A very intelligent critique of Robert Kaplan...

...has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review (via Antiwar.com).
Euphorias of Perrier: The Case Against Robert D. Kaplan by Tom Bissell. He certainly makes a good point here:
How to deal with this fractious world is Kaplan’s great question. Some years ago, he has written, after a conference where “intellectuals held forth about the moral responsibility of the United States in the Balkans,” he took a cab back to the airport and was asked by the cabbie, “If there’s no oil there, what’s in it for us?” This was, Kaplan says, “a question none of the intellectuals had answered.” And shame on them, because “thousands of words and a shelf of books in recent years about our moral interest in the region do not add up to one sentence of national interest. . . . It is only from bottom-line summaries that clear-cut policy emerges, not from academic deconstruction.” Kaplan once believed that something called “amoral self-interest” should be the defining aspect of American foreign policy. His hope for the Clinton administration was that it could “condense” a justification for Balkan intervention “into folksy shorthand,” because “speaking and writing for an elite audience is not enough.” Robert D. Kaplan, meet George W. Bush. The writer who could once argue that “the world is too vast and its problems too complicated for it to be stabilized by American authority,” has found his leader in a man who in the 2000 presidential debates proclaimed that the job of the military was “to fight and win war,” not toil as “nation builders.” Kaplan is said to have briefed President Bush in 2001, and today finds these protean gentlemen in a surlier and far more interventionist mood. They have fused an apparent personal fondness for strutting machismo with a fetishized idea of simplicity’s value. Both have willed into unsteady reality extremely forced senses of personal identification with the common American, whose drooling need for that which is clear and cut trumps all other moral and political considerations. Bush has gone from an isolationist to an interventionist minus the crucial intermediary stage wherein he actually became interested in other places. Kaplan has traveled from the belief that America should only “insert troops where overwhelming moral considerations crosshatch with strategic ones” to arguing that “September 11 had given the U.S. military the justification to go out scouting for trouble, and at the same time to do some good,” seemingly without understanding that he has even changed. Doubtless both men would sit any skeptic down and soberly explain that September 11 changed everything. What September 11 changed, however, was not the world itself but their understanding of America’s role in the world. For President Bush and Robert D. Kaplan, September 11 primarily means never having to say you’re sorry.

Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the extension of politics by other means. Bush and Kaplan, on the other hand, appear to advocate war as cultural politics by other means. This has resulted in a collision of second-rate minds with third-rate policies. While one man attempts to make the world as simple as he is able to comprehend it, the other whispers in his various adjutants’ ears that they are on the side of History itself.


Anonymous said…
Kaplan's a fine writer - it's too bad he has those views. But your point about Bush and Kaplan's view of war as cultural politics is an interesting one - Some of the Bush apologists slip now and then and reveal that as their primary concern - about how they think it is beneficial at home. They do not write that way as much because it is impolitic, but if you go back and read some of what they were writing a few years ago about 'greatness' etc.

Also - if you listened to many of the gung ho republicans during the 'debate' last week about Iraq - Nothing they said made sense if you were concerned about fighting terrorist groups, which is what the war on 'terror' is ostensibily about. But - if you listened closely, you would have noticed that their true anger was not directed at anyone in the mid-east - but at the "cut and run" liberals, media, and Dems at home who like nothing more than stabbing simple 'ol Bush country in the back. They sounded like the war on Iraq was war against Dems by other means - That's their real ire - the idea that they would want to sacrifice lives in Iraq for some noble goal makes no sense, unless you factor in what they really care about not liking at home
Anonymous said…
"after a conference ... he took a cab back to the airport and was asked by the cabbie, “If there’s no oil there, what’s in it for us?” This was, Kaplan says, “a question none of the intellectuals had answered.”

LOL - Who has better cab drivers when vistiting trouble foreign lands, Kaplan or T. Friedman?

Have you ever noticed that T. Friedman always has a wise cab driver when he visits foreign (especially Muslim) counries. These cab drivers always ask the same questions Charlie Rose asks. Often they address Friedman as, "Mr. Tom ... "

Maybe the solution to what ails these nations is for Bob Kaplan to get together with Tom Friedman and the both of them should contact every cab driver they have ever had (since they quote them,no doubt, they have a record of their names) and stage a Dispatchers Rebellion.
Thanks to the two anonymous. Yep, Bush and Kaplan are, to use David Brooks' terms, "populist nationalists." And those cab drivers..Its' supposed to be your native with the folksy wisdom to demonstrate that our Man in Kaqistan meets not only with the members of the elites but with "real" people.
Anonymous said…
It's always a cab driver - it's never anyone you can check. Needed" a new schtick! The cab driver quotes are too often phrased in a way that makes the writer look good, the writers pov correct, etc. LOL
Curzon said…
"Very intelligent"? Did you even read Bissell's article? It's a cheap rhetorical trick to try and undermine ideas and ndividuals with which a critic disagrees by resorting to insults. Kaplan's writing, being so fundamentally controversial (democracy isn't necessarily good; America is an Empire and that's a good thing; colonialism had great benefits) is a frequent target of such tactics. Yet that all Bissell could manage in his 8,000+ "critique" was a bitch-fest is more a testament to how good Kaplan is than anything else.

More on this here.
Anonymous said…
Kaplan's just another Jew who wants the USA to police Iraq in order to make the Mideast safe for Israel.

See, if it's Kosovo or North Korea, they're not too close to Israel, so it's OK if the US pursues American national interests in those places far from Israel.

-- David Davenport

-- david.davenport.1@netzero.com
Edmund said…
Here, I don't really believe this will work.
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