These essays show both his perceptive insights and knowledge of history and geography but also the limitations of long-term global thinking within the unpredictability of historical events. What was most troublesome in a couple of essays is his tepid defense of his original support for the war in Iraq and his full-throated defense of his friend and mentor, Henry Kissinger ... His belief is that among 'the dull and practical men of business' Kissinger shines as an intellectual with a historical world view, which apparently grants him a pass in some historically bad decisions in which he was a key participant. What is ultimately clear is that Kaplan's lead essay is a thoughtful and significant piece of global thinking that hopefully is being considered by the powers that be. It is, essentially, the antithesis of the shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy that seems to be the policy du jour. You may not agree with all of Kaplan's analysis but you cannot help but admire his incredible depth and breadth of historical and geopolitical knowledge and the intriguing analysis and predictions he offers up based on them.
History has not vindicated every aspect of Kaplan’s thesis ... But his general pessimism about the world that lay in wait in the 21st century now looks remarkably prescient, at least next to the Pollyannaish forecasts ... That’s reason to welcome The Return of Marco Polo’s World, an eclectic collection of elegant and humane essays ... Kaplan makes clear that, at its best, Realism provides American statesmen with a middle path between what Kissinger once called 'the disastrous oscillations between overcommitment and isolation' ... 'Ensuring a nation’s survival sometimes leaves tragically little room for private morality,' he argues ... There is much truth in that observation: Foreign policy is not merely a subset of ethics ... When it comes to curbing our enthusiasms, Kaplan’s achievement is to throw so much shade with so much verve.
It is a sign of how very unusual a journalist Robert Kaplan is that after more than three decades covering civil wars and collapsing states and American interventions he has emerged not only as an eloquent defender of foreign-policy realism but as a grand strategist to whom the Pentagon turns for a tour d’horizon. Mr. Kaplan is a kind of expeditionary foreign-policy intellectual who does not allow his sympathies to cloud his judgment. He has apologized copiously for his support of the war in Iraq, explaining that as a journalist he got too close to the story. 'Realism' is generally understood as the doctrine stipulating that states do act, and should act, according to their 'interests' rather than their 'values.' Mr. Kaplan is certainly that kind of realist ... Our world seems so ungoverned that we are quick to acknowledge the wisdom of a Hobbesian prophet like Mr. Kaplan. But is he right? ... Directionally, Mr. Kaplan has been right. Yet he was blind to positive surprises, including progress in public health and the resilience of fragile states ... Whether or not one embraces it, tragic realism offers one lesson that Americans, and above all the idealistically inclined, need to learn, and to re-learn: humility.
His latest book, The Return of Marco Polo’s World, is a collection of articles written between 2001 and the present that combines elegant writing with a masterful grasp of global geopolitical realities ... Kaplan, like Kissinger, understands that idealism has always influenced American foreign policy. His latest book will hopefully help American policymakers to, in Mackinder’s words, 'adjust our ideals of freedom to [the] lasting realities of our earthly home.'
His bleak but lucid core thesis is that the power dynamics of the future may look less like those of the Eurocentric twentieth century and more like those of the distant past ... An astute, powerfully stated, and bracing presentation.
Such wide horizons, and Kaplan’s decision not to update the previously published essays, preclude a central line of argument. The result is instead an overview of thoughtful, multilayered positions and perspectives evolving through changing circumstances.
Thoughtful, unsettling, but not apocalyptic analyses of world affairs flow steadily off the presses, and this is a superior example ... these essays...say nothing about the post-Trump world, but few have aged poorly ... Enough time has passed for some of Kaplan’s forecasts to develop cracks—e.g., China has not yet stumbled—but much rings true, and all are presented with enough verve and insight to tempt readers to set it aside to reread in a few years.