Monday, December 06, 2004

Force Issues

Francis Fukuyama reviews "Free World: America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West" by Timothy Garton Ash, in which Ash continues his response to Robert Kagan’s "Of Paradise and Power" (2003), "which famously argues that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus" [Fukuyama]

In Free World, Ash continues his critique of Kagan by laying out a systematic account of why he believes the trans-Atlantic rift is not permanent or necessary, and how the “free world” that we used to celebrate in the days of the cold war might be restored.

Fukuyama, while impressed, is not convinced. The review, in the current "Commentary," ranges over many topics but focuses, naturally, on the matter of military force and its use in the world.

Ash’s rendition of these differences is honest and for the most part thorough, although he would have done well to pay closer attention to Kagan’s insight concerning the uses of military power. In the American national story, force has been employed repeatedly to achieve ends that are ultimately interpreted as morally redemptive. This is especially true in the case of the Civil War, World War II, and the cold war. By contrast, much of present-day European consciousness is still shaped by the senseless slaughter of World War I and, in Germany, by the Nazi debacle. Thus, in the decades after 1945, the Germans sought to reclaim their moral standing by, as it were, unloading their sovereignty onto a host of international institutions and by turning their children into pacifists. Since this was a transformation we applauded, it should not surprise us that Germans now denounce the American strategy of preemptive war.

There's much more, and it's lucid and concise (unlike the big ramble in the Sunday NYT magazine about Islamic democracy, which could have been half as long and twice as informative).