Why a strong, interventionist America remains the world’s best hope against the return of international chaos.
Washington Post columnist and Brookings Institution senior fellow Kagan (The World America Made, 2012, etc.), who served in the State Department during the 1980s, sees the United States in retreat from its responsibility at a time when its leadership is needed most. “If Obama’s policies put a dent in the liberal world order, Trump’s statements and actions have been driving a stake through it,” he writes. “For if the United States cannot be relied upon to provide the secure environment in which members of the liberal world order can flourish, and if in addition it is going to be jealous and spiteful and demand ‘wins’ when they do flourish, then the United States starts to look more like a rogue superpower than a nation defending any order of any kind.” The 20th century elevated America into a unique position through a combination of the country’s ideals and power and geography; to abdicate that position, argues Kagan, would be to fall from “a relative paradise” into a natural disorder of darkness and chaos. In the wake of Vietnam and Iraq, both of which the author sees as strategically sound if unfortunate in outcome, America is less likely to see its responsibilities extend beyond its borders. If America pulls back, Russia, Japan, China, Germany, or another nation might rush to fill that vacuum. Peace isn’t a given, and neither is democracy; they must be guarded and defended. Kagan’s argument should appeal to unrepentant Cold Warriors and to others who believe that might makes right where America’s place in the world is concerned. Yet the metaphor for the title is unfortunate, implying (more strongly than the text does) that without the primacy of developed nations, the hordes of barbarians will infest the planet with their jungle ways.
A provocative argument that runs counter to popular sentiment and conventional wisdom.