Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The world has become normal again 

The first few paragraphs of Robert Kagan's book The Return of History and the End of Dreams:

The world has become normal again. The years immediately following the end of the Cold War offered a tantalizing glimpse of a new kind of international order, with nation-states growing together or disappearing, ideological conflicts melting away, cultures intermingling, and increasingly free commerce and communications. The modern democratic world wanted to believe that the end of the Cold War did not just end one strategic and ideological conflict but all strategic and ideological conflict. People and their leaders longed for "a world transformed."

But that was a mirage. The world has not been transformed. In most places, the nation-state remains as strong as ever, and so, too, the nationalist ambitions, passions, and the competition among nations that have shaped history. The United States remains the sole superpower. But international competition among great powers has returned, with Russia, China, Europe, Japan, India, Iran, the United States, and others vying for regional predominance. Struggles for status and influence in the world have returned as central features of the international scene. The old competition between liberalism and autocracy has also reemerged, with the world's great powers increasingly lining up according to the nature of their regimes. And an even older struggle has erupted between radical Islamists and the modern secular cultures and powers that they believe have dominated, penetrated, and polluted their Islamic world. As these three struggles combine and collide, the promise of a new era of international convergence fades. We have entered an age of divergence.

With the dreams of the post-Cold War era dissolving, the democratic world will have to decide how to respond. In recent ears, as the autocracies of Russia and China have risen and the radical Islamists have waged their struggle, the democracies have been divided and distracted by issues both profound and petty. They have questioned their purpose and their morality, argued over power and ethics, and pointed to one another's failings. Disunity has weakened and demoralized the democracies at a moment when they can least afford it. History has returned, and the democracies must come together to shape it, or others will shape it for them. (emphasis added)

Read the whole, short, crisp thing.


Kagan is responding to the loudest voices on the American left (the transnational progressives, who believe that "from a distance" we all live on the same pale blue planet) and right (the most hard core of the "national greatness" conservatives, who sometimes seem to rejoice in irritating other democracies). He is in effect calling for a new approach among the great democracies of the world (and not just the West), predicated on the idea that the international institutions that seemed to hold such promise even a decade ago actually constitute a huge threat to the world's autocracies, and in fact have driven them closer together. Democracies must work together, but cannot expect that the favored transnational tools -- the United Nations, the international financial institutions, etc. -- will be effective against powerful autocracies that consider them threatening. The important democracies must recognize the threat, band together, and develop a comprehensive response in defense of liberal values. If I were to invent a term for Kagan's view it would be "transnational realism."

The book is blurbed by Richard Holbrooke, so there is at least some possibility that somebody will slip it into Secretary of State Clinton's briefcase. That would be helpful.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Nov 25, 10:58:00 PM:

What are the odds of Holbrooke appearing as one of Hillary Clinton's deputies at State?

Kagan may or may not be right, but there is also a merging factor of mercantilism. This can cause partnerships between some shades of autocracies and some shades of democracies.
Most of the Western democracies have to do business with the OPEC states, which are almost all some form of autocracy. And there has to be merchandise traded to repatriate the money paid for oil back into the world economy.

None of our skirts are too clean, and that is the realpolitik cancer that eats away at the moral fiber of democracies in the West.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 26, 03:27:00 AM:

Judging from the title, I'd guess the book is also a none too subtle tweak at Francis Fukuyama, who certainly deserves tweaking.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 26, 02:43:00 PM:

Interesting the transformations words undergo. In 1920, the call for 'normalcy' referred to a time irretrievably lost and expressed a common desire to reconstitute a world shattered by war. Now as we return to the 'normal' we do so with a sense of going back to a time we had hoped to escape.  

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