Paradise and Power: Robert Kagan Author Book Review

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¶ … Paradise and Power: Robert Kagan

Author Robert Kagan borrows from the title of a pop culture book -- Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars -- to illustrate the great difference in the 21st Century between Europe and the U.S. On the third page of his book (Of Paradise and Power) he asserts that "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" (Kagan, 2003, p. 3). By that the author means that when it comes to national priorities, legitimate threats, foreign and defense policies, the U.S. And Europe "have parted ways" (Kagan, p. 4). Kagan goes on to make a list of the ways in which Europe and the U.S. are different and have grown apart. He claims that Europeans see America as having "a culture of death"; every American has a gun in this violent society that "resorts to force more quickly and, compared with Europe, is less patient with diplomacy" (p. 4).

Europeans believe they have more sophistication when approaching challenges, Kagan goes on. They also believe they are more tolerant of "failure" and that they prefer "negotiation, diplomacy, and persuasion to coercion" (Kagan, p. 5). Moreover, it is easy to understand why Kagan and other authors and scholars view the U.S. / Europe dynamic as a kind of schism. After all, nations of Eastern and Central Europe "…have an entirely different history from their Western European neighbors"; he's referring to the UK, France, Germany, et al. (p. 6)

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Of course it is important to understand Kagan wrote this book during the third year of George W. Bush's presidency, a period during which the U.S. took the unilateral route -- without the approval of America's traditional European allies -- when it invaded Iraq. Moreover, to people in Europe Bush was anything but a popular president; quite the contrary, it is no secret that Bush was severely criticized and even reviled in Europe during his term in the White House. To wit, much of Europe rejoiced when Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States.

Book Review on Paradise and Power: Robert Kagan Author Robert Assignment

Kagan gets to the heart of what Europeans disliked about American leadership in 2003 by mentioning Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense, who sent American troops into Iraq without adequate body armor, and whose gung-ho, nationalistic approach to the Iraq war was viewed by many as part of the poorly planned operation. Rumsfeld was at the top of the chain of command that allowed an attitude of brutality to trickle down to American forces, which in turn abused Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The sexual, psychological, physical abuse -- including rape and sodomy -- of prisoners by U.S. forces was widely publicized and horrified individuals around the globe.

The author correctly notes that Europeans were "appalled at American militarism" during the Bush years, but he is incorrect to say that "…even American liberals were more willing to resort to force and were more Manichean in their perception of the world than most of their European counterparts" (Kagan, p. 6). Kagan neglects to mention that the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 created a wave of fear and paranoia across the country that gave Bush the political capital to launch his aggressive "war on terrorism"; that said, there was an enormous outpouring of anger at Bush from moderates and liberals when he insisted in unilaterally attacking Iraq.

On the subject of Bush and his "cowboy diplomacy" (2008 Democratic candidate for the presidency -- and current Secretary of State -- Hillary Rodham Clinton used "cowboy diplomacy" to characterize the Bush strategies), David Hastings Dunn wrote eloquently about the Bush arrogance and why reasonable people could easily disagree with his foreign policy stands. Dunn is the senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Dunn notes at the outset of his piece that the foreign policy of the Bush Administration "shifted radically" following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Whereas prior to the terrorist attacks the Bush policy was in search of a main theme -- and the possibility of building a "star wars" kind of missile defense system was in the works -- following the terrorist attacks Bush launched the strategic doctrine in 2002 called the "National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States," later to become known as the Bush doctrine.

Dunn asserts that prior to the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Bush was already unpopular with Europeans; Bush was viewed as "internationally provocative" due to his "abrogation of the ABM treaty," the U.S. withdraw from participation in the International Criminal Court, and his refusal to join the Kyoto Protocols on global climate change (Dunn, 2006, p. 1). In his speech to the U.S. Congress on September 20, 2001, Bush stated that the new "grand purpose" of U.S. policy was "ending terrorism." But a bit later, in early 2002 that NSS changed to a policy of preventing the accumulation of "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) (Dunn, p. 6). In that same time period (2002) Bush added "rogue" states to a list of potential targets that the United States could attack. "We cannot let our enemies strike first," Bush stated, making the point that the U.S. would engage in pre-emption if it believed states were acquiring or developing WMD.

As it turned out, of course, there were no WMD to be found in Iraq, and so the hype that the Bush Administration used to justify the invasion turned out to be just that, hype. Author Kagan is correct to state that Europe had lost faith in the judgment of U.S. leaders during the early part of the decade of the 2000s, but he doesn't delve deeply enough to root out exactly why Bush was so distrusted in Europe.

Norman K. Swazo, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alaska, writes that Bush's so-called neoconservative internationalism presented "a serious challenge to the international legal order" (Swazo, 2004, p. 15). Bush was fully prepared to "abandon and undermine former U.S. commitment to both positive and customary norms of international law" (Swazo, p. 17). Swazo correctly recounts that the Bush doctrine was out to combat global terrorism "if necessary…by acting preemptively" (Swazo, p. 18).

Meanwhile, Kagan reviews the recent history of Europe and correctly recounts that for fifty years after the U.S. And its allies defeated Hitler in WWII, "Europe fell into a state of strategic dependence on the United States" (p. 18). He traces the European tensions that existed during the Cold War and leads the reader to understand why, during the Bush years, the U.S. And Europe parted ways. On page 44 he writes that Europeans believed that Iraq should be "offered incentives for better behavior, not threatened, in classically American fashion, with more economic or military coercion" (Kagan).

Freelance journalist Benjamin Ross puts it this way: Bush's ideas "justify the accumulation of power; they do not inspire policy" (Ross, 2005, p. 99). What Bush really cared about was "the enrichment of the wealthy and the protection of the privileged," Ross asserted. And he who searches for "the intellectual roots of George W. Bush searches in vain" (Ross, p. 99). Kagan never flatly says that Bush was a simple man without intellectual underpinnings, but there are plenty of other writers who will make that statement.

While Kagan argues that Europeans always want the U.S. To not act unilaterally in military matters but instead receive the green light from the United Nations, an article by Robert Delahunty and John Yoo asserts that in order to prevent another lethal attack on the U.S. The government must be pro-active and ignore the UN. The Bush doctrine of attacking "rogue states" that threaten America certainly does not rely on the UN Security Council. When it comes to combating terrorism waiting for the UN's approval would be "obvious folly" (Delahunty, et al., 2009, p. 845).

On pages 61-62, author Kagan arrives at what he calls "the most important reason" for the great divide between the U.S. And Europe: "America's power and its willingness to exercise that power…constitute a thread to Europe's new sense of mission" (p. 61). Europeans truly hated it when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Kagan is right about that. But there are other reasons for the tensions between the U.S. And Europe. When the 2005 Transatlantic Trends Report came out it showed that eighty-three percent of German respondents and 85% of French respondents "disapproved of the way that President Bush handles international policy" (Sarotte, 2008, p. 311). In that same poll, 82% of French respondents said that the U.S. And British leaders "were lying" about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (Sarotte, p. 311).

As if there need be more evidence that Kagan is at least right about how Europe expressed extreme distaste for America during Bush's presidency, when British author Harold Pinter accepted the Nobel Prize in literature, he attacked the U.S. foreign policy for having "supported and in many cases engendered very right wing military dictatorship in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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