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Jeb Bush's Favorite Neoconservative Yale Class

[Guest post by Alex Klein]

Yesterday, Jeb Bush and Kevin Warsh chose to lead their Wall Street Journal column with a college shout-out:

"As the economy continues to struggle, we are reminded of a course offered at Yale University titled "Grand Strategy." Drawing on a weighty curriculum of history and philosophy, the course seeks to train future policy makers to tackle the complex challenges of statecraft in a comprehensive, systematic way. Clearly, U.S. economic policy is sorely lacking an effective grand strategy."

As a Yalie, it was comforting to see Warsh and Bush go populist by comparing our economic ills to an undergraduate Ivy League seminar. Jon has already held forth on the sophomoric "grand strategic growth" arguments in the column. Nevertheless, a few aspects of “Studies in Grand Strategy” class itself bear mentioning.

The class is a history seminar that, despite Jeb's reference, has nothing to do with modern economic policy. At Yale, Grand Strategy delivers neoconservative foreign policy through a thinly veiled Straussian lens: for example, Thucydidean “realism” explains Cold War containment; Sun Tzu justifies the preemptive invasion of Iraq. The course has been expanded by and receives millions in funding from conservative financier Roger Hertog, and is spearheaded by two right-wing luminaries. The first is Charles Hill, a Kissinger and Giuliani advisor who left Washington after involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. The second is John Lewis Gaddis, a brilliant Cold War scholar, but more recently famous for neoconservative cheerleading and vocal endorsements of the Bush Doctrine. Anointed Yalies selected for the program (this guest blogger was sadly wait-listed) learn from a diverse cast of characters: Bush ambassador John Negroponte, Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, and interventionist Walter Russell Mead. Kissinger occasionally pops by for a chat. 

So how do a group of influential and/or wealthy conservatives get a bunch of lefty Yalies to take their Hertog-funded course? Simple. They start a publicity campaign in the Journal. Then they make the class a secretive club, invite students to cocktail hours, give them thousands in grant money, and — perhaps most importantly — hand out special lapel pins that the select few can wear to graduation. (Even the most liberal of undergrads can’t resist a special pin.) Grand Strategy parlays social angst into Straussian instruction. This might explain why, of the seven current class members with whom I have spoken about the course, six said they were troubled by its content or instruction.

But all the partisanship and Peggy Noonan aside, are Bush and Warsh right? Could Grand Strategy’s “weighty curriculum of history and philosophy” lift us out of the great recession? Well, here’s some advice from the syllabus authors:

Queen Elizabeth I: “Prosperity provideth, but adversity proveth friends."
Thomas Hobbes: “Money is thrown amongst many, to be enjoyed by them that catch it.”
Machiavelli: “[A] man shall not be deterred from beautifying his possessions from the apprehension that they may be taken from him, or that other refrain from opening a trade through fear of taxes.”
King Philip II: "O how small a portion of earth will hold us when we are dead, who ambitiously seek after the whole world while we are living."
Sun Tzu: “If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches.”
Thucydides: “A collision at sea will ruin your entire day."

I hope Jeb Bush can explain how this curriculum will help us weigh monetary expansion, infrastructure investment, labor market hysteresis, sovereign illiquidity, and tax incentives. Otherwise he’s definitely not getting a lapel pin.