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Robert Kagan: The Fool on the Hill

Robert Kagan

To look inside the mind of Brookings Institution Scholar Robert Kagan is to look into the minds of the most powerful and dangerous people on the planet. Kagan has many influential followers including John McCain, Mitt Romney and generally the who's who of right wing hawks. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are also disciples of his. In fact, in 2012, Obama was waving one of Kagan's works around telling the world that this is clear justification for his apparent fetish for endless war. The name of Obama's prize article is, " Not Fade Away: Against the Myth of American Decline”. 

In his 2012 election campaign Obama stated, “The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe…. From the coalition’s we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease, from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Obama drew his new bold face from the article. He was impressed enough that he discussed the article at length with journalists in the midst of the election campaign against Mitt Romney while Kagan was an advisor to Mitt Romney.

Kagan's views of the USA and the world are extremely dangerous due to both their content and most especially to who is influenced by him. The fact that this man and his ideas are gospel to both Democrats and Republicans on the highest levels should get our attention. He is also married to Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Asia, Victoria Nuland, the woman that betrayed America's involvement in Ukraine as they pushed Russia into a deep and dangerous corner. This all reflects a realm of insiders, realpolitik, and conspiracy.

Obama's Gospel – The Article

The article itself is surprising in its weak base, unsupported assumptions, and its flawed logic. At its very base it assumes supreme sovereignty for all nations belongs to the United States of America. That base is not a base but reflects Obama's cavalier attitude when to come to law, especially international law.

The question leading into this article: “Is the United States in decline, as so many seem to believe these days? Or are Americans in danger of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power?” Kagan's answer is that the current liberal world order, a creation of American foreign policy, could end up on the ash heap of history but with a correct view and through constant vigilance the current world order will be maintained.     

Kagan cites three measures that may help us analyze the current condition of America's power in the world. They are, the size and influence of the nation's economy, the magnitude of its military, and, redundantly, the degree of political influence it has internationally. Kagan points to the perception that recent problems with the economy or foreign policy indicate the decline of the greatest superpower the world has known. Kagan compares this with the British Empire at the end of the 19th century. His easy juxtaposition of current American world domination and the British Empire does not go so far as replace the term 'superpower' with 'empire', it's merely implied. This starting point is telling. And the fact that it the starting point in the minds of many that have control of the American state indicates contempt for other nation's sovereignty and rule of law. Kagan exposes an unapologetic militarist and authoritarian world view.

His view is about power and not much else. Kagan points out that relative to other economies in the world the USA is holding its position, more or less. He argues that the rapid rise of the Chinese economy is not a crucial factor pointing out the “sheer size” of a given economy isn't a good measure of a nation's position in the world. China can be contained with effort. He points out that China will remain well behind both the US and Europe in terms of per capita GDP.

While the importance of an economy is important to Kagan and presumably anybody that aims to control the world, military strength is vital. He points out that military strength underpins hegemony. This point isn't consistent with the mainstream narrative however; that the USA intervenes in other parts of the world for the benefit of those that are attacked. While the notion of humanitarian intervention is obviously aimed to curry domestic and international support for its many wars, the calculations in Washington's back rooms are adjusted to the metrics of power, not to the wishes of the UN. Kagan's point here is that when it comes to military expenditures, the USA is in another league altogether, vastly outspending everybody else. And there is no doubt about that.

Kagan seems to be oblivious to economic considerations that are not related to military spending. He downplays the importance of a healthy economy and does not relate the economy's poor health to military expenditures. To detach the inconceivable sums that are military spending from the faltering nation's economy is not a simple blind spot. It is one of several of America's Achilles heels.

On the relative rise of other economies such as Brasil and China, he points out, “just because a nation is an attractive investment opportunity does not mean it is a rising great power”. What he does not mention however the importance of manufacturing to a given domestic economy is. These investment opportunities have shifted much of America's substantial tax base offshore. His assuredness that this simple opening of investment opportunities in other nations has no impact at home reflects a serious disconnect.

He points out the decline of the British Empire was not a result of poor economic performance. The British economy grew as its global status shrank and that was due, in part, to the comparative rising strength of the American economy. It wasn't economic performance but militarily strength that diminished the standing of the United Kingdom. Kagan points to growing German military strength as they aimed for European supremacy as the reason for the British Empire's decline. He fails to say why. Perhaps it is because to Mr. Kagan, relative military strength is the supreme consideration; that on its own is the measure of measures.

The article points out that as friendly nations rise, they pose no threat to America's position in the world. They are strategic partners and, as Kagan alluded earlier, under the umbrella and protection of American hegemony. Kagan identifies the growing Chinese economy and its concomitant capacity to grow its military as the only realistic threat to American dominance. 

Kagan writes at length about the false nostalgia in notions of American popularity and superiority in the 1950s and 60s. Opposition to American imperialism was strident both at home and abroad. He points to a number of colossal failures in the 70s regarding American foreign policy and its economic standing in the world. These were bleak times and prophets like Henry Kissinger and Paul Kennedy were foretelling the demise of American dominance. Back then Kennedy suggested “imperial overreach” and military spending as Achilles heels that would cripple American power in the world. Kagan assert they were wrong pointing to America's overall consistency in terms of America's share of the world's GDP remaining steady. Kagan's overall point here is that much of the sense of American decline is based in nostalgic illusions of power and influence the USA has in the world that it simply didn't have; the subtext being, we are in a better position now than ever.

In the past, detractors that were critical of America's reach in Europe and throughout the world suggested that the USSR and not the USA was in a better position to win over global governments and populations. The USA, in competition with the USSR, was forced to maintain alliances, many of them strained. The USSR just had to wait them out. Kagan points to victory here for the USA and is attributing its expensive strategy of “containment” (of the USSR) as the crucial item.   

Kagan's implication in this article that China is America's natural enemy is shocking. Fortunately, this article and its adherents do not see China as an immediate threat but they see continued containment of China as the reason why it isn't. The United States dominates China's backyard and Kagan points out that the USA has China surrounded with military bases. Even if China wanted to be a regional hegemon, it would need to remove Taiwan from America's pocket and they would need to usurp the USA from all the other nations surrounding China.  

Kagan questions the notion of 'overreach' by comparing numbers of military personnel today with other times when the numbers were higher. His implicit suggestion is we have capacity for much more. On the economic side of military spending, he quotes former budget czar Alice Rivlin, “the scary projections of future deficits are not “caused by rising defense spending,” much less by spending on foreign assistance.” Kagan asserts it is “runaway entitlement spending” that is compromising America's future. Presumably, boatloads of money being funneled into defense contractors bank accounts is not entitlement spending.

Kagan lists costs that the USA would incur should American taxpayers cut back on defense spending. They are, the costs associated with unraveling the economic order built and maintained by the American military, costs associated with insecure water routes kept open by the American military machine, costs associated with wars that would break out if the USA didn't keep nations from waging war against each other, costs associated with American allies that have lost the protection of the American military, and costs associated with “the generally free and open nature of the international system”.

Kagan is suggesting a 'pay now or pay later' scenario. This open and shameless display of circular logic has to be either a display of audacity or idiocy. There is no third option.  

Kagan warns that world domination is a choice and a choice Americans themselves must make. Failure to maintain dominance would compromise its capacity to emerge from crisis to emerge stronger and healthier than other nations (as it has in the past). Americans may feel compelled, Kagan asserts, to back away from its “moral and material burdens” that have weighed on the USA since World War 2. To agree with diminished military spending is to believe the present 'world order' would persist without American dominance. To maintain the benefits of the current world order with its “widespread freedoms, its general prosperity, its absence of great power conflict”, requires American leadership and commitment.

Again, his presupposition that the status quo are the alpha and omega, that any risk to American dominance in the world is a disaster is utterly baseless and the platform for much of the logical failures that energize this article.

To finish off, Kagan again alludes to the term 'empire' and argues that while all empires do die, the question of when is key. The USA may have hundreds of years to go.    


This article, touted by the President of the United States as justification for more war and increased militarism does not bode well for our collective futures. The article is dated and does not address recent sword rattling in the wake of Putin's disobedience dealing with Snowdon, Syria, the Ukraine and so on. Since that article was written, Russia may have replaced China as Robert Kagan's long term project. And since that time, Obama has turned to bay with the dogs of war. Probably as a result of Kagan's influence scores of human beings are now dead in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and other places. And the more and the longer people like him enjoy the influence they do, the more people will die needlessly. 

One thing is for sure. The United States has war on its mind and many human beings are not alive today as a result, many more will be dead tomorrow. That consideration however isn't even hinted at. As we read an article like this, as influential as it has been, it is devoid of humanity. It’s as if Kagan and Obama are sitting in front of a board game like Risk and human considerations are not part of it. To them power and position on the game board and winning are all that count. Deaths and disabilities, human catastrophe and displacement, the health of other nations are not factors in Kagan's metrics. They would only factor in if they had some impact on power. 

It is not the article on its own that is alarming. Kagan isn't alone in his lust for world domination. The fact that the Democratic President of the United States even takes this article seriously is crucial. It suggests that the President of the United States is not very intelligent and worse, he is as affected by whatever psychological condition is affecting Kagan. That condition shows an indifference to human suffering, glib charm, lack of sincerity with an ability to lie seamlessly, grandiose self-worth, poor judgment, no consideration of consequences for other people, utilizing human beings as if they are objects and so on. They indicate a serious mental health issue.

Wouldn't it be remarkable if we found those with the most power and influence in this world are not there because they are smart or humane or wise, they are there because they are utterly ruthless. Wouldn't it be remarkable if we discovered that this world, at the very top, is run by psychopaths?

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