Tuesday, September 9, 2008

American and European Empires

The U.S. is not an empire. We are a Liberal Democracy and Liberal Democracies can’t be empires. At least I’ve been inclined toward that view, but I must concede that we have been pretty successful at promoting our particular form of government and society – at least it has seemed to be our form; although the Europeans would disagree. Liberal Democracy was declared to be the end of history by Fukuyama. We in the West perfected a system and it is the most dominant political-economic system in the world today. So what do we call what the chief purveyors of this system?

Fukuyama broke with the Neocons when they proposed to be more aggressive in the spread of Liberal Democracy. He thought it was inevitable and that there was no cause to do any more than let it happen, but Robert Kagan, perhaps the most knowledgeable and erudite of the Neocons sees the world differently. In Present Dangers, the book he and William Kristol co-edited in 2000, in the lead article, “National Interest and Global Responsibility,” he and Kristol wrote, “. . . the present danger is that the United States, the world’s dominant power on whom the maintenance of international peace and the support of liberal democratic principles depends, will shrink its responsibilities and – in a fit of absentmindedness, or parsimony, or indifference – allow the international order that it created and sustains to collapse.”

There is evidence to support this concern. “American leaders in the early to mid-1940s believed . . . that the ‘return to normalcy’ that President Harding had endorsed in 1920 was the fatal error that led to the irresponsible isolationism of the 1930s.”

And after World War II the U.S. was the chief antagonist against the Soviet Union; so without the U.S. doing its part to sustain the system “it created” it (Liberal Democracy) might very well have collapsed.

But after the Cold War there was another Harding-like “return to normalcy.” This time it was spear-headed by Europeans who believed that the world had seen enough war and “there has to be a better way.” Kagan addressed this naïve view in Of Paradise and Power, America and Europe in the New World Order.

The Left in Europe resented Kagan’s views, but the “normalcy” that the Europeans heralded was of short duration and Kagan was inspired to write another book. This one was called The Return of History and the End of Dreams. This too was aimed at the Europeans. The world isn’t just peacefully phasing into a Liberal Democratic paradise. The Chinese and the Russians, especially the Russians as far as the Europeans are concerned, are challenging the EU in a manner they thought had been abandoned by all civilized nations. They assumed that all civilized nations were sure to agree with the EU in all important particulars. They were wrong.

If the U.S. made a mistake in its 20s “return to normalcy,” what of the EU? Kagan in The Return of History, pp. 20-21 writes “The nations of the European Union placed a mammoth bet in the 1990s. They bet on the new world order, on the primacy of geo-economics over geopolitics, in which a huge and productive European economy would compete as an equal with the United States and China . . . They believed Europe would be a model for the world, and in a world modeled after the European Union, Europe would be strong.

For a while, this seemed a good bet. The European Union exerted a powerful magnetic force, especially on the states around it. It was a continent-sized island of relative stability in a global ocean of turmoil. With Russia prostrate, the attraction of Europe, along with the promise of the American security guarantee, pulled just about every nation to the east into the western orbit. Former Warsaw Pact nations, led by Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, entered the EU, along with the Baltic states. The gravitational pull of Europe shaped politics in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as in Turkey. The appeal of Europe’s liberal ‘voluntary empire’ seemed without limit.

“[But]. . . When the EU brought in former Warsaw Pact states and the Baltics, it acquired not only new eastern countries but also a new eastern problem. Or rather, it was the old eastern problem, the age-old contest between Russia and its neighbors. . . [This] problem seemed manageable so long as Russia was moving along its postmodern, integrationist path, or at least so long as it was weak, poor, and absorbed by internal difficulties. But with Russia back on its feet and seeking to restore its great power status, including predominance in its traditional spheres of influence, Europe finds itself in a most unexpected and unwarranted position of geopolitical competition. This great twenty-first century entity has, through enlargement, embroiled itself in a very nineteenth-century confrontation.”


Not to worry, the U.S. stands ready to defend Europe . . . or does it? We have a strong Leftist element here in the U.S. as well. They have been listening to the siren call of the European pacifists. They want another “return to normalcy” here in the U.S. “No more War! No more War! No more War!”

Sorry EU, you’re going to have to deal with the Russians all by yourself.

Well, maybe not. Robert Kagan is at work on a pair of books on America. The first one is called Dangerous Nation. He is arguing that we are a preeminent Realpolitik “Dangerous Nation.” We need to understand that and play that role in a world that disparately needs us. At least that’s what I’m assuming Kagan will be arguing. His second book hasn’t been published yet and the first one ends at the “dawn of the twentieth century.”

Lawrence Helm

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