Wednesday, September 11, 2002

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LET THE KAGAN BACKLASH BEGIN: Every couple of years, pundits and policymakers think they've located The Next Big Thing in Foreign Policy. In 1989 it was Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History?" In 1993 it was Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?" In 1997 it was Jessica Matthews "Power Shift." Each of these articles grabbed attention because they simultaneously challenged the conventional wisdom but seemed to mirror the current state of the world. After a few months, however, the inevitable counter-reaction would set in, and great effort would be devoted to explaining why these brilliant authors were wrong. Nevertheless, these sort of intellectual cycles are useful, because they force policymakers and policy wonks to look up from their inbox and think about the Big Picture for a while.

Over the past few months, The Next Big Thing has been Robert Kagan's "Power and Weakness." The basic argument is that Europeans now have a Kantian view of the world, in which all problems can be solved by multilateral processes of "jaw-jaw," while Americans think the world is Hobbesian, multilateral institutions are a joke, and that the chief way to solve problems is unilateral action. His conclusion is clear in his first graf: "It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging."

Kagan's piece has gotten a lot of play, but little criticism. Like previous Next Big Things, he's onto something, but the piece cries out for a backlash. So, here's five reasons why Kagan is wrong:

1) Transatlantic public opinion is closer than Kagan thinks. A recent public opinion poll shows that Europeans are more comfortable with military action against Iraq than Kagan argues, while Americans are more supportive of multilateral action than one would expect from Hobbesians.

2) European elites are more diverse. Sure, Gerhard Schroeder fits Kagan's Kantian straw man perfectly. Some other leaders don't. Italian president Sylvio Berlusconi strongly supports the use of force; so does Tony Blair. We're not talking about piddling countries here. Recent elections in all of the EU countries indicate a growing dissatisfaction with the uber-Kantian European Union. This also runs into the next point...

3) Europe is bigger than the EU. The next tranche of countries to be admitted into the European Union are very skeptical of the "European" style of foreign policy. Former communist countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic remember how much the "jaw-jaw" of detente got them during the Cold War. They want Europe to be Kantian, but have few illusions about the rest of the world.

4) Kant and Hobbes are not the only options. Locke preferred the rule of law to the state of nature, but he also believed that when certain core principles were violated, the reversion to state of nature strategies were appropriate. Both American and European elites are much closer to Locke than either of them are to the more extreme poles.

5) Actions speak louder than words. Last September, there was a lot of talk about a common European position vis-a-vis the Taliban. Then Tony Blair met with Bush and suddenly all of the European heads of state were tripping over each other to get in on the action. You could argue that the U.S. didn't need the help in Afghanistan, but funny how many European troops are actually on the ground at the present. The Economist is right that the Europeans will eventually go along on Iraq as well, because they prefer some influence to no influence. At the same time, as the rhetoric on Iraq heats up, President Bush is also making much louder multilateral sounds.

Prediction: if an invasion happens, the U.S. won't be alone. Some multilateral entity will be in tow.

posted by Dan on 09.11.02 at 03:30 PM