The 4 P’s

March 28, 2009

A while ago, I watched Jeremi Suri’s Academy Evening presentation, “The Past and Future of American International Leadership,” online at’s digital library.

Professor Jeremi Suri

Professor Jeremi Suri

Suri is a much-celebrated professor of history at the UW-Madison, who appeared at UW-Fox Valley last October to “unpack” the American international successes of the past. His research has led him to distill four qualities–or as he calls them, four “lessons of effective, enlightened and enduring American policy, to help us move forward,” nicely alliterated for our mnemonic convenience: prosperity, partnership, prudence and power.

A lot has changed in the five months since Suri addressed the Menasha audience. We emerged from what seemed like an interminable election cycle with the country’s first African American president. Nations around the world, in response to America’s crumbling economy, have struggled correspondingly. Unemployment and home foreclosure rates have soared, while the Dow tumbled. Words like stimulus, deficit and bailout–and acronyms like TARP and AIG–became part of our daily vocabulary, and numbers like billions and trillions became our reality. International turmoil continued to fester. Sasha and Malia got a puppy.

Professor Suri is scheduled to give his talk again next week, this time in Madison. Given the newer context, the ongoing political developments and the economic intricacies, I expect him to be as fascinating in March as he was in October. Real tests of some of his assertions loom closer than ever.

For brevity, I’ll indulge myself with just one more quote from Suri’s October Academy Evening–in reference to the third P, prudence. He says that a component of exercising the caution and wisdom essential to effective leadership lies in recognizing the “virtues of inconsistency:”

To me inconsistency is like sailing on a lake. You’re constantly adjusting to what’s going on–you still know about where you want to go, right? But any good sailor does not know exactly how they’re going to sail. You have to adjust to the wind, you have to tack back and forth … There’s a virtue in being able to adapt, to understand your conditions, to listen and watch and adjust, with still some sense of where you want to go.

I love a good analogy.

You can catch Jeremi Suri’s Academy Evening presentation this coming Tuesday, March 31, 7:00-8:30 p.m., at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Academy Evenings are free forums offered by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters to encourage public engagement with the state’s prominent artists and scholars. For those unable to attend, the Academy offers a variety of ways to watch or listen to these talks. Learn more here.

Finally, here’s a link to Suri’s book: Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente.

–Tammy Kempfert