Robert Kagan in his monthly [thank the editor for small favors] column in The Washington Post today slams all those pundits who disagree with his central thesis that the U.S. is “Still No. 1” (the title of his op-ed) and subscribe to the notion that America is in decline.
In fact, none of the writers that he quotes in his piece, including Francis Fukuyama and Fareed Zakaria disagree with him that “American military power is unmatched.” What they do argue is that as a result of the policies advocated by Kagan and pursued by Bush, American military and economic power is overstretched, as the mess in the Broader Middle East and the financial crisis have demonstrated. In fact, it’s China, America’s future geo-strategic and geo-economic competitor that is financing (together with the Arab oil states) America’s current-account deficit.
But what is remarkable is the way Kagan has tried to change the subject of the post-Cold War debate. He begins with misleading historical examples:
Sober analysts such as Richard Haass acknowledge that the United States remains “the single most powerful entity in the world.” But he warns, “The United States cannot dominate, much less dictate, and expect that others will follow.” That is true. But when was it not? Was there ever a time when the United States could dominate, dictate and always have its way?
Many declinists imagine a mythical past when the world danced to America’s tune. Nostalgia swells for the wondrous American-dominated era after World War II, but between 1945 and 1965 the United States actually suffered one calamity after another. The “loss” of China to communism; the North Korean invasion of South Korea; the Soviet testing of a hydrogen bomb; the stirrings of postcolonial nationalism in Indochina — each proved a strategic setback of the first order. And each was beyond America’s power to control or even to manage successfully.
But there was never a “wondrous American-dominated era after World War II.” There was a bi-polar system in which the U.S. and the USSR were the two dominant powers. The debate after the collapse of the Soviet Union was not whether America was no. 1 based on its military power, but whether the U.S. has become the global hegemon, the Unipolar Power that would remain unchallenged and could impose its will on the rest of the world.
American Unipolarism was the neoconservative axiom that has been advanced by Kagan and Company since 1991. It was tested in Iraq. And now in the aftermath (?) of that war, the eroding influence of America in the Middle East, the confrontation with North Korea, and the financial crisis, no one is seriously arguing that the U.S. is “Still a Unipolar Power.” Not even Kagan.