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In Hollywood movies diplomats always get a bad rap. I’m picturing Claude Rains as “Mr. Dryden” in Lawrence of Arabia looking, as Clyde Rains always does, somewhat reptilian as he hunches over a map of the Middle East with General Allenby, smirking secretively. Hollywood diplomats are slippery. Untrustworthy. More often than not, they turn out to be double agents. On screen, definitive action plays better than careful talk or compromise. This is true of America in general and of our politics in particular—we’re just not comfortable with ambiguity. Leave that to the French. Americans are about gettin’ things done. 

But the geopolitical world is complex, and allegedly getting more so every day. Meanwhile, over the last several presidencies, America has quietly been shifting its foreign policy approach from diplomacy to military muscle. With the current president, the gutting of the State Department in favor of the Pentagon is starting to look like Friday the 13th part whatever. My guest today is investigative journalist and former State Department official Ronan Farrow. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his his work in the New Yorker on the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal. His new book is War on Peace, The End of Diplomacy and The Decline of American Influence — and the title is pretty much self-explanatory. 

Ronan Farrow Quote: The question is not can we avoid complexities entirely. It’s what systems are in place to mitigate those risks. And it’s pretty clear when you look at the history that having a situation where things are run purely out of the military side leads to a lot of these relationships where we have very little power and there’s very little accountability. And where in fact we sabotage opportunities for diplomacy that could keep us out of conflicts.

Surprise conversation-starter clips in this episode

Heather Heying on protest movements

Barry Posen on America's intelligence budget

About Think Again - A Big Think Podcast: Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel? Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting? Some of the best conversations happen when we're pushed outside of our comfort zones. Each week on Think Again, we surprise smart people you may have heard of with short clips from Big Think's interview archives on every imaginable subject. These conversations could, and do, go anywhere.


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