The Foreign Service Journal - September 2016
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tively, leaned right to a founding mythol-

ogy rooted in the land that easily turned

toward the 20th century’s more destruc-

tive ideologies of anti-Semitism

and fascism.

Kaplan also paints a picture of

Russian malevolence in the Bal-

kans, slowly taking over economi-

cally what it can’t, or chooses not

to, militarily, by creating massive

energy dependence throughout the

old southern satellites.

Indeed, though only one of

two enormous influences over the

historical lands of present-day Romania

(the other being the Ottoman Empire, or

Turkey), Russia looms large in the nar-

rative as an ominous cloud the West has

failed to notice over the Romanian, and

Balkan, horizons.

More than once, Kaplan refers to his

almost guilty concern that his



, in describing the eternal conflicts

of the region, led President Bill Clinton

and NATO not to intervene early in the

former Yugoslavia out of a belief the

problems there were intractable. Whether

he overestimates his influence or not,

Kaplan is clearly scarred (and scared) by

the notion that his words could be taken

to mean something he didn’t intend.

He wants us to understand his dictum

that only after knowing a country—its

philosophical heritage, its underbelly

of oppression, its people at their most

elevated and at their most base—should

intervention, when necessary, be con-

sidered. But, equally crucial, a country’s

history—however complicated, however

messy, however cyclical—should never be

used to justify leaving it to its unhappy fate.

An Education in Time

and Place

In Europe’s Shadow: Two Cold Wars

and a Thirty-Year Journey Through

Romania and Beyond

Robert D. Kaplan, Random House, 2016,

$28/hardcover, $18/paperback, $13.99/

Kindle, 287 pages.

Reviewed By Tracy Whittington

Robert Kaplan’s latest volume,

In Europe’s

Shadow: Two Cold Wars and aThirty-Year

Journey Through Romania and Beyond


indulges his love of this enigmatic country.

Part travel writing, part political sci-

ence, his eclectic writing style can initially

frustrate the reader. Whenever he seems

on the verge of providing concrete, factual

historical information, he veers into lyri-

cism again, musing about a restaurant he

visited 20 years earlier.

Halfway through the book, he’s still

not told the story of Nicolae Ceausescu’s

fall (he never does), nor elaborated on his

assertion that Romania under the dictator

resembled a North Korean personality cult

(he eventually will). What he has done is

offer a digressive chapter on the battles of

medieval voivodes and more than a few

blow-by-blow analyses of the writings of

Romanian intellectuals in the early 20th


Early on, it’s difficult to discern his

intent. Readers should persist, however,

for the book proves far more complex and

engaging than its geographically narrow

subject would suggest. Kaplan’s central

thesis is that Romania has always served

as a sort of crossroads, protecting the West

from the depredations of Eastern invaders

while being left mostly to defend itself.

Romania, according to Kaplan, has

always looked West and considered itself

part of the West. But its intellectuals and

revolutionaries have often, counterintui-


In Europe’s Shadow

leaves us far more educated about the

country’s past sufferings and present prospects than anticipated.

Kaplan’s skill lies in his ability not just

to sketch with words, but to paint portraits

that evoke eras and locales and nostalgia.

His narrative isn’t linear;

he skips backward and

forward in time. Starting

in 1981 with a journal-

istic lark fromTel Aviv

to Bucharest, he jumps

in a mere 250 pages to

present-day interviews

with former Romanian

presidents and a prime

minister, to a retelling of

the horrors perpetrated by WorldWar II-

era ruler Ion Antonescu, to the aforemen-

tioned lives of pre–nation state heroes, to

bustling Belle Epoque Bucharest.

He also transcends location, as he

retreats farther afield—from the capital, to

modern-day Moldova, to the Romanian

heartland, the Transylvanian countryside

and, finally, nearby Hungary. Through

it all, he repeatedly stops to learn from

armchair and actual philosophers, the lat-

ter mostly through a close reading of their

books and biographies.

In Europe’s Shadow

captures the imagi-

nation and gives readers a visceral sense,

perhaps Kaplan’s visceral sense, of Roma-

nia. It also leaves us far more educated

about the country’s past sufferings and

present prospects than anticipated.

When so much news about interna-

tional affairs is immediate, condensed and

resolutely analytical, it can be difficult to

release ourselves to the flow of a volume

like this, to let it carry us through time

and place with no clear destination. But

Kaplan has an objective in mind, and

when we reach the end, a bit soaked with