Author Fred Kaplan spoke at the Dillon Lecture Series at Hutchinson Community College this morning. Originally from Hutchinson, Kaplan joked as soon as he got to the microphone, "I don't think I was ever this popular in high school."
Kaplan is an MIT graduate and has written a number of books, most recently, "1959: The Year Everything Changed," and is a Slate columnist. He is an expert on politics.
He spoke this morning about how the cold war caused history to pause. He said, "The cold war was a deep freeze of regional interests. Now history has resumed." The cold war caused countries to align with the US or Russia because they were the super powers. But, he said, "the thing about the cold war is that one side dissappeared overnight."
That freed countries to pursue their own interests, which he said had always been the norm, and that makes it important for the US to find places where we have common interests with others. "It's the way international relations has been conducted for centuries with the exception of the 50 year period of the cold war."
He said we must make alliances and let go of a seperatist philosophy. "If the Bush Doctrine had been in place in WW2 we wouldn't have joined forces with Stalin to defeat Hitler. The results would have been catastrophic."
Since the fall of the USSR, he said, "the rest of the world realizes they can go their own way, regardless of what Washington says." He said the US should have "reached out and formed alliances" when communism fell because, "after the cold war was over, we're playing a different game." He said, "We were left with instruments of power, tokens of power, that didn't have much meaning in this new world."
Bush missed that opportunity, and when Obama came along and wanted to sit down and talk, it didn't change the fact that others had their own interests. Kaplan says sometimes we have to admit there is no deal to be made, nothing to be worked out, so we may just have to deal with facts we don't like - such as Iran having nuclear weapons. Another issue is that Iran has wanted to be a regional power and the containment that was once there no longer exists, i.e. that Iraq is not a threat to them like it once was.
Kaplan says, "The world has a different structure than we had 20 years ago and the things we've built our strength on are not relevant." He says telling countries that nuclear weapons don't matter, doesn't align with the facts. "The only reason anyone pays attention to Pakistan or North Korea is that they have nuclear weapons," he said. "Nukes are great equalizers," he said, "and you only need a few of them... you automatically become a regional super power the second you get nuclear weapons."
He spoke at the luncheon about how Iran has had difficulty building nuclear weapons and that, "even if you know how to make a bomb it doesn't mean you can." He said he thought the danger was not nearly as much as people often think, because when a country gets nuclear weapons they get very protective. And he said in the lecture, "The mullahs of Iran are not suicide bombers. They hire suicide bombers. But they are not suicidal themselves."
He touched on the recent health care debate and said at the luncheon that the Republicans decided, "our strategy is 'no' and once you go that far it's hard to back peddle... you don't negotiate with Hitler" and they referred to Obama as the devil, making it hard to work backwards. He said, "Republicans have wrapped themselves in a trap where they can't agree with Obama that the sun sets in the west." He said it was "pretty astounding that in this environment they were able to pass the bill."
During the lecture Kaplan pointed out that this health care reform was far less sweeping than medicare and while people were upset over that at the time, no one today wants to get rid of medicare or social security or the civil rights act. He said, "I think our system is much more resilent" than people give it credit for and we can handle this change.
Kaplan got a round of applause at the lecture when someone asked about Palin and he said, "I don't want to see a nominee who never had a thought about policy just because John McCain plucked her from obscurity. I don't want that."
Kaplan was in Hutchinson a couple of years ago at the Art Center. You can read about that visit here.