Robert argues that the Atlantic divide is ideological and wider than suspected. America, as the sole global superpower, believes in Hobbesian power politics. It can and will fight, and might means right. Europeans, by contrast, have limited desire to use their limited means: the EU countries combined spend less than half the US does on defence, and the gap is widening. With their successful attempt at unity, Europeans exist in a state of Kantian ‘paradise’.
In other words, Robert Kagan sees America playing Mars to Europe’s Venus. While NATO, or ‘The West’, has all but dissolved as a formal alliance, both sides now play different but complementary roles in the world. Just as Europeans should be grateful to see America take on the responsibility of world policeman after WWII; Americans should respect Europeans’ sensible insistence on multilateralism and its fears of the Hobbesian world.
There is no small amount of implicit condescension here, which will not warm European hearts. Robert offers no criticisms of the effects American imperialism has had; he thus ignores many of the complaints of critics of America. In his conclusion, most of his didacticism is directed at Europeans: they should be more appreciative of the good work that America does. How can they, if no acknowledgement is made of the bad?
This is all the more surprising considering the author, a former official in the State Department, lives in Brussels. He was there during the ‘axis of evil’ speech, and in a recent interview showed sympathy for locals’ horror. His compassion is evident throughout Paradise and Power, but the nuances are missing. Robert points out those modern strategists are informed more by Munich and appeasement than Vietnam, but so too is his own discussion of the inevitability of American militarism. He recognises Kim Jong Il of North Korea as a threat to be met with force. But is he a threat in the 19th century sense, and is military deterrence the only way to negotiate with him?
Worst of all, Europeans are made to seem like innocent children playing merrily in the mud of domestic problems without wondering whether there are nasty strangers about. Europeans’ – and Americans’ – criticism of American foreign policy implicitly appears naive and misguided. It often is, but we could equally apply such adjectives to Vietnam.
If he is to be taken at his own word, Robert Kagan is one of only a few to have attempted to explain and analyse the Atlantic divide. He has done so expertly, but by failing to look more closely at the threat an American juggernaut with memory difficulties presents to the world’s health, he has created a flawed work.