is a good rule of thumb that any allegedly "iconoclastic"
thinker who appears frequently in the pages of the New
York Times cannot be all that "iconoclastic."
And, of course, Kaplan’s views are mainstream to a fault.
His brusque dismissal of democracy, which Kagan makes such
a great show of disputing, would hardly shock our foreign
policy elite. For all his tough-guy posturing, Kaplan rarely
takes a position at odds with that of the US Government.
"[A] multiparty system merely hardens and institutionalizes
established ethnic and regional divisions," Kaplan
writes in The Coming Anarchy, "Look at Armenia
and Azerbaijan, where democratic processes brought nationalists
to power....A coup in Azerbaijan was necessary to restore
peace and, by developing Azerbaijan’s enormous oil resources,
foster economic growth. Without the coup Western oil companies
would not have gained their current foothold, which has
allowed the United States to increase pressure on neighboring
Iran." This is typical Kaplan: swaggering contempt
for "nationalists," celebration of a "coup"
even though it brought to power someone as repulsive as
former Soviet Politburo member Heydar Aliyev, and rejoicing
at the triumph of Western corporations who will now "foster
economic growth." By a happy coincidence, Kaplan’s
passions are also those of the US Government. His enthusiasm
for Aliyev is second only to President Clinton’s. Moreover,
Kaplan is flogging a dead horse. Does anyone seriously believe
that the United States has ever pursued the goal of universal
democracy? Do we need to waste time listing the dictators
who made their countries safe for foreign investment and
were good friends of the United States? Indeed, Kaplan admits
as much when he blurts out that "our post-Cold War
mission to spread democracy is...a pose. In Egypt and Saudi
Arabia, America’s most important allies in the energy-rich
Muslim world, our worst nightmare would be free and fair
elections." "Pose" is a rather delicate way
of putting it. "Fraud" seems a more suitable word.
"realism" consists of championing US foreign policy
for what it is, rather than for what it purports to be.
The US Government wants US corporations to be able to move
in and out of countries at will. And, sure enough, Kaplan
wants the same. "What is good for business executives
is often good for the average citizen," he drools,
"For years, idealists have dreamed of a ‘world government’.
Well, a world government has been emerging quietly and
organically, the way vast developments in history take place.
I do not refer to the United Nations....rather, I refer
to the increasingly dense ganglia of international corporations
and markets that are becoming the unseen arbiters of power
in many countries. It is much more important nowadays for
the leader of a developing country to get a hearing before
corporate investors at the world Economic Forum than to
speak before the UN General Assembly." This may appear
as bleak to some, but not to Kaplan. That is why it is absurd
to describe him as a "pessimist." There is nothing
in the human condition that a hefty dollop of corporate
capital cannot remedy. You can see why someone like Robert
Kagan would be put off by this sort of thing. It is not
that he disagrees with anything Kaplan says. But it is one
thing to champion free markets in the abstract, and another
thing to trumpet the fact that the US Government is serving
private, not national, interests.
Kaplan, no less than Kagan, is a fervent proponent of US
military involvement everywhere. Kaplan does not care very
much about "national greatness." He just wants
to make the world safe for "international capital."
Last April he was ecstatic about the bombing of Serbia.
Adopting his usual tough-guy pose, he wrote in the New
York Times: "The humanitarian nightmare in Kosovo
may be reason enough for NATO’s involvement in the former
Yugoslavia, but for the United States there are vital strategic
stakes involved as well. These stakes justify the use of
any NATO measures needed to defeat Serbia, including the
use of ground troops, because nothing less than the future
contours of Europe are now being decided." But Kaplan’s
message was anything but level-headed or realist. To justify
his bloodthirsty belligerence he propounded a hysterical
theory one very much in accord with the fashionable hatred
of the Serbs. The Serbs had to be crushed in order to save
Europe from division between East and West. "The Balkan
states were burdened by centuries of Byzantine and Turkish
absolutism," he wrote, "The admission of Poland,
the Czech Republic and Hungary into [NATO] has formalized
this dangerous historical and religious redivision of Europe:
between a Roman Catholic and Protestant West and an Orthodox
Christian and Muslim East. However, Slobodan Milosevic’s
campaign in Kosovo has now given the West a chance to reverse
this process. A real NATO victory, one that not only gives
the Kosovars protection but also knocks Serbia off its perch
as the region’s military threat, would go a long way toward
stabilizing the continent." Greece, Romania and Bulgaria
all share Serbia’s Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity.
As, of course, does Russia. And that’s very bad. "Appeals
to conscience will not keep Greece a...member of NATO, nor
will they keep Romania and Bulgaria from slipping into the
sway of Russia. What is required is nothing less than a
complete NATO military....Only Western imperialism though
few will like calling it that can now unite the European
continent and save the Balkans from chaos." It is hard
to exaggerate the extraordinary shallowness of debate in
the United States when ignorant ravings like these are treated
as serious geopolitics. But this is the role Kaplan plays.
While "moralist" Anthony Lewis simpers about the
Albanians and cries out for bombing on one side of the Times
Op-Ed page, there on the other side of the page is "realist"
Kaplan offering pseudo-historical mumbo-jumbo while also
crying out for bombing. That way all bases covered.
the January issue of The Atlantic, Kaplan writes
"What I took away from Israel was not Zionism so much
as realism: whereas Israel’s phobias about security might
seem extreme to outsiders, life in Israel taught me that
the liberal humanist tendency to see politics predominantly
in moral terms was equally so. In Israel I often met foreign
journalists who demanded absolute justice for the Palestinians
and talked constantly about morality in politics, which
in practice meant that anyone who disagreed with them was
‘immoral.’ You couldn’t argue with these people. My right-wing
neighbors in a poor, oriental part of Jewish Jerusalem sought
absolute security. You couldn’t argue with them either,
but at least their arguments were grounded in self-interest
and not in airy abstractions." Notice how Kaplan’s
self-serving "realism" enables him to avid serious
engagement with the issues. He could have counterpoised
the views of the Palestinians to those of his "neighbors"
in Jerusalem. One "realist" would have confronted
another. Instead, he takes cheap shots at the "liberal
real tragedy is that Kaplan's realism precludes him from
making the only appeal that can plausibly be made to the
inhabitants of the world's stretch limousine: the appeal
of universal morality and common humanity," Kagan concludes,
"Kaplan tries to appeal to us on the pragmatic, material
grounds of realism. If we do not pay attention, he warns,
we will lose money, we will lose security, we will become
sick with disease. Many realists believe that these arguments
are not only legitimate, but also that they are the only
arguments that are likely to persuade. They are wrong on
both counts." Well no, the "real tragedy" is that Kaplan
devotes his energies to providing justifications for an
imperialist US foreign policy in terms that flatter our
policymakers. There is nothing that pleases the Talbotts,
the Holbrookes and the Bergers more than the idea that they
are "tough guys." They are no moralistic wimps, they are
in it for the money. What Americans get out of empire or
what our imperial subjects get out of it interests neither
them nor Kaplan at all. Another tragedy is that this is
the only debate that we are permitted to have. Will we justify
our military attacks on other countries by invoking morality?
Or by pragmatic self-interest? The issue of America's right
to bully the rest of the world is off the table. That's
for wimps. Just ask Kaplan. Or Kagan.