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Peace is decadent, apparently

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11 November 2009 09:20

Judah at World Politics Review is kind to praise Hugh White's piece as 'the most insightful thing I've read so far on the fall of the Berlin Wall'. Allow me, in turn, to nominate this Robert Kaplan piece as the least insightful (h/t Yglesias):

The end of the Cold War was not just a culmination of the Long European War that began in 1914, but also a new beginning that allowed us to direct our energies towards liberating societies further eastward. It’s a struggle we’ve devoted ourselves to for a while now, and we’re fairly far along with it: the European Union is now struggling to incorporate Serbia, and we are trying to salvage something noble from Iraq and seek peaceful regime change in Iran.

But America is much too alone in taking on this work. Europe, having been liberated from nuclear terror at the conclusion of the Cold War, proved unable to muster the gumption to deal with Yugoslavia on its own, or, as the case of Afghanistan shows, to demonstrate much enthusiasm for any great collective effort. Which leads to the question: What does the European Union truly stand for besides a cradle-to-grave social welfare system? For without something to struggle for, there can be no civil society—only decadence.

Note that the 'struggles' Kaplan has in mind are mostly military in nature, so what he's really saying is that the European Union is too reluctant to go to war. In turn, what he shows contempt for — what he dismisses as mere 'decadence' — is a different kind of struggle, the decades-long struggle by European states to build democratic, just and prosperous societies that reward individual effort and still protect the weak.

As Hugh pointed out yesterday, the absorption of large portions of eastern Europe into that democratic and capitalist embrace after the fall of the Berlin Wall was a triumph. It is bizarrely ahistorical for Kaplan to dismiss that achievement and complain that Europe is insufficiently warlike.

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