Interview with Neoconservative Scholar Robert Kagan: 'America Remains Number One'

In an interview with SPIEGEL, American neoconservative scholar and McCain adviser Robert Kagan speaks about the legacy of the Bush-Cheney years, America's future position atop a "League of Democracies" and how China and Russia will push Europe back into America's arms.

SPIEGEL: Dr. Kagan, many intellectual forerunners and former friends of the president are now distancing themselves from him, and some are even attacking him as a failure. You are missing from the list of neoconservatives performing a mea culpa. Have you never given George W. Bush advice that you regret?

Kagan: "America remains number one, even though other, new players are increasingly challenging it in that role."
AP/ Daily Inter Lake

Kagan: "America remains number one, even though other, new players are increasingly challenging it in that role."

Robert Kagan: Well, I mostly regret the advice not taken, not advice that I have given. But I can already tell what's next: the Iraq war…

SPIEGEL: …and you were undoubtedly one of its intellectual fathers. You spoke of "regime change" early on and of the need to forcefully remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Kagan: I was hardly alone. So did the Clinton administration and a majority of the US Senate. I believe that military intervention to bring down a foreign government should be the exception. But, in the case of Saddam, who was pursuing an aggressive foreign policy and was threatening his neighbors, even the rest of the world, I thought it was necessary. I can't believe that people think that we would be better off if that inhuman dictator were still in power.

SPIEGEL: More than 4,000 of your fellow Americans have been killed in Iraq; more than 100,000 Iraqis are estimated to have died; and 4.5 million men, women and children have been forced to flee. Would you consider that a positive outcome?

Kagan: Of course not. The costs have been high for everyone -- and especially for the Iraqi people. I deplore the way the Bush administration has conducted this war. Mistakes were made. I don't want to make a big deal out of it now, but I was one of the few people who recommended a troop buildup only a few weeks after the invasion. It was clear to me that there were far too few American troops to confront a problem that was much too big for them.

SPIEGEL: Isn't it true that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld took advantage of the outrage over the 9/11 terrorist attacks to strike Iraq? Is it even possible anymore to deny that the war was based on manipulation, exaggeration and flat-out lies?

Kagan: That's absurd.

SPIEGEL: It's a commonly held view…

Kagan: The Bush administration's intelligence on Iraq was the same as the Clinton administration's, the German government’s and the French government’s before the war. We now know that Saddam wanted the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction -- and the world did.

SPIEGEL: But, unlike Washington, both Paris and Berlin did not want to go to war without UN approval. And the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna asked the United States -- unsuccessfully -- for a few more months to complete its investigation in Iraq. But the US wanted this war for strategic reasons.

Kagan: In retrospect, we have to admit that Washington could have waited a while longer. That's a different question. But I think it's about time we moved beyond this silly conversation and these absurd conspiracy theories. There is a real debate as to whether we should have gone to war in Iraq. And now we should have an intelligent discussion about the new challenges we face in Iraq and elsewhere.

SPIEGEL: Sure, why not? But you cannot seriously dispute that the Iraq war -- its justification, its execution and its costs -- have also been playing an important role in the US election campaign.

Kagan: Yes, but as far as the troop withdrawal is concerned, Obama and McCain's proposals have become more similar. That's because Obama has changed his absolute positions. He no longer supports the irresponsible plan of withdrawing the troops too hastily. By the way, even the Europeans, despite all past differences, have recognized how important a stable Iraq is for the future. The French, in particular, apparently want to become involved in reintegrating the country into the international system.

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1. Failings of the Neocon Visions
wt08 10/30/2008
This piece and the Washington Post Op-Ed piece (Still No. 1) by Robert Kagan provide many opportunities to comment on failed diplomacy. My first reaction were about how the ‘neo-cons’ took over the early foreign affairs and defense agendas of the Bush Administration. Seemingly as the only Super Power remaining, it pushed policies guided apparently by the thought that the US was not answerable to anyone, and Might Makes Right. Still No. 1 is a make-over in several ways revisionist history, but really still fixed on power. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that millions of Americans took to the streets in the 1960s (or even in this decade), not because we were or are anti-American, but because we have a democracy that allows us to protest policies that go against the common good. ‘Neo-conservative and realists’ policies we know have wreaked havoc and damaged America’s image both at home and abroad. Cheney and the neo-con ilk heavy hands dominated, dictated and always wanted to have their way – to hell with separations of powers provided by the US constitution. Thankfully, it doesn’t work that way for too long in America, no matter how secretive you try to be. America needs strong leadership. Cutting several hundred BILLION US dollars from the defense and intelligence budgets doesn’t mean that American power and prestige will decline. In fact, there is every indication that the reverse is true. There can be a strategic realignment among the allies, a consolidated effort to address the evils causing poverty, infectious diseases, accessible to quality education, corruption, environmental and energy challenges American can be a leader in this effort. Yes, we can, but we all have to play in the same sandbox together!!!
2. Kagan
Ernest Payne 10/31/2008
America is noted for having gated communities that restrict entry to the people living in the community. Mr Kagan lives in the gated community of the closed mind. His view of reality is, to put it politely, bizarre and a prime example of why America will very probably not regain its pre eminence.
3.
WhiteCamry 11/02/2008
Zitat von Ernest PayneAmerica is noted for having gated communities that restrict entry to the people living in the community. Mr Kagan lives in the gated community of the closed mind. His view of reality is, to put it politely, bizarre and a prime example of why America will very probably not regain its pre eminence.
An apartment building is a a gated community that restricts entry to the people living in the building. What's the problem?
4. Ein Titel
mrwarmth 11/04/2008
Zitat von WhiteCamryAn apartment building is a a gated community that restricts entry to the people living in the building. What's the problem?
Germany is one big gated community. Ask any Turkish immigrant.
5. Ein Titel
mrwarmth 11/04/2008
Zitat von wt08This piece and the Washington Post Op-Ed piece (Still No. 1) by Robert Kagan provide many opportunities to comment on failed diplomacy. My first reaction were about how the ‘neo-cons’ took over the early foreign affairs and defense agendas of the Bush Administration. Seemingly as the only Super Power remaining, it pushed policies guided apparently by the thought that the US was not answerable to anyone, and Might Makes Right. Still No. 1 is a make-over in several ways revisionist history, but really still fixed on power. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that millions of Americans took to the streets in the 1960s (or even in this decade), not because we were or are anti-American, but because we have a democracy that allows us to protest policies that go against the common good. ‘Neo-conservative and realists’ policies we know have wreaked havoc and damaged America’s image both at home and abroad. Cheney and the neo-con ilk heavy hands dominated, dictated and always wanted to have their way – to hell with separations of powers provided by the US constitution. Thankfully, it doesn’t work that way for too long in America, no matter how secretive you try to be. America needs strong leadership. Cutting several hundred BILLION US dollars from the defense and intelligence budgets doesn’t mean that American power and prestige will decline. In fact, there is every indication that the reverse is true. There can be a strategic realignment among the allies, a consolidated effort to address the evils causing poverty, infectious diseases, accessible to quality education, corruption, environmental and energy challenges American can be a leader in this effort. Yes, we can, but we all have to play in the same sandbox together!!!
I think I can explain why the neo-con agenda was so attractive to Bush the younger. I don't believe he was a naif, ensorcelled by evil neocons who gained nefarious influence over his wooly head. On the contrary, I think he was the one who sought them out. The logic here is pretty simple. It was a huge shock to the REpublicans, and to the Bush dynasty, when George H.W. Bush got his ass kicked by Clinton in 1992. The right wing pundits of the time (and not just neocons), offered four reasons for Bush the elder's defeat: 1. He raised taxes when he said he wouldn't. 2. He alienated the religious right and was too secular for them to relate to him. 3. He refused to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam when he had the chance at the end of the Gulf War. 4. He was insufficiently pro-Israel. If you look at that list, and then reverse each "mistake", you have essentially derived the essence and foundation of Bush Jr.'s foreign and domestic policies. Which were to: 1. Relentlessly cut taxes. 2. Climb into bed with the religious right and become one of them. 3. Invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, under any pretext. 4. Kiss Israel's ass all day, every day. Looked at this way, Bush's policies are actually the result of a rather icy set of logical and political calculations, not impulse or naivete. Which, I think, makes Bush far more overtly machiavellian than he is given credit for. Bush used the neocon agenda because it fit his formula for reversing his father's mistakes. Too bad it didn't work out quite as planned.
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