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Towards a New and Improved Cold War

An article by Robert Kagan in the esteemed journal Foreign Affairs offers an insightful look into the mind of the prominent neoconservative by laying out the framework from within which he and others of like mind operate. In the article, entitled “The September 12 Paradigm: America, the World, and George W. Bush”, Kagan proposes that “The next administration must learn from Bush’s mistakes, but should not shy away from using U.S. power to promote American values.”

This is the assumption that serves as the basis for Kagan’s analysis; that Bush’s foreign policy involved the use of “power” to “promote American values”. That these “values” are good and worthy is assumed also, and Kagan doesn’t trouble himself to define them. The next U.S. president should learn from the “mistakes” Bush made along the way, but follow his example in using military force as a tool of international relations.

Kagan begins by saying, “Hard as it may be to recall, the United States’ problems with the world — or, rather, the world’s problems with the United States — started before George W. Bush took office.” The U.S. was unpopular during the Clinton administration, as well. But then, neither did the Clinton administration “invent American self-righteousness.” It predates Clinton also.

The “problem” of U.S. unpopularity around the world, which has existed for a long time, is further explained; the “underlying cause” of this problem “was simple: [following the collapse of the Soviet Union] the allies did not need one another as much as before.”

Having defined the “problem” and its “cause”, Kagan next defines the “need” Europe (and the rest of the world) had for the United States that was so regretfully removed from the equation, which is that U.S. power was enforced under the notion that the world needed protection from the Soviet Union and communism. With the end of the Cold War, thisraison d’etre could no longer serve as a pretext for the exercising of U.S. power.

Notice how in this framework, the need for the U.S. to use it’s “power” doesn’t decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather, the loss of the pretext is a problem to be overcome so the U.S. can flex its muscles without inviting too much anti-American sentiment.

Kagan admires the model of the European Union as having “charted a new course in human evolution, proving that nations could pool sovereignty and replace power politics with international law.” This “European perspective” was shared by Clinton officials, “but they also believed that the United States had a special role to play as the guardian of international security — the “indispensable” leader of the international community — in a traditional, power-oriented, state-centric way.”

Faced with various crises, the Clinton administration “dispatched aircraft carriers and fired missiles, often unilaterally.” Clinton, like his successor, also “would not endorse the land-mines treaty or the International Criminal Court”, except with “safeguards for the United States’ special global role.”

The Clinton administration could not “hide their impatience” with the the “lack of seriousness” in Europe about the “perils” the U.S. faced (causing Clinton to have “fired missiles”). Kagan admiringly quotes Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as saying, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America…. We see further into the future.”

Kagan joyfully applies this within his framework, the corollary being that the U.S. must use these God-like powers “to promote American values”.

The use of such power has consequences. For instance, “Anti-American nationalism exploded after the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 by U.S. pilots during a war in Kosovo that both the Chinese and the Russians regarded as illegal.” (Of course, “It did not help the Russian mood that 1999 was also the year the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO.)

The event of Bush gaining the presidency served to further solidify negative opinion of the U.S. elsewhere. There was “irony” in this, Kagan observes, because “Bush came to office hoping to pare down U.S. global pretensions” (“Foreign policy realism was in vogue” at the time). While the Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore believed that the U.S. was “the world’s ‘natural leader'” and had to “give other peoples the ‘blueprint that will help them be like us more'”, Bush said the U.S. “should not ‘go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be,’ that this was ‘one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American.'”

So the framework is set and Kagan’s argument comes more clearly into view: The U.S., endowed with God-like powers, is obligated to “promote American values” by using military force. It was able to effectively do so during the “Cold War” because the “need” other nations had for the U.S. to defend them could be produced by invoking the threat of “communism”. But the “problem” is that the cost of using its “power” after the end of the Cold War has been increasingly negative views towards the U.S. because this “need” has been negated.

As “it turned out”, Kagan continues, the “realism” of the Bush administration “did not win friends around the world either.” He further explains what constitutes “realism”, noting that “In its first nine months, the administration pulled out of Kyoto process, declared its opposition to the International Criminal Court and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and began pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.”

So “realism” is recognizing that the application of U.S. power results in anti-American sentiment around the globe and opposing international treaties on the grounds that they don’t serve U.S. interests as narrowly defined by policymakers in Washington.

So even though the Bush administration chose not to “go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be” in this manner, the U.S. was still “viewed as the ugly American.” Of course, this was not surprising, given his “realism”. “Some of these [treaties] had already died under Clinton, but whereas Clinton had tried to soothe international anger by holding out hope that the United States might eventually ratify them, Bush opposed them on principle.”

Kagan points out that then national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, “a self-described ‘realpolitiker'”, had “complained in 2000…about all the airy talk of ‘humanitarian interests.'” She believed “U.S. policy had to be rooted in the ‘firm ground of the national interest,’ not in the ‘interests of an illusory international community.'”

This was a “new approach” from that of Clinton, further demonstrated by Bush’s statement that the U.S. “should not ‘send troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in nations outside our strategic interest.'” The “Bush realists” agreed “that humanitarian interventions and nation building were to be avoided.'” In this “realist view”, Kagan explains further, “a world in which U.S. national interests were not seriously threatened was a world in which U.S. power and influence should contract.”

The U.S. should get out of out the “global leadership business” since the Cold War was over. Kagan cites Jeane Kirkpatrick as saying that the U.S. should “cease carrying the ‘unusual burdens’ of leadership and, ‘with a return to “normal” times, … again become a normal nation.'”


About the Author

Jeremy R. Hammond

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Jeremy R. Hammond
Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst and a recipient of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. He is the founding editor of Foreign Policy Journal and the author of Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian economics in the financial crisis and The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict. His forthcoming book is on the contemporary U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.