With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans didn’t see the necessity for a huge military machine and wanted and expected less military spending (this was “in vogue” at the time, remember). And it would logically follow that if the reason for needing this massive military might was the existence of the “evil empire”, as Reagan so famously called the Soviet Union, then without that communist “threat”, that might would not be needed. So the “in vogue” view is understandable. And Bush ran for president by proclaiming to espouse the view that the U.S. should use its power only to serve its own interests, unlike Clinton, who had involved the U.S. in “nation building” and “humanitarian” adventures perceived as outside U.S. interests.
This, Kagan asserts, “was roughly the policy Bush pursued during his first nine months in office”. To demonstrate Bush’s “realism”, he notes that “70 percent of western Europeans surveyed (85 percent in France) believed that the Bush administration made decisions ‘based only on U.S. interests.'” In other words, most western Europeans took Bush at his word when he said the U.S. would act only in its own interests.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Kagan observes, “naturally brought about a shift in the Bush administration’s foreign policy, but it was not a doctrinal revolution.” The Bush administration still espoused “realism” (the “national-interests-based approach”). It was just that “The ‘strategic pause’ was over, and the United States was back in the business of extensive global involvement in what became known as ‘the war on terror.'”
The belief that the use of the U.S. must use force around the world was shared by both administrations. But Clinton had erred, in the Bush view, by using military force for self-described “humanitarian” purposes rather than for the advancement of self-described U.S. “interests”. In other words, it was not the overall strategy that was flawed, merely some of the tactics Clinton used to get the job done.
The Bush administration believed it was “back in the business of global leadership”, but there were “obstacles” to “returning to the old Cold War style of leadership”. Kagan contends that the “invasion of Afghanistan — unlike both the war in Kosovo and the first Gulf War — was about U.S. security first, not about forging a ‘new world order.'” The U.S. could do without “the alliance-management problems that had bothered General Wesley Clark in Kosovo” by just acting unilaterally.
The U.S. appeared less “a global leader seeking the global good” than “an angry Leviathan narrowly focused on destroying those who had attacked it” and thus gained “less sympathy”. Again, remember the “obstacle” or “problem” is that negative views towards the U.S. are garnered by its use of force to “promote American values.”
There was not as much “solidarity” between Europe and the U.S. after 9/11 as during the Cold War because “Only the Americans were frightened.” European nations, by contrast, “felt relatively secure.” Kagan argues that 9/11 “had not altered fundamental global attitudes toward the United States. The resentment remained.” Europeans “believed that ‘U.S. policies and actions in the world’ had been a ‘major cause’ of the terrorist attacks and that, to borrow a phrase, the chickens had come home to roost.”
So, to sum up Kagan’s argument, the “problem” the Bush administration was faced with was that the rest of the world wasn’t as afraid of terrorism as Americans. The implication is that the “threat” from “communism” during the Cold War served to assist the U.S. in carrying out role with its God-like power by making other nations feel the “need” for U.S. protection. Europeans had felt threatened by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but did not feel similarly threatened by the threat of terrorism that existed only in the first place as a consequence of the U.S. exercising its powers abroad.
The U.S. “fight against terrorism” was “strictly in its own interests”, Europeans believed, and not in their own. That Europeans would have this view “was not surprising given how little the Bush administration was attempting then to make U.S. allies feel differently”.
Kagan thus begins to shape out that one of Bush’s “mistakes” he referred to earlier was failing to sufficiently turn the “war on terror” into “a struggle for international order.” Europeans, the corollary tells us, should be just as fearful of the threat of terrorism as Americans. As it was, “Most of the world did not agree” that the U.S. was “back in the business of global leadership”, the role the U.S. simply assumed for itself.
The “war on terror”, Kagan argues, “has been by far Bush’s greatest success.” His evidence is that the U.S. has not been victim of a terrorist attack since 9/11.
The popular alternative view, held even within the U.S.’s own intelligence community, that the “war on terror” has increased the threat of terrorism Kagan simply dismisses. This is despite the fact that the State Department’s own annual report on terrorism has shown increased terrorism incidents globally since the war began. Kagan doesn’t connect this trend with the war, however, because these attacks didn’t occur within the U.S. Rather, ignoring the enormous amount of terrorism incidents in Iraq as a consequence of the invasion, they have occurred largely against U.S. allies for, analysts generally agree, their participation in the U.S.’s war (Kagan correctly points out that most people didn’t feel the war was in their own country’s interests but neglects to observe that many of their governments participated in one way or another with the U.S. in its “war on terror” contrary to their own public opinion).
We thus return to the “problem” with “the ‘war on terror’ paradigm”. It “is not that the war has failed” (the U.S., after all, hasn’t been attacked since 9/11, so it must have been successful). “It is that the paradigm was and is an insufficient one on which to base the entirety of U.S. foreign policy.”
The reason the “war on terror” is “insufficient” has already been pointed out; namely, that other peoples around the world just didn’t buy into the “threat” of “terror” as well as they had “communism”. It is thus a kind of return to the good old days of the Cold War that Kagan favors, if we may judge from the logical corollary of his argument.
Just as the Bush administration erred in overemphasizing American interests over that of its global neighbors, In Kagan’s view, so are those neighbors also guilty of self-interests. It is a “world of selfish states and selfish peoples” who only ever ask “What is in it for us?” Most of the U.S. allies in its “war on terror” “believe that they are doing the United States a favor when they send troops to Afghanistan (or Iraq), often at a perceived sacrifice to their own interests.”
The “anticommunist containment paradigm was also inadequate”, Kagan opines, but at least “did tend to attract the allegiance of others to the United States and persuade them to accept U.S. leadership”, which “was more important than the United States’ image, which was not always pristine.”
As an example of the U.S.’s less than “pristine” reputation, Kagan cites Vietnam. “If the Vietnam War did not produce the same rifts in the United States’ alliances that the Iraq war has produced, it is not because Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s America was more beloved than Bush’s America is. It is because the United States was providing things that other peoples believed they needed — primarily protection against the Soviet Union — which made many of them overlook U.S. actions in Vietnam…”