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An Email Exchange Between Robert Kagan and Will Hutton

April 3, 2003
Will Hutton : Robert Kagan

April 4, 2003
Will Hutton

April 8, 2003
Robert Kagan

Related Links

))) "Power and Weakness"
by Robert Kagan
This is the widely read article from the June 2002 issue of Policy Review on which Kagan's book, Of Paradise and Power, is based.

))) "The Tragedy of This Unequal Partnership"
by Will Hutton
"It is a political tragedy, Shakespearean in the cruelty of its denouement. ... Blair was confronted with an invidious choice that nobody in the British establishment has wanted to make: Europe or America." [The Observer, March 30, 2003]

))) "Exclusive Interview with Robin Cook"
by Will Hutton and Kamal Ahmed
In his first major interview since resigning from the Blair Cabinet, former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook explains why he had to go, and warns of the dangers ahead for foreign policy. [The Observer, March 23, 2003]


"On major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus," declares Robert Kagan in his widely discussed new book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. "They agree on little and understand one another less and less." First published as a journal article in June 2002, before the Iraq crisis came to dominate trans-Atlantic relations, Kagan's formulation has proven ever more influential as the U.S.-Europe divide over Iraq has grown. On the book's opening page he offers this succinct distillation of his bold, and controversial, argument:

On the all-important question of power -- the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power -- American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and international negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Immanuel Kant's "perpetual peace." Meanwhile, the United States remains mired in history, exercising power in an anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable, and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.

Will Hutton, former editor in chief of the London Observer and author of a forthcoming book entitled A Declaration of Interdependence: Why America Should Join the World, begs to differ. He argues that Europe and America share a great liberal tradition that runs much deeper than the current divide, and that the rift between the U.S. and its European allies over the war in Iraq is really a sharp split between this liberalism and the prevailing neoconservatism of George W. Bush's administration.

Because Kagan appears prominently in FRONTLINE's "Blair's War," and is associated with some of the more influential thinkers behind the Bush administration's foreign policy, we decided to invite him to engage in a two-round email exchange with Hutton. The first round was posted on April 3 and the concluding responses in the days that followed.


photo of hutton

Will Hutton is chief executive of the Work Foundation and a columnist for The Observer in London, where he was formerly editor in chief. His new book, A Declaration of Interdependence: Why America Should Join the World, will be published by W.W. Norton in May.

From: Will Hutton
To: Robert Kagan
Date: April 3, 2003

Every great falsehood needs a half truth to offer it plausibility, and so it is with your characterisation of Europe and America as the mutually uncomprehending universes of Venus and Mars. It is true that the United States spends more on defence and enjoys both technological and firepower superiority over at least the next dozen powers in the world combined -- and that this strength offers options and temptations not available to Europeans. And it is true that Europeans spend less on defence, more on aid, and have evolved a multilateral form of governance of Europe of which they are proud -- and which they believe could be extended to the rest of the world, thus involving inherently more aversion to the use of force to solve problems. So far so good.

But while I think you have brilliantly created your invented worlds of Mars and Venus from these truths, you have dangerously oversimplified reality and so traduced it, curiously obscuring the understanding that you want to promote. Indeed, by offering American conservatives a sobriquet in which they delight, you may have had the unintended consequence of making a bad situation worse. Self-proclaimed Martians, believing in the myth you have helped to construct that America is a contemporary Sparta in defence of democracy, have gone to war in Iraq in circumstances which I believe are unpropitious and threaten to backfire on both our countries. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a passionate believer in the trans-Atlantic alliance and multilateralism alike, has been made to look a chump -- and may even pay the price with his job -- while a stable peace in Iraq will be harder to achieve without a framework of legitimacy.


For what needs to be said as loudly and clearly as possible is that the U.S.A. is a quintessential expression of the European Enlightenment -- hardly surprising in that the country for the first three centuries of its life was peopled largely by European immigrants. Yours is a republic of laws. The majority of Americans are as law-abiding, peaceable, and as horrified by violence as any European. The U.S. has historically been cautious about entering wars, an attitude further entrenched by the experience in Vietnam. Democracies are uneasy about war, pain, mutilation, and loss of life because the imposition of these upon their citizens in arms requires very good reasons -- usually the threat to security by another power. This aversion to war has reflected itself variously in the political necessity of avoiding any sight of body bags for prime time television and rules of military engagement in which air power -- classically B52s dropping their payloads from six miles up -- has been favoured over combat on the ground because it exposes American servicemen and women to less threat of death. One of the reasons for such high defence expenditure and technological superiority is to ensure that as few American lives are lost as possible in combat.

I understand and respect this position. Mainstream America respects law domestically and internationally and is wary of war and its consequences. So it should be, but then this is just like mainstream Europe. Your contention is that some combination of Sept. 11 and American possession of military power has fundamentally changed the DNA of the republic. The American public will be readier to accept losses in Iraq and support the horrors, say, of street by street fighting in Baghdad. It will be readier after the peace to accept the attrition of Iraqi guerrillas and radical Islamic terrorists on American garrisons and supply lines. It is readier to go it alone and shed the shackles of the U.N. process and international legality and legitimacy. It is happy to shoulder the burdens of reconstruction alone. The peace movements that are likely to sweep Europe if the war is protracted will have nothing like the same resonance in America, because the country understands the need for the use of force that Europe does not.

Robert, you will find your contention disproved by the events of the weeks and months ahead. Mainstream Europeans and Americans are hewn from a very similar cultural block and hold very similar values. I can promise you now that American public opinion is no readier to indulge war and violence than that in Europe, and if there are setbacks, victory is slow, or the loss of life excessive, then the peace movement in America will be every bit as vigorous as that in Europe. There has been a curious suspension of reality since Sept. 11, in which even the normal cut and thrust of debate in the U.S. has been characterised as un-American. This will not last for long, even if it deludes some analysts, including yourself, that the Bush administration speaks for America, which in turn is suddenly war-like. This fanciful conceit will eventually be pricked.

American neoconservatism is a very idiosyncratic creed. Its pitiless view of human nature, its refusal to countenance a social contract, its belief in the raw exercise of power -- "full spectrum dominance" -- its attachment to Christian fundamentalism, its attitudes towards abortion and capital punishment, and its deification of liberty of the individual are a mishmash of ideas that have no parallel anywhere. It is an outlier within the Western conservative tradition, and it has taken very special circumstances for it not to be more seriously challenged intellectually, culturally, and politically within America. Without the collapse of American liberalism, the openness of American democracy to the influence of corporate money, and the continuing resentments of the distinct civilisation below the Mason-Dixon line, this neoconservatism would never have come to have the influence it has. Even as it was, half a million more Americans did not vote conservative at the last Presidential election, let alone for the variant that has emerged over the last two years. I draw your attention to this because core attitudes ultimately surface. Indeed, the extravagant, almost comic efforts of the administration to portray what is in effect an Anglo-American coalition as instead an alliance of 30 countries (what role, pray, does Iceland have in Iraq?) shows a recognition of the heartbeat of American public opinion that you do not.

Most Americans, despite the current jingoism, are uneasy about fighting alone and intensely dislike being the object of so much distrust around the world. They would have liked the war to have been genuinely internationalised and seen as legitimate in the eyes of the world -- and they are right. The second U.N. resolution for which Blair fought was critical, despite the insouciance of the U.S. government and its evident desire to fight, which so undermined Blair's efforts. Fighting without it has severely cramped our operation militarily. It will be an imperative, I hope you agree, to internationalise reconstruction both because of its prohibitive cost and to give the exercise legitimacy -- yet we start from a position of having unnecessarily inflamed opinion in Europe and Russia.

One of the remarkable omissions in your book was its lack of understanding of basic economics. The United States has $3 trillion of net liabilities to the rest of the world and runs a current account deficit of 5 per cent of GDP. Mars turns out to have feet of economic clay, dependent upon the rest of the world's willingness to lend it money to support its foreign policy ambitions. I would not exclude a support package for a chronically weak dollar led by Old Europe before the story is over.

For the U.S., despite its military power, operates in a world in which it is interdependent and from which it alike benefits from the rule of law. The Bush doctrine, undermining both and falsely rooted in the notion that Americans are from Mars, is leading America -- and Britain -- into a quagmire. The eventual reaction in the U.S. will be every bit as potent as that in Europe, and we will find -- thankfully -- that there is much more common ground and mutal understanding on which to sustain the international system than you think.


· · ·

photo of kagan

Robert Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and the author of, most recently, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (2003).

From: Robert Kagan
To: Will Hutton
To: April 3, 2003

A couple of quick points in response to your lengthy rant, Will. Your assertions regarding American opinion on the present war, and on war generally, betray ignorance (perhaps, in your defense, it is willful ignorance) of present evidence and past history. Undoubtedly you may prefer your own judgment to any available measurements of public opinion -- you make no reference to any -- but instead of relying on your private assessment of American opinion, our readers may be interested in the measures we do have.

Polls conducted by Gallup and other polling organizations since the war began all show more than 70 percent of Americans favoring the military action in Iraq. These percentages have not budged, moreover, even though the perception of the war's progress has moved from optimism in the early days to pessimism in the past week. As The New York Times reports, support for the war has remained steady at 70 percent despite the fact that public optimism about a quick and successful effort has dropped sharply, from 62 percent to 43 percent.


This phenomenon is consistent with past American attitudes during wartime. Recall that during the Vietnam War support for the conflict remained high for years despite thousands upon thousands of American casualties. The consensus among historians today is that support did not begin to fall until the public became persuaded that the American administrations did not believe victory was possible. Public opinion polls taken immediately after the loss of American lives in Somalia in 1993 did not show a collapse of support for American involvement; again, that came only after the Clinton administration announced its intention to withdraw. Nor did American support for the war in Kosovo wane, even though that war lasted about 70 days longer than was initially promised by American military commanders at the time. Your confident prediction of eroding American support for this war may or may not prove accurate, but it is not supported by history.

On the larger question of the U.S.-European divide, I will leave it to our readers to judge whether the contrast between America, where nearly three-quarters of the public favor the war in Iraq, and Europe, where, except in the U.K., well over three-quarters of the public oppose the war, may suggest a substantial difference in views regarding the use of military power. But I would ask you on what, beyond personal speculation, do you base your claim that "American public opinion is no readier to indulge war and violence than that in Europe"? The polls overwhelmingly suggest otherwise.

I noticed that both in this exchange and in a recent interview with The Boston Globe, you have suggested that Bush does not, in fact, speak for Americans -- that "half a million more Americans" did not vote "conservative" in the last election, and that, "if you could take a poll, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin would be with the French and Germans." Well, the amazing thing is, Will, they can take such polls. I commend to you the poll analysis done by Gallup on March 28. There you can find some information about where the "Gore voters" have come out on the war. (And may I strongly advise that you not travel through the states you mentioned informing the residents that they are "with the French and Germans" on this issue. Outside of Hollywood, Madison, Wisc., and small parts of the Upper West Side, it will not be appreciated.)

Here is the regional breakdown, according to Gallup: in the West, 77 percent support the war; in the Midwest, 73 percent; in the South, 71 percent; and in the East, 66 percent. Suburban Americans support the war by 75 percent; rural Americans, by 75 percent; and urban Americans, by 62 percent. Americans with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 favor the war by 79 percent; Americans with incomes over $50,000, by 77 percent. Americans with postgraduate educations favor the war by 60 percent.

The fact is, no American president ever speaks for all Americans, not Bush today nor FDR during World War II. But on the subject of the Iraq war, Bush speaks for roughly 70 percent of all Americans, no matter where they reside.

The biggest determinant of support for the war turns out, not surprisingly, to be party affiliation. It was the same in Kosovo in 1999, when Democrats overwhelmingly supported Clinton's armed intervention and bombing of Belgrade (with no U.N. Security Council authorization), and Clinton-hating Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it. The rather striking fact today is that a majority of the Bush-hating Democrats nevertheless support Bush on the war: 53 to 44 percent. This is much, much higher than the percentage of Republicans who supported the war in Kosovo.

This Democratic Party support for the war is also reflected in the positions of the leading Democratic presidential candidates. The three top candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2004 -- John Edwards, John Kerry, and Joseph Lieberman -- all voted in favor of military action when the Senate authorized war last fall. The most hawkish Democrats are Edwards, the favorite of the Democratic foreign policy establishment, and Lieberman, who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000.

I'm sure you will want to continue your polemic, Will. But let me conclude here by bringing the readers' attention to two statements recently put out regarding postwar Iraq by a bipartisan group including a number of high-ranking officials from the Clinton administration. The first statement -- signed by Clinton's deputy national security adviser, Jim Steinberg, Clinton's undersecretary of defense, Walter Slocombe, as well as former Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, Clinton assistant secretary of state, Martin Indyk, William Kristol, myself, and many others -- declares that:

Although some of us have disagreed with the administration's handling of Iraq policy and others of us have agreed with it, we all join in supporting the military intervention in Iraq. The aim of UNSC Resolution 1441 was to give the Iraqi government a "final opportunity" to comply with all UN resolutions going back 12 years. The Iraqi government has demonstrably not complied. It is now time to act to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.

The removal of the present Iraqi regime from power will lay the foundation for achieving three vital goals: disarming Iraq of all its weapons of mass destruction stocks and production capabilities; establishing a peaceful, stable, democratic government in Iraq; and contributing to the democratic development of the wider Middle East.

The second statement, with the same signatories, declares:

We write in strong support of efforts by Prime Minister Tony Blair to "get America and Europe working again together as partners and not as rivals." While some seem determined to create an ever deeper divide between the United States and Europe, and others seem indifferent to the long-term survival of the transatlantic partnership, we believe it is essential, even in the midst of war, to begin building a new era of transatlantic cooperation.

International support and participation in the post-Iraq effort would be much easier to achieve if the UN Security Council were to endorse such efforts. The United States should therefore seek passage of a Security Council resolution that endorses the establishment of a civilian administration in Iraq, authorizes the participation of UN relief and reconstruction agencies, welcomes the deployment of a security and stabilization force by NATO allies, and lifts all economic sanctions imposed following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait a decade ago.

Readers wishing to see both statements in their entirety, and the complete list of bipartisan signatories, should do so at the website of the Brookings Institution.

All best,

· · ·

From: Will Hutton
To: Robert Kagan
Date: April 4, 2003

Dear Bob,

Your arguments are pretty thin, and I suspect that there's part of you that wishes you could escape the position you've locked yourself into. For a start, you've not addressed two important aspects of my argument: 1) the difficulty of being an activist military hegemon from Mars fighting pre-emptive wars when the U.S.'s international balance of payments position is so weak and 2) the fact that the USA as a republic of laws, with its Enlightenment Constitution, is fundamentally programmed constitutionally and culturally to want to observe, and to be seen to observe, international law. These are two key drivers which make the U.S. approach more comfortably integrated with that of Europe than you portray. And I stand by my position that in the essentials of attitudes towards violence and war Americans and Europeans are nothing like so far apart as you claim.

You must know that the way you have used poll evidence, on which a large part of your reply is based, is specious. Of course polls taken at the height of a war show support for it; if you polled me now I would register support for British and American troops in Iraq and want a quick victory -- and hope my fellow citizens would do the same. But that doesn't mean that I agreed with going to war in the first place without a second UN resolution before exhausting the weapons inspection process, or that I think that the U.S. (with Britain in its wake) will be wise if it tries to organise post-Saddam Iraq outside the UN framework, or that I think pre-emptive military interventions are going effectively to extend democracy and make the world a safer place. In particular, it does not prove I am from Mars.

I was especially amused by your dissimulation in trying to disprove my observations about core American opinion by quoting my interview with The Boston Globe before the war began. Of course attitudes will vary before and then during a war. When I was speaking, before the war began, an ABC-Washington Post poll had reported that 56 percent of Americans wanted to give the UN more time to find a solution, while a Gallup poll reported that only 39 percent of Americans favoured action in the absence of UN support. It was those kind of results, amongst many other, upon which I based my judgment. I agree the majorities that wanted to give the UN more time were larger in Europe, and the proportions favouring action in the absence of UN support were lower -- but the majorities had the same pattern. Had there been a vote both sides the Atlantic it would have produced the same result. Non-combatants in Europe, inevitably, now have their sceptical view about war entrenched during the hostilities, while we combatants swing behind our men and women in the field -- but if you are relying on that to prove your thesis, I think I can reasonably claim to have won the argument.

Your grandiloquent statement at the end of your letter, of course, dodged the point. We all want the apple pie of civilian Iraqi administration and the motherhood of UN participation in reconstruction and humanitarian aid -- it would be very odd if we didn't. The substantive issue is whether this process should be within the overall authority of the United Nations or the U.S. I find it stunning after all the criticism the UN has received within America that a majority of Americans still want the reconstruction, democratisation and rehabilitation of Iraq to be under the overall control of the UN -- yet more evidence that the American DNA, as I would expect, is closer to the heartbeat of Europe than you begin to recognise. The Programme on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, in a poll conducted during the war, reports that 52 percent of Americans want Iraq administered by the UN afterwards, while 66 per cent feel that America should not use force without UN endorsement. I would call that, in your terms, a "European" response.

I finish where I began. In an era of globalisation we forget our interdependence at our peril, and while this value has little place in the neoconservative scheme of things, it lives on in the core attitudes of the majority of Americans. There is certainly more fearfulness in post- 9/11 America, less debate, and a greater and natural readiness to want to strike back -- but that obscures where the centre of gravity of core American opinion still lies.

You would serve America's interests by recognising these realities rather than creating bigger divides between Europe and America than really exist. It is you neoconservatives who are out of line -- not the rest of us.

All the best,

· · ·

From: Robert Kagan
To: Will Hutton
Date: April 8, 2003

Dear Will,

As the war winds down, I gather it will be necessary for you to shift your arguments a bit. Tony Blair is going to look like a hero. Staunch opponents of dealing with the Saddam Hussein regime such as yourself will have to begin searching for a different angle of attack. As you work on that, let me say that the mere repeating of the term "neoconservative" over and over again is no substitute for an actual argument. For one thing, it is clear from your first intervention that you have no idea what a neoconservative is (you seem to think they are Christian fundamentalists from the South).

You are so insistent that I answer your questions, as if they were the only questions that matter. Such egotism. But alright. No, I do not believe that American foreign policy will bankrupt the nation. You may believe that the American economy cannot sustain a global role. But Paul Kennedy, the inventor of the term "imperial overstretch" and a good deal more rigorous in his analysis than you are, does not. He has stated that the United States is likely to remain the dominant power in the world for a long time to come. The United States spends far less on defense as a proportion of GDP today than it did throughout the Cold War -- another one of those inconvenient facts. The reconstruction of Iraq will not be paid out of exclusively American coffers. Europe will pay a good deal, as will Iraqi oil revenues. In any case, the United States spent a far greater percentage of its wealth on reconstructing Europe and Japan. Your dream of an America cut down to size by the balance of payments deficit will not be realized.

As to Americans and international law, I never claimed that Americans were opposed to international law. That is your absurd caricature of my views. I would urge readers to do what perhaps you have not done -- read the book. It's not long and the arguments are straightforward enough. In the book I explicitly note that Americans and Europeans are children of the same Enlightenment culture and in many respects share the same vision of the ideal international system. The difference comes in their perception of what role military power still must play in the effort to achieve that ideal. I have never claimed that the difference between Europeans and Americans is like that between night and day. There are shades of difference, but they are important. The fact that both Americans and Europeans believe in the rule of law does not make them identical. Even in domestic law, they do not agree on many fundamental questions. For instance, there are the issues of the death penalty and gun control. Is it your contention, Will, that there is no difference of view between Americans and Europeans on those subjects as well?

I am amused at your response to the polling data I presented. I understand that you only want to pay attention to the polls that support your argument and to explain away those polls that do not. But I only brought up the polls in response to a specific prediction that you made. You may recall -- though it seems such a long time ago -- that you were predicting American public opinion would collapse over the course of the war. So I simply pointed out, in response, that public opinion was not falling, even at a time when the war was thought to be going badly. I guess being a polemicist means never having to own up to your own predictions, even when they are almost immediately proven wrong.

I suspect there is much in recent weeks that has surprised you. The rapidity of the Anglo-American victory, the solidity of public support, for both Bush and Blair. The center does hold, after all. I imagine you will soon be focusing on another topic. I wish you the best of luck.




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