tykeson
Paul H. Wick
Richard G. Wolford
Marcia R. Wythes
*Ex officio members of the Board

Distinguished Overseers
Martin Anderson
Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.
Wendy H. Borcherdt
William C. Edwards
Peyton M. Lake
Robert H. Malott
Shirley Cox Matteson
Bowen H. McCoy

Overseers Emeritus
Frederick L. Allen
Susanne Fitger Donnelly
Joseph W. Donner
Bill Laughlin
John R. Stahr
Robert J. Swain
Dody Waugh


The Hoover Institution gratefully acknowledges the support of

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Significant gifts for the support of the Hoover Digest
are acknowledged from

Bertha and John Garabedian Charitable Foundation

The Jordan Vineyard and Winery
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u u u

The Hoover Institution gratefully acknowledges generous support

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Taube Family Foundation
Koret Foundation
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Professional journalists are invited to visit the Hoover Institution to share

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Leadership and significant gift support to reinvigorate and sustain the
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William K. Bowes Jr.

William C. Edwards
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Tad and Cici Williamson

WINTER 2017 NO. 1
The Economy
Foreign Policy
Terrorism and Defense
Interview: J. D. Vance
Interview: Terry Moe
History and Culture
Hoover Archives