Towards a New and Improved Cold War

by Oct 13, 2008Foreign Policy0 comments

Neoconservative Robert Kagan effectively argues that the US should seek a new Cold War.

An article by Robert Kagan in the esteemed journal Foreign Affairs offers an insightful look into the mind of the prominent neoconservative by laying out the framework from within which he and others of like mind operate. In the article, entitled “The September 12 Paradigm: America, the World, and George W. Bush”, Kagan proposes that “The next administration must learn from Bush’s mistakes, but should not shy away from using U.S. power to promote American values.”

This is the assumption that serves as the basis for Kagan’s analysis; that Bush’s foreign policy involved the use of “power” to “promote American values”. That these “values” are good and worthy is assumed also, and Kagan doesn’t trouble himself to define them. The next U.S. president should learn from the “mistakes” Bush made along the way, but follow his example in using military force as a tool of international relations.

Kagan begins by saying, “Hard as it may be to recall, the United States’ problems with the world — or, rather, the world’s problems with the United States — started before George W. Bush took office.” The U.S. was unpopular during the Clinton administration, as well. But then, neither did the Clinton administration “invent American self-righteousness.” It predates Clinton also.

The “problem” of U.S. unpopularity around the world, which has existed for a long time, is further explained; the “underlying cause” of this problem “was simple: [following the collapse of the Soviet Union] the allies did not need one another as much as before.”

Having defined the “problem” and its “cause”, Kagan next defines the “need” Europe (and the rest of the world) had for the United States that was so regretfully removed from the equation, which is that U.S. power was enforced under the notion that the world needed protection from the Soviet Union and communism. With the end of the Cold War, thisraison d’etre could no longer serve as a pretext for the exercising of U.S. power.

Notice how in this framework, the need for the U.S. to use it’s “power” doesn’t decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather, the loss of the pretext is a problem to be overcome so the U.S. can flex its muscles without inviting too much anti-American sentiment.

Kagan admires the model of the European Union as having “charted a new course in human evolution, proving that nations could pool sovereignty and replace power politics with international law.” This “European perspective” was shared by Clinton officials, “but they also believed that the United States had a special role to play as the guardian of international security — the “indispensable” leader of the international community — in a traditional, power-oriented, state-centric way.”

Faced with various crises, the Clinton administration “dispatched aircraft carriers and fired missiles, often unilaterally.” Clinton, like his successor, also “would not endorse the land-mines treaty or the International Criminal Court”, except with “safeguards for the United States’ special global role.”

The Clinton administration could not “hide their impatience” with the the “lack of seriousness” in Europe about the “perils” the U.S. faced (causing Clinton to have “fired missiles”). Kagan admiringly quotes Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as saying, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America…. We see further into the future.”

Kagan joyfully applies this within his framework, the corollary being that the U.S. must use these God-like powers “to promote American values”.

The use of such power has consequences. For instance, “Anti-American nationalism exploded after the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 by U.S. pilots during a war in Kosovo that both the Chinese and the Russians regarded as illegal.” (Of course, “It did not help the Russian mood that 1999 was also the year the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO.)

The event of Bush gaining the presidency served to further solidify negative opinion of the U.S. elsewhere. There was “irony” in this, Kagan observes, because “Bush came to office hoping to pare down U.S. global pretensions” (“Foreign policy realism was in vogue” at the time). While the Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore believed that the U.S. was “the world’s ‘natural leader’” and had to “give other peoples the ‘blueprint that will help them be like us more’”, Bush said the U.S. “should not ‘go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be,’ that this was ‘one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American.’”

So the framework is set and Kagan’s argument comes more clearly into view: The U.S., endowed with God-like powers, is obligated to “promote American values” by using military force. It was able to effectively do so during the “Cold War” because the “need” other nations had for the U.S. to defend them could be produced by invoking the threat of “communism”. But the “problem” is that the cost of using its “power” after the end of the Cold War has been increasingly negative views towards the U.S. because this “need” has been negated.

As “it turned out”, Kagan continues, the “realism” of the Bush administration “did not win friends around the world either.” He further explains what constitutes “realism”, noting that “In its first nine months, the administration pulled out of Kyoto process, declared its opposition to the International Criminal Court and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and began pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.”

So “realism” is recognizing that the application of U.S. power results in anti-American sentiment around the globe and opposing international treaties on the grounds that they don’t serve U.S. interests as narrowly defined by policymakers in Washington.

So even though the Bush administration chose not to “go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be” in this manner, the U.S. was still “viewed as the ugly American.” Of course, this was not surprising, given his “realism”. “Some of these [treaties] had already died under Clinton, but whereas Clinton had tried to soothe international anger by holding out hope that the United States might eventually ratify them, Bush opposed them on principle.”

Kagan points out that then national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, “a self-described ‘realpolitiker’”, had “complained in 2000…about all the airy talk of ‘humanitarian interests.’” She believed “U.S. policy had to be rooted in the ‘firm ground of the national interest,’ not in the ‘interests of an illusory international community.’”

This was a “new approach” from that of Clinton, further demonstrated by Bush’s statement that the U.S. “should not ’send troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in nations outside our strategic interest.’” The “Bush realists” agreed “that humanitarian interventions and nation building were to be avoided.’” In this “realist view”, Kagan explains further, “a world in which U.S. national interests were not seriously threatened was a world in which U.S. power and influence should contract.”

The U.S. should get out of out the “global leadership business” since the Cold War was over. Kagan cites Jeane Kirkpatrick as saying that the U.S. should “cease carrying the ‘unusual burdens’ of leadership and, ‘with a return to “normal” times, … again become a normal nation.’”

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans didn’t see the necessity for a huge military machine and wanted and expected less military spending (this was “in vogue” at the time, remember). And it would logically follow that if the reason for needing this massive military might was the existence of the “evil empire”, as Reagan so famously called the Soviet Union, then without that communist “threat”, that might would not be needed. So the “in vogue” view is understandable. And Bush ran for president by proclaiming to espouse the view that the U.S. should use its power only to serve its own interests, unlike Clinton, who had involved the U.S. in “nation building” and “humanitarian” adventures perceived as outside U.S. interests.

This, Kagan asserts, “was roughly the policy Bush pursued during his first nine months in office”. To demonstrate Bush’s “realism”, he notes that “70 percent of western Europeans surveyed (85 percent in France) believed that the Bush administration made decisions ‘based only on U.S. interests.’” In other words, most western Europeans took Bush at his word when he said the U.S. would act only in its own interests.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Kagan observes, “naturally brought about a shift in the Bush administration’s foreign policy, but it was not a doctrinal revolution.” The Bush administration still espoused “realism” (the “national-interests-based approach”). It was just that “The ’strategic pause’ was over, and the United States was back in the business of extensive global involvement in what became known as ‘the war on terror.’”

The belief that the use of the U.S. must use force around the world was shared by both administrations. But Clinton had erred, in the Bush view, by using military force for self-described “humanitarian” purposes rather than for the advancement of self-described U.S. “interests”. In other words, it was not the overall strategy that was flawed, merely some of the tactics Clinton used to get the job done.

The Bush administration believed it was “back in the business of global leadership”, but there were “obstacles” to “returning to the old Cold War style of leadership”. Kagan contends that the “invasion of Afghanistan — unlike both the war in Kosovo and the first Gulf War — was about U.S. security first, not about forging a ‘new world order.’” The U.S. could do without “the alliance-management problems that had bothered General Wesley Clark in Kosovo” by just acting unilaterally.

The U.S. appeared less “a global leader seeking the global good” than “an angry Leviathan narrowly focused on destroying those who had attacked it” and thus gained “less sympathy”. Again, remember the “obstacle” or “problem” is that negative views towards the U.S. are garnered by its use of force to “promote American values.”

There was not as much “solidarity” between Europe and the U.S. after 9/11 as during the Cold War because “Only the Americans were frightened.” European nations, by contrast, “felt relatively secure.” Kagan argues that 9/11 “had not altered fundamental global attitudes toward the United States. The resentment remained.” Europeans “believed that ‘U.S. policies and actions in the world’ had been a ‘major cause’ of the terrorist attacks and that, to borrow a phrase, the chickens had come home to roost.”

So, to sum up Kagan’s argument, the “problem” the Bush administration was faced with was that the rest of the world wasn’t as afraid of terrorism as Americans. The implication is that the “threat” from “communism” during the Cold War served to assist the U.S. in carrying out role with its God-like power by making other nations feel the “need” for U.S. protection. Europeans had felt threatened by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but did not feel similarly threatened by the threat of terrorism that existed only in the first place as a consequence of the U.S. exercising its powers abroad.

The U.S. “fight against terrorism” was “strictly in its own interests”, Europeans believed, and not in their own. That Europeans would have this view “was not surprising given how little the Bush administration was attempting then to make U.S. allies feel differently”.

Kagan thus begins to shape out that one of Bush’s “mistakes” he referred to earlier was failing to sufficiently turn the “war on terror” into “a struggle for international order.” Europeans, the corollary tells us, should be just as fearful of the threat of terrorism as Americans. As it was, “Most of the world did not agree” that the U.S. was “back in the business of global leadership”, the role the U.S. simply assumed for itself.

The “war on terror”, Kagan argues, “has been by far Bush’s greatest success.” His evidence is that the U.S. has not been victim of a terrorist attack since 9/11.

The popular alternative view, held even within the U.S.’s own intelligence community, that the “war on terror” has increased the threat of terrorism Kagan simply dismisses. This is despite the fact that the State Department’s own annual report on terrorism has shown increased terrorism incidents globally since the war began. Kagan doesn’t connect this trend with the war, however, because these attacks didn’t occur within the U.S. Rather, ignoring the enormous amount of terrorism incidents in Iraq as a consequence of the invasion, they have occurred largely against U.S. allies for, analysts generally agree, their participation in the U.S.’s war (Kagan correctly points out that most people didn’t feel the war was in their own country’s interests but neglects to observe that many of their governments participated in one way or another with the U.S. in its “war on terror” contrary to their own public opinion).

We thus return to the “problem” with “the ‘war on terror’ paradigm”. It “is not that the war has failed” (the U.S., after all, hasn’t been attacked since 9/11, so it must have been successful). “It is that the paradigm was and is an insufficient one on which to base the entirety of U.S. foreign policy.”

The reason the “war on terror” is “insufficient” has already been pointed out; namely, that other peoples around the world just didn’t buy into the “threat” of “terror” as well as they had “communism”. It is thus a kind of return to the good old days of the Cold War that Kagan favors, if we may judge from the logical corollary of his argument.

Just as the Bush administration erred in overemphasizing American interests over that of its global neighbors, In Kagan’s view, so are those neighbors also guilty of self-interests. It is a “world of selfish states and selfish peoples” who only ever ask “What is in it for us?” Most of the U.S. allies in its “war on terror” “believe that they are doing the United States a favor when they send troops to Afghanistan (or Iraq), often at a perceived sacrifice to their own interests.”

The “anticommunist containment paradigm was also inadequate”, Kagan opines, but at least “did tend to attract the allegiance of others to the United States and persuade them to accept U.S. leadership”, which “was more important than the United States’ image, which was not always pristine.”

As an example of the U.S.’s less than “pristine” reputation, Kagan cites Vietnam. “If the Vietnam War did not produce the same rifts in the United States’ alliances that the Iraq war has produced, it is not because Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s America was more beloved than Bush’s America is. It is because the United States was providing things that other peoples believed they needed — primarily protection against the Soviet Union — which made many of them overlook U.S. actions in Vietnam…”

“The war on terror”, Kagan laments, “has never attracted” the “kind of international allegiance” as the Cold War had. “To European eyes,” he observes, “U.S. actions only inflame Europe’s problems. When the United States whacks a hornet’s nest, the hornets fly to Europe, or so Europeans fear.”

Kagan naturally doesn’t recognize this fear as a reality, merely as a perception, which goes hand in hand with his dismissal of the evidence that the so-called “war on terror” has served only to heighten the threat.

This was the “perspective that many viewed” during the invasion of Iraq; a situation which presents “another irony”, which is that the invasion “was one of the less selfish actions of a post-9/11 United States”, closer to the Clinton-style policy of being “an active and responsible world leader” than to “interests-based foreign policy.”

Still, it was at least “partly related to the war on terror.” After all, Kagan notes, Clinton had also warned that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world. The “principle rationales” for the invasion of Iraq “predated Bush’s realism”; “Iraq in the 1990s had been seen by many not as a direct threat to the United States but as a problem of world order for which the United States had a special responsibility.” (The U.S., remember, simply has an obligation to use force “to promote American values” in the role it has given itself as the world’s protector. That the invasion of Iraq fell to the U.S. to execute under this paradigm is evidenced by the fact that Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger had declared, “The future of Iraq will affect the way in which the Middle East and the Arab world in particular evolve in the next decade and beyond.”)

European opposition to the Iraq war was not due to any strict adherence to principles of international law, Kagan points out. “They preferred to see the United States get UN backing for the war, but they also knew this had been impossible in the case of Kosovo.” And, as Kosovo demonstrated, “Europeans were ready to go to war without UN authorization in a manner that concerned them, their security, their history, and their morality.”

The U.S. was “acting on behalf of world order”, it was just that not many “could believe” that this was so. This, in turn, explains why “many could only explain the war as a war for oil, or for Israel, or for U.S. imperialism”, etc.

Kagan’s paradigm becomes more clear: The world incorrectly believed that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was about oil (or some other ridiculous thing) because people just couldn’t see how the U.S. waging war on Iraq was in reality in their own best interests (U.S. policymakers, remember, know what’s best for the world because they can “see further into the future”). They took Bush at his word when he said the U.S. would act only in its own interests, rather than recognizing that Bush had actually reverted to the same old Clinton policy of assuming the role of “guardian of international security”; “the ‘indispensable’ leader of the international community”.

Kagan reiterates: “Few could believe that the United States, especially under Bush, was now suddenly acting on behalf of world order. Hence, many could only explain the war as a war for oil, or for Israel, or for U.S. imperialism, or as anything but what its supporters across the U.S. political spectrum thought it was: a war that was both in the United States’ interests and in the interests of the better part of humanity.”

While the invasion of Iraq was done “in the interests of the better part of humanity”, Bush still managed to screw it up at first. The “more spectacular manifestations of that failure”, such as “the Abu Ghraib prison scandal”, served to portray the U.S. as incompetent.

But the Bush administration has made “progress” in “correcting” its “mistakes”. The U.S.’s “position in the world today is not nearly as bad as some claim.” World opinion towards the U.S. is beginning to heal from the damage the Bush administration caused to its reputation. An example is India, “a former ally of Moscow that today sees good relations with the United States as critical to achieving its broader strategic and economic goals.”

India is insightful enough to recognize that having “good relations” with the U.S. is in its own “strategic and economic goals.” Those nations that disagree remain under strong delusion.

In Kagan’s final analysis, “the structure of the international system should remain as it has been”; which is to say there should be “one superpower”, the United States, and several other “great”, but lesser, “powers”. The reason the U.S. should rule the world is because it is “at the center of the international economy and continues to be the predominant military power and the leading apostle of the world’s most popular political philosophy”. That the U.S. is the “leading apostle” of the “political philosophy” referred to, democracy, is accepted as a matter of faith by Kagan.

Moreover, the U.S. deserves this role because “the American public continues to support American predominance, as it has consistently done for six decades”. No evidence is required to support this assertion; it, too, is simply a matter of faith.

A further reason the U.S. should remain the world’s hegemon is because “potential challengers” to that role “inspire more fear than sympathy among their neighbors”, unlike the U.S. (notice Kagan similarly dismisses the evidence that the dominant opinion of people around the world is that the U.S. and its foreign policy are the single biggest threat to international peace).

The U.S. must “return”, in Kagan’s view, to its “leadership” role, but it would be “an illusion” to “imagine that there can be an easy return” to that role after the end of the Cold War and the “mistakes” of the Bush administration in claiming self-interest rather than selling the “war on terror” more as being in the “the interests of the better part of humanity”. In other words, despite having clear vision and serving the world’s best interests, the Bush administration messed up in the area of public relations (as evidenced by the fact that the world doesn’t agree U.S. military actions such as against Iraq are in their own best interests, that they perceive the U.S. as stirring the hornets nest and causing even greater risk).

Still, it would be “an illusion”, Kagan suggests, “to imagine that there can be an easy return” for the U.S. to its “leadership” role in the absence of a “single unifying threat along the same lines as the Soviet Union” during the Cold War.

For those who don’t wish a return to the Cold War paradigm, who “imagine” that the collapse of that framework was “good news”, Kagan suggests that the Cold War ended better than the “nineteenth-century order” (under which the U.S. did not serve the same “leadership” role as after the end of World War II) to which the world has returned. The corollary is that we should thus welcome a return to a less “inadequate” version of the paradigm that existed during the Cold War era where there was a “single unifying threat” serving to “bind the United States and other nations”.

“To avoid such a fate” as befell the world at the end of the “nineteenth-century order”, the U.S. “and other democratic nations will need to take a more enlightened and generous view of their interests than they did even during the Cold War.” What this means is that the U.S. “should not oppose but welcome a world of pooled and diminished national sovereignty.”

The U.S., in other words, should be willing to give up national sovereignty in favor of following the “new course in human evolution” modeled by the European Union, while, of course, maintaining its “special role” as “the guardian of international security”.

This move towards what has been termed elsewhere as “the New World Order” would demonstrate “enlightened wisdom”. Of course, since it’s a “selfish world”, in which other nations put their own perceived self-interest before the interests of the whole world (as defined by Washington), achieving this goal won’t be easy. Our only hope lies in “a renewed understanding of the importance of values” — no doubt the same “American values” the U.S. found fit to “promote” through military force through both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Kagan gives the last word to Madeleine Albright. The “democracies” of the world just need to recognize their “need” for the U.S. to maintain it’s “special role”. If the world can’t recognize this, it’s because they lack foresight; they can’t “see further into the future” as the U.S. can.

Of course, the U.S. must be more patient with the rest of the world when other nations demonstrate a “lack of seriousness” about the reasons given for the necessity to use force; because “we are America” and must therefore “promote American values” violently. Those who can’t see this are simply unenlightened.

The “war on terror” served to frighten Americans sufficiently. The 9/11 attacks were the “new Pearl Harbor” Kagan and his fellow neoconservatives openly said they needed in order for public opinion to swing less in opposition to the “transformation” of the U.S. military required for the U.S. to carry out its “special role” of global hegemon. 9/11 was an “opportunity” for the neoconservatives to push through their agenda, including the invasion of Iraq. This is why the “war on terror” was not a total failure.

But it is still inadequate because the rest of the world does not similarly fear the “threat” from terrorism. Europeans should be just as terrified as Americans. The “war on terror” is counterproductive, in fact, because people perceive that it serves only to increase the threat of terrorism by stirring the hornet’s nest. To engender more support for the U.S. “special role”, a paradigm like the Cold War, with the threat of communism serving as a pretext many more around the world were willing to accept, is preferable.

The corollary of Kagan’s argument is that policymakers should seek to implement a shift in paradigm away from the “war on terror” and more towards something like the emergence of a new global power that other nations can be convinced they need protecting from, which would more readily allow the U.S. to step into it’s “special role” without so much global opposition — a new and improved version of the Cold War.

Did you find value in this content? If so and you have the means, please consider supporting my independent journalism.

About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

My writings empower readers with the knowledge they need to see through state propaganda intended to manufacture their consent for criminal government policies.

By recognizing when we are being lied to and why, we can fight effectively for liberty, peace, and justice, in order to create a better world for ourselves, our children, and future generations of humanity.

Please join my growing community of readers!


My Books

Related Articles


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This