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Robert David Kaplan (born June 23, 1952 in New York City) is an American journalist, currently a National Correspondent for The Atlantic magazine and a writer for Stratfor. His writings have also been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, The National Interest, Foreign Affairs and The Wall Street Journal, among other newspapers and publications, and his more controversial essays about the nature of US power have spurred debate in academia, the media, and the highest levels of government. Kaplan is the author of the influential article "The Coming Anarchy", published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1994. A frequent theme in his work is the reemergence of cultural and historical tensions temporarily suspended during the Cold War.
From March 2008 to spring 2012, Kaplan was a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. He is currently working for Stratfor in Austin, TX. In 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appointed Kaplan to the Defense Policy Board, a federal advisory committee to the United States Department of Defense. In 2011, Foreign Policy magazine named Kaplan as one of the world's "top 100 global thinkers."
Kaplan grew up in Far Rockaway in a Jewish family, son of Philip Alexander Kaplan and Phyllis Quasha. Kaplan's father, a truck driver for the New York Daily News, instilled in him an interest in history from an early age. He attended the University of Connecticut on a swimming scholarship and earned a BA in English (1973).
After graduating Kaplan applied unsuccessfully to several big-city newsrooms. He was 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 Israeli army, 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 wife. He lives with his wife in Massachusetts.
In addition to his journalism, Kaplan has been a consultant to the U.S. Army's Special Forces, 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. In 2001, he briefed President Bush. 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.
In 2006–08, Kaplan was a visiting professor at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, where he taught a course entitled, "Future Global Security Challenges". As of 2008 he is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
He traveled to Iraq to cover the Iran–Iraq War (1984). 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, 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.
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 that 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 reporting, as well as his frequently-invoked historical perspective, strengthened his arguments. In 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.
His article "The Coming Anarchy" published in The Atlantic 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 P. Huntington, and Yale Professor Paul Kennedy. 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?" 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."
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, along with Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, were among many prominent pundits advocating support for the Iraq War. Kaplan participated in a secret meeting convened by then deputy secretary of defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, at which he helped draft an internal government document advocating the invasion of Iraq. He later concluded that the war had been a mistake and expressed deep remorse for supporting it.
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 US 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 in "injun country" which must be civilized by the same methods used to subdue the American Frontier in the 1800s.
He also analyzes 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 entitled "Five Days in Fallujah" about the spring 2004 campaign. In June 2005, he wrote the cover story for the The Atlantic 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.
Kaplan's book Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground, published in September 2007 by Random House, reflects his continuing interest in the US Armed Forces.
Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2010) is about the Indian Ocean region and the future of energy supplies and maritime trade routes in the 21st century. He claimed that the Indian Ocean has been a center of power for a long time and that the shift to the Atlantic can be seen as an anomaly which will be set straight in future years. For the United States to maintain its power, it would have to link its goals with those of the people of the developing world, he concluded.
The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (2012) describes how countries' respective political and social histories have been shaped by factors like relationship to oceans and to terrain features that act as natural borders.
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