Knuckleheaded view

September 24, 2004

It is clear that Robert Kagan seeks to vindicate the argument in his book Paradise and Power at the same time as distancing himself from the mess that the Bush Administration has got itself into (Features, September 17). Neither project is credible. If, as Kagan maintains, the strategy of the Bush Administration is ham-fisted, the world-view on which it is based, and to which Kagan has contributed (despite his protestations to the contrary), is knuckleheaded.

Paradise and Power is a rather slight book that nevertheless tells us a great deal about the madness of George II. As such, it is required reading for those who want to know quite how a US government made so many misjudgements in its dealings with the outside world. The book's centrepiece is a crass soundbite - "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" - which has been witlessly trumpeted by some sections of the media as some kind of profound insight. Whether Kagan's claim is true needn't trouble anyone with an ounce of academic rigour since the premise is so crude.

Public debate in America is now saturated with bombastic, simplistic phrases - "old and new Europe", "the clash of civilisations", "the war on terror" - that try to establish crude dichotomies on which policies and their justifications are constructed. Such phrases are provocative, divisive and misconceived. Kagan's book offers George W. Bush and his supporters yet more fortune-cookie wisdom on which to construct and justify disastrous foreign policy. Since Kagan and his fellow neocons have been so influential in their advocacy of military force and so wilfully ignorant of the complex tensions within nations, whether European, American or Arab, he must take his share of responsibility for the tragic miscalculations of the Administration whose world-view he has helped to shape through the dissemination of simplistic tosh.

Nick Haeffner
London Metropolitan University

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