Robert Kagan's Premature and Wrongheaded Decision to Endorse Clinton

Writing in the Washington Post, foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan announced that he is through with the Republican Party.  He has washed his hands of them. They got what they deserve, because they have created a "Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker." As a "former Republican" he is throwing his support to Hillary Clinton for both the Democratic nomination and then the presidency. His column is undoubtedly making waves inside the Beltway.

For many years Kagan was a staple in the broad neo-conservative community. He was a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, but now the only Kagan on their list is his brother, Frederick, who also works on foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Robert also was a founding member with Bill Kristol and Dan Senor of the Foreign Policy Initiative, where he remains on its Board of Directors.

The anti-interventionist paleo-conservative historian Andrew Bacevich characterized him as “the chief neo-conservative foreign policy theorist.” In 2008, the British Guardian ran a profile of Kagan, claiming that for “large sections of the left, Kagan has been blamed for many things, prominent among them being one of the intellectual authors and cheerleaders for the US-led war in Iraq.” But even then, it appears that he was having trouble being pigeonholed; the author of the piece observed that he is “uncomfortable” with the title “neocon” and “insists he is 'liberal' and 'progressive' in a distinctly American tradition.” Now Kagan has freed himself to join Hillary in the ranks of progressives who get things done.

In May of 2014, writing in the New Republic, Kagan had a cover story titled “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.” It was an important critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. In it he outlined what he called the “cracking” and perhaps “collapsing” of the old world order established at the end of World War II when American leadership predominated, helped to keep the world stable, and prevented the Soviet empire from spreading into Western Europe. He was unhappy that Obama and the American public were retreating from the belief that the United States had a “global responsibility” to stay strong and lead the world, writing that:

Unless Americans can be led back to an understanding of their enlightened self-interest, to see again how their fate is entangled with that of the world, then the prospects for a peaceful twenty-first century in which Americans and American principles can thrive will be bleak.

It was a powerful essay. After a forum where he discussed his article, I asked him if he thought it would have any influence on the president. He replied that he hoped so, but he doubted it. He was right to have that fear.

The New York  Times ran a feature story about the article, noting Kagan’s hope that it might spark an “interventionist revival.” Kagan’s article was read at the White House, and soon after Obama gave a speech at West Point in which the president presented a “narrower vision for American force in world affairs.” Obama’s speech confirmed to many observers that this was the president’s rebuttal to Kagan.

The article’s author, Jason Horowitz, also noted that Kagan referred to himself as a “liberal interventionist.”

The article also gave us a hint of Kagan’s relationship with Hillary Clinton, so that it should come as no surprise that today, he would publicly endorse her for president. In 2014, he saw her as a “vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes.” It also revealed that Kagan served with a group of bipartisan foreign policy intellectuals who advised her at the State Department, where his wife Victoria Nuland worked under Clinton as an assistant secretary of state. As for Clinton, he told the Times, “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy.”

The Times immediately followed up with another article by the editor of The National Interest, Jacob Heilbrunn, a fierce opponent of neo-conservatives and interventionism. He said Kagan and Secretary of State Clinton would be a perfect fit:

Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iraq war; supported sending arms to Syrian rebels’ likened Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to Adolf Hitler; wholeheartedly backs Israel; and stresses the importance of promoting democracy.