Kagan's Essay on Interventionism Not Abstract With Iraq in Crisis

Image: Kagan's Essay on Interventionism Not Abstract With Iraq in Crisis Robert Kagan

Monday, 16 Jun 2014 10:12 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Frustration over President Barack Obama's plans to disengage the United States from Iraq, Syria, and the Middle East is creating a new climate for interventionism, says historian Robert Kagan, whose much-discussed essay last month appears to have been a warning about Iraq's current situation.

In his essay, "Superpowers Don't Get to Retire," printed as a cover story  in The New Republic, Kagan depicted Obama as presiding over an increasingly inward turn that threatens the global order.

With the growing militant insurgency in Iraq, The New York Times reports, Hagan's call for Obama to reassume intervention rather than back away from the country's larger responsibility is becoming more pertinent.

Kagan says it's imperative for the Obama administration to stop the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, and keeping U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria would have helped avert the current crisis.

"It's striking how two policies driven by the same desire to avoid the use of a military power are now converging to create this burgeoning disaster," Kagan has said in an interview.

Kagan comes from a background of people who back the longstanding U.S. policy of intervention, which could help his warnings carry even more weight.

He is married to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, considered one of the nation's toughest diplomats, whose strong words led to an international issue after she cursed the European Union over the Ukrainian crisis.

He's also the son of historian Donald Kagan, considered a neoconservative leader, and his brother is Fred Kagan, a military scholar who worked to conceive the U.S. troop increase in Iraq in 2007.

But Robert Kagan would rather be considered a "liberal interventionist" than a neoconservative, even though that phrase no longer has a sting.

Kagan and his brother describe their viewpoints as bipartisan, a position their father does not share — he called Obama's West Point speech that called for a drawback of outside activity "pathetic" and said of the president that "we should not underestimate the possibility of extraordinary ignorance."

Kagan, though, feels comfortable with presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, saying her future policy, if she is elected president, is "something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that."

Kagan met his wife while working in the Reagan administration, and she says they fell in love "talking about democracy and the role of America in the world."

He now works at the Brookings Institution, while her diplomatic career grew, including a stint as Vice President Dick Cheney's key foreign policy adviser and as an ambassador to NATO.

"It's hard," he said. "We've been living through this world together for almost 30 years, and I don't think there is a huge gap between us."

He says he challenges his wife's answers to him with shouts of "You are giving me talking points! What are you really trying to do?" Meanwhile, Nuland edits his drafts, writing, "We don't care" across pages and "barf" across paragraphs.

She has declined to comment on her husband's critique of her boss or Obama's foreign policy, but admitted nothing leaves their house that "I don't think is worthy of his talents."

The White House, meanwhile, seeks Kagan's perspective, but believes he overlooks the effect of the war in Iraq on the United States.

Kagan believes the possible fall of Baghdad deserves a response from Obama, and says he'd be "delighted to be cosmically wrong" if his opinion of Obama's hope to pull the United States back from intervening is incorrect.

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