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Robert Kagan’s latest book is a short but powerfully written argument about the return of great power conflict and the danger of believing that history is moving towards a world of liberal democracies living at peace with one another. The prospect of “a new era of international convergence” has faded. “History has returned,” he announces, and — however embattled the democracies may be — they “must come together to shape it, or others will shape it for them”.

Kagan somewhat overstates his case when he suggests that great power competition has been on the increase in recent years and that a 19th-century diplomat would instantly recognise the “elaborate dances and shifting partnerships” of today’s great power competition. Great power competition did not disappear with the end of the Soviet Union, but it is not clear that it is getting worse in recent years.

Kagan is most convincing — and this is ­really the central point of his book — when he points to the return of a kind of ideological conflict, this time in a form reminiscent of the 19th century, rather than the Cold War. “The rulers of Russia and China,” he writes, “like the rulers of autocracies in the past, do have a set of beliefs that guides them in both dom­estic and foreign policy.” Even though they have abandoned Marxist ideology, it would be a mistake to think that they had become mere pragmatists, pursuing selfish interests and believing in nothing. To the contrary, these autocratic rulers “believe in the virtues of a strong central government and disdain the weaknesses of the democratic system”.

Thanks to their substantial economic success — and, in the case of Russia, thanks also to the economic disaster in the 1990s — autocracy in both countries has acquired a kind of legitimacy. “It would be a mistake,” Kagan asserts, “to believe that autocracy has no international appeal.” But today’s autocrats lack the legitimacy conferred in the 19th century by the doctrine of “divine right”, and this, in a way, makes them more dangerous. “Today’s autocracies,” Kagan says, “struggle to create a new kind of legitimacy, and it is no easy task.” Integration into a world dominated by democratic ideology is thus threatening to them, and they will try to push back violently.

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August 6th, 2008
7:08 PM
Intersting that Wolfowitz was writing about how it might be nice to have anotherterror attack at the same time that Cheney turned out to be planning one according to Seymour Hersh.

July 30th, 2008
11:07 AM
Good and interesting review, though, I don't agee with all of it. Personally I'm a lot more optimistic about China and Russia.

July 26th, 2008
2:07 PM
So the Kagan/Wolfowitz case is that democracy and peace ("international convergence") doesn't work, democracies and market economies are no good as they foster tyrants (look at Germany), governments will never become practical servants of the people but always have ulterior motives based on a sinister and centuries long unchanging belief system, together with whole religions out to get America with the worst possible weapons. To counter this immense threat, Kagan/Wolfowitz feel obliged that USA "shoulder the burden of responsibility" and grab global leadership in the "great power conflict" from history and which is on the return. As their previous attempt at global safekeeping left them "flawed" due to the resulting holocaust for the people of Iraq, that "divine right" can now only be continued assured with a new name and an increase in perceived threat, Wolfowitz closes with some examples of calamities that has worked well in the past.... What deep seated paranoia and desperate pessimistic view. What arrogance and self-righteousness. What intolerable hypocrisy and what a harrowing and chilling read. Millions are dying. The suffering of some people is beyond imagining. Yet that is nothing to K&W compared to the great power game between the blocks of previous centuries and the need to play it. Have they learned nothing from history? What happened to Never Again after 1945? How can one possibly be a force for good and claim to represent democracy in the world when genocides like Rwanda, Sudan, and Iraq are taking place and not stopped and some even initiated? How can it possibly be for the betterment of the world that USA assume the role of self-appointed champion of democracy and human values when that itself is the cause of many of the antidemocratic and antihuman violations the world over and has been consistently so since 1945? Yet Kagan/Wolfowitz is undying in their belief that it is their divine right to take control and the promise is of more "calamaties" to come. What happened to the teachings of tolerance and understanding of humanity? The faith in mankind? What all the religions and non-religions are ultimately about? And what do they think people in the future will say about this time in history? That USA was right seek global dominance even if it meant millions killed as collateral damage? I don't think so. They will likely see that motives were based not on the good of the globe and the security, peace and dignity of all, but for the advancement of certain groups over others, and the mania and delusions of yet another ideology and superstition gone mad. A league of democracies is a wonderful concept, but when hijacked as a tool in some monstrous power game from past milennia that tramples peoples underfoot in the name of human values, it is not only hypocricy at its worst, it is betrayal of civilization, nothing less.

July 25th, 2008
8:07 PM
This from one of the primary architects of the Iraq war. I rest my case.

July 16th, 2008
7:07 PM
Wolfowitz states: "However, like the long run, “ultimately” can be much too long a time, particularly ­given the possibility, which Kagan himself acknowledges, that the connection between terrorists and nuclear weapons may soon be made." it sounds like Wolfowitz might know about a "connection" that he hopes/thinks will be made soon. I wonder if he is privy to another operation northwoods already in the works?

July 14th, 2008
6:07 PM
Wolfowitz worked closely with Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer in 1975. President Ford appointed Lemnitzer to the Commission on CIA Activities within the United States (aka the Rockefeller Commission) to investigate whether the Central Intelligence Agency had committed acts that violated American laws. Amazingly Lemnitzer was one of the leading figures advocating that america use false falg terror tactics in Operation Northwoods. And here we have Wolfowitz rationalizing false flag terror attacks again.

July 14th, 2008
6:07 PM
It sounds like Kagan is helping to legitimize the idea of our government using false flag terror attacks.

July 12th, 2008
7:07 AM
Ramesh, You are living in a demented fantasy of your own making.

Ramesh Raghuvanshi
July 9th, 2008
7:07 AM
U.S.foreign policy completly depend on fear,Pople of U.S.dont tolret bit of opposition,When Japan want to surrendered U.S.attact with atombomb on Japan kiled millions of people. who attcted on 11/9 till no one know but U.S.destroyed Afghan people. A genocidal mentality indubitably at the very heartof American psyche and that repeating again and again.Why U.S.destroyed Saddam Hussain?If there is no enemy U.S.will creat imgenary enemy to fool the citizens.

July 7th, 2008
5:07 PM
And so, as the opening act - The Global War on Terror - plays it's last tune ("Compelling Crisis") the headliner waits to take the stage for the big show everybody's been waiting for.

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