The distinguished historian Melvyn Leffler presented his latest edited collection (with Jeffrey Legro) at the Woodrow Wilson Center yesterday: In Uncertain Times: American Foreign Policy after the Berlin Wall and 9/11 (Cornell UP). It brings together practitioners and academics, policy makers and analysts/critics (I expect Wilson will have video of the event up on its website soon). Presenting were chapter editors Eric Edelman, Paul Wolfowitz and Philip Zelikow. Their arguments were most interesting and all emplotted as ‘dubunking’ popular myths and conspiracy theories. Edelman’s object of critique was the inflated and hyperbolic reading of the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, a picture created by what he described as selective leaking and sensational press coverage. Wolfowitz addressed the 1989-92 defense planning process, and critiqued the prevailing interpretation that is colored by hindsight not what was going on at the time. The planning process was, he argued, for a substantial build-down of the US military, and the strategic thinking that emerged was uncontroversial and became the consensus in the later 1990s. Philip Zelikow addressed US strategic planning in the wake of 9/11 and debunked the ‘neocon cabal’ theory of the US policy that emerged in the wake of the trauma of the attack. This was a rich session and a friend and I had a most interesting chat with Wolfowitz afterwards about the current ‘Quds Force plot’ and how to respond: it made me think more about the life of the concept ‘over-interpret.’ The book looks terrific and features essays by critics like Bruce Cummings and John Mueller.
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