Manning the Walls of the World

“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,” begins Robert Kagan in a highly perceptive and relevant piece entitled “Power and Weakness.”

The article has been increasingly referenced by parties on all sides of the current debate. Given the current critical state of international diplomacy, this article is well worth a reading, a pondering, and a thoughtful discussion. In analyzing the psychology of the powerful and the weak Kagan astutely notes: “Americans, when they were not themselves engaged in the subtleties of detente, viewed the European approach as a form of appeasement, a return to the fearful mentality of the 1930s. But appeasement is never a dirty word to those whose genuine weakness offers few appealing alternatives. For them, it is a policy of sophistication.”

Another pithy quip: “The current situation abounds in ironies. Europe’s rejection of power politics, its devaluing of military force as a tool of international relations, have depended on the presence of American military forces on European soil. Europe’s new Kantian order could flourish only under the umbrella of American power exercised according to the rules of the old Hobbesian order. American power made it possible for Europeans to believe that power was no longer important. And now, in the final irony, the fact that United States military power has solved the European problem, especially the ‘German problem,’ allows Europeans today to believe that American military power, and the ‘strategic culture’ that has created and sustained it, are outmoded and dangerous.”

The discussion of the differences between Europe and the United States has many parties involved. A past attempt of mine can be seen in “No More Hatfields and McCoys: The Value of Nations of Ideas.”. Also, one of my favorite books on the topic (although out of print) is Stuart Miller’s Painted in Blood.

Kagan’s article is assidous and highly pertinent. In the end, it is his even-handed approach to critical observation that produces a fine piece of policy review.

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3 Responses to Manning the Walls of the World

  1. Really, really good article. If any potential reader is repulsed when reading the qoutes Trevor chose, let me assure you that Kagan has a broad and analytical mind. The chosen quotes merely overlap with Trevor’s previously posted opinions and only represent a tiny bit of the article 🙂

    Thanks a lot for the link. The more I think about it, the better this text is. Very refreshing, especially the conclusion – couldn’t have said it better myself…

    “…But, after all, it is more than a clichÈ that the United States and Europe share a set of common Western beliefs. Their aspirations for humanity are much the same, even if their vast disparity of power has now put them in very different places. Perhaps it is not too naÔvely optimistic to believe that a little common understanding could still go a long way.”

  2. Trevor Burrus says:

    Thanks Mikkel. I realized when I posted the article that the quotes I chose made it sound like a “pro-war” article. I tried to express that Kagan’s article is incredible because of its even-handed in his approach, but I must be honest that the “pro war” quotes I posted caught my eye.
    However, Kagan’s conclusion–that perhaps the current situation of power disparity between Europe and the US is precisely what is desirable–is provocative and without a decidedly ideological slant.

  3. Anonymous says:

    But how many problems have been solved since World War II, by american or any other military power?

    Hell, do you think other countries are actually afraid of a country that couldn’t even suppress the one non-compliant warlord in Mogadishu?

    It’s not military power that the USA possesses so much as destructive capacity; it’s enemies will harass and harass but always stop just short of asking for a nuke to the face.

    And I’m not arguing as someone who is not militaristic; it has it’s place. However the USA has no place in the middle-east. If neighbours have a problem, they should sort it out for themselves. Though obviously, the US’s idiotic involvement in the maintanance of Israel precludes that.

    Nice to see everything’s going smoothly in Afghanistan.

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