Josh Stowe | June 2, 2019
As the United States navigates rising tensions with Iran, American leaders would do well to ask WWBD — What Would Bismarck Do?
That’s Michael Desch’s pithy summation of the situation, which he shared with me over a chat inside his campus office. As I’ve watched a succession of grim headlines document the escalating situation, I’ve wondered what’s next, and what a better way forward might look like.
So naturally, I came to Desch, Packey J. Dee Professor of Political Science and director of Notre Dame’s International Security Center, who is known for his deep expertise and realist approach to foreign policy.
And Desch says he often looks to Otto von Bismarck, the 19th-century “Iron Chancellor” and architect of German unification, for inspiration. Bismarck’s calculating, pragmatic realpolitik and his ability to grasp complex issues is the best approach for the United States, he tells me. While many Americans might see geopolitics as a John Ford western where the good guys wear white hats and the villains wear black ones, the reality is far more complicated.
“In international politics, I always say, what would Bismarck do?” Desch says. “And I think Bismarck would be able to navigate the complex waters of the Persian Gulf with far more sophistication that almost any American leader since Richard Nixon, or maybe George H.W. Bush. And I think Bismarck or [Bush] 41 would recognize that, first of all, there are no black hats and no white hats — everybody’s wearing gray. And secondly, that with any given actor in this gray region, we have common interests as well as conflicting interests.”
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