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Look who's part of the harsh disorder

by William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune,
Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, 1 August 2002


PARIS -- A new metaphor has been introduced into the trans-Atlantic dialogue, portraying Europe as enjoying a "Kantian paradise" made possible by the United States' ordering of a Hobbesian world.

Europe, by virtue of its wartime and postwar experience, is said to have established "a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant's 'perpetual peace.'" This benign achievement causes West Europeans to recoil from the use of force, and to see international problems generally as open to rational and negotiated solutions. My quotation, and the argument, are from Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, whose widely promoted views have been reprinted in a number of foreign journals.

Kagan goes on to say that Europeans can enjoy this happy condition because a sober and illusion-free United States patrols the frontiers, beyond which lies a Hobbesian world where lions and tigers roam and good intentions unaccompanied by power can prove fatal.

The Europeans are congratulated on having put their bad past behind them -- while being reminded that it was American intervention in two world wars that rescued them, and American Cold War power that spared them Soviet domination.

They also are congratulated on wishing to deal with the conflicts and problems beyond Europe with dialogue and persuasion. One day, they are reassured, that might even be practical.

Meanwhile, international order is maintained by an unsentimental United States, too wise to indulge illusions about dialogue and compromise in dealing with thugs, dictators, rogue governments and terrorists.

Kagan was an early promoter, in 1996, of the proposition that as circumstances have placed the United States in a position of world hegemony, this "hegemony must be actively maintained, just as it was actively obtained. . . . Any lessening of that influence will allow others to play a larger part in shaping the world to suit their needs."

He collaborated then with William Kristol, the neoconservative advocate of American foreign policy unilateralism who has probably been the most important single outside influence on the George W. Bush administration.

In 2000, the two observed that American hegemony is not only to American benefit but that of the world, since the United States "does not pursue a narrow, selfish definition of its national interest . . . and infuses its foreign policy with an unusually high degree of morality."

This is not an argument to which all will assent. One can make a better argument that American policies today are frequently the cause of international disorder and destabilization, and that they are more often driven by domestic advantage than by altruism.

Currently, Washington is debating whether or not to attack or invade Iraq in order to overthrow and replace that country's unsavory government. This cannot possibly promote stability in the Middle East in the short term, or in the longer run, other than by resort to a forecast -- which most specialists would classify as amateurish wishful thinking -- that Saddam Hussein's overthrow would cause democratic governments to spring up in his country and throughout the region. Why? A second Washington debate is whether to make an unprovoked attack on Iran to destroy a nuclear power reactor being built there with Russian assistance, under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, within the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory. It is again impossible to interpret such an action as promoting international order, or to justify it other than by way of a highly speculative scenario of Iranian nuclear attack on a neighboring country or on the United States.

No other government in the world would support such an action, other than Israel's. Israel would do so not because it expected to be attacked by Iran but because it not unreasonably opposes any nuclear capacity in the hands of any Islamic government.

The Bush administration's policy of providing virtually unqualified support -- out of essentially domestic political motives -- to Israel's policies in the occupied territories and Gaza is a self-evident source of potential regional disorder, as every government in the Near and Middle East and the Maghreb, from Turkey to Morocco, has already advised Washington. The argument that the United States today protects international society from Hobbesian disorder is untrue. Washington acts as Kagan in 1996 urged it to act, to protect a hegemonic position that serves its political and economic interests, and its perceived security.

There is indeed a Hobbesian world out there. It is one in which the United States is a determined and self-interested player, not noticeably inhibited by its "unusually high degree" of national morality.

Copyright © 2002 International Herald Tribune
Copyright © 2002 Los Angeles Times Syndicate International
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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