“The war on terror”, Kagan laments, “has never attracted” the “kind of international allegiance” as the Cold War had. “To European eyes,” he observes, “U.S. actions only inflame Europe’s problems. When the United States whacks a hornet’s nest, the hornets fly to Europe, or so Europeans fear.”
Kagan naturally doesn’t recognize this fear as a reality, merely as a perception, which goes hand in hand with his dismissal of the evidence that the so-called “war on terror” has served only to heighten the threat.
This was the “perspective that many viewed” during the invasion of Iraq; a situation which presents “another irony”, which is that the invasion “was one of the less selfish actions of a post-9/11 United States”, closer to the Clinton-style policy of being “an active and responsible world leader” than to “interests-based foreign policy.”
Still, it was at least “partly related to the war on terror.” After all, Kagan notes, Clinton had also warned that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world. The “principle rationales” for the invasion of Iraq “predated Bush’s realism”; “Iraq in the 1990s had been seen by many not as a direct threat to the United States but as a problem of world order for which the United States had a special responsibility.” (The U.S., remember, simply has an obligation to use force “to promote American values” in the role it has given itself as the world’s protector. That the invasion of Iraq fell to the U.S. to execute under this paradigm is evidenced by the fact that Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger had declared, “The future of Iraq will affect the way in which the Middle East and the Arab world in particular evolve in the next decade and beyond.”)
European opposition to the Iraq war was not due to any strict adherence to principles of international law, Kagan points out. “They preferred to see the United States get UN backing for the war, but they also knew this had been impossible in the case of Kosovo.” And, as Kosovo demonstrated, “Europeans were ready to go to war without UN authorization in a manner that concerned them, their security, their history, and their morality.”
The U.S. was “acting on behalf of world order”, it was just that not many “could believe” that this was so. This, in turn, explains why “many could only explain the war as a war for oil, or for Israel, or for U.S. imperialism”, etc.
Kagan’s paradigm becomes more clear: The world incorrectly believed that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was about oil (or some other ridiculous thing) because people just couldn’t see how the U.S. waging war on Iraq was in reality in their own best interests (U.S. policymakers, remember, know what’s best for the world because they can “see further into the future”). They took Bush at his word when he said the U.S. would act only in its own interests, rather than recognizing that Bush had actually reverted to the same old Clinton policy of assuming the role of “guardian of international security”; “the ‘indispensable’ leader of the international community”.
Kagan reiterates: “Few could believe that the United States, especially under Bush, was now suddenly acting on behalf of world order. Hence, many could only explain the war as a war for oil, or for Israel, or for U.S. imperialism, or as anything but what its supporters across the U.S. political spectrum thought it was: a war that was both in the United States’ interests and in the interests of the better part of humanity.”
While the invasion of Iraq was done “in the interests of the better part of humanity”, Bush still managed to screw it up at first. The “more spectacular manifestations of that failure”, such as “the Abu Ghraib prison scandal”, served to portray the U.S. as incompetent.
But the Bush administration has made “progress” in “correcting” its “mistakes”. The U.S.’s “position in the world today is not nearly as bad as some claim.” World opinion towards the U.S. is beginning to heal from the damage the Bush administration caused to its reputation. An example is India, “a former ally of Moscow that today sees good relations with the United States as critical to achieving its broader strategic and economic goals.”
India is insightful enough to recognize that having “good relations” with the U.S. is in its own “strategic and economic goals.” Those nations that disagree remain under strong delusion.
In Kagan’s final analysis, “the structure of the international system should remain as it has been”; which is to say there should be “one superpower”, the United States, and several other “great”, but lesser, “powers”. The reason the U.S. should rule the world is because it is “at the center of the international economy and continues to be the predominant military power and the leading apostle of the world’s most popular political philosophy”. That the U.S. is the “leading apostle” of the “political philosophy” referred to, democracy, is accepted as a matter of faith by Kagan.
Moreover, the U.S. deserves this role because “the American public continues to support American predominance, as it has consistently done for six decades”. No evidence is required to support this assertion; it, too, is simply a matter of faith.
A further reason the U.S. should remain the world’s hegemon is because “potential challengers” to that role “inspire more fear than sympathy among their neighbors”, unlike the U.S. (notice Kagan similarly dismisses the evidence that the dominant opinion of people around the world is that the U.S. and its foreign policy are the single biggest threat to international peace).
The U.S. must “return”, in Kagan’s view, to its “leadership” role, but it would be “an illusion” to “imagine that there can be an easy return” to that role after the end of the Cold War and the “mistakes” of the Bush administration in claiming self-interest rather than selling the “war on terror” more as being in the “the interests of the better part of humanity”. In other words, despite having clear vision and serving the world’s best interests, the Bush administration messed up in the area of public relations (as evidenced by the fact that the world doesn’t agree U.S. military actions such as against Iraq are in their own best interests, that they perceive the U.S. as stirring the hornets nest and causing even greater risk).
Still, it would be “an illusion”, Kagan suggests, “to imagine that there can be an easy return” for the U.S. to its “leadership” role in the absence of a “single unifying threat along the same lines as the Soviet Union” during the Cold War.
For those who don’t wish a return to the Cold War paradigm, who “imagine” that the collapse of that framework was “good news”, Kagan suggests that the Cold War ended better than the “nineteenth-century order” (under which the U.S. did not serve the same “leadership” role as after the end of World War II) to which the world has returned. The corollary is that we should thus welcome a return to a less “inadequate” version of the paradigm that existed during the Cold War era where there was a “single unifying threat” serving to “bind the United States and other nations”.
“To avoid such a fate” as befell the world at the end of the “nineteenth-century order”, the U.S. “and other democratic nations will need to take a more enlightened and generous view of their interests than they did even during the Cold War.” What this means is that the U.S. “should not oppose but welcome a world of pooled and diminished national sovereignty.”