April 16, 2020
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


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Of all the internal obstacles and external challenges the United States is likely to face in its pursuit of its new foreign policy priority of great power competition, the Middle East might prove to be the biggest. If the region continues to command U.S. attention and resources, Washington will struggle in its efforts to effectively pivot and counter Chinese and Russian ambitions in Asia and Europe, respectively.

How does or should the Middle East fit in America’s new grand strategy? Does the great power competition necessitate an entirely new U.S. approach toward the Middle East? Which U.S. approach best serves Washington’s new global plans?

To answer these questions and many others, the Middle East Institute (MEI) is honored to host a conversation with Professor Barry Posen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Professor Stephen Walt from Harvard University.


Bilal Saab [00:00:00] [recording begins already in progress]…Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and it's my distinct pleasure really to moderate this conversation.

Bilal Saab [00:00:06] Today's topic is the Middle East in an era of great power competition. And, you know, if we're going to talk about great power competition, you need some great minds, you need some heavy intellectual firepower and that's exactly what we have in Posen and Walt, two of the most insightful and thoughtful strategic thinkers that we have in the country. This should be a good conversation and I want to thank both of you Barry and Steve, for making the time in your very busy schedules.

Bilal Saab [00:00:35] A quick administrative note before I forget. For those of you watching or listening as we're having this conversation, if you do have questions for either Barry or Steve, just write them down in the Q&A button. And what I'll do in the last few minutes is I'll pick some. And then make sure to invite the speakers to answer them. So we got Barry Posen and Steve Walt really - don't need any introductions, but if you'd like to know more about the backgrounds, their accomplishments. I think that if you click on their names on the MEI website, I think that will automatically direct you to the profiles that they have on their respective institutions.

Bilal Saab [00:01:23] But what I am a little bit curious about - Barry, Steve - I think some of the people logged in also would be interested in this. Just tell us what research projects you're currently working on and what classes are you teaching. We'll start with you Barry.

Barry Posen [00:01:38] Well, I'm presently teaching a course on U.S. military power, which is basically a general literacy course on how the military works, which I do for both graduate students and undergraduates. It's not so much about processes and bureaucracies. It's really about force and how force is used and how it's been used in the past. From the point of view of my own research, aside from continuing to flog alternative views on foreign policy, which I've been doing for some years, I've been noodling around with a kind of a theoretical paper for some time on how I see the structure of international politics today. So it's embedded in kind of realist, IR theory and nuclear revolution theory, to try to just develop kind of a basic conceptual framework for looking at where I think international politics is going from a security point of view.

Bilal Saab [00:02:33] OK, Steve?

Stephen Walt [00:02:35] As for me, I'm teaching two classes this semester. Both of them online. One is essentially an overview of international relations for graduate students at the Kennedy School. It's called "International and Global Affairs: Concepts and Applications," which tries to show what international relations theory has to say about a lot of different policy issues. I'm also teaching a seminar at the Kennedy School called "Realism in International Relations," which is a survey of realist theory that really starts with Thucydides and then runs up through a lot of classical political theory into the 20th century with, you know, E.H. Carr, Hans Morgentheau, Ken Walts, John Mearsheimer there, they get to read some Barry Posen in there too. And that's actually turned out to be a lot of fun.

Stephen Walt [00:03:20] In terms of my own research. You know, as people probably know, I do write a weekly column for Foreign Policy magazine and I do that every week and I'm contemplating a couple of different book projects right now for the next year or so. One, a book on that on why it would be useful for more people to think like realists. And then also a book on trying to figure out exactly how the world really works right now. And that I may be putting a little bit on hold because the world is going through a really interesting period right now and how the world worksed pre-COVID and how it works afterwards may be a little bit different, but those are the two main intellectual projects I'm engaged in.

Bilal Saab [00:04:01] OK, ok. Well, I'm very eager to start the conversation, but before I do that, I know that a lot of students are probably logged in and they want to hear from you. And I think this will be relevant to them, you know, in this very challenging period now where the students do not have the opportunity of interacting personally with their professors and learning is happening online, like what - what advice can you offer these students?

Barry Posen [00:04:29] I wish I had some great advice, but, you know, I don't have much time to read anymore - to actually just read books, either new books that we hope will become classics or old books that were classics. I don't read enough history anymore and I think back then when I started my career, I used to get a lot of time reading diplomatic history, lot of time reading military history. And when I think about how my career went subsequently, I cruised on that really reading for a long, long time.

Barry Posen [00:05:00] So, people are in a situation now where they have some time and I suggest don't do as I do, which is spend too much time on - with my nose in the computer reading news stories do as I once did, which is which is read books, especially read books on diplomatic history. And there's a lot of great stuff out there, especially all the new literature that came out in 2014 on the origins of the First World War. Fantastic, fascinating literature, which everyone should really know quite a lot about if they're going to be in this business.

Bilal Saab [00:05:29] Right. So read, read, read, right? This is the time for -.

Barry Posen [00:05:32] Read, read, read, but read diplomatic and military history. It's good for your head and it gives you a lot of raw material for thinking about both policy questions and theoretical questions.

Bilal Saab [00:05:42] Steve, any wise words from you?

Stephen Walt [00:05:44] Yeah, well I agree with everything Barry said, and I would add one other part to it. Which is I actually think reading books is good for our mental health right now. Spending our entire lives online, teaching online during office hours, online, doing even conferences like this online is actually quite stressful. For reasons I don't fully understand, although I've seen a couple of articles online explaining it, I am now finding that if I can, you know, turn the computer off in the evening, put up, you know, pick up a book and just sit in a chair and read the book, that that's actually quite restful. And I think students out there are dealing with an extraordinarily stressful period. And anything they can do to sort of keep their mental equilibrium as solid as possible is in their interest and in the interest of everyone around them, too.

Bilal Saab [00:06:34] OK, fair enough. All right. Let me get right into it, since we're talking about the great power competition and also the Middle East. I want to start with the very concept of the great power competition. This is now the buzzword in U.S. foreign policy discourse, books have been written about it already. It is all over the place in the U.S. National Security Strategy and the U.S. National Defense Strategy. And then you just wonder what is really new about it?  You know, as far as I can tell, geopolitical rivalries have been with us forever. China has been rising for quite some time and Russia has been a pain in the neck of the United States ever since the coming to power of Vladimir Putin. So what's the fuss all about? I mean, why is this a big deal? And just tell us, why is this new? I mean, how are you reading this new concept? Let's start with you, Barry?

Barry Posen [00:07:28] Well, what's new? The fact the great powers are tilting with one another over power and influence is not new. What seems new to the Americans is really new because of how the Cold War ended. The Cold War ended with the Americans, just kind of... not kind of it was the greatest power in the world by a significant margin. And we got to call the shots for about a decade. Things went pretty much our way for about a decade. And we convinced ourselves in part because it was such a comfortable period that it could last forever. And, you know, Steve says he's teaching a course in realism, he'll tell you why he never thought it would last forever. But, you know, it hasn't.

Barry Posen [00:08:07] And the way it's, the way international politics has evolved is a bit challenging for people, even people who were around for the bipolar competition, because though the system has become a competitive again, it's not it doesn't look like the bipolar world. And I use multipolarity as my heuristic. It's a challengeable heuristic, but I find it's useful for thinking about things. So at minimum, it's right now it's a three-cornered kind of competition. It might be more than a three-cornered competition. Four, five, six corner competition. So that's different, right? That you have a multiplayer game. The second thing which is not so different from the Cold War, but it's different that it's in a multipolar world, is that everybody everybody's a nuclear power. And you don't have to have a very strong rationality assumption to guess that none of these states want to actually have a full-blown war with one another. So this exerts a kind of downward pressure on the competition. So the competition is kind of broad and shallow. A lot of Sturm und Drang about small change because this is all any of us do. It seems like big change to us and because there's large institutions and bureaucracies with a stake in this competition, they're going to make a lot of it. But I just think it's it's real, but it's not really wildly intense. And I'm not even sure it's wildly consequential.

Bilal Saab [00:09:40] Steve?

Stephen Walt [00:09:41] I'd say a couple of things. I mean, first of all, I find it interesting that reasonable IR scholars of different sorts don't even agree on exactly what sort of structure we're currently in. There are still some people claiming that it's still mostly a unipolar world, that the United States still has enormous advantages over the other major powers and are still kind of defending that view of the world. Others think we're now in a sort of bipolar structure with the United States and China, with Russia really being very much in third place, maybe not even a full pole. And finally, a whole series of people who think we're in some kind of very lopsided multipolarity, where the United States is still the most powerful country. China somewhat behind but rising, and Russia very much in third place, but strong enough in particular ways to be able to cause trouble, at least in a limited fashion. And you might throw another country or two in there if you wanted to. So it is sort of striking to me how scholars, even all scholars who say, would call themselves realists, don't fully agree on what kind of a structure we're in.

Stephen Walt [00:10:49] The second thing I think is interesting about this is I would characterize the Chinese and Russian positions as really quite different and their ambitions flowing from those positions as being quite different. Russia to me is basically playing a very defensive game. They don't have great global ambitions at this stage. They're mostly trying to make sure that people don't ignore them. All the emphasis on being, you know, being respected, having a place at the table. And that's not surprising because the Russian economy is actually smaller than that of Italy. And it's pretty hard to be an ambitious global power with a very limited economic strength. So I think they've played a weak hand rather well, but with very modest goals in a number of different places.

Stephen Walt [00:11:39] China is a different story. I think they're what you see is a rising power that has - increasingly wants different aspects of the international system to reflect its interests. Most of those focusing around its immediate neighborhood in Asia, but in some other areas, some broader international institutions, certainly in managing the relationship with the United States, they see themselves as gaining more and more influence over time. Now, whether that means they want to someday supplant the United States as most powerful and influential country in the world, whether they see themselves as a model for others, that I think is not going to really be determined for several more decades. But it seems to me if you're thinking about the competition between the United States, China and Russia, you have to recognize that those two countries are really in very different circumstances and have very different goals.

Bilal Saab [00:12:34] We'll have a chance to come back to, think Russian and Chinese ambitions, because once you have a good assessment of that, I think you'll have a better idea of how you want to proceed with the great power competition, but we'll get to that again. And I want to hear from Barry about this. But back to the great power competition. I mean, naturally, when you think of that, you also think of grand strategy, right? A term that you're both well versed in. There was an essay - I don't know if you had a chance to see it in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine about whether it's even feasible nowadays or is it worth it actually formulate grand strategy in a world, as you described it, Steve, that's just so complicated to define, right? I mean, is it unipolar? Is it non-polar? Is it multipolar? Right? And there's a ton of political divisions within the great powers that might prohibit people, officials from thinking long term and coming up with these grand strategies. Well, do you buy that argument? Let me ask you that, or is it precisely because the world is so complicated that you actually need a grand strategy to simplify it?

Bilal Saab [00:13:44] I don't know if you had a chance to see the article. You don't necessarily have to tie your answer to it. But just, is this still a time that is still apt for grand strategy thinking?

Stephen Walt [00:13:57] Well, I have read the article once rather quickly, and I'll need to go back and read it more carefully. But my initial reaction -

Bilal Saab [00:14:04] [inaudible] generally speaking.

Stephen Walt [00:14:06] Yeah, no, my initial reaction to it and to the general problem and the sort of the old line, and you know, "you may not be interested in grand strategy, but grand strategy is interested in you," that there is, in fact, no substitute. You can't, I think, have -- be a major power and rely purely on ad hocery, you know, dealing with one little problem here, dealing with another little problem there, and expect to be particularly successful because you'll end up having a whole series of different incremental adjustments, some of which will then be mutually contradictory. So even if the complicated world - even in a world where power may be diffusing, even in a world that has some discontinuities or non-linearities in it in a variety of ways, you still have to figure out what do we think our core interests are and what do we think are the two or three steps that are most necessary to advance those particular interests. And if you throw up your hands and say it's just too hard to figure out any kind of overarching framework for our foreign policy, you're likely to end up in worse shape than if you at least try to figure out what the major objectives are and then figure out what are the two or three simple steps you can make to try and advance those being mindful of how others are likely to react to them.

Bilal Saab [00:15:31] Barry, what are your thoughts on this?

Barry Posen [00:15:33] I don't think I could say it better than Steve, but I'll  make one of my "old dog" observations and the pendulum on grand strategy swings back and forth and has swung back and forth many times in my lifetime. Between the argument that Steve just made that you really it's it's very hard to live without it, whether you're a big country or a small one, and you'll find even that some of the smallest countries in the world, if their security situation is tough, they will have grand strategies. You know, during the Cold War every four or five years, the Finns have a national defense plan. And at the beginning of their English language statement of that plan - which tells you something - they would lay out a kind of political military means-to-ends chain, a set of priorities, a conceptual framework. And they had a grand strategy. So even the not-so-grand had grand strategies.

Barry Posen [00:16:21] At the same time, every eight or 10 years, some people throw up their hands. You'll see a lot of learned academic articles telling you that grand strategy is impossible. Our system is too pluralist, the world is too complicated. So this pendulum goes back and forth and back and forth. Part of that is just that people need something to talk about. Part of it is that people have the wrong idea about what grand strategy is. It's not a cookbook. It's not a, you know, it's not a set of recipes. It's a conceptual framework. And that conceptual framework has to have a few things in it. And if you can get most of the senior people in an administration playing from the same conceptual framework, I think you're could find that administration on the whole is going to be more successful in its own terms. Whether it's successful on our terms is a different question, but more successful in its own terms than not. You know, this is one of Donald Trump's problems is that he has a kind of a set of notions in his head, but they haven't sat down and worked at a conceptual framework. And he doesn't know if the people he hires agrees with them or not. Many of them don't, right? So that's why it looks like they're caroming back and forth from one problem to the next. They don't really have a grand strategy and haven't tried to coordinate it. They have impulses.

Bilal Saab [00:17:30] OK, so I guess that answers my question, like do you approve of the administration's shift in grand strategy? I think we obviously have de-emphasized now countering terrorism around the world and now we're, you know, focused on competing with the Russians and the Chinese. I mean --.

Barry Posen [00:17:45] I don't think that's happened. I don't think that's what's happened. Steve has some words to say.  Let Steve talk and then I'll talk again.

Stephen Walt [00:17:51] Okay. I don't I don't think there actually has been a really dramatic shift. There's certainly been an enormous shift in the style of American foreign and military policy. Donald Trump talks about foreign policy in ways and behaves in ways that no president in our history has ever behaved. But, you know, did the Obama administration think of China as a long term serious peer competitor? Absolutely. That's what the pivot or the rebalance to Asia was all about. Did the Bush administration recognize that a rising China was a problem? Yes. In fact, they intended to focus very heavily on that until they got blown off course by September 11th. If you look at where the Trump administration is, you know, we've still got troops in NATO deterring Russia. We've still got troops in the Middle East, despite all of Trump's statements that he doesn't want to do nation building and he wants to get out. We still have troops in Afghanistan. In fact, he did exactly what Barack Obama did. He sent more troops there in his first years [inaudible] president as well. So there's been certainly a huge change in style. There have been some changes on a few issues. But the overall sort of thrust of American foreign policy has actually changed rather less than many people believe because they spend most of their time looking at Donald Trump's tweets or what he does at summit meetings and not the actual substance of American policy.

Bilal Saab [00:19:21] OK. You already alluded to it, Steve. You started describing or assessing Russian and Chinese ambitions and how those differ, like I said before, I mean, a good starting point for, you know, proceeding effectively with a great power competition is understanding what these two countries are all about and what they're trying to do. So you started with that. Let me ask Barry to finish it, I guess. Just your own brief understanding and assessment of what the Chinese want from the world and how is that different from what Moscow wants?

Barry Posen [00:19:50] Well, I think there I think, as you said, they're playing different hands. I think the Chinese have a much stronger hand to play. I think in an interesting sense, I think the Chinese are more self-confident than the Russians, probably because they are more powerful. They certainly have a more diverse set of tools that they can use. And, you know, so so they have a lot of different irons in the fire and I think their general purpose is what you expect from all great powers, which is to have first some influence over the -- their geographic surroundings. And have some influence over how the world works, commensurate with their appraisal of their own power, all right? And since they're a rising power, they want more influence. The Americans have been slow to grant that influence, but not entirely not entirely unwilling.

Barry Posen [00:20:40] The Russians are not the mess that they were after the Cold War collapse, but they have a much, a much shorter bankroll and a much more limited bankroll. So if they want elbow room, they sort of have to waive the military forces around because that's the only strong suit they really have. It's even it's worse even than it was during the Cold War, where at least for a time, they had ideology worked for them and the nationalist anti-colonial movements worked for them. But none of that is really working for them. All Putin has really is his ability to either scare people or make trouble, and that's and that's the cards he plays. And you know, it remains to be seen how much influence you can get from that. It's clear that, you know, you've gotten a little bit, not clear that he's going to get a lot more. Certainly made a lot of enemies. Right, as the Chinese have done. So I think both of them, they want they want some elbow room. They want more influence. They have different cards to play. Are they gigantic threats? You know, are either of them, you know, world imperialists of some kind. I don't think that could be demonstrated. Is there, is this a true alliance? Maybe an alliance of convenience, is about as much as I would say, is this the world autocratic, international or, you know, some giant conspiracy of the anti-democratics with a well worked out system, I don't think there's any evidence to support that at all. And it could be shorthand for people in the District to use to try and mobilize, you know, political support for an active foreign policy. But I don't think the evidence is there.

Bilal Saab [00:22:17] Well, I mean, maybe not an alliance, but I think this is one of the questions that I'm getting from the audience. I mean, what is the likelihood of a little bit of a more serious partnership between the two? Regardless of what kind of systems they have, and we all know that they're both autocratic. But what are some of the areas or avenues where they can partner, that would be, you know, posing some problems for the United States?

Barry Posen [00:22:39]  My view is to the extent that they partner, it's because we drive them together. They're not natural allies. People forget that they fought each other, you know, during the communist period. They actually had a serious fight. And with nuclear weapons lurking in the background, one of the very few such fights among nuclear powers that have occurred, right? So do they concert action? Yeah, they do. Can they solve problems for each other, problems that we, in fact, create for both of them? Yes, they do. But the main thing that they each profit from is the fact that we seem to feel [inaudible], we have to go up against both of them. And it's not clear that we have enough power and attention to go up against both of them all the time. So when we're preoccupied somewhere else with either one or the other of them or with our subject for the rest of this meeting, which is the Middle East, they have room to play, right? So they do. I mean, it's true that they they concert action. But is there anything here that looks like a real alliance yet? I'm not sure that that's what we see. There used to be this term alliance of convenience, and I think it's more like that.

Bilal Saab [00:23:58] Thank you for the perfect segway, I guess I mean, since we do Middle East 24/7 here, I think we have to start talking about the region. So, Steve, let me ask you this. How does the region fit in this new concept of great power competition? I mean, how relevant is it still? You know, there's been a ton of commentary about the decreasing strategic relevance of the Middle East. But just overall, how does that region fit into the great power competition?

Stephen Walt [00:24:21] Well, a couple of things. I mean, I think what to me is surprising thus far is how little engaged China has been in the region. You know, one can tell us sort of deductive story that China, as it becomes more powerful and given its reliance on outside energy supplies, would naturally be inclined to get more and more actively engaged in Middle East, Middle Eastern affairs and perhaps eventually try to compete with the United States for influence there at sort of the same level that the old Soviet Union did. But there really was a sort of serious competition for influence throughout the Cold War. So I can make that sort of deductive case that that's likely to happen. What I'm struck by is how little of it has happened thus far. You know, they buy some oil from Iran. There are some bits of cooperation there, but nothing that would look particularly substantial. No one in Iran thinks China is going to suddenly come to their aid militarily if they get into trouble with any of their neighbors. So China has been, I think, willing to have a rather detached relationship towards the Middle East, quite possibly because they realize its strategic importance may actually be going down. And because they've watched the American experience there for the last 20 plus years or so and have seen this as an enormous quagmire where the United States has actually weakened its overall position by trying to manage, run, transform the entire region. One could even argue that Beijing is playing a very sensible game here, which is to sort of let the United States continue to expend resources in the Middle East to no good purpose while it stays out.

Stephen Walt [00:26:08] The Russian situation's been somewhat different because they have a modest degree of military power. They've been able to intervene in a couple of places with some effect, most notably in Syria. But again, I tend to view that as from an American perspective, a relatively modest thing. I mean, what have they gained? They've managed to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. Syria is not a major strategic asset for anybody, and it's especially not much of an asset now that they've had a punishing, devastating civil war going on for more than a decade. So if you put that in the Russian win column, it's not much of a win from any sort of larger strategic perspective. We can talk a little bit more about sort of the long term strategic importance of the Middle East. But, you know, I guess of the three major powers we've been talking about. It's pretty hard to argue that the Chinese haven't played the Middle East best so far. Maybe Russia in a very limited way has played its weak hand well. And the country that really should be rethinking how it's handling the Middle East is the United States, which has been a series of setbacks at considerable cost for, you know, now more than two decades.

Bilal Saab [00:27:29] I think a few would disagree with you, Steve, that Syria per se is of little strategic significance. But as you get closer to the Eastern Mediterranean, which happens to be now rich in hydrocarbons and natural gas, isn't that in itself strategically significant?

Stephen Walt [00:27:44] Not as much as people might think. I mean, what we have now and it's not just related to the current pandemic. What we have now is a glut of oil on world markets. Right. Of, you know, look at the recent price fall that's happened and recognized that countries like Venezuela are effectively offline. Libya is effectively offline. Iran can't trade most of its hydrocarbons and Iraq is under producing its potential as well. So there's actually an enormous amount of oil and gas out there suggesting that, you know, anything you might find in the eastern Mediterranean is just not of any great strategic significance right now. I can understand that country-- that states in the region worry about who's going to control those ultimately. But that's not the sort of thing that should be driving a lot of American policy in the region, particularly given where oil markets, energy markets are today.

Bilal Saab [00:28:44] OK, Barry, obviously, the ideological conflict that we had with the Soviets is gone, the Chinese are more wedded to the international market system more than us, frankly. So one of the questions I'm getting on from the audience is: why isn't it possible to have greater cooperation as opposed to competition with the Russians and the Chinese to stabilize the Middle East?

Barry Posen [00:29:06] To stabilize the Middle East?

Bilal Saab [00:29:07] Right, easier said than done. I understand, but it's --

Barry Posen [00:29:13] Well I, first of all, I think part of the, part of it is, is what Steve suggested a minute ago. As far as China is concerned, I think they're almost too -- I don't want, it's hard to know why they do what they do or don't do what they do, I'm not an expert on China, but the pattern seems to be that they do not want to be deeply involved there. When the Chinese look at their problems. If you stand back and kind of look at some of the bigger kind of concepts that come out of China, what sort of analysts are talking, about Belt and Road Initiative, or you look at Chinese science or Chinese trade. The Chinese seem to be people who like a lot of options that the way they secure themselves is by having options, they want options to trade on land, options to move energy on land, they hold a lot of their money in U.S. treasuries. We can make trouble for them by them holding the money in treasuries, but treasuries are an easy thing to unload. It gives them a lot of flexibility because the markets for US treasuries are deep, liquid, compared to anything else even now. So they seem to like options. So the last thing I think they want to be part of is any kind of, you know, architectural thinking about the Middle East or Persian Gulf. Right?

Barry Posen [00:30:24] The Russians, it's hard to say. It's hard to cooperate with them because they seem to want even more influence over events than maybe their actual power, you know, should allow them. Now, there are reasons why they are interested in the Middle East. They have a concern about Islamic fundamentalism. There are a lot of Muslims living in Russia. They identify, you know, fundamentalism but from their point of view, originates in that part of the world as a real threat to them. The Russians are primary products producers and they're in the energy business, right? They're part -- the cartel and the way it works with OPEC. The way it works, that matters to the Russians. The only card the Russians have to play is sort of the destructive card, so it's hard to be in a cooperative venture off if the main card you have to play is kind of a wrecking crew card.

Barry Posen [00:31:21] So, yeah, there's lots of reasons why it would be hard even if the Americans thought they had a theory about how to organize something, even if the different, different countries in the Middle East and you know, Shia, Sunni, Persian, Arab is really huge. I mean, this is a pretty fissiparous  part of the world, and the idea of trying to generate an architecture for such a fissiparous area is also kind of, you know, just to me, kind of quixotic on the face of it. So, I don't think that anything especially ambitious is really possible.

Bilal Saab [00:32:05] Okay. Well, I think you're touching on a question and an important one asked by a former foreign affairs minister of Egypt, who's a good friend - Nabil Fahmy - and Nabil is asking and the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt is asking, well, I mean, isn't it too traditional to speak of great powers in the Middle East when it's the regional powers who have always had a greater impact on the security of the region than, you know, China, Russia and the United States? So, I guess that speaks to a lot of what you or you were just saying, Barry. So, Steve, any thoughts on that?

Stephen Walt [00:32:39] Yeah, well, I think that that was true for a long time, although certainly through the Cold War, right, the United States and the Soviet Union had a pretty impressive impact on the balance of power in the region by providing arms to various patrons or various client states. Certainly that was pretty substantial in various ways. What's interesting, of course, is through the Cold War, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union ever had large military contingents there. The Soviets had, you know, twenty thousand or so air defense troops in Egypt for a while, we never had large military forces there. Briefly in Lebanon, in 58, briefly in Lebanon, again in 82, but we didn't have the kinds of forces that we had subsequently as well. And you could argue that it was kind of a balance of power game amongst various regional actors with the two superpowers, you know, standing a little bit aloof and then feeding their particular partners.

Stephen Walt [00:33:41] Today, I think it's a little bit different, right? The United States, as I said before, you know, spent much of the last 20 years trying in various ways to reshape the region. [inaudible] Yeah. And when you started off by asking, you know, what would be -- make it possible for China, Russia in the United States to cooperate, to stabilize the Middle East? I think we ought to recognize that the United States has not been trying to stabilize the Middle East for much of this period. And even today, under Donald Trump, I think you could argue we're trying to destabilise Iran as much as we possibly can. So, you know, step one would be get the United States to decide it wants to stabilize the region and then see if you could get China and Russia to agree with that. I don't think that's really going to happen, because, as Barry said, the number of divisions within the Middle East now is multiple and overlapping along a whole series of dimensions. From an American perspective, you know, again, purely selfish American perspective, that may not be so bad. You know, you could argue that the core objective of the United States, really since 1945, is to make sure that no single hostile power controlled all of the Middle East, right? Well, the Middle East is about as divided as it has ever been, which means the likelihood that any outside power or any regional power could actually try to control it, exercise, even informal hegemony over the region, I think is now not in the cards at all. So the core strategic objective of the United States, namely keeping it politically divided, is easier to accomplish now than any time in the last 50, 60, 70 years.

Bilal Saab [00:35:32] OK. We had the same question about, you know, the likelihood and the merits of cooperation between us and the Chinese and the Russians, and I want to acknowledge Paul Salem, the president of MEI who asked the same question just so I don't get fired. But --

Stephen Walt [00:35:46] Wise move!

Bilal Saab [00:35:48] But there has also been a lot of discussion about, you know, and I'm sure you both have spoken about this a lot, Barry, you've written a lot about it aso from a broader perspective. But now that we seems to be most interested in pursuing this great power competition, I mean, what kind of a strategy should we be actually pursuing in the Middle East to best serve this new pursuit?

Barry Posen [00:36:15] Well, you're asking me to kind of strategize for a project which I don't entirely approve --.

Bilal Saab [00:36:24] [inaudible] restraint "2.0"

Barry Posen [00:36:29] Yeah, so --.

Bilal Saab [00:36:30] I mean, how should we handle the region to best --.

Barry Posen [00:36:32] Look, the main thing, look, if you take seriously the Chinese challenge, let's just call it a challenge to try and keep it [inaudible], that there's a challenge there because their power is rising and they want more influence and they're doing what great powers do when they get richer, which is they're buying more military power. So you can't simply ignore it. Right. Something's happening there. We have to be alive and alert to decide what is -- what we want to do. We have to acknowledge that this challenger, China, could be quite a tough one. There, as I said before, I think they have a much more diverse set of power assets certainly than modern Russia does, but than the Soviet Union ever did. The Soviet Union had some things that Russia doesn't have though, I mean that China doesn't have, I mean, they had a better geographic position, right? They had an ideology to work with, at least briefly. The Chinese have a very good economy. They have good technology base, they're learning to build very good weapons there. You know, they're patient. They have money to invest, right? So it's a big challenge.

Barry Posen [00:37:34] So you look at the United States, which has many challenges at home and is going to have more because of the money we're borrowing and the problem of unwinding the effects of COVID. And you would say, you know, from a strategic point of view, what you have to do is set priorities more carefully. And you also have to play your cards more carefully. So, you know, if you look at the amount of money and life and energy the United States has spent trying to do whatever it's been trying to do in the Middle East for really 30 years now, and look, look at this, is this does this game really been worth the candle, especially given these other challenges? I'd say probably not. So the first thing to do is stop making mistakes in the Middle East. Stop trying to make yourself the final arbiter. Stop being everyone's paladin, stop being in war all the time.

Bilal Saab [00:38:25] What did President Obama say?

Barry Posen [00:38:25] This would be a very good thing to do, to [inaudible] --

Bilal Saab [00:38:35]  Don't do stupid shit, isn't that what Obama said?

Barry Posen [00:38:35] Don't dull your [inaudible]

Bilal Saab [00:38:36] Yeah, right, sorry I interrupted, keep --.

Barry Posen [00:38:37] No, no, I had made my point.

Bilal Saab [00:38:38] OK, Steve. Best strategy for the Middle East so we can better compete with the Russians and Chinese.

Stephen Walt [00:38:46] Well, I so I've as I said before, because the United States is primarily interested in sort of maintaining a balance of power or helping maintain a balance of power there. We don't have to be directly involved trying to manipulate the local politics of the region. We should be diplomatically engaged. We should retain the military capacity to influence events there if we have to, but we shouldn't be doing it unless it's absolutely necessary. And the only circumstances in which it would be absolutely necessary is if some country in the region seemed to be maybe trying to make some kind of bid for regional hegemony. So, you know, when Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait, that looked like it might be leading in a particular direction where he'd be too powerful, too influential. And I think it was the right move for the United States to help throw him out of Kuwait and then weaken Iraq in a variety of ways. It would would have been a mistake to go to Baghdad in 92' and it was a mistake to go to Baghdad in 2003.

Stephen Walt [00:39:50] The other difference, though, that would be a really a major change in American policy in the Middle East, would be to stop having special relations with some countries and no relations with some other countries. Right now, we kind of have special relationships with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, maybe Jordan. And these are countries that can pretty much do whatever they want without facing a whole lot of pressure from the United States, the kind of unconditional American backing. Meanwhile, we pretend that we're never going to talk to Iran, right? One of the differences is, of course, Russia and China talk to everybody, right? They talk to the Iranians. They talk to the Israelis. They talk to the Saudis. They talk to the Egyptians. And that's how you get influence. In fact, one of my little fantasies is the idea of, you know, Mike Pompeo flying off to Riyadh, talking to the Saudis and telling the Saudis that his next stop is Tehran. And when he's in Tehran, he tells the Iranians that his next stop is Tel Aviv, when he's in Tel Aviv he says his next stop is Ankara, right? That's how a country that is located 14,000 miles away maximizes its influence, because each person he's talking to along the way has a reason to tell him something he wants to hear for fear that he might hear a better offer at his next stop, right? We do the exact opposite, we talk to some countries, back them to the hilt. Don't talk to the others, which means the former take us for granted. And we have no influence with the latter. That's not, I think, a smart move from an American perspective.

Bilal Saab [00:41:31] Well, I think you're just implicitly or maybe explicitly defined the strategy as offshore balancing, is that correct?

Stephen Walt [00:41:38] That's, that's pretty much what I just said. Yes.

Bilal Saab [00:41:40] OK. I mean, I think it worked reasonably well after the end of the Cold War. I mean, the Second World War until as you very well said yourself, Saddam Hussein decided to upset the regional status quo and invade Kuwait. So you want to go back to that?

Stephen Walt [00:41:58] Pretty much. And it's worth noting, when you're an offshore balancer, that doesn't mean you stay offshore under all circumstances, right? There are moments went off for balancers go onshore because the balance of power is being threatened and that can sometimes involve some fine judgment. I think, you know, the seizure of Kuwait in 1991 was a relatively easy case for that. There might be some trickier ones. But again, this gets back to our earlier discussion about grand strategy. You want to have some organizing concepts that then help you think through what are the circumstances under which we need to get involved, including getting involved militarily. What are the circumstances which we can stay out or only be involved diplomatically? You have to have some set of ideas that orchestrate how you think through those. And as I think is pretty clear, you know, Barry and I think we're far too inclined to think of military power as our first impulse rather than as our last resort.

Bilal Saab [00:43:00] OK. I mean, Barry I am going to take a wild guess that you pretty much agree with the concept and the strategy. But just practically speaking, say you're in government and you have now gotten a pretty solid consensus that this is the way to go. Practically speaking, how do you achieve it? I mean, do you start withdrawing militarily? Do you take out all the troops, most troops? How do you affect the defense posture in the region? Just tell us a little bit like how it would happen in real life, a strategy of offshore balancing.

Barry Posen [00:43:29] Well, real life isn't really my stock and trade living here in the scene at Cambridge, right. Abstractions are my stock and trade. But, you know, to be a little more serious, I scratch my head about the amount of military power the United States basically committed to this part of the world, not just what's living there, which is, you know, not gigantic, but still big enough. But how much of the American defense effort is really geared towards this, right? And I think it should be much, much less. I mean, it may be that Steve and I have a kind of a modest disagreement here because, you know, keeping the Middle East divided, that presumes that there is a source of unity in the Middle East. And I think when you think about it, there is I don't see any source of unity in the Middle East. I don't see a great empire in the making. Whether it's of any of the Arab states, you know, two of the principal military powers in the Arab world were Iraq and Syria. They're basically gone as military powers. Egypt is preoccupied with an insurgency. Iran hasn't modernized its conventional forces in a decade and a half, maybe, maybe longer than that. There is no obvious candidate for military hegemony in that region. So, you know, it could be true that you call Steve's my strategy "offshore balancing," but I just don't think it's it's very hard and it's not obvious to me who the threat to the balance actually is.

Barry Posen [00:45:06] So my very strong inclination is, is not just to pull our military power out of the region, but to, for most of the client states we've accumulated to say, you know, other than your self-inflicted wounds, you're a pretty secure state at this point. You manage your internals. We are gone, right? And from the point of view of America's interests, the one thing that made this part of the world interesting was oil, and oil, is not, not only is it not scarce, but oil is a kind of a poison. And for the next 10 or 20 years or longer, Western, Eastern, all advanced industrial society should be trying to wean themselves off this poison. So it shouldn't be the job of the American military to subsidize a low price for poison that comes from the Middle East, whatever price it has. If it rises, it's it's good, right? Because people will use less of it. And that's, in fact, from a climate change point of view, what we need. So I just think we need a whole reconceptualization of our interests in that part of the world. I think when you do it, basically, it just doesn't matter very much to us.

Bilal Saab [00:46:26] Don't look now, Barry, but you're agreeing with President Trump on the whole issue of freeriding.  

Barry Posen [00:46:35] Well --.

Bilal Saab [00:46:35] It wasn't just [inaudible]

Barry Posen [00:46:36] President Trump talks a good game about free riding. He hasn't done very much about it.

Bilal Saab [00:46:43] Fair enough, Steve, you mentioned a major country in the region, obviously, that's Iran. I think you would you wouldn't be surprised from me to hear that. But I have a disagreement about whether we actually tried or were interested in talking to the Iranians, we have, there hasn't been much reciprocity. And obviously the Obama administration has done far more than any other, but let's just talk about Iran and take you back to September early or the past few months and the attack against the critical infrastructure, against Saudi oil installations. A good bit of analysis has been written about it, but I don't think enough, since you mentioned our two biggest objectives in the Middle East has always been ever since the Carter Doctrine, obviously is to prevent the rise of a hostile power and to prevent those types of attacks. So now that we've seen one in such an unprecedented and major way, I mean, is that a turning point in the region?

Stephen Walt [00:47:40] No, it was an important moment, I guess. But I don't think it's a turning point. The problem is that that attack didn't just come out of nowhere. Right. The Trump administration, you know, having torn up the JCPOA, has basically declared economic war on Iran. And they've been pretty clear, not always, but pretty clear that their goal here is regime change. And not surprisingly, the Iranian government doesn't like this particular idea. They don't have many cards to play themselves. As Barry said, they're not very militarily capable, but they have a few assets and they began very gradually a program of responding to this in basically ways and saying, look, if you want to inflict maximum pressure on us, we're going to start finding ways to cause you some pain or at least cause your friends in the region some pain. And that, to me is what the attack on the Saudi oil facility was all about. That's why these rather carefully calibrated attacks on tankers we're all about as well. This was Iran's way of saying, if you hurt us, we're gonna look for ways to hurt you as well.

Stephen Walt [00:48:51] And since then, of course, the United States has been trying to, quote-unquote, reestablish a deterrent relationship that we helped destroy. And I might add, not very successfully, because, again, given the structure of other conflicts in the region, there are various places that Iran can hit us back, not in a big way, not as an existential threat to American security, to the safety and prosperity of Americans here at home. But to some of our friends in the region. So, again, it isn't a turning point. It's just the latest in a very counterproductive tit-for-tat between the United States and Iran that goes back a long way, and I might add, where we have inflicted far more harm on Iran than Iran has ever inflicted on us. All right? Whether you think of our support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war or any of the other things. So, again, I'm not defending Iranian policy or the nature of the Iranian regime. This relationship really does have to be seen in a somewhat more detached context.

Bilal Saab [00:49:58] OK. Barry, you and Steve have graded a lot of papers. How do you grade the handling of the Trump administration of the region -- thus far? And is it really I mean, is it really any different? I mean, there seems to be a lot of creative destruction. And sure, we've seen things there are quite new. Right. But I mean, thus far, what kind of a grade do you give it?

Barry Posen [00:50:20] Oh, the question is, I guess, grade him in my terms? Or grade him in their terms? So in my terms, it's it's like an F. But, you know, if you're a mainstream foreign policy analyst, say from the Obama administration, you probably give them a C-minus or a D-plus. What grade did they give themselves? I have no idea. Right. I mean, it seems to me that, you know, there are some kind of funny things going on right now from the point of view of Trump's own policy. The fact that the Saudis were really in this oil tiff with the Russians. It's clear they were also going after American frackers and American frackers were all from parts of the country that are big domestic supporters of Donald Trump. The people who work in that industry are almost all surely supporters of Donald Trump. So here are the Saudis who were his great friends, who we basically covered for when they organized the murder of a Saudi journalist [inaudible], a country that we offered to defened that we filled up with military power. And the gratitude that they showed Donald Trump for having done all these things for them was to basically, really crush a key part of his constituency. This isn't even good policy from Trump's own strange point of view. So I don't think they can get good grades from anybody on their Middle East policy.

Bilal Saab [00:51:57] OK. Well, I mean, Steve, is it an F?

Stephen Walt [00:52:00] Yeah, you're not going to get a defense from me. I mean, first of all, as I indicated before, I don't think American Middle East policy has been very successful under any of the past, say, three or four presidents.

Bilal Saab [00:52:14] [inaudible] say that.

Stephen Walt [00:52:14] And Trump hasn't changed that as much. We still have the same set of allies, if anything, he's just sort of doubled down with them. He did walk away from the nuclear deal with Iran. But, you know, the Obama administration, despite the right wing talking points, was not a pro-Iranian administration at all. It did a lot of rather nasty things to Iran along the way as well. So that's not a sea change in American policy as well. I think the biggest "F" I would give them is just how erratic American policy has been under Trump, whether it's, you know, pulling out of Syria, staying in Syria, this business of escalating against Iran and then not being willing to back up allies, then deciding we're going to send more, more troops there. What worries me most and I tend not to worry as much about reputation as some people do. What worries me most is that no one in the region has any idea what the United States is going to do if President Trump says he likes to be unpredictable. This is actually not a good long term diplomatic asset. You want in certain circumstances, other countries to actually have some confidence. They know what you're going to do, and also they know what you're not going to do. So I think he's actually undermined our influence simply because nobody has any idea what his next impulse is going to be.

Bilal Saab [00:53:44] Barry, let's just assume Trump doesn't get a second term. And we get a, say, Biden administration, anything changes in U.S. policy towards the region? That's one of the questions from the audience.

Barry Posen [00:53:54] Yeah, the mood music is going to change. I mean, you know, if you go back a step, you know, I wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs a year or so ago where I called the strategy the Trump administration illiberal hegemony. And I attribute to most of the foreign policy establishment of the United States a strategy of liberal hegemony. If you look at what went away in the Middle East is essentially all the trappings of a liberal foreign policy. You know, beliefs in multi-lateralism, beliefs in negotiations, beliefs in respect for the sovereignty of all countries. So you see, whether it's, you know, their peace plan, their peace plan for Israel and Palestine. It's a pretty illiberal plan. It just it basically says Palestinians, you guys accept whatever it is we and the Israelis have cooked up for you. JCPOA? That's you know, we're done with that. The flirtation with being the godfathers or godmothers of some sort of Kurdish liberal rump state in Syria that we don't really care about that. Right? Oil. Yeah, maybe we'll stay for that. So all of that [inaudible] liberalism has really gone out of the policy. And I'm sure in a Biden administration they'll try and restore whatever they think our position in the MIddle East is, but they'll go back to using some more liberal tools with, you know, privies of that, they'll also keep using all the other tools as well, the marshal tools.

Bilal Saab [00:55:28] Steve, that's another question that I see here. I love the simple ones, but they they really are the most difficult to answer. Why are we so -- I think I got, I have an idea of where are you going to come on this -- why are we so obsessed with Iran?

Stephen Walt [00:55:44] Oh, my God. That goes way back. I think that, first of all, you know, we felt humiliated when the Shah fell and when we had those hostages held. Second, the Iranian government has had, both rhetorically and at times in terms of its policies, various things that were at odds with interests we had in the region. Certainly the hostility between Iran and Israel has fueled that as well. And the groups that have been sort of most fervent in pushing the United States to take a confrontational policy towards Iran and have a lot of influence here in the United States, whether it's AIPAC or FDD or some others. And then finally, we don't have other constituents in the region pushing in the other direction, quite the contrary, for their own strategic reasons. Countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others are worried about Iran, which does have a lot of latent power potential. So we hear from most of our close friends in the region and from important interest groups here in the United States, the same message that Iran is, you know, evil incarnate. And because we're not very good at thinking through our own interests in a sensible way, that's tended to shape American policy for a long time. So that the various moments where the United States and Iran have tried to maybe unwind this particular spiral have never been capitalized upon sufficiently by us or for that matter, by Iran as well. I think that's why we're still in this very counterproductive situation.

Bilal Saab [00:57:30] That sounds pretty comprehensive. Barry, did you want to add any thoughts on that?

Barry Posen [00:57:34] No, I think I think Steve, pretty much. There's one other point, I guess it's not a major one. When you strip it all away, I think in many respects, depending on how you draw the boundaries of the region, Iran is kind of that of all the powers in the region, Iran is inherently probably the greatest power in the region. And since for whatever reason we decided we wanted to be the hegemon of the Gulf. It's natural for us to be at odds with the most, the strongest state. The strongest state there is Iran. It's not the other countries.

Bilal Saab [00:58:04] It's not Turkey, is it?

Barry Posen [00:58:06] Well, Turkey is not really a Gulf state. It's a Middle East state. Yeah, sure. But it's not really a Gulf state.

Bilal Saab [00:58:16] Yeah, well, that makes sense. OK. I've got a couple more questions because we're running out of time. And I'm going to go back to the broader picture here. And was it you, Barry, who said that you were working on a project about international order --.

Barry Posen [00:58:28] Structure, structure, it's not the same as order.

Bilal Saab [00:58:33] There you go. OK. Those fancy IR terms.Tell me, what kind of, well, I'm going to go back to order then. What kind of a world order should we expect or what kind of changes to the world order should we expect in this era now of COVID-19? I think Richard Haass and others have started talking about this. But any thoughts on that issue? That was one of the questions from the audience.

Barry Posen [00:58:57] Well, I think it's pretty, I'd be pretty modest about my inclination to make predictions about all this because, you know, it's hard to know what theory really matters the most, it's hard to measure from this vantage point, all the things that COVID will set in motion and it's hard even to define with the various important outcomes are. So I think it's actually, it's a bold activity to make these kinds of prognostications. I guess instead I'll say something else, which is I think most of the great powers are going to feel kind of weak over the next two, three, four, five years, and I think it's probably closer to five when you start looking at both the medical problem and the economic problems. And I think great powers -- great powers that aren't confident. I think it's actually kind of a good place to be. You know, we were worried that all these countries were -- how this dynamism and we were going to go at one other hammer and tongs -- peer competition -- that rhetoric is going to stay, but I think every one of these great powers has problems to solve. And I think it's going to make them more cautious. Doesn't mean they're going to get along, really get along, there's going to be this new spirit of amity, but I think they're going to not want the rivalries to go too far.

Barry Posen [01:00:14] Now, if I were a statesman with power, I would be looking to ask, is this maybe the last moment we have to think not about structure, which is, you know, an IR term of a certain kind, but to think about order, which is not my usual way of thinking. And do we want to stop and think for a second about whether we want an order that is simply an order of kind of hammer and --  not hammer and tong but this kind of low grade, perpetual great power competition with the combination of name calling and subversion and all the rest of this activity. Is this actually the world we prefer to live in or as statespersons in Russia or China, the United States -- stop and think for a second: "OK, we have a moment, because none of us are really filling our roads right now. We have a moment to think through about whether or not there's some more cooperative way to manage things" and if that exists, it's not, you know, because we're gonna make the UN or some international institution work. It's because sometimes great powers have managed to cooperate. To, you know, to organize security questions and whatnot. They go by different terms, "concert," "conference," whatever it is, right? There's a moment here to stop and reconsider about whether or not we're going to just have, you know, plain garden variety, you know, late 19th and early 20th century, great power, multipolar computation. Is that the world we really want to live in? We could stop and think about it. We have a moment, right? It'd be great to try and use.

Bilal Saab [01:01:47] Steve, we're not looking very good, are we? I mean, boy, has this exposed a lot of vulnerabilities. You know, things that are not working in the system. I mean, how bad is it for, just international security? I mean, the most powerful country on the planet struggling like no other to try to contain this.

Stephen Walt [01:02:04] Well, also, let me say two things. I'm going to be less reticent than Barry about making wild predictions here. But as I wrote in foreign policy a couple of weeks ago, that this is a real blow to the aura of competence that the United States used to enjoy where countries could disagree with us, but they thought Americans actually knew how to do a lot of things and knew how to do them all pretty well. And I think that didn't begin with Donald Trump, you could argue that the damage has been done by other things in the past, declining infrastructure, you name it, political partisanship, whatever. But this response to COVID, really makes us look like stumblebums, like we really don't know what we're doing. And it's unfortunate to me, you know, that this pandemic arrived when we had the least competent president in American history in charge and arguably also both incompetent and venal in some respects. And other countries are going to notice that. And so, you know, three to five years from now, my concern is we show up at a big international meeting and we have a program we want to sell, and no one wants to listen to our advice because we don't look like a country that knows what it's doing.

Stephen Walt [01:03:18] As far as predictions, where this is going to lead the world, I think there are three things that, at least in the short to medium term, are true. This will be a less open world because countries are putting up walls for all sorts of reasons now, and therefore, it's going to be less globalized. It's not going to be back to autarchy or anything like that, but it's going to be less globalized world for a while. It's going to be a less free world because governments are seizing central control, as they always do in emergencies in various ways, some doing it sort of quite nakedly, sort of grabs for power like you've seen in Hungary, but I think that's going to happen around the world. And some of those governments aren't going to give that power back, aren't going to want to. So a less open world, a less free world, and then quite obviously a less prosperous world, because the economic damage here is going to last quite some time, particularly in parts of the world that aren't wealthy, where the damage is going to be, I think, even more extensive. So again, a world that's less free, less wealthy and less open is where I think we're headed for the short to medium term.

Bilal Saab [01:04:25] That's to be excited about. Well, this is the final question from the students, since you mentioned that you're recommending "reading, reading, reading," Barry, so what is it that you're reading right now? What book do you recommend? Same for you, Steve. And then we'll wrap it up.

Barry Posen [01:04:43] I read doctoral dissertations, so, like I can't really comment. I'm not -- I'm serious. I spend a lot of time reading dissertations. I'm not sure what --.

Bilal Saab [01:04:53] Well you said diplomatic history. So any book?

Barry Posen [01:04:56] Well, I got deeply into World War 1 history a few years ago, some of the newer ones and I really enjoy that literature.

Bilal Saab [01:05:04] OK, no names in particular? All right, Steve, you can do a better job.

Stephen Walt [01:05:08] So, just a couple of things. I'm about to read a doctoral dissertation of one of my students on the McKinley administration, actually, and how it played a critical role in America's emergence as a world power. I'm really looking forward to that one. And then, you know, a book that I read in the last year that I was really struck by and recommended, Daniel Immerwahr's "How to Hide an Empire," which is about sort of the informal American empire. And there's a lot of really fascinating information in there about sort of America's footprint in the world over the last 40, 50 years or more and well-worth the time. And it's also it's a quite entertaining read as well.

Barry Posen [01:05:54] Should make one point. I, you know, it took me two years to read it, but I think I've read 90 percent of Ron Chernow's biography of Ulysses S. Grant. And in the last four or five years, one of the things I also have started read more about the Civil War. And it's a good period for Americans to return to now because of the divisions in our own country. It's instructive.

Bilal Saab [01:06:22] Got it, OK, I think Paige will be happy with that. Paige is asking that question. OK, well, thank you both so much. This was fun. Obviously, there's so many other issues in the Middle East that I didn't get into, and frankly, I see sixty nine questions from the audience. I do apologize. I wasn't able to get to all of them. But, hey, let's do this again soon. We very much appreciate your time, and stay safe and we'll be in touch soon. Take care.

Stephen Walt [01:06:48] Same to you, nice talking to you.

Barry Posen [01:06:50] Bye


Speaker biographies:

Barry Posen

Ford international professor of political science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Stephen M. Walt

Professor of international affairs, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government

Bilal Saab, moderator

Senior fellow and director, defense and security program, MEI