Alex Massie brings a bizarre Robert Kaplan column to our attention. In this column Kaplan offers his best Otto von Bismarck imitation. Bismarck was once quoted as saying that the world would succumb to materialism without war; Kaplan replaces materialism with decadence, but the idea is much the same. It is also worryingly similar to Teddy Roosevelt’s concept of war as a kind of invigorating sport. As Massie notes, Kaplan is rehashing ideas that were last fashionable approximately a century ago before WWI taught (almost) everyone that they were complete rubbish. In fact, the main movements that came out of the horror of WWI convinced more than ever that constant struggle and endless wars of “liberation” were essential to political health were the communists and fascists.
What really makes no sense is why Kaplan would be so hostile to the EU. I can understand why European (classical) liberals, conservatives and nationalists find the EU offensive in many ways. Were I in their position, I would have many of the same problems with the Union’s institutions and regulations, because I am generally opposed to consolidation and centralization as such. The push for centralization by Europe’s “federalists” naturally generates resistance from these quarters, but why would someone with Kaplan’s views see a more politically consolidated, unified Europe as a problem? Apparently, it is because Europe is not terrified of a series of threats that either do not exist or which have little to do with them.
First, we have Russia, of which Kaplan says:
Indeed, once again – thanks to its plans to build natural gas pipelines directly to Western Europe—it holds the ability to split Eastern Europe off from the West and hold the former Warsaw Pact nations captive.
Russia’s ability to do this does not seem to be very effective, since it is not, in fact, holding former Warsaw Pact nations captive and has so far failed in every case to split eastern Europe from the West. Except for the highly contentious cases of Ukraine and Georgia, every central and eastern European nation that has desired and pursued accession to the EU and NATO has been welcomed in as a member or as a member that will be integrated very soon. Russian energy leverage is real, which means that all European nations are less likely to engage in unnecessary provocations of Russia on its own borders, which is partly why the EU refused to whitewash Georgian errors leading to last year’s war with Russia and why leading EU nations are not interested in providing security guarantees to Ukraine and Georgia. However, Russian leverage is not so great that it has been able to prevent its former satellites from doing pretty much whatever they want with respect to integration into Europe.
The “dangerous” possibility of German “neutrality” towards Russia is the re-establishment of the one major policy that Bismarck had absolutely right as far as German interests were concerned, which was the friendly alignment of Germany and Russia. If the largest economy and political power in Europe and the great Eurasian power are on good terms, the peace of Europe is much more likely to be preserved than it would be if the Germans somehow became as anti-Russian in their policies as Washington has wanted them to be. There was a time long ago when I was still in college when I speculated that the EU would need to cultivate an anti-Russian stance to unite all of its member nations more closely together. I argued this on the assumption that the Union would otherwise fail to coalesce and hold together. That now appears to have been mistaken, as European integration and a decline in (western) European hostility towards Russia seem to be going hand in hand. What Kaplan sees as “losing Europe” is actually the way to ensure that Europe is much less likely to become the battleground of a major international war, which other people might describe as saving Europe.
In any case, Kaplan is simply wrong about Germany. It is not “torn between east and west.” The country best described this way might be Turkey, and even that is debatable. It is Turkey’s entry into the EU that France and Germany seem intent on opposing for the foreseeable future. Entry of Turkey into the EU would do more to prevent the establishment of a “hard and fixed border” between Europe and the Near East than just about anything else, so Kaplan ought to be satisfied with the unwillingness of major EU members to let Turkey in.
Kaplan imagines that Iran presents a challenge equal to that of “liberating eastern Europe.” This is not true. The challenge of the latter was larger and of greater strategic significance than anything related to Iran. Losing Iran as an ally in 1979 was a significant blow to the U.S. position in the region; communist collapse was vastly more valuable for advancing U.S. interests in Europe. The two things are not all that comparable in significance. Kaplan writes, “Iran holds the key to changing the Middle East…” Why Iran? Well, he will tell us:
Iran has been a state in one form or another since antiquity, and has a far more urbanized and sophisticated population than most in the Arab world.
Where have we heard this before? It used to be that Iraq held the key, and a lot of people made a great deal of noise about Iraq’s “central” location in the region, and many stressed the importance of its sophisticated, well-educated, urbanized, more secularized population. It used to be the case that agitators for war with Iraq believed that changing Iraq could change the region precisely because it was majority Arab and not Persian as Iran was. Now it is Iran’s Persianness that makes it the more suitable for regional transformation because of the cultural advantages this is supposed to offer. The new story is no more true than the old one.
Kaplan holds up a fantasy as a likely future:
With a reformist regime in power in Teheran, turmoil in Iraq will lessen and Hezbollah may eventually be robbed of a sturdy patron, even as Syria is forced to make its peace with the West, and hopefully with Israel, too.
File these predictions under Things That Are Never Going Happen. Reformists are no less interested in projecting Iranian power in Iraq and Lebanon, and why would they be? Mousavi was partly responsible for the foundation of Hizbullah. Does anyone really believe that he would now turn against them? What will happen in Iran to “force” Syria to do either of these things? If Syria breaks with Iran, it will be in spite of Iranian political change and not because of it.
European politicians are working on the assumption that the EU is being built up for the benefit of Europeans. It is possible that they are wrong and the EU is not the best thing for Europe, but this has nothing to do with Kaplan’s call for endless struggles for liberation to the east. European governments do not seem to consider the ever-eastward march of “liberation” a top priority. Given that this march has mostly involved the smashing of Serbia and the invasion of Iraq, it seems to me to be a very good thing that Europeans seem to have little appetite for more of it.