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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thoughts on Capehart on Kagan

I ì'm reading the Washington Post and note one very outstanding op-ed by Catharine Rampell which you should just read. She links to excellent summaries of social science research and notes that Republicans don't listen to experts and aren't reality based.

But I want to write about a dumb op-ed by Jonathan Capehart. I'm picking on him partly to explain what is so extraordinary about Rampell. The op-ed is a summary and review of a speech by noted neoconserviative Robert Kagan. Writing it did not involve googling. Capehart is, more or less, reporting a speech. He didn't check claims of fact with various competing published sources. Now I don't work enough to complain about his work effort. I really just want to stress that it is amazing how much Rampell taught me.

I also want to discuss Kagan. Kagan notes that the post WWII liberal world order is an aberration. Such a period of near peace with so many once rival countries working together is extraordinary. His valid and important point is that we should not assume it is the natural order of things and assume it will last. He argues that US engagement is necessary to preserve the (relatively) peaceful order and that America first isolationism is unacceptable.

Oddly, the op-ed doesn't identify him as a neoconservative. This is, I think, highly relevant context. As briefly summarised Kagan doesn't explain how he thinks the US should engage. In practice he has advocated invading countries. Does his respect for the world order require the USA to submit to the rules imposed on other countries ? What does he think of foreign aid ? How about global warming ?

I think Capehart is trying to unite anti-ùTrumpers, bury hachets and refrain from grinding old axes. He presents Kagan as an idealistic internationalist and doesn't get around to discussing whether he is a hawk or a dove. On reflection, I think this is good strategy and will post this post only because almost no one will read it.

Kagan's version of recent history and the rise of neo-isolationism includes

But after the end of the Cold War, Kagan says, “A lot of Americans increasingly [began] asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’” The question got louder as the United States began ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early part of the last decade and as the economy collapsed in 2008.

I object to lumping together Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that, while the longest US war in Afghanistan with no hint of victory in sight is very frustrating, that it would not have caused a neo-isolationaist public reaction. The decision to invade is as close to unanimous as is possible with 340 million people. It is still rarely questioned. In contrast, at least with the benefit of hindsight, invading Iraq seems insane.

Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq was a break with the previous 58 years of US foreign policy, and was presented as such by advocates. Advocates of invasion treated stability as a dirty word. I think that 2003 was the breaking point, and neoconservatives did every thing they could to break the old order. It would be uncharitable to suggest that Kagan bears as much of the blame for the current situation as his limited power allows and to suggest that he might consider shutting up forever. I am feeling uncharitable.

But what is even odder is that he basically leaves two rather important countries out of his discussion of the late lammented liberal world order -- the USSR and the People's Republic of China. He decides that japan and Germany finally became peaceful because of the extraordinary virtue of the USA. The possibility that the peaceful coexistence and then close alliance of ancient adversaries had more to do with a common enemy than a common ally is barely mentioned. The cited phrase "cold war" is literally the only hint.

I too am a nationalist, but the excessive credit Kagan gives the USA is absurd. This is actually relevant. He must argue that the USA played an essential role *and* that we can do so again even though Putin and Xi are only moderately terrifying. If the relative near peace since 1945 was based on a balance of power between super-powers, deterrence and mutual assured destruction, it will be harder to recreate it with good intentions.

Anyway I just wanted to get that off my chest here where almost no one will read it.


JimV said...

As almost no one, I would like to thank you for writing another interesting post for me. (Seriously.)

mike shupp said...

"I am feeling uncharitable" really deserves WIDE dissemination.