As an attorney, distinguished diplomat, academic and author, there are few public officials with careers as varied and impressive as Philip Zelikow. He served as the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, was the author of the “Zelikow memo” disputing the legal grounds of torture of terrorism detainees, and the co-author along with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice of To Build a Better World: Choices to End the Cold War and Create a Global Commonwealth. Zelikow also recently published a much discussed article on “strategic corruption” in Foreign Affairs.
In this wide-ranging discussion with Robert Amsterdam, Zelikow talks about his work deconstructing the Suez crisis of 1956, how to consider history and decisionmaking without 20/20 hindsight, and what mistakes the Trump administration is making by concentrating solely on the culture war as opposed to focusing on what outputs and results they want from global diplomatic engagement.
Zelikow explains in detail his most recent work on “strategic corruption,” in which other nations exploit openings for lawlessness in the United States.
“I do think that this administration has opened itself up to corruption in a way that no American administration has ever done in the history of the United States,” says Zelikow. “I think this is actually a more corruption administration than the Harding administration or the Grant administration, and that foreigners have taken advantage of this.”
He argues: “This concern crosses party lines. There is not a party that says corruption is good. But there is an administration which has left itself enormously vulnerable to it, and actually, quite deliberately plotted by foreigners who are using our vulnerability to get policy objectives they want in Europe and Asia.”