Threat Inflation and The Jungle Grows Back
Damir Marusic has written an incisive review of Robert Kagan’s The Jungle Grows Back. Here he describes Kagan’s attempt to find new enemies to justify the global “leadership” role for the U.S. that Kagan favors:
Kagan focuses on this because he rues the fact that, with the Soviet Union gone, no bogeyman big enough to keep Americans focused on maintaining their preeminent position in the world exists. It’s not the failures in Iraq or Afghanistan, or even the blow of the financial crisis in 2008, that have hollowed up America’s commitment. It’s that without a pervasive threat, Americans mark the world as a solved problem—“the widespread conviction that the role the United States has been playing in the world for the past seven decades is no longer necessary, perhaps was never necessary, and in any case no longer serves American interests,” he writes.
Kagan therefore makes an attempt to cast first Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and then Xi Jinping’s China, as authoritarian challengers and potential threats to the American way of life.
The end of the Cold War was a calamity for many hawks because it deprived them of a sufficiently powerful and menacing adversary, and the history of U.S. foreign policy over the last three decades has been the desperate search for a suitable replacement. It is a measure of how secure the U.S. was and still is that most of the replacements that hawks found were all weak dictatorships and terrorist groups, and even today’s major authoritarian powers don’t pose the same threat to the U.S. and its allies that the USSR did. We have been fortunate to enjoy almost thirty years without serious great power rivalry, but the ideologues that thrive on such rivalry look for excuses to clash with Russia and China on their respective doorsteps. This has the undesirable effect of making U.S. allies on the periphery of these great powers less secure by stoking tensions with Moscow and Beijing, and then that leads to the same ideologues using the heightened insecurity they have helped to create to justify increased hostility to those states.
Hegemonists like Kagan need a big enemy to justify the incessant meddling abroad and the exorbitant military budgets that they already support, and since there hasn’t been one for almost thirty years that has meant one episode of ridiculous threat inflation after another. The problem for these ideologues is that “the jungle” isn’t relentlessly taking over in most parts of the world, and the role of “indispensable” machete-wielder that they want the U.S. to fill isn’t really necessary for our security or the security of most other nations. As the title of Marusic’s review suggests, they have to make up the monsters they want to destroy to justify a foreign policy that is far too costly and overreaching, and in the end they create more monsters by interfering in the affairs of countries they don’t understand.