BRIAN LAMB: Robert Kaplan, in your new book In Europe's Shadow, you started in the prologue by talking about books. Why?
ROBERT KAPLAN: Because I think the ultimate goal of travel is to create a bibliography. Beautiful landscapes, intriguing landscapes lead you to books about them to explain their past and history. And those books lead you to other books and other books, often very obscure, so we travel in order to learn and we can only learn by reading, so that the relationship between travel and good books is inextricable.
LAMB: Why a book about Romania?
KAPLAN: Because I have had a third of a century long obsession with Romania, because it's where essentially in a spiritual sense I started my professional life, where I realized I was finally doing what I wanted to do.
LAMB: 1973 your first visit?
KAPLAN: My first visit was in 1973. I travelled as a backpacker after college through all the countries of the Warsaw Pact, staying in youth hostels, from East Germany down to Bulgaria. And what that journey taught me was we were reading in the newspapers about all these countries were the same. They were all grey slaves of the Soviet Union.
But what I found in 1973 was they were all extremely different from each other, because even communism could not erase their ethnic histories, their geographies, their distinct cultures. But that trip in 1973 did not really start my obsession with Romania. That happened later.
KAPLAN: It happened in 1981, in the fall. I was getting out of the Israeli Defense Forces. I was in Jerusalem. I found a book in a book store an obscure book, a seemingly obscure book by a Canadian author - Canadian expert on Central East Europe, (Gordon Skilling).
And he talked about all of the countries of the region, the way I had experienced it back in 1973, so an idea came into my mind that I would travel again through Central Eastern Europe, but Israel only had direct air flights to Bucharest, the capital of Romania because that was the only country it had formal diplomatic relations with.
So I bought a one-way ticket. I had a little money. I had a few phone numbers. And I left the hot house glittering colors of the Middle East for sort of the black-and-white engraving of the shivery November-hued Balkans kind of.
And I did it because in the Middle East there were just hundreds upon hundreds of journalists all covering the same story, which was a subsidiary of the Cold War. When I got to Romania, there was almost no journalist covering the main story of the second half of the 20th century, which was the Cold War itself.
LAMB: OK. Can't let it pass - but then I ask you about being a member of the Israeli defense force, the idea, because you weren't born in Israel. Explain that and how long were you in the force?
KAPLAN: I travelled through the Arab countries of the Middle East in the mid 1970s. I arrived in Israel with very little money. I liked the country immensely. I stayed. I was drafted into the military, but over time I did not - my liking for Israel did not dissipate, but I didn't want to spend my life there. I had wanderlust. I wanted to go everywhere and see many other things.
LAMB: What did you do in the IDF?
KAPLAN: Nothing particularly interesting, guarding, things like that.
LAMB: How long?
KAPLAN: A year,12 months.
LAMB: And the fact that you're Jewish means that you could serve automatically or have the dual citizenship?
KAPLAN: Yes, exactly. And then I left Israel in 1981, and later on I renounced my citizenship in order to serve in government, do other things.
LAMB: In the United States.
LAMB: Where were you born?
KAPLAN: I was born in New York City in 1952.
LAMB: You were here for Book Notes back in 1996 and I want to run a little clip from that and see what you think about your prediction back then.
For most of the people in the world during much of the time, things have gradually been getting better. But one of the messages of this book is that for a critical mass of third world inhabitants in more countries than we can deal with, things are getting - are going to be very tumultuous and perhaps violent over the next 20 or 30 years. The long range future may be bright, but the next 20 or 30 years in a significant part of the globe may be very bloody.
It's not because of poverty so much. People don't go to war because they're poor. It's because these places are rapidly changing and developing and developing is always violent, uneven and painful and cruel.
(End of video)
LAMB: That was in 1996. How did you do?
KAPLAN: I think I did fairly well. I like the way I looked better then than now, obviously. But look a journalist cannot predict the near-term future exactly, because so many decisions are made in the disfiguring whirlwind of human passion and individual actions.
A journalist also cannot predict the long-range future, because who knows what the world will be in 50 or 75 years. The best a journalist can do, and this is what I try to do is to make us a bit less surprised and shocked by what's going to happen in the near term - in the middle term future, I should say, five years.
If, you know, if a news story or an essay or a book makes you a bit less surprised about developments in a given country, 5, 10 years out that's the best that a journalist can do.
LAMB: Back in 1996, you told us that you had been to 75 countries. How many more since then?
KAPLAN: I've stopped counting. I've stopped counting, but I never really covered Latin America much. I never really covered many of the Pacific Islands much. There are places I have never been. I've never been to Saint Petersburg to my great regret, and there are other places too. So there are, you know, there are holes there.
LAMB: You told us that you travel alone. Why?
KAPLAN: Because you want to be face-to-face with the landscape. You don't want your ideas and reactions conditioned by somebody with you, because once somebody is with you, you'll enter into a relationship with them and that will act as a block to the landscape.
You don't want to have your ideas and opinions conditioned by others. However, you can't completely travel alone. Often you need a translator. You need someone to make, you know, arrangements for you, especially as I get older, I use that more and more. But the idea, the goal is to be as alone as you possibly can be.
LAMB: 1973, you're in Romania a little bit. 1981, how long did you stay?
KAPLAN: I stayed 10 days, and those were the 10 days that kind of changed, you know that changed me, made me think differently about a lot of things. From there I went to Bulgaria, to Kosovo, which was then part of Yugoslavia.
I went to the Kosovo, Serbian and Croatian parts of Yugoslavia, into Hungary, into what was then the Czechoslovakia and East Germany.
LAMB: How many times have you been there since 1981?
KAPLAN: Yes, I went back for long reporting trips to Romania in 1982, in 1983, in 1984. After 1984, I published an essay in the New Republic called Romanian Gymnastics, while Ceausescu's Romania is like Stalin's Russia.
And I got - I was no longer given a visa after that. So I did not go back until 1990, four months after the 1989 revolution. And I spent two months in the country in 1990 travelling all over, then I was back for another month in 1998 for a book Eastward to Tartary.
And then I went back for an extended visit in 2013. I made four visits, four extended visits in 2013 and 2014 for this book.
LAMB: You mentioned Ceausescu. I want to run some video from 1989 and we'll watch it a little bit and then have you explain what this is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaks foreign language)
(End of video)
LAMB: December 21st, 1989.
LAMB: Who is he? Who was he?
KAPLAN: Nicolae Ceausescu who had been in power since 1965. He replaced the previous communist dictator Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Gheorghiu-Dej brought Stalinism to Romania. He was absolute - he was a brutal - a brutal tyrant.
What Ceausescu did along with his wife Elena was to add the North Korean element to Romanian Stalinism in terms of the pageantry, the total personality cult. Ceausescu and his wife went to North Korea, and most visitors to North Korea are shocked. They were impressed. They said we can do this in Romania, literally.
And they tried to do this. And that was the moment, what you just showed when the crowed turned against the dictator. And the facade of dictatorship collapsed, and from then on a helicopter took him from the top of that building to an area north of Bucharest, Targoviste area, and it was there a few days later when he was executed.
LAMB: And his wife?
KAPLAN: His wife was executed. The decision to execute him was made by several, what you could call reform communists who had fallen into disfavor. Among them was a man Silviu Brucan who had worked for both, who was a Stalinist in his youth, who worked for Gheorghiu-Dej, who worked for Ceausescu until he broke with him in 1987.
And I asked Brucan about the decision to have the Ceausescus executed. Brucan died a few years ago. And Brucan told me, well, you know, we decided to that they both had to be executed or else they could have gathered the Securitate around them, the intelligence service.
And we might have had bloodshed going on weeks and months. We had to stop, you know, stop the chaos. So then I asked a naive journalist question, I said, "But did you have to execute her, too?" And he looked at me like I was a fool. And he said it was almost more important to execute her than to execute him.
LAMB: What impacted that assassination have on Romania?
KAPLAN: First of all, it calmed things down. It quieted things. People knew that they had turned a corner, the violence stopped, order was restored under officially a democracy, but in fact it was reformed communists who took power - Ion Lliescu, (Petru Roma) and others.
And they ruled in what we - what you would call officially a democracy, but really a Gorbachev style reformed communism up until the mid-90s, when full democracy finally came to Romania.
LAMB: And in the middle of you writing this book back in November, there have been some major corruption trials. And some people say it's the most corruption in the world over in Romania. Can you explain that?
KAPLAN: Yes. It's actually a good thing because it's being exposed. Romania was endemically a corrupt country, extremely corrupt, because it endemically had weak institutions that were very - everything was based on bribe and double-dealing, and what this shows is this is nothing new.
What's happening is that the Romanian population has grown up and become far more sophisticated and is demanding clean government. It is its number one demand. And Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic Saxon German who was elected president of Romania in, you know, last year or so, he made as part - he was elected on the pledge that I will move us even closer to the west. And I will develop clean institutions as corruption-free as humanly possible.
LAMB: Who have they been trying and convicting? What kind of people in Romania?
KAPLAN: People in government often. People in…
KAPLAN: Yes. People in business. I'm not sure about the, you know, the exact people, but it basically was going on as a lesson is, that the old way of doing things will no longer work because we're going to go after you.
LAMB: When did you finish this book?
KAPLAN: I finished writing this book at the very end of the 2014, which was about 14, 15 months ago.
LAMB: What do you want somebody wondering in a book store, seeing your book to know about this book? Why you would pick it up and read it if you don't know anything about Romania? What's the point?
KAPLAN: Because it's a deep vertical dive, so many of my former books were horizontal studies, many countries across a whole region, the ends of the earth, Eastward to Tartary, Balkan Ghosts, covering a minimum of six countries.
Here I look at one country in depth and I use it to explore great themes, I think great themes - the Holocaust, the Cold War, the challenge of Vladimir Putin. Remember, Romania and Romanian-speaking Moldova have a longer border with Ukraine than even Poland has.
The challenge, and also about empire because Romania is where the Austrian Hapsburg Empire overlapped with the Czarist Russian Empire, the Soviet Empire, it overlapped with the Turkish Empire and the Byzantine Empire. So to study Romania is to study the legacy of empires.
LAMB: What's the relationship now and also back in '89 with this country, United States with Romania?
KAPLAN: In 1989, Romania was a pariah state. Now, when I published that article in 1984, Romanian Gymnastics, what I was reacting to was the fact that there was a mini news cycle. In the summer of 1984 of the Los Angeles Olympics, when Ceausescu sent an Olympic team to compete while the rest of the Soviet Bloc boycotted the Olympics.
So Ceausescu was a hero to uninformed Americans for doing that. The purpose of the article was to disabuse them of the notion, that he actually ran the most oppressive state in the Soviet Bloc.
After the revolution, especially into the 1990s, Romania felt very insecure, like Poland and other countries and it wanted - and it trusted the United States and the Pentagon much more than NATO per se and Brussels. So it had to prove that it was a loyal ally to the U.S.
So Romania sent troops not only to Afghanistan, but also to Iraq - the Iraq war, and it sent troops to several U.S. military exercises in Sub-Saharan Africa, wherever the U.S. wanted allies, the Romanians came along as did the Poles and Georgians and others because they wanted to say, "We're there for you no matter what. Please, be there for us."
LAMB: What was our relationship with Ceausescu?
KAPLAN: Throughout the Cold War, we tried to use Ceausescu because he - this is very subtle. Romania always was different than its neighbors. It didn't speak a Slavic language. It spoke a Latin language. It always had much worse relations with Russia, historically speaking, than the other countries of the Warsaw Pact, save for Poland perhaps.
So that Ceausescu, you know, was sort of in a vague way following a Romanian tradition of separating himself a bit from the Soviet Union by having what was called at the time a maverick foreign policy where, for instance, he sent athletes to the Los Angeles Olympics. He had diplomatic relations with Israel that sort of stuff.
But it was very superficial. He was no threat to the Soviet Union because he ran the most locked down Stalinist state in the block. So the Soviets were annoyed with Ceausescu. And Gorbachev was especially annoyed because Gorbachev was all about liberal open-minded communism.
And so, Gorbachev - the Romanian revolution that killed Ceausescu in December 1989, that may have been the only one of the revolutions that fall that Gorbachev actually liked.
LAMB: By the way, how did they kill the Ceausescus?
KAPLAN: They executed them by firing squad.
LAMB: You met with his son?
KAPLAN: No. I never actually met with his son.
LAMB: Oh, you didn't.
KAPLAN: I refer to his son in the book, but I never actually met his son.
LAMB: Yes. What happened to his son after his parents were killed?
KAPLAN: His son - his son I think went into exile and died a few years later, I think of cirrhosis of the liver or some disease related to his excess drinking.
LAMB: How big is Romania?
KAPLAN: Romania is about 23 million people. Poland, I think, is in the high 30s or 40 million people, somewhere around that. It's - I think it's about the size of Oregon or, you know, about the size of Oregon or something, but what's important about your question is Romania is the demographic and geographical organizing principle of southeastern Europe to the same extent that Poland is to northeastern Europe.
So it's sort of the Poland of the Balkans in terms of its geopolitical importance.
LAMB: How did it change between '81 and 2013?
KAPLAN: In '81, the colors were black and white. And 2013 it's multi-colored. In '81 it made a profound, deep, shocking impression on me because of the long breadlines, literally breadlines, people waiting in line for stale bread. You know, a mile long because it was the only communist regime in Western Europe that semi-starved its own people.
2013, Bucharest is glittering. It's a mish-mash. It's got a lot of bad new architecture. Some good new architecture. Beautiful new Plexiglas, Vancouver-like buildings right next to vacant lots because, you know, this is part of the corruption, the property regime, who owns what after Communism has still not been resolved in many places, so you have vacant lots because nobody can legally determine who the owner is, so it hasn't been built upon. It's a mish-mash. But that's very humanizing in a way, because it doesn't have so - it doesn't have some archetypal millinerian Utopian belief.
LAMB: Back in World War II what did, what country was it allied with?
KAPLAN: It was allied with Nazi Germany. It was a very - it was - Romania had oil. The Ploiesti Fields near Bucharest and Hitler needed the oil. And Romania had a dictator, a very interesting man, Ion Antonescu, who was - he was a militarist. He was a nationalist. He was a realist. He was an authoritarian. He was not strictly a Fascist because he purged the Fascists from his regime early on.
But what Antonescu's rule showed was that even realism, militarism, authoritarianism taken a bit too far can lead to hundreds of thousands of murders.
LAMB: We have some video of his death. How did he die, who killed him? That's him there.
KAPLAN: He was executed…
LAMB: You'll see that…
KAPLAN: …all right.
LAMB: In a minute. Go ahead.
KAPLAN: OK. He was - he was executed by firing squad after being convicted of war crimes in 1946 at Jilava Prison fairly close to Bucharest. He was tried and convicted by essentially a pro-Soviet Romanian regime that was installed in the wake of Stalin's victory in Eastern Europe in World War II.
LAMB: We're watching that not only did they shoot him, then they came up with a pistol and shot him again and again.
LAMB: Was that video available when - what year did he die?
KAPLAN: He died in 1946. He met with - Antonescu met with Hitler 10 times, in East Prussia, in Austria, and in other places, from the very beginning of his dictatorship to the very end. His last meeting with Hitler was in 1944. And Antonescu came back from that meeting very depressed because he knew - well, he started being depressed in '43 after Stalingrad when he realized for the first time that, hey, the Nazis may not win the war and where does that leave me?
Because up until that time he had been murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews outside Romania in what is today Moldova and Transnistria, which is east of Romania in what used to be the Soviet Union. Even as he was - but after '43 he changed, he kept hundreds of thousands of Jews from inside Romania proper from going into the gas chambers in German-occupied Poland.
KAPLAN: It was what scholars have called opportunistic mercy. He saw that Hitler may not win the war and he started to change his behavior. You know, he - you know - you know, as a way to survive himself. But when he came back from that last meeting with Hitler, he knew that his days were numbered. And he was overthrown in a palace coup in I believe it was August, '44. I can't be sure. Then Romania switched sides in the war.
See, Romania is interesting. It was the only country, even more so than Italy, that actually switched sides in the midst of World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian troops fought ferociously for Hitler at Stalingrad. And by the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Romanian troops were fighting ferociously against Hitler in order to regain Transylvania from Hungary.
LAMB: What's Transylvania?
KAPLAN: Transylvania means beyond the forest. It's the region on to the northwest of the Carpathian Mountains, in the Carpathians to the northwest that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, before that it was what was called the Hapsburg Empire. It's Central Europe with its Gothic, you know, Baroque architecture, with its café culture, the culture of the dessert, civilization, cosmopolitanism.
You know it connotates many good things. And it's also a place where there's a large minority of ethnic Hungarians because that region has been part of Greater Hungary, up until Romania got it back at the end of World War II but actually I'm telescoping history because the region changed hands many times.
LAMB: How many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust from Romania?
KAPLAN: Basically here is the - here is the record. Over 300,000 Jews were murdered by Antonescu's troops with Antonescu's bureaucratic fingerprints all over it, in the regions outside Romania but occupied by the Romania army in the - you know, in the midst of Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, to capture the Soviet - to capture the Soviet Union.
Romanian troops got as far as Odessa, the Black Sea port in the middle of the Black Sea. I believe the number was 375,000 Jews but it's in the book specifically. And all this is the work of some really trailblazing scholars who've really solidified the record following the release of the Soviet archives, the Romanian archives after the, you know, after 1989, in the mid '90s and after.
Inside Romania proper there were about 300,000 Jews who he kept from the gas chamber, but nevertheless there were 10,000, 15,000 or so Jews killed by Antonescu's troops in the population inside Romania, the most famous event being the Iasi pogrom in 1941.
LAMB: If I count right, this is your 16th book.
LAMB: When did you decide that you wanted to do this book?
KAPLAN: I had been thinking about doing a book on Romania for years and years. But I wasn't sure at first. I thought you know what I'll do, I'll do a project. I'll start in the - in the Black Sea in Romania and I will travel up to Estonia on the Baltic Sea and do a travel book of what used to be called by a Polish inter-war leader Jozef Pilsudski, the Intermarium, Latin for between the seas, between the Black and Baltic Seas.
And so, I started it. I started off in Romania, I went to Romania in the spring of 2013. But I got so swept up in it and I said wait a minute, maybe I shouldn't do yet another book about six countries, there's so much here. You know why don't I write about what I really know about and are obsessed with deeply, and just keep it to that even if it's - if it's less marketable so to speak.
LAMB: Of those 16 books which ones were the bestsellers?
KAPLAN: Balkan Ghosts of course…
LAMB: Why do you say of course?
KAPLAN: Because it's sold, I mean, I just got the figures. It sold so far about close to 400,000 copies worldwide in many languages. The Ends of the Earth to a lesser extent, Warrior Politics, the Coming Anarchy, the Revenge of Geography.
LAMB: And your relationship with the publisher, have you had the same publisher all these years?
KAPLAN: I'm fortunate that Random House has published my last 12 of the 16 books.
LAMB: And what - how does that work, is it your idea on a book, or is their idea on a book?
KAPLAN: I used to in the very beginning talk over ideas with books with - you know, with editors. As I got older I kept it more and more to myself. It's very self generated. It's very personal. It's a book is something that you should have to write. It shouldn't' be something, I'm going to write a book as I can get a lot of speaking fees or I can make a lot of money of this, what's a good topic, you know, that will gel in the marketplace.
Books are hard to write. You don't know how they will be received. You don't know what the news cycle will be when the book is published. I had a book published, Eastward to Tartary, the week after the presidential election in 2000 and you know what happened then, the Florida recount. So all my interviews, publicity interviews were cancelled and stuff.
And the book did well over time but it didn't have that initial birth. So because of all these unknowables you're better off just writing something that you're obsessed with, that you have to do, that way you'll have no regrets.
LAMB: Which book had the most impact on politics?
KAPLAN: Probably Balkan Ghosts in a way that I did not want and did not intend.
LAMB: What happened?
KAPLAN: What happened was that I started covering the Balkans and it's in this book. It's in the early part of this book. I talk about Balkan Ghosts and its effect.
I started covering the Balkans in 1981, and as I said I went back to Romania every year until '84 when I was persona non grata, but I kept going back to Yugoslavia every year right up through 1989, every year of the 1980s.
LAMB: Let me stop you just a second.
LAMB: The Balkans include what countries that you can think of?
KAPLAN: The Balkans traditionally include Romania, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, southeastern Europe in other words. What used to be called Turkey in Europe, the former Ottoman Empire with some overlapping with the former Austrian Hapsburg Empire.
So in 1989, you know, I was deep in the midst of writing this book Balkan Ghosts and I finished it at the very beginning of the - no, I finished it in like mid-1990. And the Yugoslav crisis was still in the future so to speak.
And I had a long piece in the Atlantic Monthly before the Berlin Wall even fell in 1989, saying that the Balkans will shape the end of the century in a news sense just like Vietnam and Afghanistan did in earlier decades. Then when the Berlin Wall fell and the media was writing heavily about a new concept then, Central Europe which had emerged as the new, an old-new trendy concert, I said Central Europe, I went this in the Wall Street Journal, I said Central Europe is the latest concept that the media is beating to death.
But there is another concept that's going to arise because of great instability called the Balkans, which the media will soon discover. And in that article I described the coming ethnic breakup of Yugoslavia. But I also was not fatalistic or deterministic, because I wrote that if Yugoslavia followed reformist notions from Slovenia and others, it could avoid this fate. You know, fate has yet to be determined. It's possible to alleviate it.
Balkan Ghosts was published in March, 1993. The same month I published a long piece in Reader's Digest which then had a circulation of about I think 14 million, where I said that we have to do something, we have to stop - you know, we have to stop this. But there result was that the Clinton Administration took the book reportedly and used it as an excuse not to intervene in 1993, and did not intervene until 1995.
To me this was ironic, as I had been arguing for intervention from 1993 in public forums. And you could say, well, isn't that a contradiction to Balkan Ghosts, which paints such a depressing dark view of the Balkans and how unsolvable they are? I would say no, not at all. It's precisely because of that, that we had to take action because it is only the darkest human landscapes where intervention is ever contemplated even in the first place. It was a direct connection.
LAMB: When was the first time you got involved with the government, and you've been -
KAPLAN: Yes. I only had a very brief superficial experience in the government. I served on the Defense Policy Board for a very short period of time.
LAMB: That was not a full-time job?
KAPLAN: No, no, that's just the Board that meets several times a year.
LAMB: Who appointed you?
KAPLAN: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
LAMB: And why did you do that?
KAPLAN: Because I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn and more importantly to serve, to give something back.
LAMB: And was it worth it?
KAPLAN: Yes. I learned an enormous amount. I think I learned more from the Board than the Board learned from me. But the meetings were very insightful.
LAMB: You've also had other jobs though besides writing?
LAMB: And what are those? And since you've been - since you were here in 1996 what other jobs have you done?
KAPLAN: Well, I was a fellow at the New America Foundation when that think tank first started.
LAMB: What is that, who…?
KAPLAN: It was basically a foundation that, you know, attempts to be bipartisan or non-partisan and tries to bring journalism into the think tank world. I think that's a fair description of it.
LAMB: Who runs it now?
KAPLAN: I believe Anne-Marie Slaughter is now - is now the director. Then I've been - you know, I've stayed writing for the Atlantic periodically since 1985 actually. I'm now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security which is a boutique security defense oriented, non-partisan think tank.
LAMB: Who runs that?
KAPLAN: The CEO is Michele Flournoy, the former undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the president is Richard Fontaine, former advisor to Senator John McCain, and Richard also served in the National Security Council.
LAMB: As a fellow, what do they expect of you?
KAPLAN: They expect me to write books and papers and articles about, you know, defense and security policy and to mentor younger - to mentor younger fellows. And I've also been - I wrote a column for two years for Stratfor, a geopolitical risk company based in Austin, Texas.
LAMB: I want to show you George Friedman who started Stratfor, you worked for him for how long?
KAPLAN: Two years I wrote a column.
LAMB: What's that?
KAPLAN: I found that writing a weekly column was not for me. Yes. OK.
LAMB: Here's some video from 2014.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Kaplan said recently the Russian danger for Romania is not the military but the subversive actions. Do you see that subversive actions happening in Romania?
(George Friedman): Traditionally the Russians have operated through subversion, and Robert Kaplan of course is with Stratfor and is my good friend. We disagree in this extent. I look at Ukraine and I see a massive intelligence failure by the Russians. They miscalculated on what was going to happen, their intelligence on what was going to happen in Kiev was bad. They never were able to take a step.
In this region there is a sense that the Russians are 10-foot tall and can do anything, but in fact the history of the past 30 or 40 years of Russian intelligence has been failure, after failure, after failure.
(End of video)
LAMB: What do you think?
KAPLAN: George is always insightful on Europe. What I would say - there are few people who have been more insightful and prescient on Europe than George has been. George saw the coming European Union, the economic crisis years in advance.
You know, he's always worth listening to. And he's right. It was in part an intelligence failure because Putin's intelligence services had said, don't worry about Ukraine, we can handle it. Well, it turned out that they couldn't and the Yanukovych Regime failed.
But I think he downplays the power of Russia in a country like Romania because you can do a lot - you can do a lot through, by media through third parties, through subversion, through intelligence operations, through building a pharonic network of natural gas pipelines that tie in Central and Eastern Europe through Russian natural gas. Romania is a bit stronger in that regard because Romania is unique in that it has oil and natural gas of its own to a degree that other countries between Estonia and Bulgaria do not.
LAMB: When you were here for our three-hour in-depth program back in 2005 the first question led to this kind of an answer because you talk about journalism and what you think it is in your book, let's watch it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Kaplan, you've been described as a world affairs expert and anthropologist, a travel journalist and a realist. How do you describe yourself?
KAPLAN: I'm a reporter who not only reads about the area and the history where I report from because history doesn't begin the moment you land in a country on a plane. It's been going on for a long time beforehand. And not only do I read about the history, but I also read about relevant political philosophy that's affecting the area.
(End of video)
LAMB: A journalist, a reporter, how does - in today's age what do you think a journalist is or a reporter is, and how close can you get to the government and the revolving door and all that we talk about and still stay independent?
KAPLAN: I think what a journalist needs to be is someone who goes out reporting things that are important but which up until then are unreported or not reported enough about. And what a journalist has to do, whether it's in Africa, whether it's in East Asia, whether it's covering Nigeria or the South China Sea, is to not only go there and report and develop sources, but he also has to read seriously about the history of the area, about the geography of the area and about as I said back then, the relevant political philosophy.
And let me - let me just give you an idea about that. If you read Hobbes, you know, Hobbes was - is unfairly maligned as a depressing philosopher. Hobbes was actually, you know, in some ways an optimistic philosopher because he believed in rescuing the chaos of the Dark Ages by creating a strong state. And a strong state could lead to a better life for people. He called that strong state the Leviathan. So Hobbes was someone with answers. Not just depressing descriptions and thoughts.
And one of the things - the point Hobbes makes is that between just - the difference between good and bad, good men and bad men, between what he called the just and the unjust can only be decided if there's some coercive force above it. In other words the United States is not in chaos it has a government. It has, you know, it has a complex legal system.
You get into a car accident and drivers exchange their insurance information. You know, it has electricity. It has agriculture, all these mundane stuff and why, because there's order, because there's a government. And first you need order - order comes before freedom and in foreign policy you could argue interest come with before values or your values can only follow provided you have interest. But without order there is chaos and there is not justice for anybody at any point.
And that's what I kept in mind reporting from Africa for instance which was where is the order? Where is the bureaucratic institutional order? Any place can hold an election but it's building institutions that matter.
LAMB: How many countries have you actually lived in?
KAPLAN: I've lived in Israel as we've talked about earlier. I've lived in Greece for seven years. I've lived in Portugal for two years.
LAMB: And now you live where.
KAPLAN: I live in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. My wife and I have been there almost 20 years.
LAMB: When you were here in 1996 your son was 11. What happened years on?
KAPLAN: He's 31, he's married. We have a granddaughter. He works for Morgan Stanley in Boston.
LAMB: Ever interested in being a journalist like you?
KAPLAN: No, no, no, he carved his own path.
LAMB: You write in the middle of the book, you say, "I am a liberal," in the 19th century sense? Actually, I apologize, that's not you saying that…
KAPLAN: That's Horia-Roman Patapievici, yes.
LAMB: Yes, but when I read it I thought I wondered if that reflected on what your politics are.
KAPLAN: Well, obviously from the profile I write of Patapievici who is a leading Romanian philosopher I'm sympathetic to him.
LAMB: Let me read what you said about him.
KAPLAN: Yes, yes. I'm very sympathetic about him.
LAMB: A liberalism of (Tocqueville), Lord Acton, John Stuart Mill, from that follows my belief and admiration that 20th century liberal philosophers such Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig Von Mises, is that you?
KAPLAN: It's close. It's close. On the - I guess deep, deep down I'm a conservative but a conservative and many people say this, you know, the - you know, the real pillar, you know, of enlightened conservatism is Edmund Burke because Burke believed in pacing.
You can't - Burke believed that revolutions are bad, evolutions in the right direction are good because revolutions don't solve anything, all they do is create another form of authoritarianism often. Burke was horrified at the French Revolution, as was Gibbon, as was Edward Gibbon who wrote the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
And Burke believed in gradual systemic change and that's what I believe in. I'm suspicious of overnight change. It often leads to unintended consequences.
LAMB: Back to your book on Romania when was the first time in history when Romanians voted for their leaders?
KAPLAN: I was there, really. It was the spring of 1990. The Ceausescus had been dead about five months and they held a national election where Ion Iliescu a long Communist was elected president. And this began the era where Romania was officially a democracy but the people running the country were essentially Communists but not as extreme or Stalinistic as the Ceausescus. So that civil liberties advanced but there was no real capitalist development.
So that was the first time that I can remember, you know, in our lifetimes where Romanians went to the polls and actually voted. Now there were elections in the '30s, in the '20s, but like other countries in Central and Eastern Europe democracy in that region between World War I and World War II was stillborn. It produced often chaotic, extremely corrupt often uni-ethnic anti-Semitic governments as opposed to what was relatively speaking the cosmopolitanism, the tolerance, and the humanism of the defunct Hapsburg Empire.
LAMB: How good a democracy is it now?
KAPLAN: It's as good as can be expected. It's had a four percent economic growth last year. I think it leads Europe in that regard. It's got a government of the middle of the room non-ideological technocrats.
It's got a president, Klaus Iohannis, the former mayor of Sibiu who is an ethnic Saxon Germany. Now get this the ethnic Romanians elected an ethnic Saxon-German, a minority incredibly repressed under the Ceausescu era. As president even though he was under funded in his campaign and was considered a dark horse and they elected him basically because of his message. And his message was even closer relations with the West and moving forward to its developing government institutions that are clean and transparent and impersonal.
LAMB: Romania's relationship with NATO?
KAPLAN: Romania has good relations with NATO. It's un-ambiguous. NATO - Romania wants NATO to be as strong as possible.
LAMB: Are they a member?
KAPLAN: Yes. They've been a member I think since early 2000s, I forget the year exactly. A few years later it got into the EU.
But there are - there are two things here. You know, I'd just like to go back a minute to Iohannis. One of the understated reasons that was never - that was never said openly why Iohannis was elected. It was that Romania had a very happy experience with another ethnic German, King Karol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen who is -who ruled Romania from 1866 to 1914. And he built the modern Romanian state. He built the institutions.
Yes they became corrupt and abusive. But he started them from scratch and Romanians associate Carol's rule with a strong rule that built a modern bureaucratic apparatus and there were this vague hope that he we have another ethnic German who perhaps can take this to the next stage.
LAMB: So in the middle of this book From Time to Time you kind of wandered off, look at the mountains and you bring up music…
LAMB: You bring up Bach, you bring up Stravinsky, you bring up Haydn…
KAPLAN: Because I'm a lover of classical music, you know, an extreme lover of classical music particularly chamber music, particularly Baroque classical music. And other, you know, other travel writers will write about food, you know.
You know, they'll go on pages about food because they're chefs, they're cooks, you know, they're good at that. I love music, so it naturally comes to mind.
LAMB: So did you - were you able to use the music while you were traveling around in Romania?
KAPLAN: I brought up music a few times, I didn't like constantly, you know, repeated, here and there you'll see a reference to it. But I don't listen to music, like I don't have, you know, an iPad or something, I don't travel like that, I want to hear the noises too. It's part of traveling.
If you go into a café as I did in one town, (Folksani) in Romanian Moldova, the part of Moldova that's inside Romania. And, you know, there was a café of young people and they were all listening to what I consider the most horrible music I ever heard, but that was part of the experience.
LAMB: How close is Romania to Russia?
KAPLAN: It has a long border with the Ukraine which was the former Soviet Union. So it doesn't have a border with Russia per se, but with the former Soviet - Russia and with the Ukraine.
LAMB: What are the other major countries that border Romania?
KAPLAN: Going, we'll say we'll go clockwise from the Black Sea, it govern - you know, it borders the Black Sea. It has a long border with Bulgaria, separated by the Danube River. Then it borders the former Yugoslavia, then it borders Hungary. And then finally it has a border with Ukraine, and then finally with Moldova which was the former Bessarabia, formerly a socialist republic inside the Soviet Union.
LAMB: So if an American or anybody for that matter decided they wanted to go to Romania on vacation and they've never been there and they didn't speak the language….
LAMB: What would, what would it be like for them?
KAPLAN: They'd have a wonderful time.
LAMB: What about the English language do they use it there?
KAPLAN: People speak English - you know, English is widespread in Romania, particularly since 1989. And it's, you know, that's the language to know and most young people, you know, have a working knowledge of English.
You know, they would fly to Bucharest, they could rent a car and drive to (Brashoff), the beginning of north - the beginning of Transylvania. And go all through the Carpathian Mountains which are absolutely lovely. And drive up through the painted monasteries - to the northeast, the painted monasteries of Bucovina, to the northwest, to the - to the wooden churches of Maramures.
It's lovely and it's visited. But it's not yet on the international tourist map, so that you won't encounter hundreds upon hundreds of tourists at each site.
LAMB: How are the accommodations?
KAPLAN: The accommodations are better and better. There are boutique hotels sprouting up throughout the most outlying reaches of the countryside.
LAMB: You write this sentence, page 214 in your book, "The ultimate purpose of human existence is to appreciate beauty, and beauty requires a spiritual element and an intimidation of another world.
KAPLAN: Yes, an intimation of another world.
LAMB: An intimation - I'm sorry.
KAPLAN: Yes, that's fine, that's fine. Yes, that, you know what is consciousness at its best? It's to appreciate beauty, beautiful art, beautiful music, a beautiful landscape, and that is the tie to the spiritual.
Other writers have written that beauty is a call to action, to moral action. That, you know, by contemplating a beautiful work of art can, you know, it can energize someone to take moral action in some personal sphere, or political sphere or something. But it's ultimately - it's ultimately all about beauty in one form or another.
LAMB: Now go back to almost what we talked about at the beginning. If you were talking to a college professor who was teaching government, political science and he or she said to you, why would I want my students to read this book? What would you them is the reason?
KAPLAN: I'd say if you read this book you'll have a better understanding of the Holocaust, of the Cold War, of Putin, of history. And history is essentially imperial.
For most of history, people have been governed by one form of empire and another. Not just in the West but throughout Central Asia, China, Sub-Saharan Africa. Before the British and French came to Sub-Saharan Africa there were sprawling indigenous African empires like the (Sunghai) and the (Mali) and others.
So this is a book that will give you - that is a laboratory in one country of all of this.
LAMB: Last question, was Dracula the Impaler a real person?
KAPLAN: Well, Vlad the Impaler, Vlad the Impaler was a real person who fought the Turks, and was very ferocious and cruel. And of course the writer Bram Stoker in the late 19th century used it very vaguely for his Gothic, you know, for his dark Gothic novel about the figure we are familiar with. But the myth of Dracula is nonsense essentially.
LAMB: Next book?
KAPLAN: Next book is about - it's a sequel to The Revenge of Geography dealing with American geography and its relation to foreign policy.
LAMB: When will it be published?
KAPLAN: Probably roughly speaking a year from now.
LAMB: Our guest has been Robert D. Kaplan, the book is called In Europe's Shadow, Two Cold Wars and a 30 Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond. Thank you very much.
KAPLAN: Thank you.