Book focuses on world’s stabilityPublished 10:01am Wednesday, October 24, 2012
by Chuck Lilley
“American ambassador to Libya recently murdered by terrorists in Benghazi.” “Muslim Brotherhood wins control of power in Egypt.” “The debt of the United States increasingly financed by China.”
These headline events have recently led many to question the importance of American global leadership and to underscore the notion of a decline.
The merits of our global leadership and contrary evidence to impending decline are provided within historian Robert Kagan’s most recent effort, “The World America Made.”
At a scant 149 pages, the short novel mirrors a lengthy essay from which the author reasons that despite short-term global upheavals, American leadership has provided stability on the world stage, is central to maintaining international world order and is arguably not in decline.
Kagan, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, acknowledges that maintenance of an international world order requires an imposition, not an evolution of free markets and democratic principles that at times must be defended militarily.
He expresses concerns that complacency could usher in a diminished future role for the United States similar to the decline in world orders that were established in ancient Greece, Rome and Great Britain.
Through a series of logical questions, he then challenges the reader to imagine a world without American leadership and speculate how such a void would be filled.
The short novel is filled with historical illustrations of the ebb and flow between free people and autocracies. One example began in 1848 when virtually all of the autocratic crown prince’s of Europe were briefly toppled by a series of democratic revolutions, “the springtime of peoples.”
The revolts were not supported militarily by a complacent Great Britain and France, and as a result, were suppressed by militaristic Prussia and Russia. Kagan postulates that Europe missed a unique moment to become less autocratic, but unfortunately the balance of power did not favor democracies at that time.
Conversely with the United States playing an assertive, central role in an international world order, the number of world-wide democracies increased from five immediately preceding World War II, to currently just over 120.
The author credits Great Britain through the British Empire for establishing the free market economy framework that is the heart of the current world order. He notes that the United States has supplanted Britain as central to free markets.
Kagan opines that free market economies are historically extremely rare, imperfect, but have raised global living standards more than any previous economic system. He provides evidence that a powerful naval presence has been required to successfully insure such a framework.
Kagan explodes the myth found within many history texts that depict America as isolationistic. Rather, he portrays the history of the United States as highly expansionistic. Nevertheless foreign policy and government officials (Kagan’s spouse is a career State Department official) and most citizens are routinely surprised when any offense is taken to our decree of “exceptionalism.”
These individuals assume that the special ideal our founding fathers fought to establish has universal appeal. Kagan offers that we must heighten our national sensitivities in appreciation of the rich histories and corresponding abundant pride of other countries.
Despite this national shortcoming, Kagan argues that without American power, world history illustrates that international order will quickly give way to autocratic rule.
The appeal of Kagan’s novel lies within his powerful logic, and within his optimistic tone. His is an unfailing optimism that is consistent with the enduring spirit of the American people.
Additional recommended reading concerned with the role of American global leadership since World War II are columnist Thomas Friedman’s “That Used to be Us” and political scientist George Friedman’s “The Next Decade.”
CHUCK LILLEY of Franklin is a retired corporate manager. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.