Love it: Mark Steyn gets the urge to throw the latest slim volume of foreign policy by Robert Kagan (Romney advisor and Frederick's brother) out the window and back his truck over it -- but writes this review instead.
What does Kagan mean by "democracy"? An election twice a decade good enough to pass muster with Jimmy Carter and the U.N. observers? Or genuine liberty? Kagan never defines terms, which is perhaps just as well. The Arab Spring may be the bleak dawn of the post-Western Middle East, and the Coptic Christians are fleeing in terror, and the al-Qaeda flag's flying in Benghazi, and the new guys all seem to have Iran on speed dial, and the only viable alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood is the Even More Muslim Brotherhood, and they're tossing the offspring of U.S. cabinet secretaries into holding cells, but for Kagan it's all nevertheless "an essential attribute of the American world order," and therefore even the booming burqa sales and state-of-the-art clitoridectomy clinic are in their fashion a tribute to American influence. If some mad scientist crossed Dr. Pangloss with George M. Cohan, he'd sound a lot like Robert Kagan: Once one accepts this is the most American of all possible American worlds, all is as American as it can possibly be.
At such moments, the author, the consummate American interventionist, sounds in need of an intervention himself. He is confident his compatriots retain "a degree of satisfaction in their special role" as global-order maker. Where's the evidence? Well, "during the seventh-inning stretch in every game at Yankee Stadium, the fans rise and offer 'a moment of silent prayer for the men and women who are stationed around the globe' defending freedom and 'our way of life.' A tribute to those serving, yes, but with an unmistakable glint of pride in the nation's role 'around the globe.'"
Really? I'd say he's mistaking that glint pretty comprehensively. Those moments of prayer, and the "We support our troops" yellow-ribbon stickers, and the priority boarding for military personnel on U.S. airlines, and the other genuflections are there to help a disillusioned citizenry distinguish between the valor of the soldiery and the thanklessness of their mission; it's a way of salvaging something decent and honorable from the grim two-thirds-of-a-century roll call of America's unwon wars.
Why can't the United States win? The question never seems to occur to Kagan — to the point where, toward the end, he argues that, if America is set for British-style imperial sunset, it is today nevertheless "not remotely like" the old lion at the dawn of the 20th century but "more like Britain circa 1870, when the empire was at the height of its power." I had a strong urge at this point to toss the book out of the window and back my truck over it. In 1870, Britain's military victories were honored in the imperial metropolis by Trafalgar Square and Waterloo Station; there's a suburb of Melbourne where everything's named after Crimea — Crimea Street, Balaclava Road, Inkerman Road, Sebastopol Street — and you can even find a Kandahar, Saskatchewan, memorializing a long-forgotten Victorian victory on that thankless sod. Today, in an America "at the height of its power," there is no Korea Square, Saigon Station, Jalalabad Road, or Fallujah, Idaho. Yankee fans "support our troops" because they no longer know what the mission is, or ever was.
Kagan would counter that America won what he calls "the war that never happened," the one with the Soviet Union, but, given the way the others turned out, it is perhaps just as well it never happened. A great scholar of the American way of war, he's fascinated with every aspect except victory. "The United States remains unmatched. It is far and away the most powerful nation the world has ever known. . . . The superior expenditures underestimate America's actual superiority in military capability. American land and air forces are equipped with the most advanced weaponry, are the most experienced in actual combat, and would defeat any competitor in a head-to-head battle."
But put 'em up against illiterate goatherds with string and fertilizer, and you'll be tied down for a decade.
What's wrong with this picture? And what's wrong with this analyst that he can't see anything wrong with it?
And what's wrong with our presidential candidate that he can't see anything wrong with his advisor's analysis, either?