Monday, May 12, 2008

Neocons keep coming up with new nightmares

Nikolas K. Gvosdev reviews neocon star Robert Kagan's new book The Return of History and the End of Dreams in Kagan's Dreaming 05/08/08 The National Interest Online (The National Interest is published by the Nixon Center; Gvosdev is the journal's editor). He begins with this memorable observation:

Neoconservative pundits have an unfortunate tendency to take a world characterized by shades of grey and reduce it to stark tones of black and white, with no room for nuance and complexity. This can produce impassioned pieces of rhetoric but is a poor way for a superpower to conduct strategy.
Maverick McCain's Legion of Democracies or whatever he's calling his plan to destroy the United Nations is shaping up to be a new cause of the eternal-war crowd. Faulting Kagan for assuming that the form of government, "democracy" vs. "autocracy" in Kagan's Manichean formulation, determines foreign policy, Gvosdev writes:

Let’s take the treatment of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. More pro-American than his predecessor, yes. But Sarkozy is committed to his vision of the trans-Atlantic relationship, and that does not include any sort of global association of democracies. He also has a different view of how France—and by extension Europe—should deal with Russia and some of the North African non-democracies. One year after his election, the Atlantic Community asked how “American” Sarkozy had turned out to be, and the record is decidedly mixed—and areas of disagreement with the United States have tended to be in areas where Sarkozy perceives there are critical French interests at stake.
A healthy sense of limits about American power is something the neocons chronically lack.


As Gvosdev says:

In contrast to the world of 1994, other states now have considerably more wherewithal to put limits on our freedom of action. It is a world that has become much more frustrating for Americans who thought that the end of the cold war solved everything.
Govsdev gives voice to a so-called "realist" perspective on foreign policy. It's not my own outlook, though you have to give them credit for good marketing in getting themselves labeled the "realists". This is a Realist statement of policy:

Democracy matters; values matter. But they are not the only factor. ...

Interest-based relationships remain the best way for the United States to conduct its foreign policy, especially in a world where economic and military power are accumulating around several centers. Shared values can help underpin such relationships, but cannot serve as a substitute. A simplistic appeal to "democracies of the world, unite" didn't work at the Bucharest NATO summit and has had mixed appeal among the rising southern democracies like India, South Africa and Brazil.
Now, that much of the Realist viewpoint really is realistic. (I couldn't resist that one.)

But the rule of law between nations and the value of democracy and human rights also need to be central to American foreign policy. That doesn't mean we have to send American troops into some impossible civil conflict in a country where few US soldiers can even speak the language every times there's a coup or a humanitarian crisis. Still, rule of law, human rights and democracy are important elements that should be part of US foreign policy. It's not an easy set of concerns to balance with economic and geopolitical factors. But the easy good-vs-evil approach of the Cheney-Bush administration has put the US into some major messes.

How bad is Robert Kagan's latest militaristic tract? Gvosdev:

And if a future John McCain administration were to use this slim volume as its guide to grand strategy, the damage to the global position of the United States could be catastrophic. Trying to shoehorn America’s friends into an “axis of democracy” could very well wreck many of our country’s vital relationships. And pushing countries like China and Russia to formalize their relationship and to actively develop a global anti-American bloc would be foolhardy. Thus far, their cooperation to put obstacles in the path of some U.S. objectives has been opportunistic and haphazard. Do we really want to facilitate the emergence of a Eurasian entente?
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