Ronald Reagan Centennial, Feb 10-11, 2011, Washington DC (Photo by The Miller Center).
Robert Kagan’s Selective Memory

In the pages of Foreign Affairs, the indefatigable Robert Kagan recently weighed in with yet another fervent appeal on behalf of empire. Ever the true-blue American, Kagan avoids using the offensive E-word, of course. He favors the term hegemony, which, he explains, is benign, involving neither domination nor exploitation but willing submission—“more a condition than a purpose.” Scratch the surface, however, and “The Price of Hegemony” offers a variation on Kagan’s standard theme: the imperative of militarized U.S. global primacy, whatever the price and with little regard for who pays.

Few would charge Kagan with being a deep or original thinker. As a writer, he is less philosophe than pamphleteer, albeit one possessing a genuine gift for packaging. Recall, for example, his famous assertion that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” Once deemed to express a truth of Lippmannesque profundity, this warriors vs. wimps formulation has since lost much of its persuasive appeal, not least because the warriors, a.k.a. “the troops,” have not fared especially well when dispatched to liberate, pacify, or depose.

So rather than being enshrined alongside Walter Lippmann, Kagan will likely share the fate of Scotty Reston or Joe Alsop, once prominent Washington-based columnists who are now totally forgotten. Of course, much the same fate awaits the entire gaggle of commentators (this writer included) who pontificate on America’s role in the world under the mistaken impression that senior officials in the White House, Foggy Bottom, or the Pentagon seek their counsel. Rarely do they do so.

That said, Kagan stands out from the rest of the pack in one respect: His knack for combining consistency with flexibility is matchless. He is nothing if not nimble. Whatever may occur in the real world, he is ready with an explanation for how events affirm the indispensability of assertive American leadership. In Washington (and in the pages of Foreign Affairs), this is always a welcome conclusion.

Read the full article in The American Conservative.

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