Commentary Magazine


Author Speaks to America’s Resilience

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution has written a short, thoughtful book, The World America Made, which he discussed in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.

Kagan argues that America remains–contrary to common perception–in very strong shape vis-à-vis the rest of the world, and he explains why. But he warns that we can “talk ourselves into decline” by indulging the misplaced perception that we are in decline. And if that were to happen, it would have very bad consequences for the world order America helped to create and has maintained, at an admittedly high cost.

Kagan is no Pollyanna; he recognizes the crises we face (especially on the fiscal side of things). But he provides a nuanced perspective, reminding Rose of past challenges. (There is a tendency in every generation, I think, to assume the problems we confront are unprecedented and more difficult than anything that came before, which is for the most part sheer nonsense.) Kagan also speaks to America’s remarkable resilience and some of the unique advantages we still have (including the fact that we face no great power threat in our own hemisphere); the damage of deep defense cuts; the dangers and possibilities of the so-called Arab Spring; and why he considers the right sensibilities to be even more important than experience when it comes to selecting a president.

America is, and has always been, a conflicted, even schizophrenic, nation when it comes to its role in the world. The president, Kagan argues, needs to push back against the sentiments for withdrawal and isolation that periodically arise in the United States. We retain, after all, the capacity to shape the world and bend events in the direction of justice. That’s a heavy burden, but a noble one, too.

The World America Made is a useful antidote to talk of an inevitable American decline; and it’s a good reminder why Bob Kagan remains one of America’s finest foreign policy minds.