Scott relates a worrisome, but unfortunately very predictable, remark by Robert Kagan:
The most alarming thing he said in a generally fluid presentation concerned Georgia and the Ukraine. “Would the United States really want to live in a world where Russia held sway over Georgia and the Ukraine?” (I’m not sure the quote is verbatim, but the “really want to live in a world” is.) Kagan said this in the context of discussing potential “flashpoints” with other great powers, Russia and China.
As Scott says, this isn’t a terribly troubling thought for Americans. Obviously, I understand why Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians and Georgians are not interested in having Russia hold sway over their countries. They want to preserve their national independence, and they view Russia as the historic oppressor or occupier that must never be allowed to regain control. I get it. I can even understand why they, or at least some of them, would actively seek the protection of other great powers to prevent that happening, but what has never been clear to me is why Americans should be willing to harm our relations with the Russians for the sake of countries in which we have no particularly important interests and which Russians consider part of their sphere of influence, if not, in fact, historically theirs. Georgians and Ukrainians may not want to live in the world Kagan paints, but an overwhelming majority of Americans would not be concerned one way or another. To ask the question Kagan asked is to answer it right away in the affirmative.
The idea that places on the very borders of other great powers constitute “flashpoints” is evidence of the sort of reflexive, unthinking hubris that Kagan and others in his circle express all the time. Why are these places “flashpoints”? Because the government has made the independence of countries that border on other great powers our business, when properly speaking none of the disputes in question has anything to do with the United States. Imagine the hysterical reaction if someone close to one of the major officials in the Chinese government said, “Does China want to live in a world in which the United States holds sway over Colombia and Haiti?” The absurdity of the question would be apparent to all. What if one of Medvedev’s advisors said, “Does Russia want to live in a world in which the United States holds sway over Panama?” I suspect he would be laughed out of the room, or the question would be dismissed as irrelevant. Our foreign policy “intellectuals” take for granted that everything outside (and perhaps quite a few things inside) other great powers’ borders are automatically our business, and if these other powers attempt to exert even minimal influence on their immediate neighbours it is evidence of their “imperialism.” Meanwhile, we may launch any number of strikes and wars against states on the other side of the planet in the name of self-defense and bristle at the suggestion that this has anything to do with empire. It’s a dangerous game to treat other great or rising powers in this way, as if their modest goals for wider influence in their region and in the world represent some dire threat that needs to be checked and rolled back. This is the sort of thing that plunged Britain into an arms race and then into conflict with Imperial Germany when the two had no obvious or necessary conflicts of interest. The greatest danger to continued American predominance is almost certainly the boundless ambition and recklessness of the people who are most enthusiastic about preserving hegemony.