It was Eliot Cohen, the former State Department counselor and Pentagon advisor, who first laid out Mitt Romney's vision for a bolder, more self-assured American foreign policy -- one that the bow-tied Johns Hopkins University professor contrasted with President Barack Obama's call to focus on "nation-building here at home."
"The United States cannot withdraw from world affairs without grave danger to itself and to others," Cohen warned in an October 2011 white paper for Romney's presidential campaign. Above all, the United States must not look "weak and uncertain," he wrote -- a theme the candidate would earnestly take up on the stump. As for Obama, Cohen accused him of "currying favor with our enemies."
For Cohen, the role of the presidency itself was at stake. The leading military strategist, whose 2002 book, Supreme Command, made it onto President George W. Bush's reading list in the lead-up to the Iraq war, has long touted strategic vision and strong, hands-on leadership from the White House during wartime. He is perhaps best known for defying the conventional wisdom that presidents, once they've given the order to go to war, should leave the strategic planning to their generals. Romney may have lost despite touting the need to restore "strong, confident, principled global leadership," but you haven't heard the last of Cohen and his argument.Reading list: Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5, by Christopher Andrew; Essays, by William Hazlitt; Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Best idea: Philip Tetlock's finding that political experts tend to be systematically less correct in their predictions than the proverbial chimp throwing darts. Worst idea: That we should consider suppressing free speech at home to mollify Salafi mobs abroad. American decline or American renewal? Depends on what Americans choose. More Europe or less? The more of an artificially unified European polity, the less there will be of a Europe worth having. To tweet or not to tweet? Not on your life. At a time when we read less widely and deeply, and write less cleverly and precisely than in previous times, why make ourselves even more vapid than we already are?
In the United States, where Raghuram Rajan lived and worked for years as a professor at the University of Chicago and chief economist at the IMF, he is known primarily as one of the guys who saw it coming. In a 2005 paper -- widely derided by his colleagues at the time -- Rajan warned that financial markets were encouraging irresponsible speculation that could lead to a major crash. He would be vindicated three years later. In the past year, Rajan has argued against "the standard Keynesian line" that governments can simply borrow and spend their way out, urging the West to "treat the crisis as a wake-up call to fix what debt has papered over."
Now, Rajan is bringing his know-how to his most challenging assignment yet: saving the world's largest democracy from economic ruin. In August, he accepted the post of chief economic advisor to the Finance Ministry in his native India at a time when the country's GDP is slowing and deficits are beginning to spiral out of control. Rajan argues that India has been coasting off the dividends from economic reforms passed in the 1990s as its politicians have gotten lazy, giving away government funding to politically influential groups while failing to make the investments in energy and infrastructure that could help India reach the next level of growth. As his appointment suggests, Rajan's views are increasingly becoming the conventional wisdom. Winning the argument is one thing, though -- getting India's entrenched political interests to do something about it may prove another matter entirely.