Thursday evening I went to see Fred Kaplan speak. He is a Hutchinson, Kansas, native and stopped in to discuss his latest book, “Daydream Believers,” in which he examines the tactics and policies of this administration and how they affect the war in Iraq.
He said one of the reasons we’re at war is that there is a perception that the world changed after September 11, but that’s not really true. Americans may have changed their view, but the rest of the world did not. The other factor he mentioned is that when the cold war ended, so did a system of order that had been in effect for a long time. New powers were emerging and the Soviet Union was diminishing in power. He says, “what has happened since the cold war is the resumption of history.
That means that a president had a couple of options of how to manage in a new world. 1. Be an imperial power, but we didn’t really have the “money, manpower or stomach” for that. 2. Form alliances.
He said one of the reasons we invaded Iraq is just that we could. “Smart bombs replace the need for large armies, so we didn’t need allies so much.” One of the problems was that we weren’t clear in our goals. As he put it, “It’s one thing to get rid of Saddam. It’s another thing to prevent another Saddam and have real regime change.”
Rumsfeld viewed it as a demonstration of our power to take out Saddam. He had no desire to restore power. He just wanted to win the war. To him that was removing Saddam.
Kaplan said it’s an “example of how these guys paid no attention to history.” He said the view of many in the administration was that “Freedom is a God-given gift” and that if you remove the dictator, freedom will spew forth like a volcano. The problem with this concept is that if you look at history you’ll see it’s completely false. Democracy is not a natural state, just waiting for an opportunity.
“Social and political freedom is very difficult. If it’s inherent, why did it take 1800 centuries for it to come to fruition?” he asked. He went on to say, “Democracy is creating a government that can negotiate how you handle things.” He said, “I think US policy has to have a moral dimension, but it’s one thing to protect democracy, it’s another to fling ourselves into another place to create democracy.”
As for the war, he said, “there are no good options” but he said there is “a lot of political leverage in those troops” and we should be using that to encourage Iraqis to govern themselves. But, he said, “Regardless of who is president, you’re not going to see a total pull out for a long time.”
He said our continual focus on terrorism is only serving to reinforce the ideas a young potetial jihadist might be interested in. Instead of talking about terrorists as if they are small, disjointed bands of people, we keep talking about them as well organized groups that have us scared – something appealing to someone who wants ‘death to America.’ He said, “We’re doing 80% of Osama Bin Laden’s recruiting for him.”
He said the coming years are going to require the president, whoever it is, to “start talking and … make deals and compromises. We have only known life as a superpower and that’s not the way it is anymore. We’re not completely like the British after WWII but close to that.”
He said we have to deal with things as they are and stop pretending. He said when the dollar is no longer the standard currency, we will be in real trouble. “The reason we’re not impoverished is China’s bankers are floating us,” he said, “but they’re diversifying.” He summed it up nicely when he said, “We buy their cheap goods with money they loan us.”
Kaplan has a Ph.D. from MIT and was a foreign policy advisor to Congressman Les Aspin in the 1970s. He has written for the Boston Globe, and won a Pulitzer Prize. He has written for a number of publications, including The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly. He also writes a column for Slate magazine.