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."
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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