William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
(1) 2 Next »
Special Articles : Why Islamic Society Battles
on 2015/2/16 17:40:00 (3679 reads)
Special Articles

This article orginally appeared in
January-February 2015

Since the Ottoman Empire’s collapse in the First World War, Arab Islamic civilization has been deep in a crisis that can only be resolved from within. Its character is both political and religious, and might be compared with the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, which ended in 1648 in the Westphalian Settlement which created a new international system of national sovereignties, and in religion, acceptance of the Augsburg principle (1655) of cuius regio, eius religio. Roughly speaking, these terms have prevailed in the West to the present day, notwithstanding a sinister twentieth century totalitarian interlude.

The unexpected appearance of what claims to be the new Islamic Caliphate, its atrocities demonstrating its power and ruthlessness, its avowed destiny the restoration of an Islamic golden age, should not be seen as anything new in imperialist and post- imperialist history. It is astonishing that the debate in American and Western circles in recent weeks on what (or what not) to do about ISIS has seemed largely innocent of history and indifferent to the pattern of consistent futility and failure in Western efforts to impose its will on the non-Western world. A new movement which claims to restore the lost power and glories of Islam, however unconvincing this claim may be, is actually the ultimate stage in the crisis that has afflicted the Arab Muslim civilization since its loss of unity in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the last political manifestation of a united Islam.

Special Articles : A Challenge to the Church
on 2013/5/13 13:20:00 (11117 reads)

MAY 9-22, 2013

Why Priests: A Failed Tradition
by Garry Wills
Viking, 302p.

Garry Wills’s latest book on Catholicism coincides with a crisis in the church that has been developing since Pius IX (1792–1878) set the course of Peter’s barque against the winds of Enlightenment and revolution. Driven from Rome by the rioting of 1848, the pope returned under the protection of Napoleon III and retreated to the Vatican, refusing to recognize the new Italian kingdom (recognition did not come until the Lateran Treaty in 1929, signed by Pius XI and Mussolini).
From his self-imposed “prison” Pius IX issued his sweeping condemnation of “modernism” in 1864 with the encyclical Quanta Cura, including “The Syllabus of Errors,”1 which remained an embarrassment to many if not most of the church’s scholarly and intellectual members for the next ninety-eight years, until John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council. Donald Attwater’s authoritative and orthodox A Catholic Dictionary (Nihil Obstat plus Imprimatur!), first published in 1931, cautiously concludes its article on the Syllabus and Pius IX’s subsequent self-declared infallibility when speaking ex cathedra with the world’s bishops (a doctrine opposed by Cardinal Newman, Lord Acton, Baron von Hügel, and other prominent Catholic intellectuals of the period) by saying of the Syllabus, “it is not certain that every proposition is condemned infallibly and therefore irreformably.” (With such equivocations did Catholics live before John XXIII.)
Wills has been a critic before of his church, into which he was born in 1934 (half-born into it, so to speak, as his mother was Irish Catholic—and a southerner, from Georgia). His father, whose own parents were an agnostic and a Christian Scientist, did eventually become a Catholic, but he was not one while Wills was young. By Wills’s own account the greater influences on him were his mother’s family and the Catholic grade school in Adrian, Michigan, where he was raised (the school was taught by an extraordinary community of Dominican nuns), and the Jesuit boarding school he attended in Wisconsin, both of exceptional quality. (At the time, Catholic primary and secondary education—disciplined instruction in grammar and rhetoric in primary school, with much memorization, and introduction to the classics in high school—was in the Midwest at least generally superior to public schools.)

Special Articles : SPECIAL ARTICLE: Iran and Nuclear Weapons
on 2012/9/17 15:50:00 (25575 reads)

This article originally was published in the current issue of The American Review, a publication of the United States Studies Centre of the University of Sydney, Australia.)

PARIS — Why should Iran not have nuclear weapons? Israel has them. India and Pakistan have them. Europe is full of them, most of them (but not all) American, tucked away by the U.S. and NATO in inconspicuous corners in case they might be needed; some of them in locations probably forgotten (“Sergeant! Where did we file those maps we used to have showing all of the tactical nuke caches?” “Dunno, Sir. That was before my time”). Russia and China have plenty of them.

The point of asking the question is that all these nuclear weapons are useless. They have no conceivable practical use. They are like chess kings: eminently symbolic, blockading and rendering the king nul as the object of the game, but of no practical use on the action of the game.

The Iranians are conventionally accused of wanting nuclear weapons in order to attack and destroy Israel — to finish off Hitler’s work, people say with a shudder. Why? They don’t hate Jews; there used to be millions of them in Iran. Those Iranians who believe their country needs nuclear weapons, whether they are in or out of government, undoubtedly do so because they fear Israel — and the United States — and they are right to do so.

Special Articles : SPECIAL ARTICLE: How Much Progress Have We Made?
on 2011/11/10 16:58:02 (11988 reads)

How Much ‘Progress’ Have We Made?
NOVEMBER 24, 2011

by William Pfaff

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
by Francis Fukuyama
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 585 pp., $35.00

It is natural to assume that we were meant to become what we are, and that human existence has an intelligible significance, purpose, or conclusion. Francis Fukuyama has long since apologized for his declaration in 1992 that

what we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such…and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
Man had made his way from primeval slime through bands, tribes, states, and their variations, until arriving at the democratic state and liberal capitalist economy presided over by George H.W. Bush. This progression was what it had been all about from the start, and now it was over, with only boredom ahead, so Fukuyama warned at the time.

Being a reasonable man, Fukuyama soon acknowledged that it was not really all over, and that we certainly were not doomed to perpetual boredom.1 Au contraire, as not only the French would say. In 2006, in America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy, he wrote that he had newly concluded that

neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, [had] evolved into something that I can no longer support…[having been used during the 1990s] to justify an American foreign policy that overemphasized the use of force and led logically to the Iraq war.
That 2006 book was a straightforward foreign policy essay rejecting a Bush administration foreign policy that rested on “concepts like regime change, benevolent hegemony, unipolarity, preemption, and American exceptionalism.” It dealt with how a different American policy intended to “democratize” the Middle East might employ “soft” power to obtain the reform of international institutions, with the aim of establishing a global order of democratic accountability, based on sovereign states.

on 2011/7/4 13:30:00 (8619 reads)

Wise Men Against the Grain
June 9, 2011
William Pfaff

Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs
edited by John Lukacs
University of Pennsylvania Press, 276 pp., $39.95

George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944–1946: The Kennan–Lukacs Correspondence
with an introduction by John Lukacs
University of Missouri Press, 85 pp., $24.95; $14.95 (paper)

One’s relations with one’s country, like the relations among intimates, are always complicated; but I conceive myself to have loved my own…. I am now inclined to see my country much the way that I see Russia (in the historical sense): namely, as a politically unsuccessful and tragic country, but one capable of producing out of its midst, from time to time, remarkable literary, artistic, and musical intelligence, politically helpless and always vulnerable to abuse and harassment at the hands of the dominant forces of the moment.

—George Kennan, letter to John Lukacs, July 8, 1984

The diplomat and historian George Frost Kennan (1904–2005) and the historian and historical philosopher John Lukacs (born Lukács János Adalbert in 1924) are American contemporaries who shared a tradition of humane thought and scholarship that in the late twentieth century has exercised diminishing influence on the political discourse and policy of the United States. The unlikely friendship between the two, initiated by what amounted to a fan letter, continued for almost fifty-two years, in a learned correspondence of observation and commentary on the international and national affairs of the cold war, but increasingly on the condition of men and women, above all Americans, in what Lukacs, the historian, characterized as the final stage in a modern age that began in the West during the Renaissance.

(1) 2 Next »
His books