JOANNE MYERS: It is a great pleasure to welcome Robert Kagan to our Books for Breakfast program.
Ever since his essay on European-American relations appeared in the Hoover Institution’s June issue of Policy Review, Mr. Kagan has either been quoted or cited in almost every newspaper or magazine article that discusses the strained relations between Europe and America.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, Europeans were galvanized by outrage at the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attacks on the Pentagon and rushed to align themselves with the United States. It now seems rather ironic that in Germany Chancellor Schröder proclaimed “unlimited solidarity with America,” and in France Le Mondedeclared “We are all Americans now.”
Since then, however, relations between these countries and other trans-Atlantic allies have markedly deteriorated. Europeans accuse the United States of a reductionistic approach to foreign policy that views everything as an aspect of the war on terrorism. Americans respond with resentment over Europeans’ unwillingness to support our efforts to deal with hostile states such as Iraq.
But even before the standoff over Iraq, U.S.-European relations were tense. Whether it was steel imports, global warming, or the International Criminal Court, differences on matters of policy and global strategy have been frequent and divisive. The end of the Cold War only exacerbated these disagreements that had been incubating for decades, yet it has only been within the last ten years that we have come to fully understand what this implies for trans-Atlantic relations.
In Of Paradise and Power, Mr. Kagan, who is one of our country’s leading scholars on foreign policy, provocatively explains the ideological rift between Europe and America. For him, one of the most disturbing aspects of this widening gulf is the sense that basic values and interests are diverging. He says: “We agree on very little and understand each other even less.”
What has changed to make this happen, and will these differences widen the Atlantic gap even further? If so, can America maintain global security without much help from Europe? These are just some of the questions and issues that are addressed so eloquently by Mr. Kagan in his essay.
Currently our guest is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he is the Director of the U.S. Leadership Project. He is no stranger to Washington and to the nuances of policymaking there, as he has held several important positions, such as a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, principal speech writer for Secretary of State George Shultz, and foreign policy advisor to Congressman Jack Kemp.
In addition to his recently published book Of Paradise and Power, he is the author of A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua 1977?1990, and co-editor with William Kristol of Present Dangers: Crises and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy.
His clearly articulated thoughts on foreign policy appear in a monthly column in The Washington Post. Additional articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The National Interest, and The Weekly Standard.
ROBERT KAGAN: Thank you very much.
It is hard to remember a deeper rift between the United States and its European friends and allies than right now. When I first started working on this topic a year ago, the most frequent reaction from my friends in the trans-Atlantic world was: “We’ve always had disputes. The Cold War was no picnic. We had De Gaulle, the multilateral force decisions, Vietnam. Disturbances in the trans-Atlantic alliance are not new, and so this is just another bump in the road.”
I will concede that that may well be a possibility, but a year hence, my suspicions then that this was something perhaps qualitatively different are being borne out. During the Cold War there were many disagreements about tactics, and even at the level of strategy, on how to deal with the Soviet Union, how to deal with Third-World revolutions; there was the perennial problem of the Middle East on which we often disagreed. But we did not have a fundamental philosophical difference about the way the world works, the way the world ought to work, and, most importantly, the role of military power in world affairs as a tool of any nation’s foreign policy.
Whatever differences the United States and Europe may have had during the Cold war, they both had armies on a frontier designed to deter a war with the Soviet Union, and whatever goals Europeans entertained for themselves within the Western European context, they agreed with Americans that outside that carefully guarded zone of peace was a very dangerous world indeed, a Hobbesian world surrounding the Kantian world that was being created inside Europe.
After the Cold War, and as the European Union flowered into its full glory, we witnessed a more fundamental shift in philosophy about how to conduct world affairs. Europeans increasingly believed that the international system that they were creating, this miracle of the European Union, where all disputes would be settled under international institutions, international legal mechanisms, with no thought of military power playing any part in the relations among members of the European Union could be and ought to be expanded and brought out into the rest of the world, so that all of the world should soon be operating under the same international legal system and structures that were present in the European Union.
We Americans should easily recognize this kind of Messianic impulse, because we, for more than two centuries, have also believed that we hold the secret to human happiness and have sought to spread it as best we could. Now the Europeans have their mission civilatrice, which they believe ought to be spread around the world.
In the general European view, the main obstacle today to achieving that great mission is not Saddam Hussein, nor Kim Jong Il; it is the United States, because if the world’s only superpower insists on operating in the world according to time-honored Hobbesian principles of international order, where force is a necessary adjunct to diplomacy and where war is an inescapable reality in dealing with many parts of the world, the United States, therefore, stands as the greatest enemy and threat to what Europeans believe they are trying to accomplish.
Driving the crisis between the United States and Europe today is that what people often value is not their money, or necessarily even their lives, but their ideals. And when Europeans feel that their ideals are threatened, they react with a combination of anger and fear.
There are many Americans who would say: “I agree with the European view, so what’s the problem here? The Europeans are right and the U.S. is wrong, and I don’t like what the Bush Administration is doing; and therefore the trans-Atlantic split is not so much a rift caused by deep sources, it’s the result of the Bush Administration taking us down the wrong route.”
As I was flying over from Belgium, I read The Financial Timesweekend section with two excellent articles by Gerard Baker and John Lloyd, very brilliant analysts. One was about why there are so few American Democrats and foreign policy commentators coming out against the war and why in Europe there were so few European intellectuals coming out for the war.
My experience as an American in Europe has been rather surprising over the past year. In the United States, whatever else may be true, there is an on-going debate. Those who are antiwar feel beleaguered in the present environment, but there are very powerful and well-articulated and strong views being expressed against going to war, or at least delaying the war.
In Europe there is no debate going on in the intellectual class, among the foreign policy elite. We now have the odd circumstance of the eight European leaders who signed the letter of solidarity with the United States, José María Aznar, Tony Blair, and a number of others. But having gone to any number of European conferences, I can tell you that there is no debate in Europe about Iraq, or even about foreign policy in general. There is complete and utter agreement.
Take an issue like multilateralism. Since I live in Europe, I know what Europeans think about multilateralism and I know what Americans think.
American multilateralists say, “We should have other people on our side when we go.” The strongest of multilateralists, Madeleine Albright, threw away multilateralism by the end of her term as Secretary of State, but in any case is certainly committed to the idea that we should go for a UN Security Council Resolution, and, having given it our best shot, if we can’t get it, then we can go anyway.
When you say that in Europe, people begin laughing, because that is not their understanding of multilateralism. Europeans think that there is no legitimacy for action outside the UN Security Council; it is not possible to go to war without a UN Security Council authorization because it’s illegal.
The difference in worldview goes right down the heart of the United States and Europe. This difference did not begin on January 21, 2001, when George W. Bush took office. It did not begin on September 11, 2001, after the terrorist bombings. It was already clearly visible, at least in the 1990s.
We may all look back on the Clinton Administration as having had a wonderfully harmonious relationship with the Europeans. Europeans with any memory of that period know how untrue that is. The term “hyper-puissance,” which then-Foreign Minister Védrine used to describe the United States, this hyper-power that is too big for anybody’s good, was coined during the Clinton Administration. The idea of the “hectoring hegemon” was also an idea coined at the time to refer to poor Ms. Albright, who often seemed to the Europeans to be constantly hectoring them.
But there were also substantive issues. There were the beginnings of the fissures that burst into the open once George W. Bush came into office.
National missile defense, an extremely divisive issue, and understandably so from the European point of view, was something begun in the Clinton Administration. And no, it wasn’t just as a result of Republican pressure. At least if you talk to Clinton Administration officials in the Defense Department, they really believed that this had to be done. And what was that national missile defense to be aimed at? Specifically, during the Clinton Administration, it was aimed at North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, later famous as the “Axis of Evil,” then known as rogue states.
When Al Gore and George Bush ran against each other in the 2000 campaign, they were outbidding each other in increasing the American defense budget.
It is important to realize that the differences that divide the United States and Europe transcend George W. Bush and September 11th.
Did George W. Bush exacerbate these existing differences with some very hard-handed diplomacy and an almost willful desire to annoy everybody in the world, especially our European friends? Yes.
Did September 11th cast the sharpest possible light on this already-existing rift in trans-Atlantic relations? Yes. America was already a war-like country by European standards -- after all, we had fought six reasonable-sized wars over the past twelve years. But the anger of Americans, the desire to seek revenge, and the desire also to make this war on terrorism, exacerbated European anxieties.
We all look back with fondness on the time after 9/11, when Europeans were in the streets waving American flags and crying; and there were 200,000 people at the Brandenburg Gate waving their flags; when the front page of Le Monde, said “We are all Americans;” when I walked down to my local town in Belgium and they asked if I was an American, and then they started crying and hugging -- this great moment was widely misunderstood by Americans.
Many Americans say, “This shows that the Europeans understand that we are in a common threat. They recognize that they could be next. They know that they must join with us now in this war on terrorism because they have seen what can happen.”
I had a very difficult time explaining to people that that wasn’t the European view at all. Believe it or not, there was no self-interest involved in these outpourings of emotion. It was genuine human sympathy and feeling that they had for Americans at that time. It did not translate into a European sense that they too were threatened, because the Europeans to this day, as Javier Solana and others have said, do not feel the threat anything like the Americans. Spaniards think that ETA is a terrorist group. They can’t imagine a terrorist group that may use a weapon of mass destruction. They can imagine supermarkets being blown up, in the U.K. they can imagine car bombs, but they have not moved to the American level of imagining catastrophic destruction at the hands of terrorists.
Therefore, not feeling the threat, they see America now unleashed, overreacting, looking for enemies everywhere, and upsetting the international order that they seek to enjoy.
Now, if it’s true that this wasn’t a George W. Bush problem alone, and if it’s true that this wasn’t a September 11th problem alone, what are the forces of these differences? I see two key elements that have brought about this divergence. They are a structural difference and an ideological difference, and the two feed on and reinforce each other.
The structural difference is a product of the twentieth century, which has never been reversed, which is, objectively speaking, Europeans’ relative military weakness compared to the United States. Europe lost all of its greatest military power and global reach as a consequence of the two World Wars. They fell under a dependent strategic relationship to the United States during the Cold War.
When the Soviet Union and the threat from the east disappeared, Europeans thought that this was a holiday from strategy and now they could focus on Europe and the building of Europe. This is reflected in decreased defense budgets all across Europe. In Germany the defense budget is now heading toward 1 percent of GDP, and it may go lower, because the German economy is weak and German interest in defense spending is less than powerful.
In the best of circumstances, if the United States was the most multilateralist and generous, and if the Europeans were most eager to agree and fight with us everywhere, and we all went into the next war together, it would still be the United States which would provide 95 percent of all the military capacity in such a war.
This strategic gap, this gap in power, has an unavoidable effect on the psychology of the two sides. It is a natural human phenomenon that if you have more power, you are more likely to use it and more likely to think that it is legitimate to use it. When you have less power, you are less likely to use it and also less likely to consider it a legitimate activity.
All you have to do is go back and reverse things. Two hundred years ago, the United States was a fragile and weak country, barely surviving, surrounded by great empires. Americans understood power and believed in power, but they didn’t have any of it, and so their rhetoric tended to be: “We must move beyond power politics. This is the old world that gets us into all these wars. We’re going to spread commerce and international law.” That was the strategy of weakness that the founding generation attempted as a means of getting themselves out of the terrible box that they were in.
And those were the days when the great powers of Europe believed in mach politik and raison d’étatand were hardheaded, and the great enemy of the rules of the sea and international law on the sea was Britain. And the great proponent of that international legal system was the United States.
Now, 200 years later, the power roles have completely reversed, and it’s the United States that says, “We like international law, but let’s not get too carried away, and we don’t want to be too constrained by it, and we need to be able to act,” and it’s the Europeans who are saying, “No, no, no, international law is supreme,” because they know, as well as the Americans once knew, what Vatelle said, that under international law the smallest pygmy is as strong as the greatest power.
Europeans tend to view problems, as they themselves say, as challenges which need to be addressed in a long-term fashion through economic means and getting to the root of the problem. And the United States tends, a little bit more quickly, to say, “Why don’t we just go in and invade?”
A European friend of mine, who took a very critical view of what I was saying, used the old line, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” We Americans need to recognize that there is a certain truth to that. It is also true that if you don’t have a hammer, you don’t want anything to look like a nail. This is the kind of psychological divide that is created by the structural gap that exists today and shows no signs of narrowing.
But, secondly, and more importantly, is the ideological gap. That is a product of the very different history that the United States and Europe have experienced over the last hundred years.
It is true that Europe, having had the dreadful experience of destroying itself twice in the twentieth century, emerged from that experience with the very strong and understandable idea that military power and power politics are not good things, and that we must somehow break out of this cycle and achieve a different kind of international system so that we don’t all kill each other again.
And as the threat of the Cold War and the bifurcated view of the world ended, where they had Kantian goals within Europe but a Hobbesean understanding of the rest of the world, because they had the Soviet Union sitting on their borders -- it was possible for Europeans to sincerely imagine, that you can throw away power politics and military force altogether in international affairs.
You cannot underestimate the degree to which most Europeans have a deep belief that they have moved into the next stage of human existence. What they hold against America is not only that America has not moved into this next stage of human existence, but that the United States seems to be holding back any further progress in this direction.
This view on the part of the Europeans is entirely understandable. Americans’ not total acceptance of this view ought to be equally understandable, because America’s experience over the course of the twentieth century has, in one respect, been entirely different, because the United States has not been part of the EU project, we have not engaged in a successful effort to create a supernational institution where nations subordinate their sovereignty in the interest of pooled sovereignty and legal mechanisms.
At the same time, over the course of the twentieth century, with the exception of what might be known as the period of the lessons of Vietnam, the vast majority of Americans -- liberals, conservatives, Republicans, and Democrats -- internalized the idea that whatever we may want to seek in the world, if we want to advance a liberal international order, even one that is much like the European vision, we can’t hope to do it without on occasion exercising power against those who are its enemies. This lesson sticks very hard in the American psyche.
We still talk about the lesson of Munich, even today. Everyone, from Brent Scowcroft, to Madeleine Albright, Don Rumsfeld, Tony Lake -- they all remember Munich.
The notion that soft power was blended with hard power as being the key to victory in the Cold War is deeply felt in the United States. And how else to explain, even after the end of the Cold War, the maintenance of what is still a fairly substantial defense budget -- and this is even before 9/11? Americans still believe in power and they don’t wish to move into the sphere that the Europeans have created.
And so, we have an incredible paradox, the most complicated element of which is that the Europeans enjoy this post-historical paradise largely because the United States has been willing to exercise its power in the Hobbesian world to make it safe in Europe and also against threats from outside of Europe.
I don’t know whether Europeans can come to grips with the idea that maybe it is better if the United States continues to man the walls of their paradise for them so that they can enjoy their life.
To conclude, we are not on the cusp of a clash of civilizations within the West. We are all products of the same enlightenment project. We all fundamentally share a common vision of where humanity ought to go. We all believe in this liberal international order that we have in various ways tried to create. But right now the gap between us on the use of power has become a tremendously divisive force in our relations, and, frankly, I don’t see how we will escape from this gap.
Question & Answer
QUESTION: Egypt is not a European or a Western country. However, whatever happens in Europe, or between Europe and the United States, affects us very much. We understand very well the American use of power, and that was manifested in two or three events over the last ten years.
It was America who intervened in Kosovo. It was America who intervened in Bosnia, saving Muslims in these two situations. It was also America intervening in Kuwait, repelling the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. So the use of power, from our point of view, and the American ability to project itself on the world, is well understood in our part of the world.
We feel that the Europeans often let things go astray.
ROBERT KAGAN: Thank you for the comment.
QUESTION: There is, certainly, a difference in perspective. Whether it is a product of weakness and strength is something that could be debated. And whether it’s just Europe and the United States is another issue that needs to be examined.
I have some statistics, just taken lately: 83 percent of Canadians like Americans; 83 percent of Canadians think they’re pro-American. But 36 percent think the U.S. is the biggest threat to international peace and security; that’s 21 percent for al-Qaeda, 17 percent for Iraq, and 14 percent for North Korea.
When I became Ambassador to Germany in 1992, the head of the German defense forces at the time warned: “Ambassador, I hope you’re an engineer, because the Atlantic is getting wider and we’re going to need bridges.” And there was no question about that.
My question is: what to do about it all? The American political system is based on checks and balances. Abroad there are no more checks and balances. The Soviet Union once was. The UN is a check and balance, but not really. Why then does the United States, in the absence of a major enemy, still feel it is important to spend so much money on defense? Why do you believe the world is Hobbesian when so many of the rest of us don’t see it in those terms?
ROBERT KAGAN: It doesn’t really surprise me that Canadians do not feel that they live in a Hobbesian world, because Canada enjoys almost unmeasurable security in any reasonable sense of the term.
Your question is often asked by Europeans, “You’re so powerful, so why are you so afraid?” My answer is, “We’re so worried because we’re so powerful,” by which I mean everybody knows that at the end of the day if there were a major world crisis in any part of the world, the United States will bear primary responsibility.
There was a German Marshall Fund poll, which was rather misleadingly portrayed. They listed a number of international problem areas or threats -- ranging from the Israel-Palestinian dispute, to India-Pakistan, China, a collapsing Russia, Iraq, North Korea -- and asked Americans and Europeans both to rate how high they considered that threat. On every single one of those threats, the gap between the American perception of threat and the European perception of threat was enormous, sometimes 25 or 30 points, including the issues and regions that were right next to Europe, not near the United States.
Some of that is the aftermath of 9/11, and so Americans see more threats in general. But both the Europeans and the Americans made a perfectly proper assessment of the actual situation, which is: if there is an India-Pakistan conflict, it will not be Europeans and Canadians primarily going in and dealing with that problem. It is the sense of strategic global responsibility that Americans have internalized that makes them look ahead at threats in a way that Europeans don’t.
In the relatively peaceful 1990s as we now look at them, the Clinton Administration’s Pentagon was busily working on what the next threat would be. Mostly, they were thinking China in 2025 or 2030. They were already gearing up. They were going to redo their military and get ready to fight a potential conflict here, there, and everywhere else. No other country in the world does that.
QUESTION: An absolutely brilliant diagnosis, and I suspect your understanding of Kant is better than Fukuyama’s understanding of Hegel.
I also know that, as a former newspaper columnist, nothing is more boring than to qualify a brilliant thesis with a subordinate clause, but now that I am an international civil servant, I’m paid to do that.
You said that Madeleine Albright had forsaken multilateralism in her later years as Secretary of State. She pursued multilateralism in precisely the sense that you defined American multilateralism: “we know what we want to do, but we prefer to do it with allies.”
Her most conspicuous intervention in world affairs was the war in Kosovo, and in that case, the European members of NATO went along. They, by and large, could see that genocidal, or close to genocidal, policies within Europe by a European dictator, or very unsavory populist leader, were threatening to the Kantian paradise that they were constructing for themselves, and they accepted that military force was a necessary way to deal with this.
If the reaction is different to the present proposal to deal with Saddam by military force, might it not just be that they are as yet to be convinced, not so much that there is a threat, but that the threat is so imminent and the prescription that the Bush Administration proposes to use to deal with it may not actually be the best one and might even leave the world more dangerous than it is?
ROBERT KAGAN: Kosovo is an interesting example to bring to the present in a number of ways, not least of which is that somehow Europe managed to go without a UN Security Council Resolution in Kosovo and now can’t imagine doing so in Iraq. That’s an interesting conundrum.
Kosovo was probably NATO’s greatest accomplishment in some ways. But the Kosovo operation showed potential future fissures, not least of which was what was the United States doing in Kosovo.
It was responding to genocide, certainly, but the goal of America’s operation in Kosovo was ultimately the coherence of the alliance, of the West. It was thought that if the United States sat out the Kosovo war or just let this happen, that that would be a strong statement that the United States had washed its hands of Europe, something that Secretary of State Jim Baker had almost done in the early stages of Yugoslavia -- “We don’t have a dog in that fight”; “we’re not really a European power”; “shouldn’t the Europeans take care of that?” So the war was itself about the coherence of the trans-Atlantic relationship.
And, secondly, the Americans were willing to put up with a great deal of what they considered extremely annoying European hesitancy and timidity all through the war. Clark wanted to bomb this target, but the French thought that was too tough, the French wanted to have a gradual escalation.
Out of the Kosovo conflict came tremendous European frustration, that because the Americans had so much power, they were able to call all the shots, before, at the beginning, at the end of the war, and so Europeans determined that they would build up their own capacity, and it fueled the Blair-Chirac effort to do that. But they didn’t actually succeed in doing so, and they were left with the same problem that they had in Kosovo.
Kosovo was special in another way. Would an American military commander like Wes Clark in a conflict that was not in Europe and that was not about the coherence of the trans-Atlantic alliance, but rather directly about American interests, and even a response to an attack on the United States and not on Europe, have been willing to make the compromises to keep the Europeans on-board in such an eventuality?
The answer is no. And that’s why, even though I criticize the Bush Administration for not involving the Europeans in Afghanistan as much as they ought to have, I do understand the sentiment.
You say that the Bush Administration hasn’t made the case for why Iraq is necessary. Kosovo was in Europe and Iraq is “out there.” Joschka Fischer could imagine the need to do something about genocide in Europe again. Kosovo was about the European mission. If Europe wouldn’t do Kosovo, then it had no mission and all its ideals were just air. Iraq is not about any of those things. Iraq is about the Hobbesian world outside of Europe. The Europeans, therefore, are not persuaded.
Now, sure, the Americans can be wrong, 60 percent of Americans can be wrong, Bush can be wrong, Powell can be wrong, and the Europeans can all be right. That’s a possibility. It’s the underlying attitudes towards power and towards force that are driving this issue.
QUESTION: Don Rumsfeld, probably America’s best version of Hobbes, says that he dismisses Europe’s complaints as “old Europe.” It does seem clear that Europe, as we knew it in the Cold War period, is certainly, inevitably changing, and the Europe that you describe as being overly absorbed in itself, in its civilizing mission at home, may in fact be a different kind of Europe than the one we will see in the next twenty or thirty years. There is a competitive Europe, which is a paradigm for where Europe sees itself, even if it doesn’t have military power, by economic power being a real competitor to the United states, and that may motivate a great deal of the competition and disagreement that we are seeing.
ROBERT KAGAN: The Europeans believed after the end of the Cold War that economic power was the new power that mattered in the world, and that Europe, with its $9 trillion economy, would be standing as an equal player with the United States -- and not only on trade issues and other issues, but it would have great power, which in a world that has moved from geopolitics to geoeconomics would mean that they were now a superpower on the big stage.
Even Europeans have come to understand that the world did not completely change in 1989 and that we did not move away from geopolitics. Any number of European strategic analysts have mentioned their frustration that all their economic power does not translate into the ability to have any influence in the Middle East peace process, nor power in Asia. The United States has a $9 trillion economy, plus the biggest war machine that has even been seen in the world, the combination of which is just too much for Europeans to compete with.
Charlie Kupchan will tell you that Europe is rising and America is falling and the Europeans will emerge to tell us what’s what and it’s the end of the American era, according to his book.
If anything, the idea that Europe is about to emerge with a unified, coherent, powerful, and influential foreign and defense policy is now less plausible today than it was ten years ago.
QUESTION: First of all, the enlargement, as you mentioned, that is coming up will have a tremendous impact on the psychology of the European Union as it stands at the moment.
Why don’t we see ourselves also as playing to each others’ strengths? The Europeans have large armies. They are not instantly deployable. So we find, for instance, in Afghanistan that the war is waged primarily by the United States, while the peace is kept through the international force largely by the Europeans. And again, that is playing to each others’ strengths.
What about the situation with Iran and North Korea, where the European Union has established embassies in North Korea, and have engaged in dialogue with Iran? There Europe can play a very useful role in countries that the U.S. doesn’t want to engage with to to bring about similar objectives. What do you feel about this kind of perceptional approach to world affairs?
ROBERT KAGAN: My fear is that Europeans are not happy with that approach. I use the phrase in my book “the Americans make the dinner and the Europeans do the dishes.” It’s not just a flippant concern. In the world that you have just described, Americans will be choosing where the war will be and the Europeans will not have a great deal of influence. The Americans will go in, make their mess and then say: “Yes, Europeans, yes please, come in behind us. We’ve got other things to do. You handle the reconstruction, you pour in the money, you put in the peacekeeping forces. You didn’t choose this place, but now it has chosen you.”
Whether the Europeans are happy about invading Iraq, they will be playing a big role in its reconstruction. But I find that Europeans are not happy to embrace that kind of division of labor because it doesn’t give them enough say over where any of these things will be happening and under what circumstances.
QUESTION: There are two streams in American thought that cut across your analysis. America for most of its history has been very anti-imperialist. And, secondly, it led the establishment of the UN, which you could say was established on Kantean principles. Why do you think those two streams of thought are now so subordinate?
ROBERT KAGAN: The anti-imperialist strain is a better rhetorical description of the United States than an actual description of American behavior.
Americans have the wonderful capacity to forget their history and how they got where they got, as if it was all some big God-given accident that all of a sudden you are the hegemonic power in the world. But this anti-imperialist country, from before the time it was born, made innumerable wars on Indian populations and drove the Spaniards, French, and British off the North American continent, and then at the turn of the century went to war and found itself with an actual empire, which, even though they were anti-imperialist, they held on to for the next forty years.
The United States is not a country that has been sitting around for 400 years minding its own business. We have been a very aggressive nation. It is one of the great ironies that Americans to this day think that they are a country that sits around minding its own business.
On the UN front, it’s important to remember how deliberately un-Kantean the UN system that was created by FDR et al. was, because in one sense it was fixing the ills of the League of Nations, which was a more Kantean setup. They didn’t create a world body where every one of twenty nations would have to agree whether you were going to war. They created the five quasi-superpowers and gave them veto, which was a check on the Kantean approach.
Secondly, most of the men who set up that system didn’t believe in its ideal principles. Dean Acheson had nothing but contempt for the whole principle behind the United Nations
But let’s not over-glorify what it was that the guys who were putting this program together thought they were doing. They were not trying to create a Kantean universe. They were deliberately creating a situation -- Acheson constantly used the phrase “situations of strength around the world” ¾ where they put the United States at the core of the international security framework because they didn’t want to repeat what led to World War II.
Americans have always been idealistic, but they have never been purely idealistic. There was a great deal of interest involved in that. While Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry Wallace may have been committed to the principles that you suggest, Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, and I would suspect even FDR near the end of his life, did not.
QUESTION: The realist school of thought in American political science is based on Hobbes. We heard in this room last fall the argument by John Mearsheimer about whether the United States should go to war against Iraq. In Sunday’s New York Times, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt laid out that case. It is a Hobbesean case -- that is to say that the United States should not go to war against Iraq, it should follow a policy of containment.
So I find a tremendous gap between the argument that you are making, that it is a Hobbesean argument, and that, almost to a person, realists in American political science and international politics scholars are opposed to using force against Iraq because they think that Iraq can be contained. That is a contradiction in your argument.
ROBERT KAGAN: One of the most striking things about self-proclaimed realists in America, and especially in American academia, is the very strong core of moralism, even Puritanism, that motivates them. The realists have never quite been as realist as they claim to be.
Realists like John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt are looking back to an America of what they conceive to be the early period, acting in limited fashion, only in defensive ways. If Fareed Zakaria were here, he could give you the explanation of defensive and offensive realism.
But the notion is that the core principle of realism is that nations expand and seek power. I find it ironic when realists say that the United States should not do that. In fact, they have a great difficulty with the history of the United States, which they attribute to some psychotic, weird paranoia or odd situation that created American expansionism. They want America not to expand. They are actually neo-isolationists these days.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much.