Ronald J. Granieri: Russia Resurgent? Political Development in Eurasia and the Former USSR

Click here to download the podcast of December’s “Geopolitics with Granieri

granieri_color-1Russia’s resurgence raises a host of questions. Specifically, what does this mean for the future of democracy in the former Soviet republic? How have recent shifts in Russian-American relations influenced Russian ambitions in the “near abroad?” What role – if any – will China play in Eurasian politics? Join Host Ron Granieri, as he “interrogates” Stephen Blank, one of the nation’s leading experts on Eurasia, to find out the answers to these important questions and much more!

Dr. Stephen J. Blank is a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He has published over 900 articles and monographs on Soviet/Russian, U.S., Asian, and European military and foreign policies, testified frequently before Congress on Russia, China, and Central Asia, consulted for the Central Intelligence Agency, major think tanks and foundations, chaired major international conferences in the U.S. and in Florence; Prague; and London, and has been a commentator on foreign affairs in the media in the U.S. and abroad. He has also advised major corporations on investing in Russia and is a consultant for the Gerson Lehrmann Group. He has published or edited 15 books, most recently Russo-Chinese Energy Relations: Politics in Command (London: Global Markets Briefing, 2006). He has also published Natural Allies? Regional Security in Asia and Prospects for Indo-American Strategic Cooperation (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2005). He is currently completing a book entitled Light From the East: Russia’s Quest for Great Power Status in Asia to be published in 2014 by Ashgate. Dr. Blank is also the author of The Sorcerer as Apprentice: Stalin’s Commissariat of Nationalities (Greenwood, 1994); and the co-editor of The Soviet Military and the Future(Greenwood, 1992).

Ronald J. Granieri: Mandela’s Legacy

Nelson Mandela was a great man whose life and work was a blessing to humanity. I say that even as I recognize it took me longer than it should have to realize it. Like a lot of campus conservative types in the mid-1980s, I knew little about Mandela while I was in college, but never let that stop me from having a lot of opinions about him, South Africa, and the ANC, and also making a lot of predictions about the future that sound pretty idiotic in retrospect. Truth is, he surprised his enemies and not a few of his friends by his post-Robben Island career. All I can say is that I am delighted to have been proven wrong so decisively by a man who left prison as he entered it, determined to free his people, but then set an example for all people of the politics of racial harmony. His actions and statements after his release transcended mere tolerance, challenging us to build a world where all work together respecting every fellow human being.

Did he completely succeed in translating his vision into reality? Is South Africa a utopia of racial transcendence? Certainly not. Human frailty being what it is, we all still have a lot of work to do everywhere. But in our efforts to do that work, we can all profit from the legacy of words and actions that Mandela has bequeathed to us.

granieri_color-1In my faith tradition, we have a word for people whose exemplary lives inspire us to greater good. We call them saints. I use the term here carefully, not wanting to put off secularists, or to provoke reactions from my more religious brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, the ecclesiological analogy is important as we consider the political world. Saints are great not only because of what they believe, but because of what they do with that belief. They do not merely proclaim their personal purity and leave the world to burn. They see their own virtue not as a secret they can hoard and smugly lord over others, but as a responsibility, a trust to be put to use here on earth. Their works, their example, offer a spark of the Divine. That spark can and should kindle in every open heart a redoubled desire to do better, to be better, and to embrace our common human responsibilities.

Nelson Mandela is free from all care now. It is up to us to continue the work he began. His legacy inspires us, offering strength for the challenges to come.

The Recovering Politician’s CRISIS TV, Episode 2 — Baseball and PEDs

crisis tv


Welcome to Episode Two of The Recovering Politician’s CRISIS TV, a weekly roundtable discussion of the highest profile national scandals, with expert analysis from those who’ve served in the arena and suffered through crises themselves.

SPOILER ALERT:  Be prepared to laugh — these former pols tend not to take themselves too seriously.

CRISIS TV is hosted by The RP, former Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller.

This week’s guests include:

    1. Rod Jetton, former Speaker of the House, state of Missouri
    2. Jason Grill, former State Representative from Kansas City
    3. Ronald J. Granieri, former Professor, University of Pennsylvania
    4. Josh Bowen, Nationally renowned and published personal trainer
Click here to order

Click here to order

This week’s topic — Baseball and Performance Enhancing Drugs

The panelists discuss the nature of the scandal, what Major League Baseball and accused players such as Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriquez have done wrong, how they could have handled the crisis more effectively, and what advice they would share with the players and owners.

The panelists discuss the lessons they learned from their own crises, detailed in the book they co-authored, The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive CrisisClick here to order.

And without further ado, welcome to the shew….

Ronald J. Granieri: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Power of Individuals & the Unpredictability of History

German unification was one of the most dramatic developments in contemporary history, as well as one of the most unexpected. After decades during which the press and public measured political wisdom according to how well leaders managed the apparently permanent realities of German and European division, leaders in 1989 had to improvise responses to the literal collapse of the most concrete of those realities in Berlin. As much as German politicians had claimed for years to be hoping for this day, none had actual plans ready. Into this potentially dangerous vacuum stepped a most unlikely improviser. Helmut Kohl was a reasonably successful party leader of enormous bulk and moderate political gifts, generally underestimated even by his political allies and known neither for creativity nor dynamism. To the surprise of all, he proved remarkably adept at managing the international and domestic complications of 1989. Within thirteen months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he rode successful reunification negotiations to a landslide victory in the first all-German democratic elections since 1932. Even if many of his decisions during those months can be (and have been) questioned, his place in history is assured.

Kohl’s story provides but one of many crucial insights into how the story of German reunification displays both the limits of realism and the unpredictability of history. That unpredictability reminds us of the role that individuals can still play in the modern world, even in the face of enormous complexity. For it was the combined actions of individuals, neither beginning nor ending with Kohl, who changed the world in 1989, and all students of international affairs can profit from reexamining that dramatic story.

granieri_color-1To appreciate just how important those individual actions could be, one has to remember the state of the world (and of most thinking about the world) in the 1980s. After decades of Cold War, the US-Soviet rivalry still shaped most global conceptions, on issues ranging from economic development to the world chess championships, not to mention the Olympics. Even as progressives decried the focus on East-West rivalry and advocated more attention to North-South issues of economic development, conventional wisdom dictated that intelligent people assume the existence of Eastern and Western blocs for as far as the eye could see. The sense that this rivalry was permanent, and required careful management rather than bold transformations, was pervasive. Indeed, that attitude was so widespread that when commentators spoke of the End of the Cold War at all, they imagined a world in which the United States and the Soviet Union, with their associated allies, still coexisted, though at a reduced level of tension, allowing the allegedly inevitable process of convergence to make their systems look as much like each other as possible. No one imagined one side would disappear. That would have been dangerously unrealistic.Nowhere were these assumptions more obvious than in Berlin. Although actual defenders of the “anti-Fascist protection barrier” were few outside of the upper leadership of East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), the world had come to accept the presence of the Berlin Wall as the price to be paid for stability and security in Central Europe. President Ronald Reagan had declared “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” when he spoke before the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, but his words were greeted at the time as the tired echo of anachronistic sentiments. No one really expected it to happen—perhaps not even Reagan himself, who by that time was committed to negotiating arms control treaties with the Soviets based on his positive assessment of his new partner, Mikhail Gorbachev. If anything, informed observers assumed that Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika would stabilize the Soviet Union, making the situation even more permanent. That was, after all, why Reagan felt he had to ask Gorbachev to tear down the wall; no one else had the power to do it.

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Ronald J. Granieri: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Power of Individuals & the Unpredictability of History

Ron Granieri: Plus ca change…

“The Republican Party has just about written off those women who work for wages in the marketplace. We are losing them in droves. You can’t write them off and the blacks off and the Hispanics off and the Jews off and assume that you’re going to build a party on white Anglo-Saxon males over forty. There aren’t enough of those left.”

Ripped from the headlines? Hardly. That quote is from Bob Packwood on 1 March 1982, quoted in Laurence Barrett, Gambling with History: Reagan in the White House (New York: Penguin, 1984).Four observations, and some tentative conclusion:

1. Plus ça change…

2. Those comments came during a recession, leading up to mid-term elections in which Reagan and the GOP took a shellacking of their own.

3. That shellacking, of course, was followed two years later by Reagan’s re-election in one of the biggest landslides in US electoral history.

4. Bob Packwood was so concerned about losing contact with women who worked for wages that he sought such contact aggressively throughout his Senate career.[Washington Post]

Tentative Conclusion: The GOP’s demographic problems have much deeper roots than 2012, though they have been obscured by the occasional electoral success. That can’t go on forever.

Oh, and it is possible to be on the progressive side in social issues and still be a creep.

Ronald J. Granieri: Firing Line 2.0


Click here for the podcast

Moderated by Ronald J. Granieri, Director of FPRI’s Center for the Study of America and the West

Featuring James Kurth, Senior Fellow, FPRI Professor of Political Science Emeritus and Senior Research Scholar at Swarthmore College

The recent elections in the U.S. have unleashed a flood of articles from journalists and political operatives about the future of conservatism and the Republican Party.  Nevertheless, few if any of those articles have considered the historical roots of the current situation, nor have their authors the historical and analytical skills to move beyond a simple analysis of immediate political tactics.

On November 15, 2012, FPRI Senior Fellow James Kurth presented his article, The Crisis of American Conservatism: Inherent Contradictions and the End of a Road, to the Study Group on America and the West.  The combination of Professor Kurth’s deeper perspective and analytical skill inspired a lively conversation on the part of the participants of that evening’s seminar.  Confident that it will also inspire interest and controversy among the larger circle of FPRI members and partners, we are excited to continue the conversation at this inaugural session of Firing Line 2.0, when moderator Ron Granieri will “interrogate” Professor Kurth — with help from theaudience.

granieri_color-1Read The Crisis of American Conservatism: Inherent Contradictions and the End of a Road.

About Firing Line 2.0: In the spirit of William Buckley’s Firing Line, TV’s longest-running public affairs show (1966-1999), FPRI’s Ron Granieri will “interrogate” guest scholars on subjects in the news—with help from the audience. Each month we will feature one or two scholars drawn from among FPRI’s 85 affiliated scholars or outside guests. We look forward to a uniquely interactive program, offering real substance and emphasizing active audience participation.

Click here for the podcast

Ron Granieri: Belsnickle — Real, Or Dwight Shrute’s Imagination?





He Sees You When You’re Sleeping…

So the RP called me Saturday morning with a question.

This one was about last week’s Office episode where Dwight Shrute relates the story of Belsnickle, the pre-Christmas visitor of German and Pennsylvania Dutch folklore.

Swathed in furs, this surly figure shows up at the door with a switch in hand, to swat bad children, scaring them straight so that they will behave in time for Santa to bring them presents.

Is that for real? He asked.

Oh yes, I responded (and of course checked Wikipedia afterward to be sure).

That of course led to the obvious follow-up question: WTF?

The short answer is, because German folklore is crazy. Read the original Hausmärchen from the Brothers Grimm if you want further proof.

The longer answer is because parents back in the day realized you needed something stronger than “now, now, Santa’s watching!” when they want to get the little one to behave in the run-up to the holidays. And part of me thinks those parents from days of yore had something.

Belsnickle is delightfully direct. No false threats or mind games.

Modern parenting has gone too far away from that in the world of holiday planning, preferring subtlety to an unsettling degree. The most modern surveillance state version of this is the Elf on the Shelf, who appears in a different spot in the house every morning, constantly watching children and reporting back to the North Pole

Somehow people think this idea of Santa’s CIA is cute and not creepy. What’s next, reindeer-driven drones? If so, we can even re-write famous carols, viz.:

He sees you when you’re sleeping… his drones fly overhead

They record every move you make, now does that fill you with dread?


Here comes Santa Claus, Here Comes Santa Claus

From Langley, VA

He’s got a lot of clandestine intel

And could put you away!

Somehow, a fur-clad hobo with a switch doesn’t seem so odd or scary after all.

Frehlicher Grischtdaag!


The Experts Weigh In With Their Electoral College Predictions

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)




If you haven’t entered the First Quadrennial Recovering Politician Electoral College Contest, you’ve got until tomorrow, Tuesday at 6:00 AM EST.  Here are the details for your chance to win 2 FREE lower-arena tickets to the defending national champion University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball team’s official home opener at Lexington’s Rupp Arena, versus Lafayette University, on Friday, November 16 at 7:00 PM.  Remember, the first step is to become a member of the RP’s new Facebook page,, and provide your predictions in the post marked “Designated RP Electoral College Contest Post.”  The award will be presented to the individual who most accurately predicts the final Electoral College vote, with tiebreakers of predicting the Senate and Housr partisan compositions after the election.

The 2008 Electoral College Map

As a service to all of you procrastinators out there, our experts — contributing RPs and friends of RP — have weighed in on their predictions.  You can choose to go with one of their picks, or stick with your own and feel smarter than a recovering politician.

So here goes.  Feel free to comment below, but remember according to the rules, only comments at the Designated RP Electoral College Contest Post at the RP Facebook page will be qualified for the grand prize.


The RP:  Obama 303, Romney 235.  (Obama wins WI, NV, IA, NH, CO, VA and OH; Romney squeaks out the narrowest victory in FL); Senate: 50 Dems, 48 GOP, 2 Indy; House: 239 GOP, 196 Dems

Contributing RP Rod Jetton:

President–  Romney 277 and Obama 261.  Romney takes the true toss ups of NH, CO, IA and WI, while holding the safer states of FL, NC and VA.  Obama keeps OH, MN, MI, NV and PA.  The auto bailout keeps Obama with Ohio, but Ryan and the debates help Romney hold WI which Ohio is not required on their path to victory.  PA will be close but O will hold on there.  R wins popular vote 52-48. With unemployment at 7.9% and even worse, gas prices up over $3.50, it is amazing that any incumbent could even keep it close.  When we add in how Obama seemed to have a bit of the Bush 42 attitude of not really wanting to mess with a re-election campaign plus the Libya debacle it is hard to see Obama winning.  Romney is a solid steady campaigner that nobody loves, but he has a good resume and seems to be up to the job of fixing the economy.

Senate–  D-52 and R-46. (I-2)  The Republicans will pick up a few seats but the weak candidates will keep them from taking the majority.  My state of Missouri is a good example of that.  McCaskill was in bad shape and should have been defeated in 2012 but with all Akin’s messaging problems she is poised to survive.

House – R-237 and D- 198.  There will not be a big change in the House and Romney’s debates and October surge will help Republicans down ticket in many of the battleground seats.

Jordan Stivers (Friend of RP): Obama 280, Romney 258; Senate:  R-47, D – 51, I-2; House:  R-237, D-198

Contributing RP John Y. Brown, III: Election Day will be followed by Wednesday….and, if all goes as planned, followed by Thursday. Short of cataclysmic fallout on Tuesday night, Thursday more than likely will be followed by Friday. And then we will probably see something resembling what we used to call “the weekend.”

Friend of RP Zac Byer (traveling with VP GOP nominee Paul Ryan): My head still says Romney tops out at 256, but after visiting 6 swing states in the last 56 hours, and my gut says otherwise: Romney: 277, Obama: 261; 51 D, 47 R, 2 I; 238 R, 197 D

Contributing RP Jeff Smith: Obama 277, Romney 261; Senate: R-48, D – 50+2I; House: R-240, D-195

Ron Granieri (Friend of RP):  Obama: 280, Romney: 258; Senate: 51-49 Dems (with independents); House: 245-190 Reps

Contributing RP Nick Paleologos: Obama 275. Romney 263.

Steven Schulman (Friend of RP): Whatever Nate Silver says.

Contributing RP Jimmy DahrougObama 275, Romney 263; Senate: Dems 51 GOP 47; 2 Indy;  House: GOP 241  Dems 194

David Snyder (Friend of RP): Obama wins 290-248.  Senate – 51 Democrats 47 Republicans, 2 Independents.  House – 234 Republicans, 201 Democrats

Contributing RP Greg Harris: Obama: 332, Romney: 206 (Polls indicate presidential race is neck and neck among “likely” voters. Obama’s lead is greater among “registered” voters. These votes, under-represented in polling, will redound to Obama’s advantage in states like FL and CO.); Senate: R-44, D – 54, I – 2; House: R-232, D-203

Robert Kahne (Friend of RP): Obama: 332, Romney: 206. Senate: D:53 (inc 2 IND) R: 47. House: D: 205, Rep: 230

Contributing RP Jason Grill: Obama gets 294 and Romney 244; Senate – 52 D 46 R  2 I; House – 234 R 201 D.  

And watch this for more of Jason’s analysis:

Ron Granieri: I’m An Undecided Voter — And Yes, I Know How Babies Are Made

As the late night comics and cable screaming heads continue to mock and skewer the small percentage of undecided voters who will tip the balance in next week’s presidential election — How can someone be so stupid as to not be able to tell the difference between the two candidates? — I learned that one of the smartest people I’ve ever met is among this derided consitituency. 

Ron Granieri is a graduate of Harvard College, earned his PhD in History from the University of Chicago, and has served as a professor at an Ivy League university.  Moreover, as a precocious college student — who happened to be my roommate — Ron’s near photographic memory would enable him to beat me at Trivial Pursuit without ever allowing me a turn. 

I’ve asked Ron to share with the RP Nation the path of a Reagan acoloyte who became frustrated with the far right turn of the GOP, only to be later disenchanted with the promise of the Obama Administration. 

Because it will be voters like Ron who could ultimately determine our next President.

The RP

= = = =

When The RP approached me the other day to ask me to join in the round table of “closing statements” for one candidate or another in the presidential election, it forced me to confront something I have tried to avoid for many months.

We have all seen the skits and made the jokes about undecided voters. Saturday Night Live mocked them for being ignorant.  [Watch the video at the bottom of this post — in which an undecided voter asks whether French kissing could lead to pregnancy.] The brilliant Steven Colbert recently took it even further, comparing the elusive undecided voter to Jodie Foster’s epically (if unintentionally) hilarious backcountry wild child, Nell.

I have enjoyed a few chuckles at these images myself. But deep down I have been hiding a shameful secret: I am one of them.

I never thought it would come to this.

Ron’s childhood idol

I have always been politically curious, going back to my childhood when I talked politics with my extremely political father. I can remember telling him I thought President Nixon should resign during the summer of 1974 (I was 7). By the time I was in high school in the early 1980s, I had become, following in the intellectual footsteps of my childhood idol, William F. Buckley, Jr., an enthusiastic conservative. My father, who admired Buckley in spite of rather than because of his ideology, was not completely happy about that, but he respected my positions, and we had some wonderfully spirited arguments. When the Georgetown School of Foreign Service application requested an essay outlining the one international problem I would most like to address in my future career, I wrote a perfervid essay on the need to combat international communism. No copy of the essay survives from that pre-word processing age, unless it is in a Georgetown archive somewhere, but I well remember being proud of calling communism “an international gangrene that threatens the health and safety of every society it touches.” I wonder what the folks at the Walsh School thought of it. I don’t know if it helped or not, but I did get in, even if I ended up going somewhere else.

In college I became one of the most visible conservatives on campus, editing Harvard’s monthly conservative student paper, the Salient. It culminated in my being featured in a full page of the graduation issue of the Crimson in 1989, as one of a handful of notable graduates of my class. That article, I discovered, is still available online, but when I think of it I think of the yellowing clipping that my mother framed and hung on the wall in what used to be my bedroom in Niagara Falls.


Graduation Day: Ron at far left, The RP, second from right

I had opinions on everything back then. Some of them I still hold; some I do not. A few of them make me shake my head in affectionate embarrassment for a young man who was awfully full of himself. Nevertheless, I had a pretty clear sense of where I stood on things; I voted in every election I could, and my votes followed those convictions. It was not always easy to be the most conservative person in the room (an experience that followed me from college to graduate school to at least the start of my academic career). But it worked well thanks to lots of good friends and plenty of mutual good will and respect for differences.

In 88, Ron supported Bush 41, but teen hooligans made him a sleeping billboard for the liberal Dukakis

Gradually, however, my sense of having a clear political home began to shift. Part of it was seven years living in the wonderful state of South Carolina, birthplace of both Steven Colbert and Strom Thurmond. In the final years of the last century and the early years of this one, I saw a Republican party that became increasingly focused on issues that did not appeal to me. On the local level I saw a rising tide of anti-intellectualism, anti-urbanism, and nativism. The national party displayed those traits as well, but mostly became fixated on slashing taxes, and too often responded to serious discussions about how to provide enough revenue for existing programs with vaguely neo-Confederate rhetoric about shrinking government disconnected from political reality. It was the party of the suburbs, of the Sun Belt and the Evangelicals. None of those traits much appealed to me, an Italian-Irish Catholic intellectual from a Rust Belt industrial town who prefers Alexander Hamilton to Thomas Jefferson and believes the Good Guys indisputably won The War of the Rebellion. The Cold War conservatism that I had embraced so closely, with its sense of national purpose, was dying out, and the new individualized Right was leaving me cold.

I remember well the moment when I really felt that things were slipping away. It was in spring 2000, on the eve of the South Carolina primary. I answered the phone and it was someone from the George W. Bush campaign team taking a poll. She was very pleasant, asked me if I had decided whether to vote for Bush or John McCain, and I admitted I was thinking it over. She then launched into a critique of McCain that trumpeted Bush’s plans for immediate tax cuts that would give the budget surplus back to the voters. I responded that I liked a lot of things about Governor Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which I took to mean conservatism based not simply on individualism but which included a sense of shared community responsibility. At the same time, I told her I did not really think that it made sense to rush to cut taxes when we still had a national debt in the trillions. (This was even before Afghanistan, Iraq, Medicare Part D and TARP, of course.)

An embarrassed pause followed. Then she curtly thanked me for my comments and hung up.

I should have taken that as a clear sign of where the Bush campaign stood and where my concerns fit into that agenda. But breaking up is hard to do. Even as I felt increasingly alienated from the GOP, it continued to get my votes. At least, that is, until 2008, when my frustration with the party and where it had led the country moved me to turn my back on them and vote for Barack Obama.

There, I said it. College friends may need a moment. I’ll wait. I recommend deep breaths.

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Ron Granieri: I’m An Undecided Voter — And Yes, I Know How Babies Are Made

Ron Granieri: We Get the Leaders We Deserve

I agree with Tom that it is a shame that Romney feels the need to tack further to the right.

I would go even further to say I am sorry that two smart people such as Romney and Ryan have so little regard for logic and good sense (and for the public’s intelligence) that they think no one will notice as they try simultaneously to decry debt and push plans that will only make it worse.

Meanwhile the President claims to care about entitlement reform but offers no plan.

Both sides are banking on the ignorance and biases of their most fervent supporters.

We get the leaders we deserve. Alas, Babylon.

Ron’s Book: