Politico: Trump Administration Seeks Insight in U.S.A.-China Relations From Ancient Greek Historian

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
Last Update: 19:49

White House officials are seeking insight into U.S.-China relations from ancient Greek historian Thucydides who chronicled the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, Politico magazine says.

According to journalist Michael Crowley, Professor Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School met with Donald Trump’s National Security Council officials to discuss the “Thucydides Trap” – a term he invented to describe how the fear of an emerging power can spark conflict with an established power. According to Thucydides, Spartans, a great power, felt threatened by the growth of Athens and that fear led them to war against the Athenians.

Crowley says that there are Thucydides enthusiasts in Trump’s White House such as chief strategist Steve Bannon, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton.

According to Crowley, Bannon once wrote a piece for Breitbart comparing “the conservative media rivalry between Breitbart and Fox News to the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), casting Breitbart as the disciplined warrior state of Sparta challenging a decadently Athenian Fox.”

Politico wrote that, “The subject [of Professor Allison’s meeting with Trump officials] was America’s rivalry with China, cast through the lens of ancient Greece. The 77-year-old Allison wrote…  “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” He warns that the same dynamic could drive this century’s rising empire, China, and the United States into a war neither wants. Allison calls this the “Thucydides Trap,” and it’s a question haunting some very important people in the Trump administration.”

The Politico reports says that “Thucydides is considered a father of the “realist” school of international relations, which holds that nations act out of pragmatic self-interest with little regard for ideology, values or morality. Allsion describes Thucydides as “the founder of realpolitik.”

“This view is distilled in the famous Melian Dialogue, a set of surrender talks that feature the cold-eyed conclusion that right and wrong means nothing in the face of raw strength. “In the real world, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must,” concludes an Athenian ambassador—a Trumpian statement 2½ millennia before The Donald’s time,” Politico says.

“The conservative military historian and Thucydides expert Victor Davis Hanson knows McMaster, Mattis and Bannon to varying degrees, and says they can apply useful lessons about the Peloponnesian War to a fracturing world. “I think their knowledge of Thucydides might remind them that the world works according to perceived self-interest, not necessarily idealism as expressed in the General Assembly of the U.N.,” Hanson says. “That does not mean they are cynical as much as they are not naive.”

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