The World

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Richard Haass is a prolific author on international affairs, served as a foreign-policy official in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is, in short, a high-ranking member of American foreign policy’s clerisy. As if to emphasize the point, he relates that the inspiration for his book “The World: A Brief Introduction” began with a day of fishing in Nantucket, where he spoke with a student from Stanford who confessed that he had taken few courses in economics, politics or history. Otherwise educated young people today, Mr. Haass concludes, “are essentially uninformed about the world they are entering.” He hopes to change this state of affairs with “The World.”

What Mr. Haass has written, alas, is a series of dry primers about the world’s regions and their problems. The book is rife with soporific statements with which it would be difficult to disagree: “Economic problems within Europe have been ever more significant. As a result, the Continent has had low rates of growth.” The assumption seems to be that the young have disengaged from the world because they lack access to information. But engagement has fallen even as the internet has made access to information effortless.

Mr. Haass is among the most respected foreign-policy experts in the world and is fully capable of proposing bold ideas that would put American strategy on a more sustainable path. That “The World” offers mostly uncontroversial data points rather than fresh analysis helps to explain why two (and in some respects three) consecutive U.S. administrations have often rejected the dominant views of foreign-policy experts.

The useful parts of the book mostly come in the opening section, which briskly relays the “essential history” of international affairs. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 established the nation-state as the basic political unit in Europe. Webs of alliances and the rise of nationalism set the stage for World War I—and trade ties were not enough to prevent it. This context is important because contemporary debates about international relations often proceed as if history started with World War II.  

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)