Will Trump Go to War with Iran? Here Is What a Famous Yale Professor Thinks.

Key Point: What sort of strategy would Spykman prescribe to cope with a troublesome but less than overbearing Iran?

When pondering some strategic quandary you can get oriented by postulating what the greats in the field would say about it. What they said or wrote about roughly similar circumstances furnishes clues to what they might say about today’s strategic conundrums. This is the beginning of wisdom. The classics seldom furnish ready-made solutions. They almost always furnish a platform for launching into original thought.

Yes, you have to be humble when extrapolating from someone else’s words. Time, technology, and human society march on, and it’s hard to say for sure what some figure from the past would make of material and social trends since then. And yes, avoid treating their writings as gospel. To be great is not to be infallible. Sometimes sages get things wrong—even in their own time.

Still, situations rhyme between ages while principles endure. Ideas from the strategic canon retain their power to help posterity make sense of today’s controversies. Case in point: Iran is much in the headlines of late. What would the legendary geopolitics scholar, Yale professor Nicholas Spykman, say about the sputtering confrontation between the United States and Iran?

He would have plenty to say about the feud, first and foremost that Washington should continue trying to blunt Iranian ambitions. Not for him the passive approach. He was no proponent of “offshore balancing,” the conceit that America should stay mostly aloof from foreign entanglements, sending armadas and armies across the broad main only if inhabitants of the Far East or Western Europe proved unable to withstand a domineering power—an imperial Japan, a Nazi Germany, or a Soviet Union—on their own.

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