Saturday, January 9, 2010


Philosophic avatar Dr Robert Kagan unleashes a very canny conception of 44's Contra Realism - not quite as realist as it may seem.

Ideological in a declinist way - consider:

"The old strategy, which survived for six decades, rested on three pillars: military and economic primacy, what Truman-era strategists called a “preponderance of power,” especially in Europe and East Asia; a global network of formal military and political alliances, mostly though not exclusively with fellow democracies; and an open trading and financial system.

"The idea, as Averell Harriman explained back in 1947, was to create “a balance of power preponderantly in favor of the free countries.” Nations outside the liberal order were to be checked and, in time, transformed, as George F. Kennan suggested in his Long Telegram and as Paul Nitze’s famous strategy document, NSC-68, reiterated.

"The goal, expressed by Harry Truman in 1947, was first to strengthen “freedom-loving nations” and then to “create the conditions that will lead eventually to personal freedom and happiness for all mankind.”

"The National Security Strategy Document of 1996, as Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier observe in America Between the Wars, used the words “democracy” or “democratic” more than 130 times. As Clinton’s term ended, American foreign policy rested on the same three pillars as in the days of Truman and Acheson: the primacy of America, now cast as the “indispensable nation”; an expanding alliance of democratic nations; and an open economic order operating in line with the “Washington consensus.”

Has 44 rejected this?

"Instead of attempting to perpetuate American primacy, they are seeking to manage what they regard as America’s unavoidable decline relative to other great powers. They see themselves as the architects of the “post-American” world. Although they will not say so publicly, in private they are fairly open about their policy of managed decline.

"In dealings with China, especially, administration officials believe they are playing from a hopelessly weak hand. Instead of trying to reverse the decline of American power, however, they are reorienting American foreign policy to adjust to it.

"The new strategy requires, in their view, accommodating the world’s rising powers, principally China and Russia, rather than attempting to contain the ambitions of those powers. Their accommodation consists in granting China and Russia what rising powers always want: greater respect for their political systems at home and greater hegemony within their respective regions.

"This accommodation in turn has required a certain distancing from the post–World War II allies. Increasing cooperation with the two great powers would be difficult if not impossible if the United States remained committed to the old alliances which were, after all, originally designed to contain them—NATO in the case of Russia, and, in the case of China, the bilateral alliances with Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and the new strategic partnership with India.

"Despite paying lip service to “multilateralism,” the Obama administration does not intend to build its foreign policy around these alliances, which some officials regard as relics of the Cold War.

"The administration seeks instead to create a new “international architecture” with a global consortium of powers—the G-20 world.

"The new American posture they propose is increasingly one of neutrality. In order to be the world’s “convener,” after all, the United States cannot play favorites, either between allies and adversaries, or between democrats and tyrants.

"A common feature of the administration’s first year, not surprisingly, has been the slighting of traditional allies in an effort to seek better ties and cooperation with erstwhile and future competitors or adversaries.

"All of this might seem to have the flavor of a new realism in American foreign policy. But, again, Obama’s approach derives from an idealistic premise: that the United States can approach the world as a disinterested promoter of the common good, that its interests do not clash with those of the other great powers, and that better relations can be had if the United States demonstrates its good intentions to other powers.

"During the Cold War, Obama officials argue, the United States used its power to take sides. Now the Obama administration seeks to be a friend to all. Obama’s foreign policy increasingly seems to rest on the supposition that other nations will act on the basis of what they perceive to be the goodwill, good intentions, moral purity, and disinterestedness of the United States. If other nations have refused to cooperate with the United States, it is because they perceive the United States as somehow against them, which, of course, it was.

"Will the administration then realize that the world cannot so easily be made anew, that the old challenges remain, and that the best strategy may be closer to that which was pursued by so many presidents of different political inclinations since World War II: America as the world’s “indispensable nation”?

"The question then will be not how to manage American decline, but how to prevent it.


AmPowerBlog said...

That's hot, Courtney!