I just don’t get it. Today when we should be hearing from Juan Cole and John Mearsheimer, leading intellectuals who were right about the Iraq war to begin with, the New York Times has chosen to run a fawning profile of neoconservative Robert Kagan. Some of this reads like the Onion:
And who better to lead a cast of assorted hawks back into intellectual — and they hope eventually political — influence than the congenial and well-respected scion of one of America’s first families of interventionism?
His father, Donald Kagan, a historian of ancient Greece, is a patriarch of neoconservatism. His brother, Fred… etc
Jason Horowitz’s profile uses as its peg a “a much-discussed essay” by Kagan in The New Republic called “Superpowers don’t get to retire.” Yes; neither do neoconservatives. Horowitz allows Kagan to both evade the neoconservative label (he prefers “liberal interventionist,” of course) and predict that Hillary Clinton would have a “neocon” foreign policy. Probably right about that.
The piece justifies itself on gossipy grounds because Kagan is part of a power couple (Victoria Nuland at the State Department). But the real power couple here is Kagan and Bill Kristol, leaders of the de-funct/bunked Project for a New American Century, which pushed a muscular foreign policy all over, including the catastrophic invasion of Iraq.
Horowitz informs us that they have now been vindicated:
Mr. Kristol said he, too, sensed “more willingness to rethink” neoconservatism, which he called “vindicated to some degree” by the fruits of Mr. Obama’s detached approach to Syria and Eastern Europe.
Horowitz fails to reflect any criticism of Kagan from the powerful coalition that neoconservatives fostered in opposition to its adventures: leftwingers and realists. Andrew Bacevich embodies this combination, and last week published an inspired attack on Kagan at Commonweal, saying that his essay is based on a “fictive past.”
Bacevich summarizes Kagan:
“If a breakdown in the world order that America made is occurring,” Kagan writes, “it is not because America’s power is declining.” The United States has power to spare, asserts the author of The World America Made. No, what we have here is “an intellectual problem, a question of identity and purpose.” Feckless, silly Americans, with weak-willed Barack Obama their enabler, are abdicating their obligation to lead the planet. The abyss beckons.
Writing in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks hails Kagan’s New Republic essay as “brilliant.” A more accurate appraisal would be slickly mendacious. Still, Kagan’s essay also qualifies as instructive: Here in some 12,700 carefully polished words the impoverished state of foreign-policy discourse is laid bare. If the problem hobbling U. S. policy is an intellectual one, then Kagan himself, purveyor of a fictive past, exhibits that problem in spades….
Bacevich points out that the great world order that Kagan adores was actually three spheres of self-interested powers. And– notice the reliance on leftwing thinking– the U.S. sphere was hardly enlightened:
much like the Soviets in Eastern Europe, Washington asserted the prerogative of policing its own sphere of influence. When it did so—overthrowing regimes not to its liking in Guatemala, Iran, and South Vietnam, for example—the “promotion of a liberal world order” did not rank high in the list of American motives.
So too with the roster of despots, dictators, and kleptocrats that the United States assiduously supported. From Batista and Somoza in the 1950s to Musharraf and Mubarak in the past decade, a regime’s adherence to liberal values seldom determined whether or not it was deemed a worthy American ally.
Such matters do not qualify for inclusion in Kagan’s celebration of American global leadership, however. Guatemala he simply ignores…
Notice Bacevich’s focus on ethnic cleansing in Palestine and on genocides in the American sphere of influence. Again, left-realism:
Other disruptions to a “world order” ostensibly founded on the principle of American “global responsibility” included the 1947 partition of India (estimated 500,000 to one million dead); the 1948 displacement of Palestinians (700,000 refugees); the exodus of Vietnamese from north to south in 1954 (between 600,000 and one million fled); the flight of the pied noir from Algeria (800,000 exiled); the deaths resulting directly from Mao Tse Tung’s quest for utopia (between 2 million and 5 million); the mass murder of Indonesians during the anti-Communist purges of the mid-1960s (500,000 slaughtered); the partition of Pakistan in 1971 (up to 3 million killed; millions more displaced); genocide in Cambodia (1.7 million dead); and war between Iran and Iraq (at least more 400,00 killed). Did I mention civil wars in Nigeria, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan, Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone that killed millions? The list goes on.
Kagan mentions none of those episodes. Yet all occurred during the Cold War, when the United States was, in his words, “vigilant and ready to act, with force, anywhere in the world.”
By what standard does a system in which such things occur qualify as a “world order”? With the United States reacting passively to human misery on an epic scale (where not actively abetting the perpetrators), what is the operative definition of “global responsibility” that squares with U.S. behavior? If, as Kagan argues, “the American project has aimed at shaping a world different from what had always been, taking advantage of America’s unique situation to do what no nation had ever been able to do,” then how can it be that such awful events persist?
The answers to these questions are clear. First, to the extent that a postwar liberal order existed, it was fragile, tentative, and incomplete. It was a club. Membership criteria were strictly enforced. Residents of the Anglosphere were in, of course. So too were certain favored Europeans….
And Bacevich is merciless on the dynamic duo of Kristol and Kagan:
Back in 1996, in a famous Foreign Affairs article co-authored with William Kristol, Kagan identified “benign global hegemony” as the proper basis for U. S. policy. It was incumbent upon the United States to exploit its Cold War victory. Armed with a combination of “military supremacy and moral confidence,” Washington needed to put existing and potential adversaries in their place. The idea was “to make clear that it is futile to compete with American power.” Permanent dominion was the goal. To settle for anything less, Kagan and Kristol wrote, was to embrace “a policy of cowardice and dishonor.”
Even before September 11, 2001, Kagan was among those fixing their sights on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as the place to validate this approach. The events of 9/11 reinforced his determination along with his sense of self-assurance. Writing with Kristol in April 2002, he declared flatly that “the road that leads to real security and peace” is “the road that runs through Baghdad.”
George W. Bush took that road. Yet much to his considerable chagrin, Bush discovered that it led to rather considerable unpleasantness. As it dragged on, the Iraq War exposed as hollow any American aspirations to global hegemony. Left behind when U.S. troops finally withdrew was their reputation for military supremacy. Meanwhile as reports of prisoner abuse, torture, and the killing of noncombatants mounted, American moral confidence lost its luster. As for the Iraqis themselves, although few Americans are inclined to take notice, today they enjoy neither security nor peace.
On all of these matters, Kagan chooses to stay mum. That is his privilege, of course. Yet in exercising that privilege he forfeits any claim to be taken seriously.
Yes but somehow the Times is taking him very seriously.