Magazine article The Spectator

'When We Are Bloodied, We Bloody Someone Else'

Magazine article The Spectator

'When We Are Bloodied, We Bloody Someone Else'

Article excerpt

'Innocent people can't do any good in the world. First of all, there are no innocent people, and, second of all, exercising power is not an innocent activity.' This is not the kind of straight talk you expect to hear in Brussels, but Bob Kagan is a man with little time for polite fictions.

Three years ago he ruffled feathers by arguing that the trans-Atlantic falling-out over Iraq was not an unfortunate misunderstanding but a consequence of the fact that today Europeans are from Kantian Venus while Americans are from Hobbesian Mars. Now he has written a book claiming that the traditional view of America as an innocent, isolationist power is a myth. Instead, he argues that America has always been an aggressive, expansionist power -- a Dangerous Nation, as the book's title has it. Kagan is not a trendy European intellectual, though, but America's most perceptive neoconservative thinker.

Kagan comes from one of those families that could provide the entire panel for a highbrow Radio Four discussion programme. His father is Donald Kagan, America's pre-eminent classical historian and the author of the definitive modern history of the Peloponnesian war. His brother is a renowned military historian, and his wife is the US ambassador to Nato, which is why he lives in Brussels. Kagan himself is an impressive figure. Co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, a contributing editor to Washington's two most influential magazines and a columnist for the Washington Post: a kind of Timothy Garton Ash on steroids.

Kagan claims that the lesson from his history of US foreign policy is that it won't change much even post-Bush and postIraq. Kagan points out that America elected Ronald Reagan just five years after the end of Vietnam, which was a far more divisive and humiliating conflict for the United States than Iraq is. Indeed, Kagan seems to think that the next president might be even more hawkish. He notes that the Republican frontrunner John McCain -- whom Kagan advises -- was talking about 'rogue state rollback' when George W. Bush was still saying, 'We're too arrogant and all that kind of stuff.' As for Hillary Clinton, Kagan thinks that 'she'd be very eager to prove early on that she's not being pushed around in the world'.

Kagan knows his own mind and is certain that he knows America's too. As we talk about Iraq, Kagan announces that, 'If we started to pull out or even pulled out, we'd be back in again within a year.' He explains that 'as soon as it becomes clear that a terrorist organisation based in Iraq is planning operations against the United States, which will certainly be the case, no American president can say well that's just unfortunate'. As Kagan puts it, 'The reality of Iraq is unavoidable.'

He is scathing, though, about Bush's handling of the war. Kagan has long believed that the US needs more boots on the ground and has produced a flood of articles to argue the case in recent weeks. He describes Bush as the 'opposite of Lincoln', noting that Lincoln regularly changed tactics and generals during the Civil War while Bush seems wedded to a failed strategy in Iraq. Kagan says that Bush's determination to stick with the same number of troops and the same military leadership is 'just baffling, baffling'.

He is more complimentary about Bush when it comes to Iran. Kagan ruminates that Bush 'may well feel that "I did not get elected President, did not live through 9/11, to be the President that allowed Iran to go nuclear on my watch. …

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