Max Boot Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Small Wars 
    and U.S. Foreign Policy: Conversation with Max Boot, Olin Fellow at the Council 
    on Foreign Relations, New York; with Professor Thomas G. Barnes, Professor 
    of History, UCB; March 12, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Welcome, gentlemen.

Thank you.

Welcome, Max. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in a country that no longer exists, in Moscow and the former Soviet Union, and I was raised in L.A., a somewhat less exotic locale.

And looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?

I think the fact that my parents were emigrants from the Soviet Union gave me a certain skepticism early on about socialist nostrums and some of the ideas being peddled by the Soviet Union and those sympathetic to it. The value of that kind of skepticism is fairly limited today, because, obviously, the Cold War is over and there are all sorts of new foreign policy issues that don't deal with the old ones. But that was how I got my start in being politically aware.

Did the fall of the Soviet Union influence your perspective on the world?

I would say so, sure. The fall of the Soviet Union was a tremendously consequential event, and in recent history it was a chime for freedom, the chime for the United States. At the same time, it has limited value in thinking about how you go forward. It was a great moment in our history, but of course, you have to think about fresh challenges, just as in 1945 we could celebrate the fall of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, but then you have to think about fresh challenges and how you confront the changing international environment. That's what we've been doing ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Tell us a little about your education. Where did you get your degree?

I got my degree right here at the University of California at Berkeley, which is why I'm wearing this old Cal tie that I dug out of the closet.

And you notice, by the way, that wholesome introduction of everybody you've written for, he never mentioned the Daily Cal's Thursday column.

That's how I got my start, the Daily Californian.

In journalism?

That's right, writing a weekly column. I used to say that I was the second conservative in the history of the Daily Californian, but after David Brock defected back to the left, I guess that makes me the only one.

So what happened to you at Berkeley? Did it confirm your conservative inclination, because the place was so far on the other side?

I think, to some extent, that's true. I'm a natural contrarian and it certainly played into that aspect of it. I've actually become somewhat less conservative in a lot of ways over the years, mainly less socially conservative. But in terms of core beliefs about liberty and foreign policy and defense, those kinds of things, I certainly was not shaken from those by my experience at Berkeley.

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