The Jade Monkey

I didn't have a superiority complex until inferior people gave me one.

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Location: San Antonio, Texas, United States

1.13.2005

Power and Weakness

I remember reading, while the debate over the Iraq War was being waged (that is, while the debate over the Iraq War was still being waged, but the war itself was not yet being waged), this excellent article by Robert Kagan (thank you Policy Review), which analyzes very objectively the polarity in American and European worldview and the use of force.

I thought it deserved to be re-read (or read for the first time, if you've not seen it before), as Podhoretz' article brought it back to mind, and I believe it predates the explosion of the blogosphere.

A couple of my favorite paragraphs:

The psychology of weakness is easy enough to understand. A man armed only with a knife may decide that a bear prowling the forest is a tolerable danger, inasmuch as the alternative — hunting the bear armed only with a knife — is actually riskier than lying low and hoping the bear never attacks. The same man armed with a rifle, however, will likely make a different calculation of what constitutes a tolerable risk. Why should he risk being mauled to death if he doesn’t need to?

This perfectly normal human psychology is helping to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe today. Europeans have concluded, reasonably enough, that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is more tolerable for them than the risk of removing him. But Americans, being stronger, have reasonably enough developed a lower threshold of tolerance for Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction, especially after September 11. Europeans like to say that Americans are obsessed with fixing problems, but it is generally true that those with a greater capacity to fix problems are more likely to try to fix them than those who have no such capability. Americans can imagine successfully invading Iraq and toppling Saddam, and therefore more than 70 percent of Americans apparently favor such action. Europeans, not surprisingly, find the prospect both unimaginable and frightening.

and

What this means is that although the United States has played the critical role in bringing Europe into this Kantian paradise, and still plays a key role in making that paradise possible, it cannot enter this paradise itself. It mans the walls but cannot walk through the gate. The United States, with all its vast power, remains stuck in history, left to deal with the Saddams and the ayatollahs, the Kim Jong Ils and the Jiang Zemins, leaving the happy benefits to others.

Read it all.

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