Robert Kagan: Honeyed Words and Neat Phrases, with a Neoconservative Twist

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Robert Kagan: Honeyed Words and Neat Phrases, with a Neoconservative Twist


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Robert Kagan is a professional writer and a very good one, who uses his impeccable education to the best possible advantage. Unlike many of his fellow neoconservatives, he gets along easily with people and doesn't argue over nonessentials.

Kagan got his start as principal speechwriter for former secretary of State George Shultz. Shultz had his own carefully thought-out agenda, but seemed to get nowhere with the world press. Someone suggested that if he stopped worrying about the Palestinians and focused on the rest of his agenda, things might work out better. They did, and Shultz never looked back. In fact, he seemed almost to have rationalized an entirely new reason for helping the Israelis.

This writer cannot ascertain whether Robert Kagan played any part in Shultz's new agenda, and if so, when his influence began. What is clear, however, is that Kagan can come up with the precisely appropriate words for any occasion. He was and still is a natural speechwriter.

Kagan came by his felicitous turn of phrase honestly, and shares those talents with other members of his family. His father is Yale University historian Donald Kagan, and his brother, Frederick, is a military historian at the U.S. Military Academy.

On the eve of the 2000 presidential elections, Donald and Frederick Kagan published While America Sleeps. Jim Lobe described the book in an article entitled "Family Ties Connect U.S. Right, Zionists," published in Pakistan's English-language newspaper, Dawn. "This was a clarion call on Washington-which was already spending more on arms than the 13 next biggest militaries combined-to increase its defense spending sharply lest it find itself, like Britain in the late 1930s, unable to face down a new Hitler," Lobe wrote. "Since then, both men have published reams of columns warning that Washington must immediately increase military spending by at least 25 percent to keep up with its global responsibilities."

Donald and Frederick both are prominent exponents of the neoconservative cause, and both signed the Sept. 20, 2001 open letter to President George W. Bush urging that the war on terrorism include the removal of Iraqi president Saddam Hussain "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9/11] attack."

Robert Kagan, who earned his B. A. at Yale College and a M.A. degree in public policy and international relations from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and an Alexander Hamilton Fellow in American Diplomatic History at American University in Washington, DC.

In 1981 he was assistant editor of Public Interest magazine. In 1983 Kagan served as foreign policy adviser to Congressman Jack Kemp and as special assistant to the deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency. ? member of the State Department's Policy Planning staff in 1984 and 1985, Kagan then served until 1988 as deputy for policy in the State Department's Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

Kagan's wife, Victoria Nuland, a foreign service officer and former U.S. deputy chief of mission to NATO, currently is Vice President Dick Cheney's number two foreign policy adviser. "While Nuland enjoys a strong reputation as an independent thinker," wrote Lobe, "the family connection to Kagan is typical of the extraordinarily tight-knit nature of the regime that has taken control of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11."

By the time N u land was assigned to Brussels, Robert was writing a regular column for Rupert Murdoch's neoconservative The Weekly Standard. Kagan also writes a monthly column for The Washington Post, and has published articles in Foreign Affairs, Commentary, The New York Times, The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, the National Interest, and the Policy Review.

His first book, A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990, was published in 1996 by the Free Press. The book received financial backing from the Bradley Foun-dation and the Carthage Foundation, two key conservative funders.

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