NOT A LIE IF YOU BELIEVE IT. Let's return to the subject of Robert Kagan's odd column accusing people who changed their mind about Iraq -- or even, in Al Gore's case, people who didn't change their minds about Iraq -- of dishonesty. Commenting on the article, Eric Alterman, like Jon Chait, was particularly distressed about this because both of them thought of Kagan as a decent, honest exponent of the other side's views. I think this sort of misconstrues the situation. The whole value of reading honest adversaries like Kagan is that you get to see the genuinely ridiculous elements of their worldview. If that business had been in a Hugh Hewitt column, I would just dismiss it as typical partisan propaganda. But that's not Kagan's style -- he must genuinely think that if a person is hawkish about some stuff, or hawkish some of the time, he has a duty to be hawkish about everything, all the time.

Think back to Kagan's book, Of Paradise and Power: America Versus Europe in the New World Order (see also the short version). This is a curious book, with both an interesting and insightful component and an utterly ridiculous one. The valuable element is the observation that American and European views of international relations don't come out of vacuums. Europeans live in countries with relatively weak militaries embedded in a very strong and effective international institution, while Americans have a gigantic military and exercise hegemonic control over our continent. Thus, Americans are inclined to see problems as amenable to resolution through unilateral force, while Europeans are inclined to see them as amenable to resolution through multilateral diplomacy.

But instead of drawing from this the conclusion that Americans and Europeans alike should endeavor to check and correct for our biases, or that these contrasting perspectives are what makes transatlantic cooperation so vital and necessary, or that wise leader should seek to find a compromise position, or any number of reasonable things, he concludes that American biases are always correct and European ones always wrong. This is basically consistent with his apparent belief that it makes no sense to be hawkish sometimes but not other times. I don't think he's smearing Gore or anyone else, I think this is genuinely the view.

--Matthew Yglesias

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