The latest crisis in Iraq has brought out into the open the latent lack of comprehension, anger and mistrust that has been growing between the two sides of the Atlantic.
In "Of Paradise and Power" Kagan examines the history of the countries involved -- the United States on one side, and France, England and Germany on the other -- to try to explain their position. Having evolved differently, the United States and "old Europe" now hold different worldviews that threaten to dissolve years of friendship and alliance.
Europeans perceive Americans as cowboys who see the world divided between good and bad, black and white, ever ready for a shootout to solve any problem. Europeans tend to see the world in shades of grey and opt for encouragement and inducement to redress a situation rather than the use of force.
Even liberal Democrats have more in common with Republicans than they have with Europeans. After all, as Kagan points out, the Clinton administration bombed Iraq as well as Afghanistan and the Sudan.
Kagan's argument is that Americans have not changed since their war of independence. They have always viewed themselves as having higher ideals and principles, their democracy being founded on superior bases, "superior not only to those of the corrupt monarchies of 18th and 19th century Europe, but to the ideas that had shaped nations and governments throughout human history."
Americans are so convinced that their system is the best, and their way of life the most desirable, that they are ready to impose it on other people, an "empire of liberty," as Thomas Jefferson put it. Benjamin Franklin once said, "America's cause is the cause of all mankind."
Kagan points out that America has consistently built up its military capabilities while European countries were more willing to spend money on social services like health and education. But, he says, they were able to do that because they relied on American military power to protect them. First with the cold war and the threat of Soviet aggression, and now with the war on "rogue states," America continued to develop new military technology.
The Europeans were content to let the United States spend money on precision-guided munitions, joint-strike operations, and communications and intelligence-gathering with the result that America now feels comfortable in launching attacks from a safe distance, with minimum loss of life, while Europeans balk at going to war.
Europe feels that just as former archenemies Germany and Japan are now peaceful and valuable trading partners, so could Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea be induced to cooperate and move on to peaceful integration. As one French official once told Kagan, "The problem is 'failed states,' not 'rogue states.'"
Europeans advocate that all nations are equal under the law and all must abide by the law, including the United States. This is the root of the problem between the two sides of the Atlantic these days: the fact that America sees itself as above the law. "America's power and its willingness to exercise that power -- unilaterally if necessary -- constitute a threat to Europe's new sense of mission."
Unlike Europe, America is not only ready to go to war, but ready and able to go to war in two different parts of the world. Kagan sees this willingness as a result of its capability, which is why Europe is so intent on using trade and diplomacy instead of force. No country in Europe -- not even all of them put together -- has the capacity to fight a successful war on its own turf, let alone thousands of miles away.
It's a Catch-22 situation: because Europe doesn't have the capacity, it would rather use diplomacy, and because diplomacy worked with post-war Germany, it saw no reason to build up the capacity.
Kagan points out that the rest of Europe was able to use peaceful means because of the presence of American armed forces in Germany. As he says, "The current situation abounds in ironies. Europe's rejection of power politics and its devaluing of military force as a tool of international relations have depended on the presence of American military forces on European soil."
The only people who agree with America on the use of force are the English, and they, in true English fashion, evoke the double standard of the rule of law for themselves, and the rule of force for others.
America is now in the position where it does not really need the approval of Europe to fight what it considers necessary battles to suit its interests and ideals. Whether it is to ensure the flow of oil or the application of democratic ideals, America can go it alone. That, it seems, is what President Bush is preparing to do. Until Europeans are ready to spend more time and effort on their military power, there is precious little they can do to stop him.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the continuous threats of more terrorist activity ensure that most Americans are willing to go on being the world's policemen. "Partly because they are so powerful, they take pride in their nation's military power and their nation's special role in the world." Americans do not seem to believe in the rule of law. At least, not by itself. "Such law as there may be to regulate international behavior, they believe, exists because a power like the United States defends it by force of arms." It is the old cowboy mentality, where the sheriff takes to the streets to ensure order, "as Gary Cooper at high noon."
So what is the solution? How to bring Europe and America to a consensus on how to solve problems like Iraq and North Korea?
According to Kagan, the best thing would be for Europe to allow the United States to go on being the benevolent giant that allows Europeans to carry on living in their post-modern paradise. "It would be better still if Europeans could move beyond fear and anger at the rogue colossus and remember, again, the vital necessity of having a strong, even predominant America -- for the world and especially for Europe. It would seem to be an acceptable price to pay for paradise."
A naïve, perhaps, and even arrogant position? Well, that's what Europeans think of Americans anyway. You may not agree with Kagan's opinions, but he presents the facts in a remarkably clear and concise manner, and often presents arguments difficult to dispute.
He is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he is director of the U.S. Leadership Project. Kagan served in the State Department from 1984-1988, and also writes a column for the Washington Post. "Of Paradise and Power" is an essay that should be required reading in these difficult times.
("Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order," by Robert Kagan, Knopf, 103 pages, $18.00)