Robert D. Kaplan

Robert D. Kaplan

Robert D. Kaplan (born 1953) is an American journalist, currently an editor for the "Atlantic Monthly". His writings have also been featured in "The Washington Post", "The New York Times", "The New Republic", "The National Interest", and "The Wall Street Journal", among other newspapers and publications, and his more controversial essays about the nature of U.S. power have spurred debate in academia, the media, and the highest levels of government. A frequent theme in his work is the reemergence of cultural and historical tensions temporarily suspended during the Cold War.


Robert Kaplan was born on 23 June 1953 in a Jewish New York family, son of the late Philip Alexander Kaplan and Phyllis Quasha. Kaplan's father was a truck driver for the "New York Daily News" and instilled in Kaplan a love of history at an early age. He was accepted to the University of Connecticut on a swimming scholarship and received a B.A. in English.

After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 1973, Kaplan applied unsuccessfully to several big-city newsrooms but eventually found employment as a reporter for the Rutland Herald in Vermont before buying a one-way plane ticket to Tunisia. Over the next several years he lived in Israel, where he joined the army, [Lipsky, David. [ “Appropriating the Globe”] , "The New York Times", November 27, 2005. Accessed 24 April, 2007] traveled and reported on Eastern Europe and the Middle East, lived for some time in Portugal and eventually settled down in Athens, Greece, where he met his Canadian wife Maria Cabral.

Foreign correspondent career

In 1984, he traveled to Iraq to cover the Iran–Iraq War. He first worked as a freelance foreign correspondent reporting on Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but slowly expanded his coverage to all regions ignored in the popular press. His first book, "Surrender or Starve: The Wars Behind The Famine" (1988) contended the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s was more complex than just drought and Cold War US foreign policy, pointing the blame instead to the collectivization carried out by the Mengistu regime.

Kaplan then went to Afghanistan to write about the guerrilla war against the Soviet Union for Reader's Digest. Two years after writing "Surrender or Starve," he wrote and published "Soldiers of God: With the Mujahidin in Afghanistan" (1990) in which he recounted his experiences during the Soviet-Afghan War.

"Balkan Ghosts" and "The Arabists"

Neither of these books sold very well, and Kaplan's third book, "Balkan Ghosts", was rejected by several editors before being published in 1993. At first, it did not sell very well. But when the Yugoslav Wars broke out, President Bill Clinton was seen with Kaplan's book tucked under his arm, and White House insiders and aides said the book convinced the President against intervention in Bosnia. Kaplan's book contended that the conflicts in the Balkans were based on ancient hatreds beyond any outside control. Kaplan criticized the administration for using the book to justify non-intervention, but his popularity skyrocketed shortly thereafter along with demand for his reporting. That same year, he also published "The Arabists".

Kaplan had not set out to influence U.S. foreign policy, but his work began to find a wide readership in high levels of government. Many felt that his reportage strengthened his arguments, as does his frequently-invoked historical perspective. PIn 1994 and 1995 he set out to travel from West Africa to Turkey, Central Asia to Iran, and India to Southeast Asia and published a travelogue about his journey in "The Ends of the Earth". He then traveled across his home country and North America and wrote "An Empire Wilderness", published in 1998.

"The Coming Anarchy"

His article "The Coming Anarchy" published in the "Atlantic Monthly" in February 1994 about how population increase, urbanization, and resource depletion are undermining fragile governments across the developing world and represent a threat to the developed world was hotly debated and widely translated. "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman called Kaplan one of the "most widely read" authors defining the post-Cold War era, along with Francis Fukuyama, Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington, and Yale Professor Paul Kennedy.cite Kaplan published the article and other essays in a book with the same title in 2000, which also included the controversial article "Was Democracy Just A Moment?", and his travels through the Balkans, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Middle East at the turn of the millennium were recorded in "Eastward to Tartary". Also written in 2000 was another controversial essay entitled "the Dangers of Peace" in which he described an America falling under peacetime's "numbing and corrosive illusion".

Writing in the New York Times, reviewer Richard Bernstein notes that Kaplan "conveys a historically informed tragic sense in recognizing humankind's tendency toward a kind of slipshod, gooey, utopian and ultimately dangerous optimism." [Bernstein, Richard [ “The Coming Anarchy: Dashing Hopes of Global Harmony”] , "The New York Times", February 23, 2000. Accessed 21 May, 2007.]

After 9/11

Demand for Kaplan's unorthodox analysis became more popular after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In his book "Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos", published shortly after 9/11, Kaplan offered the opinion that political and business leaders should discard Christian/Jewish morality in public decision-making in favor of a pagan morality focused on the morality of the result rather than the morality of the means. He also published a pure travel book titled "Mediterranean Winter."

Kaplan's book [ "Imperial Grunts: The American Military On The Ground"] , was published in October 2005. In it, Kaplan tells of US Special Forces on the ground across the globe in Colombia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq. Kaplan predicts that the age of mass infantry warfare is probably over and has said that the conflict in Iraq caught the U.S. Army in between being a "dinosaur" and a "light and lethal force of the future." Kaplan sees large parts of the world where the US military is operating as "injun country" which must be civilized by the same methods used to subdue the American Frontier in the 1800s. He also praises the revival of Confederate military virtue in the US armed forces. Kaplan was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and wrote an often-cited report for the "Atlantic Monthly" entitled "Five Days in Fallujah" about the spring 2004 campaign. In June 2005 he wrote the cover story for the "Atlantic Monthly" titled "How We Would Fight China", which suggests the inevitability of a Cold War-type situation between the US and China. In October 2006 he wrote "When North Korea Falls" for the same magazine in which he examines the prospect of North Korea's collapse and the effect on the balance of power in Asia in favor of China.

In addition to his journalism, Kaplan has been a consultant to the U.S. Army's Special Forces Regiment, the United States Marines, and the United States Air Force. He has lectured at military war colleges, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, major universities, the CIA, and business forums, and has appeared on PBS, NPR, C-Span, and Fox News. He is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is the recipient of the 2001 Greenway-Winship Award for Excellence in international reporting. In 2002, he was awarded the United States State Department Distinguished Public Service Award. He is currently the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis.

Kaplan's next book reflects his continuing interest and focus on the US Armed Forces. "Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground" was published in September 2007 by Random House. Kaplan introduces readers to more of the soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who staff the empire's forward outposts. Although the author's travels take him to Iraq, he spends most of his time with imperial maintenance units that are training indigenous troops, protecting sea lanes and providing humanitarian relief from Timbuktu to the Straits of Malacca. Kaplan sees the war on terror and the re-emergence of China as the U.S.'s two abiding challenges in the 21st century and argues that, after Iraq, the military will seek a smaller, less noticeable footprint overseas.

He lives with his wife Maria and their son in Massachusetts.

Praise and criticism of Kaplan

"Whether Kaplan draws the right conclusions from his travels, he certainly reports authoritatively on conditions in far-flung places. He has been everywhere... Certainly, Kaplan makes fresh observations." -- Rex Roberts

"Kaplan, over his career, appears to have become someone who is too fond of war. "It could be said," he has written, "that occasional small wars and occupations are good for us." He's expanded on this topic: those "occasional wars" are "evidence of humanity." This is because "peaceful times are also superficial times."" -- David Lipsky [Lipsky, David. [ “Appropriating the Globe”] , "The New York Times", November 27, 2005. Accessed 24 April, 2007]

"As a piece of travel literature alone, 'The Ends of the Earth' succeeds in providing a tangible sense of the sweaty, smelly reality of many exotic points on the map, with glimpses of their cruelty but also, occasionally, of beauty and human kindness. As a piece of analysis, it is deeply thought-provoking." -- Francis Fukuyama

"If Kaplan is a romantic, he is also a populist and a reactionary." -- Andrew J. Bacevich

"Mr. Kaplan is the first traveler to take us on a journey to the jagged places where these tectonic plates meet, and his argument--that our future is being shaped far away 'at the ends of the earth'--makes his travelogue pertinent and compelling reading." -- Michael Ignatieff

"This is breathtaking. Here is a serious writer in 2005 admiring the Indian wars, which in their brutality brought about the end of an entire American civilization." -- David Rieff in The New Republic

"Kaplan offers no vision, no strategy, nothing beyond accurate descriptions of the current state of warfare inside the Gap. He is the global war on terror's best sideline reporter, but he's the wrong source to cite on how to run the entire franchise." -- Thomas P. M. Barnett

"The dire conclusion about coming anarchy seems overdrawn... Still, Mr. Kaplan's bold assertions do concentrate the mind. 'The Coming Anarchy' is informed by a rock-solid, unwavering realism and an utter absence of sentimentality." -- Richard Bernstein [Bernstein, Richard [ “The Coming Anarchy: Dashing Hopes of Global Harmony”] , "The New York Times", February 23, 2000. Accessed 21 May, 2007.]

"This remarkable man has found himself a large and sometimes powerful audience, and he is determined to convey some very practical, big-picture warnings to the more efficacious members of that audience before they get us all into terrible trouble. We should pay close attention, and hope for a reduced accident rate." -- Adam Garfinkle [Garfinkle, Adam [ “The Sky is Always Falling”] , "The New York Times", 19 March, 2000. Accessed 21 May, 2007.]

"Because he specializes in exploring the San Andreas faults of the modern geopolitical system, his books have had more influence on politicians and policy makers than most travel writing." -- Adam Garfinkle

"Robert Kaplan is a vigorous reporter who thinks on his feet, often invoking historical perspective, but never staying still, always voraciously searching for the outlines of the future in his restless travelogues, as he calls his works." -- Suzannah Lessard

"Kaplan’s real and growingly evident problem is not his Parkinson’s grip on history, or that he is a bonehead or a warmonger, but rather that he is an incompetent thinker and a miserable writer." - Tom Bissell [Bissell, Tom [ “Euphorias of Perrier: The Case Against Robert D. Kaplan”] , "The Virginia Quarterly Review", Summer 2006. Accessed 24 April, 2007.]

"When Ulug Beg slurps as he eats Kaplan calls him “crude” and wonders if Ulug Beg’s manners might be explained this way: “Could these be pre-Byzantine Turks? Could this be what Turks might have been somewhat like before the great Seljuk and Osmanli migrations to Anatolia”? The Seljuks migrated to Anatolia around 900 years ago. That Kaplan does not understand how offensive such eugenic explanations are for one young man’s eating habits is appalling. That he does not recognize the basic implausibility of such an explanation is beyond reason." - Tom Bissell [Bissell, Tom [ “Euphorias of Perrier: The Case Against Robert D. Kaplan”] , "The Virginia Quarterly Review", Summer 2006. Accessed 24 April, 2007.]

“Kaplan places him where he himself would like to stand, with the "realists" of this world against the "idealists," with the tough-minded pagans of antiquity against the soft-minded strand of Christianity and its offshoots that too often shape modern thought and policy in the West.” - Donald Kagan [Kagan, Donald [ “Saber Rattling for Democracy ”] , "The New York Times", February 3, 2002. Accessed 2 July, 2007.]

“Just about every historical event or political philosopher he discusses he gets at least half-wrong.” - Donald Kagan

"Robert Kaplan set himself up to be the Kipling of the Empire that wasn't." - Thomas Grossman

"“Nobody except the ultra-right wing jingoists like Kaplan is comparing atrocities by various countries. What honest people are saying, is that we should pay attention to our own crimes, and "stop committing them". … the just cause for people like Kaplan is: 'we did it, therefore it’s a just cause.' You can read that in the Nazi archives too.” Hot Type Transcript: Noam Chomsky "9-11"_Interview April 16, 2002 [ [ Hot Type on the Middle East, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Evan Solomon ] at] [YouTube|10rTPSSmOFw|Noam Chomsky Interview on CBC (Part 1 of 2)] []

Books by Kaplan

*cite book
title=Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea
author=Robert D. Kaplan
, published September 1988, reprinted November 2003
*cite book
title=Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan
author=Robert D. Kaplan
(also titled "Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan"), published February 1990, reprinted November 2001
*cite book
title=Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History
author=Robert D. Kaplan
, published February 1993, reprinted March 1994
*cite book
title=Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite
author=Robert D. Kaplan
publisher=Free Press
", published September 1993
*cite book
title=The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia--A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy
author=Robert D. Kaplan
publisher=Peter Smith Pub Inc
, published February 1996, republished January 2000
*cite book
title=An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future
author=Robert D. Kaplan
, published August 1998
*cite book
title=The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War
author=Robert D. Kaplan
, published January 2000
*cite book
title=Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus
author=Robert D. Kaplan
, published November 2000
*cite book
title=Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
author=Robert D. Kaplan
, published December 2001
*cite book
title=Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece
author=Robert D. Kaplan
publisher=Random House
, published February 2004
*cite book
title=Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond
author=Robert D. Kaplan
, published September 2005
*cite book
title=Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground
author=Robert D. Kaplan
publisher=Random House
, published September 2007

Contributions to Other Editions
*cite book
title=Lord Jim & Nostromo (Modern Library)
author=Joseph Conrad
publisher=Modern Library
, published April 2000 (Introduction, Modern Library 1400061334Edition)
*cite book
title=Travelers Tales Turkey: True Stories
publisher=Travelers' Tales
, published September 2002 (Contributor)
*cite book
title=Taras Bulba (Modern Library Classics)
author=Nikolai Gogol
publisher=Modern Library
, published April 2003 (Introduction, Modern Library Edition)


Kaplan is unrelated to journalist Fred Kaplan, with whom he is occasionally confused. He is also sometimes confused with neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan. [Slate Online [ “No Relation No. 13: The Foreign Policy Edition”] , October 31, 2001.]


External links

* [ Coming Anarchy] - a leading foreign affairs blog inspired by the ideas of Kaplan.
* [ Robert Kaplan interview] , "The American Enterprise", January/February 2006.
* [ "Robert Kaplan: Empire Without Apologies"] by Andrew J. Bacevich, "The Nation Magazine", September 26, 2005
* [ Euphorias of Perrier: The Case Against Robert D. Kaplan] , by Tom Bissell, "Virginia Quarterly Review", Summer 2006.
* [ Contemporary Issues of American National Security] - by Alexander Besant, "The Yale Journal of International Affairs", February, 2008

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