Useful neoconservative insights

It is not common for liberals to praise neoconservative thinkers. Regardless if this concerns domestic politics or international affairs.  While this normally makes a lot of sense, sometimes the liberals are clearly at fault. I recently re-read two of Robert Kagan’s most famous books: Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (2003) and The Return of History and the End of Dreams (2008). The power of Kagan’s analysis struck me again in these two concise books, predominantly his balanced treatment of the enduring and dominant role of power in world politics. This is something not many liberals are keen to accept, the classical liberals excepted, most notably Hume, Smith and the certainly the hawkish Hayek.

In the light of the topical situation in Eastern Europe, let me quote a few lines from The Return of History.

  • ‘One of the geopolitical fault lines runs along the western frontier of Russia, [Ukraine included] with Russia on one side, and the European Union and the United States on the other. Instead of an anticipated zone of peace, western Eurasia has once again become a zone of competition.’
  • ‘If Russia was where history most dramatically ended two decades ago, today it is where history has most dramatically returned. Russia’s turn toward liberalism at home stalled and then reversed, and so has its foreign policy […….] Great power nationalism has returned to Russia and with it traditional great power calculations and ambitions.’
  • ‘Contrary to the dismissive views of many in the West, Russia is a great power, and it takes pride in being a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.’
  • ‘its oil and gas wealth has allowed Moscow to increase defense spending by more than 20 percent annually over the past three years’.
  • ‘This new sense of power today fuels Russian nationalism. It also stirs up deep resentment and feelings of humiliation […] such as acceptance of NATO enlargement, the withdrawal of troops from former Soviet republics and the ceding of independence to Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic states.’

Recall this was in 2008 and it just a very brief selection. There was not much the liberals (of all persuasions) could have added to this. Liberals generally lack realistic let alone original views on world politics. That is simply not good enough, if they have intentions to widens the appeal of liberal thought. An embrace of neoconservative insights such as Kagan’s would be a good start.

3 thoughts on “Useful neoconservative insights

  1. But is Russia falling victim to the “curse of oil?” This is the observation that oil riches so often benefit the ruling class, not the common folk, and that when the wells run dry, trouble ensues. Norway would be a major exception.

    The Russians know perfectly well about the potential for the U.S. to become a major energy exporter and thus a competitor to the Russians in supplying Europe. They can only hope that Obama et. al. will scuttle this potential U.S. advantage.

    Does Putin have a Plan B if/when the oil bonanza ends?

  2. An excellent suggestion Dr van de Haar.

    For those of you unversed in introductory IR (international relations) theory, there are two basic schools of thought: realism and liberalism (the latter is also sometimes called ‘idealism’).

    The basic breakdown between the two schools of thought is that realists look at IR through the lens of the State and its interests (there is more here), while liberals pay closer attention to how states interact with each other (here is a useful pdf).

    I don’t like the term ‘liberal’ or ‘ideal’ to describe the second school of thought because both terms are confusing. For example, many liberals in the domestic American sense of the term are realists and many more are liberals (in the IR sense). The same goes for realists. Ask if you need more clarification.

    Libertarians, I think and despite Dr van de Haar’s criticism, fall nicely in-between the two competing IR theories (Rothbardians excepted; Rothbardians are isolationists, who are considered to be hardcore realists, which is weird because hardcore realists are obsessed with protecting and preserving State power and State interests).

    Here is an example of how libertarians split the difference between the two schools of thought: free trade and war. In general, realists oppose free trade because they view trade as a zero-sum game. So many American realists oppose free trade with, say, China and Mexico because they think the US is losing power and influence and Beijing and Mexico City are gaining at our expense.

    Liberals, on the other hand, realize that free trade is beneficial to American interests regardless of whether or not China and Mexico grow faster economically than the US.

    In this sense libertarians are IR liberals. However, let’s take a quick look at war. In general, realists are opposed to war unless it’s an obviously winnable one. So many American realists supported the Iraq War (because they miscalculated the ease of the task) and have not supported a war against Syria.

    Liberals, on the other hand, supported the Iraq War and also support a war against Syria because they believe (erroneously) that such a war will bring about new actors in Syria that will “behave” more moderately and courteously towards Damascus’s neighbors than does the Assad regime.

    In this sense, libertarians are IR realists. Is anybody still with me?

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