Robert Kagan warns us about global authoritarianism:
“Of all the geopolitical transformations confronting the liberal democratic world these days, the one for which we are least prepared is the ideological and strategic resurgence of authoritarianism.“
We are not used to thinking of authoritarianism as a distinct worldview because it isn’t one.
There is no one ideology that binds them together.
Treating all authoritarian regimes as part of the same global threat lumps illiberal and majoritarian democracies together with kleptocracies, communist dictatorships, and absolute monarchies.
That exaggerates the danger that these regimes pose, and it tries to invent a Cold War-like division between rival camps that doesn’t really exist. If the U.S. treats these states as if they are all in league with one another, it will tend to drive together states that would otherwise remain at odds and keep each other at arm’s length.
Kagan’s preferred foreign policy requires that there is some global “ideological confrontation” for the U.S. to be engaged in. If there isn’t one, it has to be invented. His account of the history of the 20th century shows how determined he is to see international politics in terms of grand ideological battles even when there wasn’t one.
Kagan’s analysis suffers from the problem of mirror-imaging that always plagues ideologues. He assumes that everyone sees the world in starkly ideological categories just as he does, and he thinks that other actors are just as determined to export their ideology as he is. His entire worldview depends on linking great power competition with larger ideological causes, and for almost thirty years there has been no such “ideological confrontation” for Kagan to theorize about. Despite Kagan’s insistence to the contrary, there still isn’t.
He wants the U.S. to take a more confrontational approach to dealing with Russia and China, and in order to sell that today he has to dress it up as something more than the destructive and costly pursuit of hegemony that he has been pushing for decades.
The U.S. has spent the last twenty years fighting wars that Kagan and other like-minded interventionists advocated for and endorsed. We shouldn’t make the same mistake again when the stakes are even higher.
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