Robert Kagan is one of those authors who readers never have to worry about. He is not going to throw in a “dog” in a series of solid book projects. He is among the most qualified intellectuals in the world to discuss the international stage, and is a trusted voice when it comes to American history of foreign policy. Whether it be his magnum opus, Dangerous Nation, or other short works like The Return of History and the End of Dreams, Kagan is serious, sober, reliable, and needed. His latest contribution to the conversation surrounding America’s role in the world is The World America Made, and I could not possibly recommend it more fervently.
Kagan is not a neoconservative, though that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been called such by various critics of his work. I think it is safe to say that if you haven’t been called a neoconservative by some ignoramus who hasn’t ever read a book on foreign policy, you probably aren’t doing your job. Blind and sweeping generalizations are a part of the game when discussing 21st century foreign policy, and there are no doubt those who would want to put Kagan into a certain box (a box that not only he does not belong in, nor any of the other people they have put in either). What Kagan contributes to the discussion is an undeniable historical perspective that demonstrates as clearly as can be what America’s historical role has been, and how her presence on the international stage has helped to create the world that we have today.
The book is a 140-page easy read. Kagan’s agenda in the book is not to point out America’s deep history of international interventionism, but rather to explain how reliant the world is on America’s presence as a super-power, at least in deterring and controlling potentially malignant behavior by other potential mini-super powers. Kagan is not an advocate of the “democracy is contagious” view, and he is not advocating for any sort of new and improved aggression from America’s military resources. He is making the case, though, that those who hope to see a more liberal order throughout the nations will not see it without powerful nations that can defend it. I won’t flood my review with quotes and soundbites from the book, as the book is too full of these nuggets to do it justice, and I want readers to make their own determinations. What I will say is this: “The cost of [America] maintaining this position cannot be measured without considering the costs of losing it”. In a day and age where it has become en vogue to romanticize the idea of an America who plays a minor role in international theater, I am so grateful (and we all should be) that there are scholars like Robert Kagan with the imagination and perspective to say, “Be careful what you wish for. You can not imagine how terrifying it would be if you got your wish.”