The Goldilocks Foreign Policy

From the department of “we’re too warlike for some and not nearly warlike enough for others”, Robert Kagan, unsurprisingly, takes the latter view:

The wise men and women of our own time insist that this history is irrelevant. They tell us, when they are not announcing America’s irrevocable decline, that our adversaries are too weak to pose a real threat, even as they pile victory upon victory. Russia is a declining power, they argue. But then, Russia has been declining for 400 years. Can declining powers not wreak havoc? Does it help us to know that, in retrospect, Japan lacked the wealth and power to win the war it started in 1941?

Let us hope that those who urge calm are right, but it is hard to avoid the impression that we have already had our 1931. As we head deeper into our version of the 1930s, we may be quite shocked, just as our forebears were, at how quickly things fall apart.

I would not be surprised at all at “how quickly things fall apart”. What would surprise me is if they were our things.

I think a good portion of the world is in grave danger of falling apart. As I persist in reminding people there is a swathe of territory in the Middle East 3,000 miles wide that comes pre-fallen, another similar swathe in Africa, and others in South America. Or must you have fallen together in order to fall apart?

Whatever the case, if Germany doesn’t find the situation in Ukraine sufficiently urgent to trim its oil and gas trade with Russia and Turkey doesn’t worry enough about the situation in Iraq and Syria to take action, it’s unclear why we should see the situations in those places as much more urgent. I can, however, see why Germany, Turkey, France, and the United Kingdom, just to name a few, not to mention many in the U. S. might want us to see those situations as in extreme need of intervention.

9 comments… add one
  • TastyBits Link

    If the ISIS crisis is serious, it requires a serious response. You do not outsource your survival to unreliable third parties or proven cowards, and yet, this is exactly what is prescribed by those calling this serious.

    The groups that will be armed will be fighting for themselves not the US. If the US wants armed troops fighting ISIS for US interests, the US needs to supply those armed troops. The troops could be supplied by actual allies – signed mutual defense treaties, i.e. NATO.

    Anybody who claims that there is any other way to protect US interests is foolish at best.

    Again, I would like to see Kagan’s realistic plan to rid Europe of Hitler. I suspect it would take more than giving him a good talking to and sending him to bed without supper. No, he will need to be removed by force – a lot of force. Plan accordingly. Do not forget about the Germans citizens who support him.

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    TB, don’t forget that Kagan’s wife has shaped the Eastern European/Russian foreign policy that got us to this point. He’s got a plan. The idea that it has anything to do with the interests of the American people is laughable at best.

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    Kagan’s column is a hoot.

    There’s this:

    The impossibility of war was conventional wisdom in the years before World War I, and it became conventional wisdom again—at least in Britain and the U.S.—practically the day after the war ended.

    Funny, I was just reading about the prelude to The Great War, and nowhere was a belief in the impossibility of war mentioned. The Germans, and the general staffs of many other countries, in fact seemed to believe that war was inevitable and even good for a society. Perhaps SOME people believed that, but an awful lot of important people in Central and Eastern Europe, at the least, most expressly did not believe that.

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    President George H.W. Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, sent half a million American troops to fight thousands of miles away for no other reason than to thwart aggression and restore a desert kingdom that had been invaded by its tyrant neighbor.

    Yeah, oil had nothing to do with it.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Elipses, would agree that the impossibility of war was not a commonly held belief system. Frankly, I think this is a problem with the framework of “realism,” which is built on an idealization of the period after the Napoleonic Wars to WWI and the belief that a balance of powers can limit the extent of war. There were a lot of wars in that period, though often pushed to the fringes of the civilized world (such as the Balkans). And it required collaborative efforts to prop up empires like the Ottomans, that I don’t think were sustainable.

    Anyway, the extent of WWI might have been unforeseeable. Is the extent of ISIS foreseeable or unforeseeable? I don’t know. I am a defender of the post-WWI maps, but I could be wrong, but do we know the extent of what might happen?

  • ... Link

    Okay, so Kagan i hot and bothered to go directly to war with the nation that possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. And other than “the lessons of history” he does not explain what our actual interests in Ukraine are.

    He kind of acknowledges that things didn’t go well in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he doesn’t reall explain why the third time would be the charm in Iraq. I should also note that he seems to want to go to war with Assad and the people fighting Assad.

    Is there anyone in Syria he doesn’t want to go to war with? In which case why not nuke them, kill all the bastards at once and be done with it?

    Lots of mentions of the history of standing up to aggressors. But he doesn’t mention that we are the ones that are constantly invading places. Why did he want to attack the Syrian regime? They had invaded what, exactly? Saddam, scumbag that he was, hadn’t invaded anyplace in 12 years when we set out to topple them. We overthrew the government in Libya, which had not attacked their neighbors in some time. Now, I think we had fine reasons to go to war in Afghanistan. But why were we in Somalia? In Haiti? In the former Yugoslav republics? We weren’t standing up to international aggressors, so much as pursuing foreign policy goals that required the United States of America replacing the governments of countries that weren’t cooperative with governments that would be cooperative. (Or no government at all in Libya.)

    So shouldn’t the rest of the world, by his logic, be putting together a coalition to attack the United States and kill off its entire leadership class for being ridiculously aggressive to other nations?

    Seriously, I know he isn’t on the side of the people of the United States. But who’s side IS he on?

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    Anyway, the extent of WWI might have been unforeseeable. Is the extent of ISIS foreseeable or unforeseeable?

    Ultimately it is unforeseeable. Who would have bet money on Mohammed or Genghis Khan or Napoleon as world beaters when they were young? I wouldn’t have even bet on Alexander up until he had actually, you know, conquered the world. I doubt that Baghdadi is in that class of individual, but we can never know until after the fact.

    So we assess the situation as best we can and act accordingly. Part of the process should be self-reflection on what we have done before. We have a lot to think about with our relations to Iraq over the last 25 years, at a minimum. What have we done that worked? Did it work because we were skillful or because we were lucky? Where did we go wrong? And so on and so forth.

    I look at our record and it seems like we just keep fucking up in Iraq. I see that the people that pushed for the last fuck-up are pushing for more military action there, and they seem to have done NO self-reflection at all. Nor do they seem to have come up with anything new: just send in the troops and kill people, with no real strategic goals, nor a plan (other than sending in the troops) to achieve those goals.

    Looking at THAT, I think we should leave it alone. If we had a different foreign policy establishment, or different political leadership, or even stated goals and reasonable plans with which to achieve them, I might feel differently. But we’ve got the group in charge that we’ve had in charge, and they’re either completely incompetent or completely cynical, and wish to expend American blood and treasure for their own gain. (Not to mention the lives and treasures of others.)

    So to the extent I have any power at all, which is pretty much non-existent, I vote NO, and I will say so.

    The process for examining what we should do in Ukraine as different particulars, but ultimately, I feel that if the Germans and French and Italians and British aren’t willing to do anything about Russian action in what is traditionally Russian territory, we should leave the nation with the largest nuclear arsenal ALONE.

    Not to mention some lessons from history that Kagan doesn’t mention, one of which is that fighting the Russians on their own territory doesn’t usually work out all that well for the non-Russians.

    I am a defender of the post-WWI maps,

    Which one? The one from after the negotiated peace in 1919? The one that Hitler redrew in the late 1930s? The one from immediately after WWII? (In which case a whole bunch of nations need to be given back to the Soviets, er, Russians.)

    Or one of the maps from the 1990s? The one with Slovenia independent but not Croatia or Bosnia? One of the later ones? Should the Czechs and the Slovaks be forced back into union? Should we tell the Scots to fuck off and preserve the UK?

    And Kosovo declared their independence from Serbia back in 2008. Montenegro became independent from Serbia in, I believe, 2006.

    So which map should we stick to?

    Personally, just for the perversity of it, I want to bring back the map of Europe from around 1868 or so, before the Prussians completely consolidated what would become the modern German empire. I want to see more of those dinky little Germanic states. They looked like fun.

    but I could be wrong, but do we know the extent of what might happen?

    PD for Secretary of State. You at least acknowledge the possibility that you might be wrong, and openly admit to your inability to divine, or make, the future.

  • TastyBits Link


    I no longer pay any attention to anybody with a Hitler reference until I get an answer. I am tired of people assuming human history began 100 years ago.

    Power is what Kagan does not understand. Putin, Assad, the Mullahs, etc. are using power to shape the world around them, but Kagan wants to do the same thing. Of course, he would claim it was for good, and then, he would fail to identify the good.

    Kagan wants total power. He wants the power to identify good and evil, and he wants that power to be absolute. If he allows you to question him, you must accept his answer. He is a benevolent dictator. He knows what is best for the world, and he will use whatever force it takes to impose his dream.

    He is no different than any of the delusional hawks. The problem is that they are afraid to actually employ power to achieve their goals, and their goals cannot be achieved without imposing their will upon others. This requires force, and often, this force must be brutal.

    This is reality, and I happen to be honest.

    … I want to see more of those dinky little Germanic states. They looked like fun.

    You are twisted, but I know what you mean.

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    You are twisted….

    I don’t deny it!

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