Jeremi Suri: How to Make America Great Again

cvr9781439119129_97814391191293In a world rife with political and economic turmoil, President Obama’s re-election campaign has been put to the test. From the rolling economic crisis in Europe, to the intensifying conflict in Syria, to the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a daunting array of global issues have complicated the 2012 presidential election.

Recent headlines from around the world reinforce a reality for Obama and any of his successors: Nation-building can only work when the people own it. Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, argues that the United States has too often forgotten this truth over the course of its history of foreign policy.

This is one of the five principles of successful nation-building that Suri outlines in his book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” (Free Press, Sept. 2011). In what he calls “the five Ps,” he draws a new model for building successful relationships overseas and abroad.

The book, now available in paperback, combs through more than 200 years of U.S. policy to explain the successes and failures of nation-building operations.

Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discusses the many reasons why American citizens need to dream beyond the world they live in today.

Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discusses the many reasons why American citizens need to dream beyond the world they live in today.

From Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, to the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq, Suri draws lessons from past mistakes and offers a plan for moving forward.

Although “Liberty’s Surest Guardian” focuses on politics and foreign policy, the patterns of change apply to all areas of life, Suri says. In this eight-part Knowledge Matters video series, watch him discuss the importance of nation-building – and why dreaming big is a critical component of societal progress.

Two Faculty Authors Discuss their Works at Game Changers Double Header

game2Watch two distinguished liberal arts professors discuss their research at a Game Changers double header on Wednesday, March 28. The tapings are free and open to the public.

1 p.m. Wednesday, March 28
Paul Woodruff: Are You Ajax or Odysseus?

In his book “The Ajax Dilemma,” (Oxford University Press, Oct. 2011) Paul Woodruff, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies and professor of philosophy, uses a parable from classical Greece to shed light on a very contemporary business dilemma: how to reward outstanding players without damaging the team.

Tapping into his experience as a boss, a professor, an officer and an employee, Woodruff uses his broad perspective to issue an intriguing call for a compassionate approach to fairness.

Meet a Game Changer: Paul Woodruff

Meet a Game Changer: Paul Woodruff

Woodruff is the Darrell K. Royal Professor in Ethics and American Society. He joined the university faculty in 1973 and has been chair of the Department of Philosophy and director of the Plan II Honors Program. He also served on the Task Force on Curricular Reform.

Specializing in ancient Greek philosophy, Woodruff has written a number of definitive translations of works by Plato, Sophocles and others. In addition, he has authored books that interpret classical philosophy for political, business or personal situations in contemporary lives. He won the 1986 Harry Ransom Teaching Award and was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 1997. He holds degrees from Princeton and Oxford.

6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 28
Jeremi Suri: Can America Be Great Again?

After the Second World War, American society benefited from unprecedented peace and prosperity. What was key to this success? Americans were very strategic in their

Meet a Game Changer: Jeremi Suri

Meet a Game Changer: Jeremi Suri

deployment of historical wisdom, drawing upon the experiences, institutions and knowledge acquired in earlier decades to build our nation.

So far, Americans have not shown the same wisdom in the 21st century. Our society is suffering. The time has come for Americans to reawaken their historical wisdom, analyzing the recent past to identify the key ideas and institutions that will allow our society to thrive once more. Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and LBJ School of Public Affairs, will examine our national history and will show how this history should empower citizens to reinvent American greatness again.

Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and professorships in history and public policy. He is the author of five books on contemporary politics and foreign policy including “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” ( Free Press, Sept. 2011). Suri’s research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America’s “Top Young Innovators” in the arts and sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media.

The talks are in Studio 6A at the KLRU studios. Sign up to attend one taping or both. Go to this website for more details.

Jeremi Suri Speaks and Signs “Liberty’s Surest Guardian” at BookPeople

suri_newsreleaseAmericans are a nation-building people, and in “Liberty’s Surest Guardian” (Free Press, Sept. 2011) Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, looks to America’s history to see both what it has to offer failed states around the world and what it should avoid. He will present his new book at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at BookPeople.

In “Liberty’s Surest Guardian,” Suri examines more than 200 years of U.S. policy to explain the successes and failures of nation-building operations. From Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, to Japan and Germany after World War II, to the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq, he draws lessons from past mistakes and offers a plan for moving forward. Read his Q&A for more about the book.

About the author: Jeremi Suri – Nobel Fellow and leading light in the next generation of policy makers—is the author of five books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. His research and cvr9781439119129_9781439119129teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007, Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America’s “Top Young Innovators” in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. He is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs. Visit his blog for more about his work.

BookPeople is located at 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Visit the BookPeople website for more about the event.

Do Your Holiday Shopping this Saturday at the Humanities Texas Book Fair

flyer_email-copyBooks make great gifts, especially for those “hard to buy for” people on your list. So take a break from the mall and head on over to the Humanities Texas annual Holiday Book Fair this Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the historic Byrne-Reed House.

Twenty-one authors will be available to visit with the public and sign copies of their latest books, which Humanities Texas will offer for purchase at a discounted price. Proceeds will go to the Bastrop Public Library, which suffered losses to its collection during the September wildfires.

The lineup includes:

H.W. Brands, the Raymond Dickson, Alton C. Allen and Dillon Anderson Centennial Professor

1Brands_GreenbackPlanetIn “Greenback Planet,” Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. In The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield, Brands traces the downfall of a notorious New York City figure and brings to life New York’s Gilded Age. More…

Oscar Casares, associate professor of English

1Casares_Amigoland“Amigoland,” set on the South Texas border with Mexico, is the story of estranged brothers Don Fidencio Rosales—querulous, nearly 92 years old, and living in a nursing home—and Don Celestino, twenty years his junior and newly widowed, who finds himself somewhat ambivalently involved with his young cleaning woman, Socorro. The housekeeper is a catalyst for the brothers reconnecting, and the improbable trio takes off on a bus trip into Mexico, where the siblings hope to settle a long-standing dispute about how their grandfather arrived in the U.S. and Socorro hopes to find clarity in her unlikely romance. The trip stirs up powerful issues of family and pride and about how we care for the people we love. More…

Don Graham, the J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of American and English Literature

1Graham_StateofMindsIn “State of Minds,” Graham brings together and updates essays he published between 1999 and 2009 to paint a unique picture of Texas culture. In a strong personal voice—wry, humorous, and ironic—Graham offers his take on Texas literary giants ranging from J. Frank Dobie to Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy and on films such as “The Alamo,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “Brokeback Mountain.” More…


James Pennebaker, the Regents Centennial Liberal Arts Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology

1pennebaker_james“The Secret Life of Pronouns” examines how and why pronouns and other forgettable words reveal so much about us. Partly a research journey, the book traces the discovery of the links between function words and social and psychological states. Written for a general audience, the book takes the reader on a remarkable and often unexpected journey into the minds of authors, poets, lyricists, politicians, and everyday people through their use of words. More…

Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy

1Suri_JeremyNation-building is in America’s DNA. It dates back to the days of the American Revolution, when the founding fathers invented the concept of popular sovereignty—the idea that you cannot have a national government without a collective will. The framers of the Constitution initiated a policy of cautious nation-building, hoping not to conquer other countries, but to build a world of stable, self-governed societies that would support America’s way of life. In “Liberty’s Surest Guardian,” Suri looks to America’s history to see both what it has to offer to failed states around the world and what the nation should avoid. More…

L. Michael White, the Ronald Nelson Smith Chair in Classics and Christian Origins and the director of the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins

1White_ScriptingJesusIn “Scripting Jesus,” White challenges us to read the gospels as they were originally intended—as performed stories of faith rather than factual histories. White demonstrates that each of the four gospel writers had a specific audience in mind and a specific theological agenda to push, and consequently wrote and rewrote their lives of Jesus accordingly—in effect, scripting Jesus to get a particular point across and to achieve the desired audience reaction. More…

Park for free in the St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church’s large lot on the northwest corner of 15th and Rio Grande Streets, and enjoy coffee and a bake sale of donated and homemade treats. Go to this website for more information about the authors and their books!

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“Liberty’s Surest Guardian” Author Draws New Model for Nation-Building

suri_newsreleaseSince the days of the American Revolution, nation-building has been deeply embedded in America’s DNA. Yet no other country has created more problems for itself and for others by pursuing impractical reconstruction efforts in war-torn nations, argues Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

In his new book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama,” Suri examines more than 200 years of U.S. policy to explain the successes and failures of nation-building operations. From Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, to Japan and Germany after World War II, to the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq, he draws lessons from past mistakes and offers a plan for moving forward.

According to his analysis, the key to successful nation-building is to follow five principles:

Partners: Nation-building always requires partners; there must be communication between people on the ground and people in distant government offices.

Process: Human societies do not follow formulas. Nation-building is a process which does not produce clear, quick results.

Problem-solving: Leadership must start small, addressing basic problems. Public trust during a period of occupation emerges from the fulfillment of basic needs.

Purpose: Small beginnings must serve larger purposes. Citizens must see the value in what they’re doing.

People: Nation-building is about people. Large forces do not move history. People move history.
Suri recently sat down with ShelfLife@Texas to discuss the book and its implications for American politics at home and abroad.

cvr9781439119129_9781439119129

Why is nation-building a part of American DNA?

The founding of the United States in the late 18th century was a radical nation-building project. A small group of people living in British North America sought to create a new kind of government in a vast territory that was representative, free and unified. Their success became the expectation for all American politics at home and abroad to this day. Americans continue to assume that others want to live with a similar kind of government. Americans continue to believe that a world with similar governments will be safer and more prosperous. From the late 18th century to the present, the basic American vision of change is nation-building on the American model.

In your book, you provide examples of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. What do you hope your readers will take away from the concept of starting small to serve a larger purpose?

In a time of deep partisanship and difficult economic circumstances, too many people (especially students) believe that change is impossible. Too many people think they have to accept the world as it is. That is wrong! The record of history shows that people, especially young people, can improve the world by bringing diverse citizens together to work on common problems. This has been the American experience with nation-building, when it has worked best. We need serious nation-building at home and abroad today. I remain optimistic that our young citizens are poised to become another generation of nation-builders.

Could you give me an example of a mistake that is often repeated in America’s history of nation-building? And what we are getting right?

A common mistake is to seek simple shortcuts to nation-building. This often involves empowering a “good dictator” who Americans hope will push a society to change. That almost never works. “Good dictators” are quickly corrupted, they inspire resistance, and they always lose touch with the world of their citizens. Nation-building is a slow process, it requires the kinds of patience and institution-building that Americans often neglect.

Americans are idealists about cultural cooperation. Almost alone, Americans tend to assume that culture is not destiny; that diverse citizens can work together. Most other societies assume otherwise. Americans have consistently sought to build pluralistic nations of diverse peoples at home and abroad. That is the positive side of nation-building. It is the best alternative to cultural ghettoization.

In your book, you examine the failures of American nation-building in Vietnam during the Cold War. Which of the “Five Ps” (the five principles of nation-building) went missing during this turning point in history?

Many scholars, especially at The University of Texas at Austin, have written great books on Vietnam. I draw on their work to argue that Americans were intoxicated with their perceived power in the 1950s and 1960s. They thought they could change societies unilaterally. American efforts in Vietnam failed because Americans neglected the needs, desires and capabilities of the Vietnamese living in both the North and the South. This was nation-building doomed to failure.

As one of your “Five Ps,” you state that problem solving is an essential part of nation-building. How does this principle factor into the United State’s nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

In Afghanistan and Iraq the United States was not prepared to solve the problems that dominated the lives of most citizens. The people of both societies wanted security and an improved standard of living. The United States overthrew the oppressive governing regimes, but it did not improve security or living standards in the first years of both occupations. In fact, things initially got worse for most citizens in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Which principle do you think President Barack Obama should focus on as he works to extricate U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan?

As the United States withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan it must build productive partnerships with local groups and regional powers in both areas. The United States must re-double its efforts to support institutions that will contribute to stable, participatory and uncorrupt government. The United States must support nation-building, led by local and regional actors.

Watch a video on YouTube about the concepts explored in Suri’s new book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian.”


About the Author:
A leading scholar of international history and global affairs, Suri is the first holder of the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. “Liberty’s Surest Guardian” is his fourth book.