tv QA John Lewis Gaddis CSPAN May 29, 2018 4:04pm-5:04pm EDT
radio app. ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," yale university professor john lewis gaddis. professor gaddis discusses his book, "on grand strategy." ♪ brian: john lewis gaddis, you grew up in a small town in texas. is it cotulla? mr. gaddis: that is right. brian: some famous people are from cotulla besides you. jeff bezos. lyndon johnson taught school there. mr. gaddis: right. brian: what impact did that town have on you? mr. gaddis: it was and still is a very small town. i thought it was a great place
to grow up. it never seems that way to a kid. looking back, you can say this. but i think one of the best examples of why it was such a good experience harks back to this theme of the book the hedgehog and the fox. my colleague at yale, we were having dinner. he announced that when he was little, he had a pet hedgehog growing up in england. i was able to top paul, because i had a pet armadillo growing up in texas. so that is part of the fun. brian: did you know when you were growing that up lyndon johnson had taught school there? mr. gaddis: we all knew that, but we were warned, don't ever trust that guy. because he's going to be president of the united states sometime. it was clear to people even then when he was a young schoolteacher that he was a rising star. my dad despised him and said, don't ever trust him. and don't ever vote for him.
and yet my grandmother was totally charmed by him. brian: did you ever meet him? mr. gaddis: i never did meet him, but i can remember he appeared there in the 1948 campaign. and i have a photo of him with my grandmother and with my dad, who is there, but he is disgusted to be there. i was 7 at the time and was across the street, we actually lived across the street. the explanation i was later given was lyndon talks dirty, so the kids were not allowed to come. brian: the other fellow from there, jeff bezos, the richest man in america. how did that happen? mr. gaddis: i do not know, and i have not intersected with mr. bezos. he has a huge ranch there. i do not know the history. i'm very curious. i have never met him, but i would love to. brian: when did you leave? mr. gaddis: when i went off to
school, would have been 1958, i guess. so i was 18 or so. brian: in 2004 we had a long discussion about a lot of things that we are not going to talk about today. you went to ohio university and then jumped to yale. you have done what course? mr. gaddis: since i got to yale i have done several different courses, including one big one on cold war history. the one i think is most relevant to this book is one called studies in grand strategy, which is a seminar which i did collaboratively with paul kennedy and with charles hill. the three of us formed this course back in the late 1990's when we became convinced there was a real absence of grand strategic thinking at high levels in the united states. but we did not have the illusion we could do much about it immediately.
so we just decided to set up a course that would tell our students what they needed to know with the idea would keep this the inside their heads until maybe 20 years from then or 30 years from then, they rose to positions of reonsibility and could actually begin to draw on it. so that has always been the theme of the course. long-term investment. brian: are all three of you there all the time? mr. gaddis: we were at the time we taught it, and we continue to be through it the last two or three years. i have now turned it over to professor beverly gage, who is now running it. i still sit in on the class. she has brought in other yale professors, which i am delighted to see happening, younger yale professors. brian: if i am a student at yale, what year do i do this? mr. gaddis: junior undergraduate. there would be about 40 people, but there would have been 140 who applied for it. so there are always more people
who want to get into it then are able to do so. than are able to do so. brian: how often does it meet? mr. gaddis: once a week. brian: for how long? mr. gaddis: normally -- in the old regime, it would meet two hours once a week. the new program is doing two meetings per week. one for lecture, one for discussion. this is a new experiment being tried this year. brian: how did the three of you get together? because that's a lot of firepower in one room. mr. gaddis: the three of us, i had known paul for years. paul kennedy. i got to know charlie hill as soon as i got to yale. i can tell you specifically how we got together. we went to a briefing on nato expansion in 1998. there were a couple of spokesmen from nato who came at their request to address yale university. on the question of how smoothly
the expansion would go. this was, at the time, the expansion just to include poland, hungary, and the czech republic. they framed the discussion in terms of how easily the poles and the czechs and the hungarians would be accommodated within the committee structures at brussels and how everyone would get along in these meetings that took place in brussels. it was the only rationale that was given. finally, one of our colleagues grew impatient and said, but hadn't you considered that expanding nato to the east could arouse suspicions in the eyes of the russians? this is in the pre-putin period. and possibly impair the effort to turn russia into a democracy, possibly even drive russia into the arms of the chinese, thereby reversing one of the great
accomplishments of the cold war? one of the briefers actually held his hand to his head like this and said, gosh, we never thought of that. the whole audience. the three of us walked out and we told each other, we have to do something. that is where the idea got started. brian: let me show some video of charles hill so people can see what he looks like and we can talk about his impact. [video clip] mr. hill: we were neighbors over the back fence. in the early to mid 1990's, we began to realize we were independently, all three of us , getting the same messages quietly from students who were migrating, voting with their feet, coming from certain other majors, heading toward history
with the plea, why can't we think big? brian: "think big." what does that mean? mr. gaddis: it means long term, it means think interconnectedly, it means thinking across disciplines, it means thinking interconnectedly, it means raise big questions. think across disciplines. if you are thinking little, you're thinking about committee structures in brussels. if you're thinking big, you thinking about the impact on russia and china and relations. brian: where did charlie hill come from? mr. gaddis: years of service as an american diplomat. that was his first career. he was on kissinger's policy planning staff. he was chief assistant to george schultz during the reagan administration. is still one of the greatest resources for the reagan administration because of the
some 22,000 pages of handwritten notes he kept on conversations that took place in the reagan administration. but on his retirement, he came to yale before i did and started teaching outside any known department. so charlie was always the kind of free floater and still is. but his interests, which came from the foreign service as a profession, very nicely meshed with my interests as a diplomatic historian and with paul kennedy's interests in his studies of the rise and fall of great powers. brian: here is the third member of your team, paul kennedy. [video clip] mr. kennedhad ch ry: he materials around him, and they we lying there. thucydides, bismarck, origins of the second world war. churchill. we could teach a lot of stuff about big topics, larger trends
in history, lessons to be pulled out of getting the students to read thucydides, the romans. brian: when they write about this course, they want to put charlie hill on the right and paul kennedy on the left and you in the center. mr. gaddis: that is true. brian: is that true? mr. gaddis: more or less. brian: do you mix it up? mr. gaddis: we do, and we have a lot of fun. brian: what do you disagree on? mr. gaddis: everything. where possible, i will admit we exaggerate the disagreements to arouse the students. we will quite often debate issues in front of them, and we have done that for years and we are still neighbors and close friends. but the students enjoy this kind of dialogue and debate among their professors. i think they take some reassurance in knowing there are several ways of looking at a problem instead of some party line.
i think they respect the possibility for arguing vigorously within a framework of mutual respect and civility. and they know that we are good friends. they know that we go out to dinner, and they come over to our houses. we are close enough with them that is possible for the students. so the combination of vigorous intellectual debate among close personal friends who are at the same time dedicated teachers i think has been a wonderful thing and a very rare thing. very few places -- because it depends so much on personality. very few other places would be able to replicate this. i'm not sure if they can keep it going on after we leave the program. brian: i have read the suggestion has been made that when you became somewhat -- i don't know if the word is "close," but you became a friend of or briefer to george w. bush,
some of the people came off of supporting you in academia. mr. gaddis: i would not say i became a close advisor. what i found out to my surprise was he is a close reader of history. and so when i did a short book on the significance of 9/11, called "surprise, security, and the american experience," 2004, i was called down by condoleezza rice, who i had known for a long time, and she said, could you brief me and my team? i said, sure. i finished lunch, and condi says, by the way, could you spare a few moments for the president? i said, yeah, condi, i probably could. we go immediately into the oval and there is president bush and vice president cheney. bush has got his copy of this
book out, and it's heavily annotated. he says, sit down. he says, sit down. tell me about this. this was not what i was expecting. i had to improvise a lecture on bismarck for george w. bush on the spur of the moment. from that, i did go down for a series of other seminars. he regularly ran small seminars with historians, often on biographies. he'd say, let's do woodrow wilson or let's do lincoln. so i was one of several people who would go down periodically for that. but that was the extent of it. it was not really what i would call real consulting or advising. brian: is it true you suggested to him that he play winston churchill and begin painting? mr. gaddis: it is true. that happened about four years into his retirement.
and my wife and i were in dallas. i think we were promoting a book at that point. so i had a student, several students who had worked for him. i just said, we would like to drop by and say hello. and we did. he had us come by at some ungodly hour like 7:30 in the morng. so i asked him, how are you? he said, i am bored. i don't have enough to do. i said, you should take up painting. i told him about the churchill essay painting as a pastime, which we use in the grand strategy class. brian: a small book? mr. gaddis: a small book. and the rest is art, as they say. he has turned out to be very good at it. brian: did he send you a painting? mr. gaddis: no, he has not done that, but acknowledges me in his book of paintings that he published, the portraits of
veterans that he did. brian: i don't want to take up the whole show, but i want to go back to tell us about bismarck. mr. gaddis: my point about bismarck was fairly simple. bismarck's great skill as a grand strategist was that he knew the advantages of shock and awe. and this is how he unified germany in the 1860's. he instigated wars with austria, hungary, and eventually france. just started them himself. but having done that, having achieved his objective, which was the unification of germany, he stopped. and he became a consolidator rather than an instigator. his next 20 years in power as german chancellor were devoted to trying to build reassuring alliances to build a web of alliances with all of germany's neighbors so that they would get used to the idea of a unified germany. it was that distinction between
shock and awe and knowing when to stop and do something else that i was mentioning in the 9/11 book, and this was what bush was interested in as well. brian: your position on iraq? mr. gaddis: like a lot of other people, sympathetic to the idea originally of going in because i took the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, tended to take it literally and believe it like a lot of people. there was a huge intelligence failure, obviously, in that regard. and i think had we known that, had we known those weapons were not there, i would not have favored going in under those circumstances. so it's one of these things where i made a mistake because other people made a mistake in assessing the intelligence. there is a lot to be learned from that.
brian: paul kennedy mentioned thucydides. why thucydides? you hear this from historians. they want you to read the peloponnesian wars. mr. gaddis: it is timeless. he told us in his history that he intended it to be a work for all time, not because history repeats itself, but because it resembles itself and because human nature never changes. that was his own vision of the significance of his work. that has been borne out, it seems to me, by time. i first read him under very strange circumstances. i was hired by the late admiral stansfield turner to teach in the war college in the 1970's, just at the end of the vietnam war. i had no military experience. i was quite appalled to find out i was expected to teach this
book, which i had never read, thucydides, to these guys coming back from vietnam. none of us understood why, what the connection was. we dutifully did with the admiral said and got to the end of it, and we began reading about the doomed athenian expedition to sicily, which was another of these situations in which the distinction between vital and peripheral interests had gotten lost somewhere. credibility became the big issue. domino theory thinking was there. a very similar situation , and it opened up the floodgates with the students. for some of them, they were willing to talk about their experiences in vietnam. for me, what that did was to show the extraordinary instructional value of the classics in dealing with recent issues. newport, from that time, and
still today, has built its course, its strategy and policy course, on thucydides and other classical texts. and that became a model for the course that we developed some two decades later at yale. brian: there is a footnote that got my attention. you talk a lot about machiavelli and reading "the prince" and all that. but i have to read this back and ask you why. "the only book that rivals 'the prince' in unsettling my students is the second volume of the lyndon b. johnson biography which argues lbj could never have given the 1965 we shall overcome speech had he not stolen the 1948 texas democratic senatorial primary." why does that freak out your students? mr. gaddis: because if they read machiavelli, what they read about is the need to make
unpleasant compromises if you're going to be in politics. there are some things you have to do in order to achieve later objectives. and the idea that you can maintain moral purity and still be in politics is, for machiavelli, simply impossible. machiavelli talks at one point about a rebellious province that had to be pacified. and borges pacified it by taking the governor of the province, having him cut in two and displaying in the public square the two pieces. that was enough to pacify the entire province. one life lost and the province pacified. my students say, are we going to have to do things like that to achieve our objectives? i say nothing is simple, nothing is easy in life. i do another course on biography
in which i regularly use caro volume two, because it talks about the famous democratic primary in texas in 1948. there was no republican party there, and how johnson stole the election, which he won by 87 votes. but it is very clear it was a stolen election. however, caro craftily begins that volume with his account of the "we shall overcome" speech in 1965, classic secby lbj, in which he talks about teaching school in cotulla, my hometown a classic speech by lbj, in which lbj talks about teaching school in my hometown of cotulla. he makes the point johnson would never have been able to make that speech had he not gotten
into the senate, had not stolen that election. i pose this to the students, what would you have done? what is moral and what is not? it is actually competing moralities. in machiavelli and johnson and in caro. there is no good solution, but it is important for students to understand they will themselves in some way, maybe less dramatically, confront difficult choices like this. brian: why are so many professors in love with isaiah berlin? mr. gaddis: he was quite a character. i got to know him slightly when i was a doctorate in the early 1990's. he was best known for his distinction between foxes and hedgehogs, which goes back to the ancient greeks, but it was berlin who popularized that distinction, the idea being the fox knows many things and the hedgehog knows one big thing. and so that became iconic. and berlin is associated with that. but his other ideas, which i
think are even more relevant, one is this idea that politics is a matter not so much of good and evil normally, but of competing good things. and one good thing may well have to be sacrificed to achieve some other good thing. maybe you give it up altogether. maybe you postpone it. whatever, but this is the more natural, frequent political choice that has to be made. the idea you can go into politics and remain morally consistent or morally pure, berlin says, is perfectly unrealistic. this is the nature of politics. brian: here he is in 1997. mr. gaddis: he died in 1997. brian: this is an interview from swedish television. mr. gaddis: you have got to listen carefully. [video clip]
mr. berlin: i am being tied to a tree, i cannot move. if i'm in jail, i can't get out. i'm free to leave. freedom means not being tied to a tree. positive freedom asks a question , am i the master?mr. gaddis: td idea for which he is remembered, freedom, which reconciles all contradictions is actually no freedom at all. it is authoritarianism. that is what some overbearing totalitarian government does for you, and you are told the contradictions have been reconciled and you have nothing left to do. this was stalin, for example. it was mao in china.
the negative liberty he is talking about is the freedom to work at these choices for yourself. that can be a painful process, but you are in charge. you have no master. so i have found all of these ideas immensely fruitful. because i knew him and respected him, and since his death, i actually have read him more carefully than when he was alive. i let him be a commentator on this new book. i had the feeling, brian, that when i was writing this book, isaiah was perched on my shoulder, or was looking over my shoulder, a spooky kind of feeling, just commenting on various things. and if you read the book, you know he comes in and out at different points in the book. so he appears in chapter one. he then comes back when i discuss machiavelli in chapter four.
he then comes back yet again when i am talking about franklin roosevelt, a great hero to berlin. and when roosevelt is making his -- this most extreme moral compromises in world war ii, which was relying on the stalin soviet union to achieve victory in europe with the russians doing 90% of the fighting for us at the price of enslaving half of europe for the next four decades or so. a huge, difficult issue. and compromise. isaiah was, as a young reporter for the front office working him washington, sending a reports to the british foreing office, so the combination of his own
observations and his later ruminations, which came out of his philosophical writings, were perfect. you can think of him as a kind of philosophical commentator on each part of this book as you proceed through it. it was just fun to let him weave in and out. brian: a book was written about here, and the author was here years ago and then he went to canada to form a political party. mr. gaddis: more recently in hungary heading up the central european university. brian: here is a clip of isaiah berlin about coming to america in 1941, talking about british information. [video clip] mr. berlin: you arrive in new -- >> you arrive in new york in 1941. your job is to engage in propaganda that will get the americans into the war. that is what you are doing? mr. berlin: that is what we were doing.
if anyone wants us to know anything, we could supply the information. the information we supplied was supplied to us by the military invasion, and therefore was not the real truth. mr. gaddis: typical berlin. brian: one of the things, you talk about winston churchill being, you tell me, excited about when pearl harbor got bombed because -- mr. gaddis: for churchill, this solved so many problems. churchill's grand strategy, once he had decided not to surrender in 1940, beyond that, the only thing he could do was wait for the americans, wait for roosevelt, because britain, with the fall of france, is fighting on its own. britain could never hope to win
the war on its own. the best it can hope for is to hold off on its island, preserve its fleet. in the end, the americans would have to come into the war. and how that would happen and how it could be done was franklin roosevelt's issue he had to deal with. and roosevelt's strategy was one of waiting also, but waiting for several different things, waiting for american rearmament to take place so the resources of this great continent could be harnessed and applied, and he is fully rearming the country in a rapid way long before pearl harbor. and then he is waiting for american public opinion to change because american public opinion was very isolationist in 1939 or early 1940. but it is beginning to shift as americans see what is happening
in europe. the isolationism begins to thin out. and then roosevelt is also waiting for his own fort sumter, just like lincoln was waiting for the attack on fort sumter, attack by the confederacy, which then provided the justification for war. and roosevelt did not know where it was going to come from. but he did know the japanese were under great pressure. and in part because of an american oil embargo. and so the japanese attack on pearl harbor solved a great number of problems for roosevelt. there was only one problem left. it was the japanese who had attacked and not the germans. so how does roosevelt bring us into the war against germany? he did not have to think about that for more than two days because hitler, for reasons
which are not well understood, declared war on the united states on 11 december. and that solved roosevelt strategic problem and churchill's as well. brian: how do you learn? how do you learn? what has been your system? mr. gaddis: i like to think it's both by reading and teaching and reading more and teaching more, if that makes sense. i don't think you really know what you have read well until you have tried to teach it to a group of young people. i then think as you teach to a group of young people, you realize there are things you still don't know enough about to teach credibly, to teach fully. that drives you back to additional reading, the intersection of reading and teaching, and after you get to a certain point, writing also. for me, the active writing something down, like this book,
is a working out of ideas in my own mind, which is another approach to thinking. i really did not know what i thought about some of these issues that are discussed in this book until i wrote the book. and now i can go back and see what i think. so i think it is a creative interconnection of all three of these things, reading, teaching, and writing. brian: you mentioned professor berlin modernized the hedgehog and the fox. i am not sure this will work. i'm sure you can do this. lyndon johnson, was he a hedgehog or a fox? mr. gaddis: i think he was mostly a fox, because he was a manipulator. he was a skillful operator. he was -- he could pull all the buttons and do all the maneuvers.
but i think that in another sense, and this is another issue raised by caro, johnson was deeply inside a hedgehog. and a hedgehog idea, caro would argue, and johnson said this, as well, actually came from teaching in my hometown in 1928. he was teaching in a segregated mexican school and was very much moved by these kids who did not get very many resources. he was there only one year, but the experience stuck with him. and i really think what he was saying is i want to get to a point in life where i can do something for kids like that. but then the question is, how do you get to that point? well, you get to it by stealing elections, by manipulating
legislators, all of this kind of thing, wheeling and dealing. i think it comes full circle with the "we shall overcome" speech, where he goes back and talks about my hometown, cotulla, and what that meant to him in that before the congress of the united states. brian: define, once again, a hedgehog and a fox. mr. gaddis: a hedgehog knows one big thing, so has one big objective and may well have a single framwork for looking at the world, will have one lens for looking at the world. a fox will be aware of many competing priorities, may have different priorities. but a fox can lose a sense of direction because there is no one central idea. and so an unfocused fox is a spinning wheels and operating off in a bunch of different areas. the obvious solution is to be both. brian: nixon? mr. gaddis: nixon.
a complicated figure, but elements of both. i would say mostly a fox. very clever at seeing opportunities and exploiting them. so i think particularly about foreign policy, about the opportunities that were opening up for opening china, the extent to which he moved rapidly to exploit those opportunities and made the most of that, not all presidents would have done that. it would have been difficult, for example, for lyndon johnson to have done it or for hubert humphrey, if he won in 1968. because the democrats were under so much pressure from having lost china back in the 1940's. nixon was very good at seizing opportunities and running with them. he was also too much of a fox on domestic issues.
he cut too many corners. he let himself get caught. i suspect fdr cut a lot of corners along the way. i know lincoln cut a lot of corners along the way. but i think in both of those cases, if they had got caught, they had good explanations for doing so. it is hard to see what the explanation would have been for the watergate break-ins, except short-term political interest, which made no sense anyway because he was going to win that election by a landslide in 1972. for nixon, you descend into the psychology of grudges and maybe that's a deeply hedgehog idea that sometimes can override more sound foxy thought. brian: you mentioned steven spielberg's "lincoln." here is an excerpt. listen closely to what the actor, daniel day-lewis, says.
[video clip] >> the compass will point you true north from where you are standing. but it has no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms you will encounter along the way. it in proceeding to your destination you plunge ahead heedless of destinations and sink into a swamp, what is the use of knowing true north? brian: hedgehog? fox? mr. gaddis: gosh -- both. that moment was iconic for me in writing the book when i saw the movie in 2012. the very succinctness and brilliance with which that is played by daniel day lewis seems to encompass what the grand stragegy is all about because he talks about the importance of having a goal, having a compass
setting, having a sense of direction. and that sense of direction was for lincoln, winning the war and abolishing slavery, which is what the movie deals with, the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, but lincoln was a consummate politician as well. he understood that to get there, he cannot go straight to that objective because he will run into the swamp or over a cliff. so he has got to circumvent, he s got to navigat he has got to maneuver. before long, maybe he has got to bribe a few people sell a few post offices and whatnot. he is as manipulative a politician as nixon or lbj ever were. the beauty of that movie is the extent to which it shows this in lincoln. but the great difference with lincoln is he was so fixated on this larger goal and could so eloquently express it, and i think that is the genius of lincoln.
lbj is interesting because he had a larger goal. end -- and i think it was ending poverty and racism in this country. but he allowed himself to be distracted by the vietnam war and lost the ability to persuade credibly. his credibility began to go down the tubes shortly after the election in 1965 because he was caught being less than truthful about various things, small foreign policy issues the , intervention in the dominican republic and a whole series of things that led to the credibility gap. may be the difference is because the press is tougher on johnson than it was on lincoln. but it was pretty tough on lincoln in that day and age. and that is what i think you have to do in leadership is to maintain the compass heading, circumvent the swamps, but be
able to explain what compromises you have made if you have to make some and get caught making them. be able to explain why you did that. and that is a tough trick, a tough triangle to maintain. brian: i saw a poll that showed yale students are about 80% democrats. mr. gaddis: i would have thought more than that. brian: do you ever take a poll of whether they are hedgehogs or foxes after you've taught this? mr. gaddis: not really, because we don't want to give too much importance to that dichotomy. berlin meant it as a teaching tool. it started out as a party game, but he saw the value of it as a teaching device because it forces you to ask a consistent set of questions about a variety of people.
so it is useful up to a point. but i think the points can be drawn too finely, so trying to make fine distinctions sanctions between hedgehogism and foxism, it becomes artificial. what i have preferred to do is the more interesting question is , how you can combine the attributes of the hedgehog and the fox. but that means knowing when to be which, and this gets around one of charlie hill's favorite observations from scott fitzgerald. the sign of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold opposing ideas in mind and retain the ability to function. the problem is that charlie always announces this to the class, but never tells them what it means. so it drives them crazy. my book is an attempt to take
that idea and combine it with foxes and hedgehogs and say they are the opposing ideas, and how are they held simultaneously? brian: i want to ask you about academia. one of the funders, nicholas brady, was a senator and secretary of the treasury. [video clip] mr. brady: i will support the constitution of the united states. i come from 30 years in the banking business. and though you don't hear the term anymore, i was always taught the best loan you could make was a character loa one that looked beyond hard numbers and took a leap of faith and counted on the character and strength of the individual involved. brian: do your students pay any attention to the fact that this
man comes from the republican party, paid money for this course, does that matter? has he tried to steer you in a certain direction? mr. gaddis: no. we had one piece of advice from nick when the money came and the endowment was set up. i asked him, mr. brady, thank you for your generosity. what should we do with your money? he said, teach common sense. that is all he ever said. it was wonderful advice. so that allowed us huge leeway in setting up the course. he has never tried to tell us, do this, do that, hire this person. he maintains a lively interest. he is in his upper 80's now, but i hear from him frequently. and he comes to our events all the time. and when he does give advice, it is pretty good advice.
about five years ago he called me up and he said, you know, you and kennedy and hill are not getting any younger. nick was in his early 80's at that point, older than any of the three of us. he said, you had better start thinking about a successor. and so he had us begin to put into place a very gradual succession process that now has beverly gage as director of the program, and she in turn has brought in a good number of yale faculty members. and that has led to an expansion in the range of what we do, with more of a focus on domestic issues, social protest, economic inequality. but this is nick's a sense of how an institution remains healthy. its leadership cannot be permanent. it has got to bring in new blood.
it has got to be open to moving into new areas. and if it does not do those things, it stagnates. so i would say he is the perfect donor, making things possible and monitoring things carefully, but never actually instructing. just good, wise, sound, common sense advice. brian: let me go back to the hedgehog and the fox thing. george w. bush, what would he be? mr. gaddis: i think he was -- i think there are elements of the hedgehog in the first term. a lot of people would say this was the influence of his advisors, not so much bush, but cheney, rumsfield, the others. you have heard the criticism. neoliberalism, or neoconservatism, whatever term
you want to apply to it. but that as he gained confidence in the presidency and particularly in the second term, he became more his own leader, and it seems to me was beginning to make his own decisions to a greater extent. we don't have documents yet, so this is an impressionistic judgment, but it is shared by many people who write about the administration. i think it helps to explain why he was interested in bismarck when i first met him because he was struck with this idea, shock and awe might be good up to a point, but it is not a permanent strategy. you have to then build reassurance later. so what impact that had, i have no idea. brian: what was the date when you met him? mr. gaddis: it would have been the summer of 2004. brian: and the war started -- mr. gaddis: 2003. brian: all right, barack obama?
mr. gaddis: barack obama. i would say more hedgehog than fox. and by that, what i mean is someone who is heavily a process person, someone who considers processes to be extremely important to the extent that processes can take on lives of their own and sometimes lose sight of what they are for. so i take, for example, the management of the syrian situation, where i have never seen a clearer explanation of what the united states is trying to do in syria or who the enemy really is in this situation. and that all started with obama. i think obama did very little to notice or take note of the
domestic crisis that was brewing, the growing disillusionment of the middle classes in this country with what government was doing for them, and this huge change in american consciousness where americans now have little confidence their children will do better than they did. but historically, americans have always had the confidence their kids would do better than they did. if this change has taken place, and i think it has, that is an astounding change in the morale of the country. much of that happened on obama's watch. i don't think he was aware of and just did not see it coming. trump saw it and has exploited it and may as well have done it irresponsibly, but it was not responded to in the obama administration.
brian: final president, donald trump? mr. gaddis: too soon to say. there may be interesting grand strategies implicit in what he is doing. he is a destroyer, or he believes in destruction in a positive sense. he thinks for sure that you have to break things up before you can fix them. how much of this is a sense of the capacity to build anything new and how much of it is just destructive it seems to me remains to be seen. but anyone who can come in as he did in 2015 and 2016 and run circles around everybody else in those primaries and campaigns has some kind of political genius going. maybe it is malevolent genius. maybe it isn't. but this is someone who is picking up on something in the american character that was out there that nobody else was
picking up on. and so i think that -- if it does not deserve respect, it deserves serious analysis. it is where we are going. and it is about what is being done. i do think there is a tendency for trump to ask, what is it for questions, like why do we have to have continued division of the korean peninsula? what is it for? what does it accomplish? could we do something else? he is probably asking the same thing today on the iran issue, and there is a usefulness in asking, what is it for? but it has got to be accompanied with building something that is a continuation of the existing arrangement or something new. and that is where i am worried,
is i don't see the evidence he is capable of building something in the place of what he destroys. brian: what is it like inside of yale talking about donald trump? mr. gaddis: it can't really be done on a rational basis most of the time because within a university like yale, the feelings are so visceral, and i mean among the faculty, it is hard to have any conversation that does not say predictable things. and anybody who tries to say something less than predictable is apt to be disregarded, so people do not try all that much. it is almost that way with students, but not quite as much. and so i think we are in a kind of bubble as many places on the coast are.
one of the things we have tried to do in the summer, with our grand strategy students, we have always built in what we call a summer odyssey somewhere, which generally has meant some kind of a trip alone to some exotic part of the world on your own where you have got to cope and you are learning something. the kind of thing you would never be able to do when you are a grownup and that kind of thing. but the exotic climes we have been now pushing with our students are simply america. how many of you have taken a road trip across america? surprisingly few. surprisingly few yalies have done that. we are financing road trips across america for yale students
with the encouragement to stop in small towns and stay there. a couple have been to cotulla and have stayed for as long as two weeks, just talking to locals. and they write this up as their projects. it is very simple. we just have them write about what you saw, write about what you heard. they then can draw their own conclusions from this. but i think it is an extremely useful thing to do. and it is just our small effort to try to break down some of the isolation that somehow the elite universities have locked themselves into, the bubbles into which they have placed themselves. brian: when you were here in 2004, when you were a young man -- i say that because we were born the same year -- george kennan was still alive. and he died the next year, and then you did your book. what did you think, because you said he didn't want to read it.
what do you think he would have thought of the book once it came out? mr. gaddis: the biography? brian: of your biography. mr. gaddis: i like to think he would have approved of it. buit is a big book and there were things he would have been shocked to see appear there. even though they were in his papers. i know there were places he would dispute my judgments of certain things. but he was so adamant this wouls papers. i know there were places he be my own book, i'm not sure if he were alive he would ever say much to me about this because he so respected that the need for the author's independence in doing biography. that is pretty much where it would come down. but we both agreed he would not have that dilemma. so it was always assumed it would be a posthumous biography. that was always the deal. brian: you teach biography i
, know you have been asked this before, but who are two or three biographers in history and politics and government that you think have done the best job? mr. gaddis: best job means several different things. and i try to teach several different kinds of biography. i have been very impressed with biographyon audio's of isaiah berlin. withe to experiment biographical genres. vance,mple, jd "hillbilly elegy" was on the list and has been for a couple
of years as a biography of a family. do" was onnd the bart the list this year as a work of fiction that has biographical implications. one of my favorite characters is augustus, who was octavian. he gets a chapter in my new book , but there's also a wonderful epistolary biography of him by john williams, the american author, written some 30 years ago, which is all done as letters, fake letters that williams has invented, but they are from the real people who would have known young octavian and the rising augustus, and he is described in their words. he never appears himself until the end of the book. students are very fascinated with that mode of biography. brian: i've got to ask you a last question. i read that you have been
reading a biography of bob dylan. mr. gaddis: i have. ryan: is it worth reading? mr. gaddis: it is. brian: are you a follower of bob dylan? >> no, i was just curious. brian: our guest has been john lewis gaddis. thank you. >> for transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q&a.org. q&a programs are also available as c-span podcasts. >> on the next "q&a," biographer patricia o'toole on her book "the moralist: woodrow wilson and the world he made," next sunday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on
c-span. afternoon, athis forum on the future of race relations in america. we will hear from several university scholars and advocacy groups at an event hosted right arena stage in washington. that starts at 6:30 p.m. eastern life here on c-span. >> watch our live coverage of the utah senate republican debate with mitt romney and state lawmaker mike kennedy from brigham young university, tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern on , or listen-span.org on the free c-span radio app. make c-span your primary source for campaign 2018. speeches all this week in prime time. tonight at 9:00 p.m. eastern, the founder of the me too movement, clarence thomas, the
starbucks coo, and nikki haley. wednesday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, hillary clinton, rex tillerson, james mattis, and canadian prime minister justin trudeau. thursday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, cook, governor john kasich, governor kate brown, and congressman luis gutierrez, and on friday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, jimmy carter, betsy devos, representative mark meadows, and the mayor of atlanta. this week in prime time on c-span and c-span.org and on the free c-span radio app. next, former new jersey governor chris christie on the trump administration in the future of all it takes. he led the trump presidential planning team and recently spoke at this event held by the university of chicago. this is an hour 15 minutes.