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The economic collapse of 2008, two costly wars, and a gridlocked Congress have led many to conclude that America is on the decline. The rise of China to global superpower status has caused more anxiety and prompted some to predict a “Post-American” world. Foreign policy strategist Robert Kagan disagrees. He says America’s decline is a myth unsupported by the economic and political reality: the United States is still the richest country in the world and has played a singular role in the rising tide of liberal democracies. Robert Kagan on “The World America Made.”
- Robert Kagan Senior fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Center on the United States and Europe
In his new book, “The World America Made,” Kagan rejects the notion that the U.S. is in decline. He warns Americans that allowing large-scale military spending cuts is preemptive super power suicide. Robert Kagan joined Diane to talk about why he thinks America is not in decline.
“We’re As Powerful As We’ve Been Since World War II”
We’re constantly seeking renewal, Kagan said, which in his view is one of the most positive characteristics of our nation. He thinks the challenges we’re facing as a nation now are overstated. “I believe that if you look at our power, in terms of our military power, in terms of our economic power, our share of the world’s growth, and in terms of our political influence, I think that we’re as powerful as we’ve been since World War II.”
The Fragility Of The Democratic Process
The “explosion of democracy” we’ve seen since WWII, Kagan said, is an anomaly in human history. In 1941, there were about a dozen democracies. Today, there are about 115. “It’s not just the natural product of human evolution much as we might like to think so. That is based on the fact that the balance of power in the world has favored the democracies, the balance of power which is fundamentally built around the United States and its democratic allies,” he said. If we see a weakening of the U.S., though, which includes an autocratic China and Russia, Kagan thinks we will see that balance shift.
The Size Of The Defense Budget
Kagan thinks the Obama administration’s proposed cuts to the defense budget could be catastrophic for the U.S. military and have the potential to severely weaken the role we’ve been performing in the world. We have to be careful and not think the defense budget is the place to solve our
fiscal crisis because the cuts that we make in defense are a drop in the bucket compared to our overall deficit, Kagan said. “It’s entitlement spending that drives that,” he said. The damage the proposed cuts could do to our military capacity, he believes, would be significant.
Support For The Iraq War: Hindsight
“I make mistakes. But I can only call it the way I see it,” Kagan said of his support for the Iraq War. Today, he doesn’t think it was a mistake to go in, but he doesn’t agree with the way the war was conducted. The Bush administration and Donald Rumsfeld, he said, were looking for a rapid way out. “They were looking to do it on the cheap, and we paid a very high price for that,” Kagan said.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama responded to his Republican critics with this statement.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAFrom the blows we've dealt our enemies to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn't know what they're talking about.
REHMIt turns out the president had read an excerpt from my guest, Robert Kagan's new book "The World America Made." In it, Kagan rejects the notion that the U.S. is in decline. He warns Americans that allowing large scale military spending cuts is preemptive super power suicide. Robert Kagan joins me in the studio. I hope you'll join us as well. 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. ROBERT KAGANGood morning. Thank you.
REHMGood to have you hear. You know, there's a lot of debate going on right now about is America on the upswing, is America in decline. I had Zbigniew Brzezinski on the program just a couple of weeks ago. His arguments are -- your arguments seem to be directly opposed to each other. How do you see it?
KAGANWell, we go through these periods of feeling like we're in decline periodically. In a way, it's one of the positive elements of our nation. We are constantly seeking renewal, seeking to overcome challenges. But as is frequently the case, I think they're tremendously overstated. I believe that if you look at our power, in terms of our military power, in terms of our economic power, our share of the world's growth, and in terms of our political influence, I think that we're as powerful as we've been since World War II.
KAGANWe have a very rosy view of the past when we think that we could tell everybody what to do. We always got our way, but that's a myth. That's not the way things were in the past, and so if you have a reasonable baseline of understanding of our power in the past, you get a clear sense of where we are today.
REHMYou are particularly concerned about cutbacks in the military.
KAGANI am in the following way, and it's not because, you know, we need to be fighting wars. In fact, mostly it's about deterring wars. But I think we underestimate, and it's understandable after Iraq and Afghanistan, but we underestimate the degree to which so much of the world order that we enjoy today, the economic liberal international order, the free trade, free open market system, depends on what the United States does, for instance, with our naval forces around the world keeping sea lanes open, keeping the South China Sea open, keeping the Straits of Hormuz open.
KAGANWe take for granted the fact that there have been no great power wars since World War II. That's actually an anomaly in human history. If you look back at previous eras, not to mention the 20th century with World War I and World War II, great power war is a constant in human affairs. We've been without that, and that has a lot to do with American military superiority.
REHMSo how do you regard Iraq and Afghanistan?
KAGANWell, clearly, they've been costly. They have drained the United States to some extent. I think people can overestimate what damage they've done to the United States, even in terms of its reputation. I'm struck by the fact that this president, Barack Obama, not that long after the Iraq War, used forces in Libya to overthrow another Arab dictator with the full support of the Arab League, with the full support of European Allies and NATO, which means that the world still looks to the United States to play that kind of role, and I think they'll be looking to play that kind of role in Syria, as well, perhaps.
REHMDo you really believe that the U.S. is prepared to send forces into Syria?
KAGANI'm not sure that we are going to send forces, but I can imagine people like Les Gelb and others have talked about creating safe zones for the Syrian opposition, which, by the way, may be done mostly by nations like Turkey, but they may call on the United States to provide air support. I think that's a possibility. I don't know whether we'll wind up doing it.
REHMBut of course, look at what's happened in Egypt after that incredible outpouring of energy by the people themselves, the military seems to have taken over control. The people are still protesting. The U.S. has not stepped in there.
KAGANWell, I'm not sure that's quite true. I think the U.S. has been trying to use its influence in subtle ways. It's a complicated situation. I'm not that pessimistic about Egypt. I think the military, of course, is trying to hold onto power as best they can. That's predictable, but they're facing a freely-elected Parliament, which is going to be increasingly demanding that the military cut back on its control of the Egyptian economy and political system, and I think over time those efforts are going to succeed.
REHMYou warn in your book that democratic progress could be undone. How?
KAGANWell, I think, again, we need to recognize that a lot of the explosion of democracy we've seen since World War II, that's an anomaly in human history, too. I mean, there were about a dozen democracies in 1941. Today, there are about 115, and that didn't just happen. It's not just the natural product of human evolution much as we might like to think so. That is based on the fact that the balance of power in the world has favored the democracies, the balance of power which is fundamentally built around the United States and its democratic allies.
KAGANI think if you see a weakening of the United States, a more multi-polar world if you will, which includes an autocratic China, an autocratic Russia, the balance will shift a bit, and that will also have an impact. Just imagine if instead of China and Russia being sort of isolated on issues like Libya, with the United States and Europe sort of leading the way, what if they were much more powerful and the United States was much less powerful. Whether it's Libya, Egypt or elsewhere, I think those dictators would still be in place.
REHMBut now, look at how Russia and China played a role in Iran by vetoing in the UN Security Council any thought of going in. Look at what they've done as far as Syria is concerned. I mean, Russia and China seem to be going their own way.
KAGANOh, there's no question about it. They are autocracies. They are dictatorships. They're not in the business of helping democracies overthrow other dictatorships. It's perfectly in their interest. I think when Putin looks at Assad, he sees himself possibly in two years. So, of course, they are. My point is, that's how things are today. Now, imagine the relative power has shifted. Imagine America that has become much weaker, a China that has become much stronger. How much more secure would someone like Assad or other dictators around the world be? How much harder would it be to try to lead democratic transitions in any of these countries?
REHMWhen you title a book, "The World America Made," you're looking back, but you're also looking forward. What is the message you want people to take from your book?
KAGANThe key message is, first of all, let's not take for granted the world as it exists. We are aware of all the problems in our world, but we sometimes take for granted three key elements, a lasting great power of peace, a flourishing global economy. The global economy has grown by four percent a year since 1950, even including this current recession, and a widely democratic world.
KAGANThat order benefits Americans very much, but it is fragile and it requires a great power like the United States to continue to uphold it. The United States effectively built that order with its allies after World War II. The United States needs to sustain it.
REHMAnd how do you respond to Zbigniew Brzezinski's arguments that staying in power means learning to share power?
KAGANI think there's no question about that. I do think the United States has shared power. The question is, share power with whom. And I think that Mr. Brzezinski is talking about sharing power with China and I think that there are ways in which we will and can share power with China on the economic front. I don't want to share power with China as a global military power. I don't want China becoming the dominant power in East Asia, able to Japan, India, Southeast Asia what to do and when to do it.
REHMHere's a posting on Facebook from Richard who says, "Hopefully, China will supplant America and the west. They have never invaded anyone in their long history. I look forward to less war, more peace, and less racism with China as the world's sole super power."
KAGANWell, that's an interesting comment. I'm not sure it's historically accurate. The Vietnamese can tell you that the Chinese invaded them in 1979. India has had a border war with China. Russia has had a border war with China. Mostly, China has been weak for the last 200 years, which is why they have not been the aggressors most of the time. As far as racism is concerned, I'm sorry, if anyone spends any time in China and talks to the Chinese people -- in fact, there's a book that came out recently, "When China Rules the World." I don't whether you had that author on, talking about how incredibly racist the Chinese can be. So I really do not wish for a world dominated by China.
REHMYou wish for a world where the U.S. and China are partnered economically, but militarily totally out of balance.
KAGANYeah. Because I think that is the best recipe for peace. If you look back historically at when wars occur, they usually occur, oddly enough, at times when the military balance is roughly equal and one side doesn't really know who -- neither side knows who is stronger. That's the situation in Europe through recent centuries. I think that the world has been a more peaceful place because of the disparity of power that the United States has enjoyed, and a China that is equal to the United States will be a China that is attempting to gain control over what Japan does, what Southeast Asia does, and what India does.
REHMRobert Kagan. His new book is titled "The World America Made." Do join us, 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Robert Kagan is here in the studio with me. He is the author of "Of Paradise and Power." His new book is titled "The World America Made." He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post. Do join us, 800-433-8850. The president is releasing his budget today. What about that defense budget? How large should it be? What about potential cuts we are likely to see?
KAGANWell, you only have to hear what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, what current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said, that while they can swallow and manage with the cuts that have already been made, if the sequestration goes through, if the budget agreement that Congress made last year, they'll find some other way of finding those savings. The cuts that may be coming will be catastrophic for the U.S. military and severely weaken our ability to perform the role we've been performing. That's their view.
REHMAnd what's your view?
KAGANI agree with them. I mean, I think that obviously, you know, we can deal with cuts in some ways, if they're done intelligently. But we do have to be careful and not think that the defense budget is the place to solve our fiscal crisis because, in fact, the cuts that we make in defense are a drop in the bucket of our overall deficit. It's really entitlement spending that drives that.
KAGANBut the damage that's done to our military capacity can be significant. Right now, the administration has made a pivot to Asia and that is about devoting greater resources, including military resources, to the East Asian theater to defend allies in Southeast Asia, to keep the South China Sea open. If the cuts are too severe, they won't be able to make that pivot and that would be, I think, a setback for the administration policy.
REHMWhat about using the military in different ways, smaller elements rather than large forces?
KAGANWell, in the case of, you know, the Pacific and East Asia, the pivot that the administration is talking about, we're mostly talking about air and sea power and not land power. We're not talking about large numbers of troops. We're talking about being able to continue providing reassurance to allies in the region when the Chinese are spending a tremendous amount of money trying to deny America's access into that region.
KAGANAs far as large forces are concerned, sure, we can do a certain amount of things with drones and Special Forces, but let's not kid ourselves. If we look back at even just the past 25 years in American history and count all the interventions that have been undertaken by democratic presidents, republican presidents, presidents who were called idealists, presidents who were called realists, we wind up intervening in countries when we don't expect to, much more frequently than expect to, on an average about every two years since 1989.
KAGANSo every time we do these things, we say it's the last time we're ever going to do it and yet, we see even someone like Barack Obama using force when people, I think, didn't expect that he would.
REHMDo you have any regrets about the U.S. going into Iraq?
KAGANOf course. I have regrets about the way the war was conducted, which I think was deeply flawed.
REHMShould we have gone in there in the first place?
KAGANI still continue to believe that we would not be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq because then, in addition to having the problems we're having with Iran, we would have a serial aggressor still in power in Iraq. Let's not forget that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He invaded Iran. He was a very dangerous man, dangerous to his own people and dangerous to the region.
REHMBut the rationale for going into Iraq was the presence of WMDs when there were none.
KAGANWell, they didn't find what they were looking for. There were certainly weapons of mass destruction programs ongoing. And I believe that if we had done nothing, he would've resumed those programs. But yes, there was an intelligence failure. But again, I get back to the basic point. Do we really wish that Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq? And I have a hard time feeling that that's the case, either for the Iraqi people or for the region.
REHMWhat about your own influence in the U.S. going into Iraq? Do you regret pushing in that direction as hard as you did?
KAGANWell, I mean, if I don't regret, you know, the decision then I don't regret the articles that I wrote. I mean, I was sitting in Brussels writing articles. I mean, I didn't get to vote for the war, for instance, like some senators did, like Joe Biden did, like Senator Hillary Clinton, at the time, did, like 72 other senators did. My role as a writer, I try to analyze things the best I can. I'm not flawless. I make mistakes. But I can only call it the way I see it.
REHMSo do you think you made a mistake in regard to Iraq?
KAGANI don't think that it was a mistake to go in. I think that the way the war was conducted -- and, as it happens, I and many others complained from the very beginning that we hadn't sent in enough troops, that we were not prepared to deal with an occupation, that the Bush Administration and Don Rumsfeld were looking for a rapid way out. They were looking to do it on the cheap and that we paid a very high price for that.
REHMLet me ask you now about entitlement spending because you feel very strongly that we've got to cut entitlement spending.
KAGANWell, I just think if we want to address the fiscal crisis, the very tiny fraction of that deficit that is the defense budget is not the place to be looking for the money. And frankly, if that's the issue, then I do think entitlement spending is what is causing your fiscal deficits. I've had this conversation with Alice Rivlin who's, you know, one of the smartest people in the world when it comes to the budget. And she says very clearly that the money's not where the defense budget is. It's in entitlement. So, I mean, I'm not an expert on domestic policy, but it does seem to me, as I look at this great fiscal crisis we have, let's go to where the money is.
REHMWould you be in favor of, for example, lifting the cap on taxing salaries?
KAGANAgain, you've got the wrong person if you want to have a deep economic discussion, 'cause that's not what I do personally. I mean, I think of myself, if you ask me whether I want a guarantee of getting all my social security when I turn 65, I'm willing to forego a lot of that. I'm willing to have it indexed. I mean, there are a lot of answers out there, but again, I don't spend my days thinking about how to organize those issues.
REHMRobert Kagan and he is the author of a new book. It's titled "The World America Made." Going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Thomas, you're on the air.
THOMASGood morning to you, Diane. Love your show, love NPR.
THOMASI listen to it all the time. I think that Kagan presents false arguments here. First of all, the Chinese cannot compete against our Navy. We have the most powerful Navy in the world. As a graduate student at East Tennessee State University, my brilliant professor of history chair told me that the Chinese cannot compete against our Navy.
THOMASSecond of all, entitlement programs are set up to help the working poor and the middle class. I don't know about Mr. Kagan, but the majority of us depend on those entitlement programs. They benefit Americans. I agree with what the president is doing. I voted for him. I plan on voting for him again. I think he's done a brilliant job cleaning up the criminal republican mess.
REHMAll right, Thomas. I think we'll sort of focus on the Chinese Navy.
KAGANWell, I totally agree with the caller. He's right. The American Navy is dominant and much stronger than the Chinese Navy. And my only concern is that we keep it that way because I think that's the best recipe for peace. I think what his professor says is absolutely right and it's one reason that we've had peace in the Pacific and East Asia for all these decades. So let's keep it going.
REHMTo Phoenix, Ariz. Good morning, Joseph.
JOSEPHGood morning, Diane. This is the first time I'm ever called and amazed to get through and I'm happy to have the opportunity to be on your program. Thank you very much.
REHMGlad to have you with us. Certainly.
JOSEPHWell, I also have to take issue with the guest's comments that the United States should remain sort of the ultimate power in the world. I think absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have shown that we're not adverse to using torture and every other evil means known to man to further our causes. And there has to be a bit of a balance of power out there. And, you know, the United States is not adverse either to illegally invading other countries. I think we went into Iraq and Afghanistan for oil basically. That's been pretty well documented. And everything, every pretense was put forth to the American people to convince them it was otherwise.
JOSEPHAnd I think, even back to the Vietnam War, which some have argued in documentary films like "Zeitgeist" and Aaron Russo's "America: Freedom to Fascism" that a lot of the wars were created just for the banksters and the big money makers to sell arms to both sides.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling.
KAGANWell, I say in the book -- and I have a long section in discussing what America has done over the years -- and we are far from a perfect people. We have made our mistakes. We have acted in ways which violate our own moral consciences. There's no question about it. We've been hypocritical. You know, the American people are like every other people, with our flaws and our virtues.
KAGANThe question I'm asking is, in what situation will the world be better off? I would be happy to have a balance of power with France, Britain, Germany, a democratic India, a democratic Brazil. Where I begin to get a little worried is when talking about having an equal balance of power that includes China and Russia. And I think that would not be either in our interest or in most of the world's interest.
REHMHere's an email from David in New Hampshire who says, "I don't believe maintaining the enormous defense budget is a guarantee of national security or that cutting the budget necessarily weakens us. We spend billions on outdated weapon systems that the military no longer wants or needs. Let's spend wisely. Put our military efforts where they are truly needed."
KAGANWell, it's hard to argue with most of that. I mean, the first thing to be said is as a historical matter the United States is not spending a larger percentage of its overall GDP on defense than it has in the past. Right now, we spend roughly 4 percent, probably heading to under 4 percent. You know, in the Eisenhower years, it was 15 percent. In the Reagan years, it was 18 percent. So I don't think we're spending, you know, more than is normal on our budget. The question is, you know, how much can we cut before we begin to undermine our ability to maintain this world or to the benefits so much? And that's what I'm concerned about.
REHMRobert Kagan. He's senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution. He's a columnist for the Washington Post. He's also a senior advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a member of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Advisory Board. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take another caller from Bonita Springs, Fla. Good morning, George, you're on the air.
GEORGEGood morning. (unintelligible) on the air. For your guest, I would like his comments about the fact that, well, number one is that the military spending is a lot bigger than he's talking about. And there's different ways of looking at it. We've gotten very clever over the years of how we hide a lot of pieces of military spending, but it's a huge number. And we should be cutting it back just as much as we cut anything else back.
GEORGEBut in the future, as we look to the future, doesn't he think that economic stability is just maybe more important than military strength as we go forward? And if we don't do something about being smarter about how we use military and cutting back how much money we spend on it versus the rest of the world, we're going to be in trouble because financially it's going to rule the day. And behind China, which we've already been concerned about, that could be the biggest weapon of the future, will be a financial one.
KAGANWell, there's no question and, you know, I'm asked today about the military budgets, I'm talking about the military budget, but that's only one element of American power. And it's absolutely essential that we get our economic situation in order and we begin to have new growth which, by the way, it looks like we're starting to have now, things begin to pick up. That's a critical element of power.
KAGANBut I do have to say that if you look at our annual deficit of $1.5 trillion, cutting $50 billion of defense, which is what we're doing, or even another $50 billion of defense is a drop in the bucket. So when people say we need to cut the defense budget in order to solve our economic problems, I just don't think the figures work. So I do believe we must address our economic problems and I'm fairly confident that we will.
REHMYou know, what concerns me, and here you are as a senior advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, why is there so little debate about foreign policy issues in these over and over and over presidential debates we've heard? There has scarcely been a word.
KAGANWell, it's true and I think, honestly, we've focused on a lot of minute issues in these Republican primaries.
KAGANI have to say, however, that if you look at these debates -- and I've watched some of them -- the journalists doing the moderating don't ask too many questions. I mean, thank you for devoting an hour to foreign policy today, but I did not see many questions on foreign policy. And I think that's because the journalists think the American people aren't interested in it. Now, I think they should be more interested in it. And it's the job of journalists, as well as politicians, to talk more about an issue that's of really vital importance.
REHMBut, you know, I've seen candidates come forward with their own comments whether a question is asked or not.
REHMYou, as a candidate, can control what you say, even if you can't control what you are asked.
KAGANIt's true. And let me just say, Governor Romney, who I've been advising, has a full foreign policy and defense strategy that he's put out, a white paper of many pages, that deals with a lot of these issues. I think the journalists ought to ask him questions about the things that he's already laid out. He's talked about the defense budget. He's talked about the Middle East and the Arab Spring. He's talked about Russia and China in these documents that he's put out, in his statements that he's put out, in speeches that he's made. But, you know, you've still got to get the people to ask you the questions.
REHMWhat does Governor Romney believe about the size of the military budget?
KAGANWell, first of all, I'm not here as a spokesman for the Romney campaign. I'm just an advisor. I'm here on my own capacity. But he has made it very clear that he would like to keep the defense budget at at least 4 percent of GDP. He would like to expand our Naval capacity. And again, this gets back to the issue of world order. We need to have a strong Naval capacity to keep the sea lines of communication open for world trade and also to make sure that the Chinese, in places like the South China Sea or in the Indian Ocean, don't begin to throw their weight around too much.
REHMWhat do you think he would want to do regarding Iran?
KAGANWell, he has said -- again, I'm not here as a spokesman for Governor Romney -- he has said that he thinks it's unacceptable for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. And the president has said the same thing.
REHMRobert Kagan and his new book is titled "The World America Made." Short break. More of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go now to Huntington, W.V. Chad, your question for Robert Kagan on his new book "The World America Made."
CHADYes, thank you for taking my call, Diane. I absolutely love your show.
CHADYou're an absolute gem.
CHADMy question was, Robert, you said that in the future that you wanted to see more of an economic cooperation with China and yet maintaining a military dominance so that way China cannot then in Southeast Asia or Asia entirely dominate countries such as India, possibly even Australia and everything. Then do you see, in that kind of a scenario or possibly an absolute in our future, strengthening ties, possibly even becoming full allies with countries such as India?
KAGANWell, we've certainly moved a tremendous amount in that direction beginning under the last couple years of the Bush Administration and continued under the Obama Administration. I think, you know, India is a very independent country. If you go to India, the Indian people are fiercely independent so they don't want to be dependent on the United States. But they do want a much closer strategic relationship with the United States. So yes, I think India's a crucial part of that.
KAGANAnd of course, one of the so-called rise of the rest when people talk about how other countries are coming up, one of them is India. And people sometimes say, well, that means the United States is getting weaker. But I think India's growth is a benefit to the United States.
REHMAnd what about Pakistan in the process?
KAGANWell, you know, my view is we've been far too close to Pakistan for decades. I would, you know, I would be in favor of reorientation of the relationship in the region that was much closer to India allowing India greater role in Afghanistan, which they want by the way. And we've been a little bit beholden to Pakistan, I think, more than we should.
REHMDo you think that that relationship can continue in sort of parallel if we move closer to India?
KAGANLook, the answer for Pakistan is to get its own economic house in order, to move into the modern world and to stop sort of defining itself as its opposition to India. I mean, in a way all the Pakistani identity is about being opposed to India. They need to move on. I can assure you that India's identity is not wrapped up in being opposed to Pakistan, 'cause they have moved on. They are succeeding in the modern world. And I think Pakistan needs to focus more on its internal issues, both developing its democracy and also its economy.
REHMDo you believe that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon?
KAGANWell, I don't think there's any doubt that they're seeking it. I mean, even the IEA (sic) -- you know, the International Atomic Energy Association agency thinks that they are -- believes that they are. Most of our allies believe that they are. The question is how are they going to proceed? Can they be slowed down by economic sanctions? Will they at least limit their program to capability rather than developing a weapon?
KAGANBut I'm concerned that the Iranian regime right now believes that getting a weapon is the key to their staying in power, is not only the key to their security in the region, but the key to their holding on to power.
REHMAnd do you believe that Israel will move forward to try to arrest that progress?
KAGANWell, I don't know because Israel's capacities militarily are somewhat limited. I'm not sure that Israel would have the ability to take out a nuclear program that Iran has with any certainty. And of course the potential costs for Israel are very high depending on how Iran decides to retaliate. So I would rather first of all, continue pressing with sanctions, which are abiding, I believe, the Iranians and then to have an international effort to address this problem and not have Israel try to do it by itself.
REHMWould you be in favor of the U.S. moving in concert with Israel?
KAGANI do believe that if the decision to take military action comes -- and by the way any president might make that decision, it could be Barack Obama in a second term, it could be the next president -- that certainly the United States has a far greater capacity to address that problem. But I don't in any way minimize what the potential fallout from such an action might be. It's going to be a very difficult and complex affair with all kinds of ramifications afterwards.
REHMHere's a Tweet from Ryan who says, "How do you reconcile America's force for democracy with its sponsorship of coups in South and Central America?"
KAGANAgain I actually get into this in my book. And the American people are not angels, you know, we are a mixed bag just like everybody else. And there have been many periods throughout our history where we have not, in fact, supported a democracy. We've supported the overthrow of some democracies, for instance, in Guatemala, which I'm sure is what the Tweeter is referring to.
KAGANBut on balance, almost despite ourselves, the United States has been a major force for the spread of democracy in the world. Sometimes it's done it actively. Sometimes it's done it merely by being itself. And there was a shift of policy. It began in the Carter Administration really when the issue of supporting our friendly dictators became a little bit more neuralgic. And even the Reagan Administration wound up a bit adopting the Carter Administration's approach. And we've had a much greater affect, I think, since then in terms of supporting democracy overseas.
REHMTo Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning, Diane. I can't tell you how many years I have been calling and never been able to get in. This is just incredible.
REHMWell, I'm delighted. Go right ahead, sir.
JOHNOkay. Love your show. My comment is way back in the 1960s President Eisenhower, former General, said, beware of the military industrial complex. And now I see that after ten years of the military industrial complex bleeding this economy dry to support wars in Afghanistan and Iran (sic) , suddenly they're all coming out and saying, oh, my god, we cannot cut back on the military. We need more military, when it's exactly the opposite. We've got economies that are intertwining each other. If you engage other countries economically, they have no reason to go to war because they're going to lose money by going to war.
KAGANWell, that last point is interesting because, I mean, that is what we tend to think. You know, history actually suggests that that's not as reliable as we might hope. I mean, the best example that people always bring up is the economic relationship between Great Britain and Germany prior to World War I. They were tightly intertwined economically, mutually dependent.
KAGANAnd in fact there was a famous book, nobody remembers it anymore, by Norman Angel called "The Great Illusion," sold two million copies back in 1910, making precisely the point that the caller's just made. So the caller's in very good company in terms of famous people making this argument that because nations had become so interdependent economically that they couldn't go to war. It would be foolish. It would be economically insane to go to war. And yet, four years after that book was a best seller the most advanced countries in the world went to war with one another and did destroy each other's economies by the way.
KAGANWe can't count alone on the rationality of leaders or human beings or even peoples. People are motivated by so many things, passions, hatreds, fears, question of honor. You can never boil things down simply to economic rationalism unfortunately.
REHMAnd with so many nuclear weapons in this world do you believe that people, by virtue of wanting to keep the human race alive, have seen the end of war?
KAGANWell, that's an interesting question whether nuclear weapons have made war obsolete. I mean, I suppose if we really believed that we'd want every country in the world to have nuclear weapons.
REHMAnd that's what Iran may believe. That's what Iran may believe.
KAGANAnd there have been people who have proposed that. And we may soon see something like that because I think if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, then the Saudis are going to get a nuclear weapon, the Egyptians, the Turks and all of that. I mean, the question is, is it possible to have war that is not nuclear between two nuclear powers? I actually think it may be. And if you look -- all you have to do is look at the way both the Chinese and the Americans are conducting themselves today. Both of them spend billions of dollars on the assumption that they could have at least a naval battle that did not go nuclear. So that's one question.
KAGANI don't think we can assume that nuclear weapons are the solution to our problems. And again, just let me finish with this. In the Cold War, we came awfully close sometimes, a lot closer than we might want to imagine, not just the Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin crisis. I've run across quotations from some of our greatest leaders like George C. Marshall saying, the Soviets need to know that we will use nuclear weapons against them. And so I think it's a very dangerous bet to think that nuclear weapons are going to save us.
REHMRobert Kagan. His new book is titled "The World America Made." He is senior advisor to Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's take a caller here in Washington, D.C. Tenzian (sp?) , you're on the air.
TENZIANThanks, Diane, for taking my call. My question is actually in regards to and response to a previous question. Mr. Kagan mentions that China has -- had invaded Vietnam and India. But I wanted to actually bring up the issue of Tibet, which is ongoing right now. China invaded Tibet in 1959, still remains occupied, a lot of political unrest, a lot of recent cases of self immolation. And I think Tibet plays a major role in a more peaceful Asia because of its strategic location, a major water source for the whole continent and natural resources.
TENZIANSo and it still remains one of the major unreported stories in the world today. So what do you have to say to that and do you think America should maybe step up in its support for Tibet and Tibetans?
KAGANWell, I think the caller makes an excellent point and I'm glad that she raised Tibet because the way China treats Tibet tells us something about what kind of great power China is and would be. Here is a situation where, as the caller notes, the Tibetan people are a peaceful people. They are no threat to the Chinese but the Chinese behavior toward Tibet for many years, and increasingly in recent years, has been absolutely brutal, which is leading to these tragic self immolations that we're seeing.
KAGANI think the kind of China we want to see emerge in the world is one that doesn't have this kind of nationalist sense that they want to stamp out even an autonomous Tibetan people's culture. They're trying to replace the Dalai Lama with their own Dalai Lama. And so I do think the United States and the rest of the world should step up, not only because we want to help the Tibetan people but because the kind of China that we want to see get stronger is a China that doesn't treat people the way it's treating the Tibetan people right now.
REHMIt's fascinating that you use the fable of the Frog and the Scorpion in your book. Tell us that fable.
KAGANYeah, I don't know how many people remember this. I think it's probably from Aesop or somebody like that, right?
KAGANIt's the story of the -- a scorpion comes to a frog at a stream and says, take me across the stream. The frog says, I don't know if I can trust you. You're, you know, you're going to sting me. He says, I'm not going to sting you. If I sting you, we'll both die. So the frog says okay. The scorpion climbs on the frog's back, they get halfway across the stream and the scorpion stings him. And as the frog is dying and they're both drowning, the frog says, why did you do that? And the scorpion said, because I'm a scorpion. It's my nature.
KAGANSo, you know, I use this parable to discuss the interesting question as to whether China could uphold -- let's say China did become the dominant power in the world, would it uphold the liberal economic international free trade in open market economic system as much as the United States? And before the United States, Great Britain did. And of course, everyone says, well, why would China kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? It's benefitted enormously from this.
KAGANAnd the question I raise is, it's true but the Chinese government demands a high degree of control of their own economy. Even if they had a market system it's kind of a state capitalist system with state dominance. Would they really allow the kind of openness necessary in an international system which might threaten their rule? And so in that sense, they're like the scorpion who -- it's not because they want to destroy the international economic order. It's that it's in their nature to seek control and the control that they seek might destroy that order.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, T.J.
TJGood morning. Diane, I'd like to draw the attention of your guest about his comment he just made, that we, as U.S., made some mistakes in the past for not supporting the democracy and for self interest. I think we are repeatedly, repeatedly making the same mistake over and over. Are we not supporting the monarchy and sheiks, Saudi Arabia and all the Middle East because we want their oil? Where's the democracy in Saudi Arabia -- at least five to ten people.
KAGANAgain, the United States makes many mistakes. It acts hypocritically. We have supported these dictatorships in the Middle East and I think it was a mistake. And I think we're seeing the fruits of that mistake right now. I mean, a lot of the things we're worried about in Egypt where we're seeing the rise of Islamist parties, you know, we, in a sense, brought that on. Mubarak was the one who squeezed out a secular democratic alternative in favor of, in a way, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to flourish.
KAGANBut the question I’m not asking is America perfect. America's far from perfect. The question is, what is the best situation for the world as we go forward? And I think that if you look at this period that we've been living through since World War II and the enormous benefits that have existed in the world, they have rested on the very imperfect but nevertheless important exercise of American influence.
REHMBut what about the rise of economies like Brazil for example?
KAGANYeah, I mean, people talk about the rise of the Brazilian economy, the Turkish economy, the Indian economy and say isn't this diminishing American influence? And my argument is it depends who's rising and how they're rising. You know, during the Cold War when -- in the first ten, twenty years of the Cold War, the United States had 50 percent of the share of global GDP because all the other countries were on their backs. The rise of the rest during the Cold War was the rise of Germany and Japan as economic powerhouses.
KAGANAnd America's share of the GDP was cut from 50 to 25 percent. Was American power brought down by that? I think not. The United States benefitted from the rise of Germany and Japan. I think it benefits from the rise of India, Brazil, Turkey and many other countries.
REHMRobert Kagan. His new book is titled "The World America Made." Thank you for being here.
KAGANIt's been a pleasure. Thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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