2003 March 02 Sunday
Robert Kagan: Of Paradise and Power

Robert Kagan's new book Of Paradise and Power: America Vs. Europe in the New World Order builds on his June 2002 Policy Review essay "Power and Weakness". Stephen Robinson reviews Paradise and Power for the UK Daily Telegraph.

But he is excellent in explaining how America was not thrown off course by the election in 2000 of a conservative Texan, or even by the terrorist attacks 10 months later. Transatlantic tensions became apparent the moment the Wall came down, in the Balkans and elsewhere. For, as Kagan argues persuasively: "America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself."

Kagan is interviewed by the Telegraph.

"What he's persuaded Bush to do is amazing. There's no way that Bush would be going for a second resolution if Blair were not asking for it. Blair has succeeded in roping Bush - as far as possible - into a European vision of an international system where the United States seeks legitimacy for its actions. The transatlantic relationship is hanging by a thread and it is being held by Tony Blair." Why has the Prime Minister risked so much? "For Blair there was no low-risk option anywhere on the board. Imagine if he had taken the Franco-German line. He might have resurrected the British Conservative Party in one move! Downsides were obvious whichever way he turned.

Kagan misses the point that Blair sincerely believes that nuclear proliferation has to be stopped. Blair wants to go thru the UN in part as a consequence of his Gladstonian view of the world. But he wants the same final outcome that Bush wants in terms of disarming various regimes and for many of the same reasons. Tony Blair understands the threat to the international system and security of the West posed by WMD proliferation..

Marta Salij reviews Of Paradise and Power.

The United States can't join Europe in its postmodern paradise, Kagan says, because the United States is busy defending the paradise. "It mans the walls, but cannot walk through the gate. The United States, with all its vast power, remains stuck in history, left to deal with the Saddams and the ayatollahs, the Kim Jong Ils and the Jiang Zemins, leaving most of the benefits to others."

Reviewers inevitably bring their own biases to book reviews. Lorraine Adams sees US opposition to the International Criminal Court as a double standard.

Kagan's treatise is remarkably intelligent. It feels right. But his unabashed embrace of double standards is not completely persuasive. Perhaps Kyoto is an imperfect accord. Perhaps France abjures enforcing the Security Council articles against Iraq out of petulance, not principle. But when it comes to the international criminal court, it seems improvident for the United States to advertise justice for all but not for itself. This is an era when only 19 men can kill 3,000 Americans in less than two hours. Terrorists grow from the toxic soil of ignorance, mental illness, fanaticism -- and American double standards. When America announces with impunity that there is one rule for it and another for everyone else, it jeopardizes its security in the raw new world of asymmetrical warfare.

If the US submitted its military to the control of the UN Security Council and if it made its citizens accountable to the International Criminal Court the Jihadists wouldn't hate the United States any less. Neither are the Jihadists intimidated by the ICC. The Islamists do not see the UN or other international agencies as repositories of morally legitimate use of force for just purposes.

Adams offers no alternative for how to put an end to the ignorance and religious fanaticism that drives terrorism. Neither do the Europeans. While the neoconservatives might not be right in their prescriptions (I certainly think they underestimate the difficulties in trying to create liberal democracies) they at least recognize that the problem of religious fanatic terrorists pursuing asymmetric warfare requires a response that is commensurate with the threat posed.

Also, there is the small matter of how Iraq is ruled. The Europeans are willing to allow the Iraqi people to be ruled by a vicious tyrant. An argument for tolerating a tyranny can be made in pragmatic terms. But to make the argument in terms of international law robs international law of moral legitimacy. If international law means the assurance of the continued existence of the most odious and threatening regimes no matter what danger they constitute to more enlightened governments then what is the point of international law?

A system of law, in order to mean anything, must be accompanied by a force that exercises a monopoly of power. The whole idea that there even exists such a thing as international law is flawed because there is no such force. Nor is it possible to create such a force. The incompatibility in values between the world's peoples is so large that it makes an international government and a widely agreed upon body of international law sufficient to govern relations between nations impossible now and for many decades and perhaps even centuries to come.

The UN is seen by some as a stepping stone toward a world goverment. In practice the UN, if its decisions were to be respected, would constitute a tool to protect regimes no matter how they behaved. Therefore the UN in effect operates to protect the sorts of regimes that ought to be considered outlaws in any international order that this writer would consider morally legitimate.

Terry Eastland reviews Of Paradise and Power.

The question "Of Power and Paradise" raises is whether some European countries--France and Germany in particular--might "become positively estranged" from America. The war in Iraq could lead to that unfortunate outcome. Yet one must hope the war would remind Europe of "the vital necessity," as Kagan puts it, "of having a strong, even predominant America."

The Kagan interview with Brian Lamb for C-Span Booknotes is excellent.

LAMB: You live in Brussels, so you were probably there during the "axis of evil" speech about a year ago.


LAMB: What was the reaction the day -- several days after that?

KAGAN: Well, the first reaction was a kind of stunned disbelief, and then the second rather quick reaction was that this was -- I mean, this was the European view -- that this was a vaguely insane comment.

LAMB: Why?

KAGAN: Europeans don`t use words like "evil" to discuss other nations in foreign policy. They think that`s an American oversimplification, nothing is that black and white. They pointed out, as many Americans did -- have made the argument that, you know, you can`t lump together Iran and Iraq and North Korea. But I think what most sort of shocked European sensibilities was this -- this sense of implacability on the part of the United States. It had labeled countries evil. Clearly, it was going to do something about them. And that was a -- that seemed to the Europeans to be a very aggressive approach, which very much contrasts with the European approach.

LAMB: Why don`t -- why wouldn`t they use the word "evil"? What`s in that society that`s not in -- that`s not in this society, or what`s here that`s not there?

KAGAN: Well, I think it comes -- it goes back to European history. You know, after -- the Second World War and the First World War, but the Second World War, in particular, was a very searing experience for Europeans. And if ever there was a government that was evil, it was Nazi Germany. But after the Second World War, Europeans had to find a way to come to peace with each other and to reintegrate Germany and to create what we now see as the European Union. And I think that the European perspective is, Let`s not talk about things like evil. We have to put this kind of -- because they wanted to put the past behind them, they wanted to put the discussion of evil behind them. And it`s a touchy issue even within countries. France`s role during the Second World War and other European countries, with their treatment of the Jews, for instance -- I think they`d prefer to have things a little bit more in the gray area and not so starkly black and white. It makes it easier for them to solve the European problem.

Patrick J. Garrity reviews Of Paradise and Power.

The argument of our friends seems to be this: during the Cold War, the United States created and supported a system of multilateral institutions and agreements—e.g., the United Nations, NATO, IMF, the World Bank, even arms control treaties—that reflected America's own civilizing mission and yet reassured other nations that U.S. aims were limited and just; that others had a place in the sun as well. The United States, they say, now seems to be turning its back on many of those institutions and agreements—perhaps wisely, in light of new threats like Iraq—but it has not yet explained convincingly how it proposes to replace or find a functional equivalent to them.

The problem is not that the US strategic thinkers haven't explained themselves. The problem is that the European thinkers reject the explanations of the American hawks because they do not like the conclusions that the strategists reach. They don't agree with the conclusions because they have a different set of assumptions about the world.

The UN and international diplomacy will not keep America safe. Appeasement of Islamists will not make them less motivated to attack the US. Nuclear proliferation can not be stopped with diplomacy. Terrorists with weapons of mass destruction would constitute a huge risk to the lives of Americans. There is (even though the Bushies and even many neoconervatives will publically deny this) a Clash of Civilizations between the West and the Muslims. Anyone who does not agree with these points is not going to agree with American foreign policy.

Update: For more on the debate on preemption as a strategy see the Preemption, Deterrence, and Containment archive. On the limitations of inspections see the Inspections and Sanctions archive.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 March 02 06:06 PM  Europe and America

wretchard said at March 3, 2003 12:17 PM:

When Slobodan Milosevic thumbed his nose at Europe, he taught Americans that it could be ignored. When the Rwandans began their genocide in the face of the UN Belgian peacekeeping force, torturing some of its soldiers before the eyes of its commander without provoking a response, they showed the Americans that they could ignore any thing from Brussels. When Robert Mugabe demonstrated that he could compel the EU to host his wife's shopping expedition to Paris, in despite of their proclaimed sanctions, he pointed out the nullity of European resistance. When the Serbs massacred 6,000 people in plain view of the UN Dutch peacekeepers, they confirmed that "old Europe" could be very safely ignored. If Europe can't intimidate a bunch of poverty stricken African colonels, what makes them think they can back down the mightiest nation in the history of the world?

Tony Blair hitched his wagon to America because no other train was leaving the station -- only pretending to, only announcing that it would. But it's driving wheels were firmly welded to the rails, as anyone who cared to look could see. Europe's tragic abdication of its traditional historical role and the NGOization of its states has thrust the US into sole leadership by default.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Security Council debates on Iraq. Despite the length of Iraqi crisis, Europe remains without a viable policy for dealing with rogue states other than repeating the mantra "let the inspections continue" -- inspections which were not their idea in the first place, but forced by the American-sponsored Resolution 1441. Europe has not only left history, it has departed the planet.

Michael said at June 17, 2003 5:05 AM:

The line "Europeans are willing to allow the Iraqi people to be ruled by a vicious tyrant. An argument for tolerating a tyranny can be made in pragmatic terms" above is quite astonishing. The readiness of the US government to tolerate tyrannies is matched only by the efforts it has put into setting them up in the first place. The history of the Cold War is littered with US support of vicious, undemocratic despots. Moreover, it is that policy and those countries that are now coming back to haunt the West. It might also be wondered just how the US government establishes anti-tyrant credentials by overthrowing Hussein, but leaving Saudi Arabia untouched. The desideratum for American -and, all too often, European- governments has tended to be the realpolitik issue of who one's "friends" are. If the US uses the Iraq affair to become more muscular in the projection of democratic principles and values in a consistent way across the globe, it will have some measure of support from me. But I don't believe it will do that. I do believe that the rhetoric of "defending freedom and punishing evil" that has sprung into the mouths of American politicians is misleading, false even, and a touch sickening.

Randall Parker said at June 17, 2003 12:05 PM:

Michael, Then do you favor leaving vicious tyrants in power? If we do not overthrow all of them should we not overthrow any of them?

Saudi Arabia: We can not do everything at once. The US has half of the US Army infantry and armored divisions currently tied down in Iraq. The US Army is not as big as most of the world thinks it is. We have to contend with the need to deter Kim Jong-il while also simultaneously pressuring the Mullahs in Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia is basically "A Bridge Too Far" at this point. Note, however, that the US is withdrawing from it and now that the US has Iraq to put military bases we are in a far stronger position from which to pressure the Saudis. Once Iraqi oil fields get rebuilt to pump a lot more oil the US position from which to pressure the Saudis will be stronger still. You are mistaken if you think we are not eventually going to have a reckoning with them.

Tyrants in the Cold War: Yes, we supported tyrants in order to prevent communist tyrants from coming to power instead. It was a war dammit. Once the Cold War ended the US very quietly went thru Central and South America and made it clear that it was time to have elections and put the dictators out to pasture.

It is easy enough to find fault in the history of US foreign policy. But in many cases the US had to choose between assorted fairly bad choices and basically pick the least bad one.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©