In The World America Made, however, the author skips lightly past Iraq and its consequences. Address that conflict with even a semblance of honesty and his whole argument—American power preventing war, fostering democracy, and promoting prosperity—collapses.
Yet Kagan’s tacit attempt to trivialize the Iraq War won’t wash. Among other things, that sorry episode confronts us with a troubling fact: in today’s world, the most bellicose countries tend to be democracies, with the United States very much in the vanguard.
Kagan rehashes the cliché that “democracies rarely go to war with other democracies.” While offering reassurance that friendly relations between the United States and Canada are likely to endure, this dictum leaves unanswered a more pressing question. How is it that the magnanimous United States—which Kagan wistfully likens to “the catcher in the rye, preventing young democracies from falling off the cliff”—finds itself enmeshed in quasi-permanent war across large swaths of the planet?
It’s all well and good to fret, as Kagan does, about China’s ambitions and its military buildup. Yet the last time the People’s Liberation Army invaded a country was in 1979, during its relatively brief dust-up with Vietnam. By comparison, when was the last time U.S. forces went even a single year without engaging putative adversaries in some distant quarter of the world?