The way Kagan sees it is actually quite interesting to read. He thinks it is natural for a party too long out of power to become accustomed to opposing our foreign policy and therefore drift into a dangerous isolationism. Of course, it isn't entirely clear for whom this drift presents a danger. It's certainly not a threat to the American taxpayer, just for one example. But, it is definitely a threat to those that make their living hawking military and homeland security equipment. That's why Kagan says the following:
The next president, whether Democrat or Republican, may work better with allies and may be more clever in negotiating with adversaries. But the realities of the world are what they are, and the imperatives of U.S. foreign policy are what they are. The diffuse threats of the post-Cold War world simply don't unite and energize our European allies as the Soviet Union did, and even a dedicated "multilateralist" won't be able to get them to spend more money on defense or stop buying oil from Iran. A smarter negotiating strategy toward Iran might or might not make a difference in stopping its weapons program. Soft power will go only so far in dealing with problems such as North Korea and Sudan.
In fact, the options open to any new administration are never as broad as its supporters imagine, which is why, historically, there is more continuity than discontinuity in American foreign policy. If the Democrats did take office in 2009, their approach to the post-Sept. 11 world would be marginally different but not stunningly different from Bush's. And they would have to sell that not stunningly different set of policies to their own constituents.
Kagan is part of a literal cabal of people in Washington (in Congress, in thinktanks, in this case, the Washington Post's editorial pages) that assure that any new administration's 'options' are limited and that their approach will not be stunningly different from Bush's. These are the folks that brought you the stalemated Korean War and the need for permanent bases in the south, the disastrous Vietnam War, the Committee on the Present Danger, and Team B. They employ journalists like Judith Miller to write about anthrax, and journalists like Peter Beinert to advocate a tougher foreign policy line from Democrats. They love and contibute to politicians like Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Diane Feinstein, and Jane Harman. As long as they can control the debate, assure a centrist nominee from the Democrats, and keep the level of fear in the public high, their racket is safe, even if the people in the World Trade Center were not.
Some may see this as a typical leftist critique. But it's more than that. This is how Washington works, how power wields itself, how the Democrats are co-opted, and how we keep repeating our mistakes by involving ourselves in costly foreign entanglements.
Perhaps the most flamboyant and successful of their campaigns was the one they used to convince us that we defeated the Soviet Union through military spending. It had nothing to do with the superior example our society made to the world through our civil liberties, personal freedoms, prosperity, and human rights advocacy. Nor did it have anything to do with the Soviets poor example and lack of these things. No, no. We brought the Soviets to their knees by spending billions on a failed missile shield and the V-22 Osprey.
Ask yourself something. How much did the wars and proxy war in Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, and Grenada do to contribute to the demise of the Soviet Union? How is Iraq helping today? Being out of power for a while does tend to focus the mind when you ask yourself that question. And that is a major threat to people like Kagan. That is why at least half of PNAC now considers it desirable that a Democrat (like Hillary or Biden or Richardson or Bayh or Vilsack or Warner) becomes the next President. They think they can control them, and they are probably right.
The Democrats need to take ownership of American foreign policy again, for their sake as well as the country's. Long stretches in opposition sometimes drive parties toward defeatism, utopianism, isolationism or permutations of all three. What starts off as legitimate attacks on the inevitable errors of the party in power can veer off into a wholesale rejection of the opposition party's own foreign policy principles.
It's precisely the foreign policy principles of our nation's leaders and arms merchants that have led us to where we are today, and it is precisely the utopianism of the Project for a New American Century and their neo-conservative allies littering the halls of power that has undermined the consensus for permawar and a permawar footing among the left.
Kagan gives away the game in this column. His assumption is that the causes of threats to the homeland have no causal basis in American imperialism, occupation, or double standards. The only potential cause for a threat comes from those that don't advocate doing more of the same, spending more of the same, and doing it with more bellicosity, fewer allies, and less national unanimity.
At least, it seems that way. But, in reality, it's more complicated. How can you explain that a man that was Deputy for Policy under Bush-pere-pardoned Elliott Abrams, Principal Speechwriter for Secretary George Schultz and foreign policy advisor to Jack Kemp would write a column advocating the Republicans be swept out of the White House? The answer is that he fears the Democrats will move so far to the left if they do not elect a DLC Democrat in 2008 that it will endanger the consensus within this country that allows us maintain bases all throughout Asia and an enormous military budget.
Somewhere in the depths of his mind, Kagan probably is asking the same questions we are asking. Isn't is possible that we could erode the threat of terrorism more effectively, and at an acceptable cost in treasure, by finding a new consensus within the community of representative democracies and advanced economies of the world? One that isn't opposed by everyone but the bribed and the coerced? One that shares the burdens of collective security, as well as the limitations of international organizations and efforts? One that might limit the scope of American power but also its attendant blowback?
It must have occurred to Kagan, and he knows it is occurring to a growing majority of the left. Kagan throws this heretical thinking aside and states:
...the imperatives of U.S. foreign policy are what they are. The diffuse threats of the post-Cold War world simply don't unite and energize our European allies as the Soviet Union did...In other words, this Zarqawi/Zawahiri/bin-Laden bullshit just isn't working with the left, and if we don't give them a Hillary or Biden or Lieberman to rally around, they'll leave the reservation for good.
Better to avoid permanently losing one of two American power parties than for the GOP to win in '08.
What better example could we have of what's at stake, who's on our side, and how big our potential for positive change really is.
This is complimentary piece to my Thoughts for Memorial Day.