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Robert Kagan and Muslim Democracy

February 9th, 2012 - 7:13 am

Robert Kagan’s new book, The World America Made, argues with a straight face that an anti-American Egypt is good for the United States, as long as it is democratic. This remarkable assertion encapsulates the trouble with most foreign policy thinking on the right wing of American politics.  I review the book today at Tablet Magazine; in a nutshell:  ”Kagan’s purpose  in defending U.S. foreign-policy activism here is to deflect criticism of America’s unpopular engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is no easy task, and to perform it, Kagan adopts the two-stage approach to persuasion made famous by Prof. Harold Hill in The Music Man: Establish first that there is trouble in River City, and then propose a solution, namely a marching band. Kagan also offers a marching band, but with 40 divisions behind it.”

Hardest to fathom is Kagan’s enduring faith in the efficacy of Muslim democracy. He writes:

The inevitable victory of Islamist parties in some Arab states will probably bring governments to power that are less accommodating to some American interests than the previous dictatorships had been….Americans’ enduring interest in a liberal world order generally transcends other, more narrow and temporary interests. The United States can lose an Egyptian ally but still gain a healthier world order.

Like many of his colleagues in the conservative foreign policy establishment, Kagan believes that the democratic process must lead to desirable content, no matter who is voting or for what reason. He believes that “devout Muslims” are the key to democracy in the Muslim world, and that the democratization of the Arab world will inaugurate a new “fourth wave” of democracy around the world. As I observe in the Tablet review:

In 2004, Kagan lauded in the New York Times the “small but growing movement among scholars of Islam, a group diverse enough to include Gilles Kepel of France and [fellowWeekly Standard contributor] Reuel Marc Gerecht of the United States, that believes the real promise of democracy lies with devout Muslims.” And he continues to believe that the world revolves around the prospects for Muslim democracy. After the second great wave of democracy that followed World War II, and a third wave from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, Kagan writes:

it is possible that in the Arab Spring we are seeing a continuation of the Third Wave, or perhaps even a fourth. The explosion of democracy is about to enter a fifth straight decade, the longest and broadest such expansion in history.

He has no illusions that Muslim democracy, should it materialize, will be friendly to America:

Americans, having helped topple dictators in the Middle East, are not sure how they feel about what may follow. The inevitable victory of Islamist parties in some Arab states will probably bring governments to power that are less accommodating to some American interests than the previous dictatorships had been.

But Kagan thinks this is a good thing rather than a bad thing: “Americans’ enduring interest in a liberal world order generally transcends other, more narrow and temporary interests. The United States can lose an Egyptian ally but still gain a healthier world order.” Indeed, he lauds the Obama Administration for helping to topple erstwhile Arab allies: “America found itself withdrawing support from longtime allies like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. … American power became a decisive factor shaping the regional and international environment in which the Arab political turmoil unfolded.”

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