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76 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strongly argued essay against the conventional wisdom regarding 'Declining America'
Kagan's major argument is that all the talk of American decline shows little knowledge and perspective in regard to the various historical situations and realities the United States has been through. `Decline' as he sees it is not an inevitability but a choice and one great danger is that accepting the conventional wisdom regarding America's alleged decline will help...
Published on February 7, 2012 by Shalom Freedman

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38 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The big picture
Some people think the United States spends far too much on its armed forces out of a misguided desire to be the world's policeman. Spend half as much, eliminate most of the foreign bases, bring our troops home. And guess what - other nations will pick up the slack and life will go on. Meanwhile, we can do some "nation building" in this country.

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Published on February 13, 2012 by William Whipple III


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76 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strongly argued essay against the conventional wisdom regarding 'Declining America', February 7, 2012
This review is from: The World America Made (Hardcover)
Kagan's major argument is that all the talk of American decline shows little knowledge and perspective in regard to the various historical situations and realities the United States has been through. `Decline' as he sees it is not an inevitability but a choice and one great danger is that accepting the conventional wisdom regarding America's alleged decline will help promote it.
To argue against inevitable U.S. decline Kagan assesses the present situation of the United States and defines it in a different way from most other commentators. He maintains that the United States still has one- quarter of the world`s GDP- the same figure that it has had over the past three decades. The single great unusual point was after World War Two where it had fifty percent of the world product. Kagan notes that the U.S decline is often compared with the British Empire decline though late nineteeth and early twentieth century Britain had a rapid fall in share of global GDP of a kind the U.S. has never known.
On the military front Kagan argues that the U.S. remains far superior to any potential rival. He notes that it ,contrary to common opinion, has a far smaller percentage of its population serving overseas than it did in the sixties and seventies. He points out that the U.S. has a far superior array of military technologies than any potential rival. This military superiority is vital to the U.S. being the key provider in a more secure and prosperous world. i.e. Kagan's argument is not only that U.S. power is not in decline, it is that U.S. power is beneficial to the peoples of the world, and in fact makes the world- system operate in a far better way than it would were any other power to be its leader. In this Kagan clearly suggests that those who preach U.S. decline are in effect really arguing that there will too be global decline.
Kagan assesses also the relative growth of other potentially rival powers China, India, Russia. He clearly sees China as the major potential rival but also points out its strategic weaknesses in part because it is surrounded by major U.S. allies, who to this point maintain their U.S. alliances.
Kagan also buttresses his argument by pointing to various other periods of great crisis in U.S. history, periods which were also seen in their own time as pointing to inevitable decline. The most recent of these was in the nineteen seventies with the Vietnam War, the high unemployment, the oil crisis. Kagan shows how the United States has proven adaptable in confronting crises, in using its legacy of innovation and freedom to find new ways to contend with new problems. The implication is that just as the United States has contended with previous crises it will find a way to contend with the financial crisis , and social crises it is now facing.
`Decline' as Kagan points out is often measured by pointing to an idealized, romanticized Past which never existed. One of the most interesting parts of the work is his showing how the United States never had an easy time in having its way in the international arena. There have always been failures and difficulties. Kagan says in regard to foreign policy one is like a hitter in baseball, one is successful when one fails seventy percent of the time.
This book does not deny that the United States presently has great problems. It does not even deny the possibility that it may fail in contending with them. But it does make a very strong case that not only is decline not inevitable but if past historical example is precedent the United States will find a way out of the present crisis to new strength, and continue to play its predominant role in the world.
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38 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The big picture, February 13, 2012
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This review is from: The World America Made (Hardcover)
Some people think the United States spends far too much on its armed forces out of a misguided desire to be the world's policeman. Spend half as much, eliminate most of the foreign bases, bring our troops home. And guess what - other nations will pick up the slack and life will go on. Meanwhile, we can do some "nation building" in this country.

This book by a senior analyst at the Brookings Institution paints a different picture. In Robert Kagan's view, US preeminence since the breakup of the USSR has been a good thing for both our country and the world. Among the benefits: continued freedom from major wars, a trend towards democratic governments, and relatively free trade that contributes to global prosperity.

The idea that the US has already begun a decline is mistaken, says the author, and stem from two misperceptions. Aside from the situation immediately after World War II, the US never enjoyed as much power as some people now "remember." Also, recent disappointment with results of the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan and economic reverses have skewed perceptions of the longer-term situation. This country has encountered many setbacks over the years, as in the 1970s with the end of the War in Vietnam and the oil crisis, and come back stronger than ever.

Let there be no mistake, moreover, that the US could reduce its military forces and foster a multi-polar world without adverse consequences. History shows that any world order depends on the existence and if necessary use of military power; the leading nations will not voluntarily subordinate their ambitions to someone else's notion of the greater good. Likely results of US decline would be less democracy in the world, more barriers to trade, and far more risk of major wars. Ergo, the costs involved could far outweigh the potential benefits of slicing defense spending by, say, $100 billion a year.

The World America Made is lucid, easy to read, and studded with telling historical analogies. As to whether mankind has evolved to the point that major wars are unthinkable, for example, consider The Great Illusion by Norman Angell. Published in 1910, this book argued that "wars between great powers would be the height of irrationality" and "neither the people nor the bankers would allow it." World War I broke out only four years later.

I think Kagan's points are well taken. His book deserves to be thoughtfully considered before deciding on proposed cuts in defense spending that would substantially reduce our present military capabilities over time. Maybe we should actually be spending more on defense!

But for those looking for an analysis of how the US military posture needs to evolve in light of current and anticipated conditions around the globe, The World America Made will be a disappointment. Kagan makes no effort to address such details. Had he done so, this book might deserve a higher rating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A World Order Doesn't Just Happen, July 2, 2012
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This review is from: The World America Made (Hardcover)
The core idea underlying Robert Kagan's short book is straightforward: Any world order is dependent, both for its formulation and for its maintenance, on the most powerful state or states of the day. The current world order is largely a creation of postwar American power. Kagan's main question, then, is two-fold. First, is America in decline, as much contemporary commentary suggests? And if it is, can it be supposed that the current economic, ideological, and security order--based on the primacy of liberal democracy and free-trade, free-market economies--would continue if American power or influence were eclipsed? Kagan's answer is no, not because of anything special about America, but simply because any world order is a reflection of its strongest powers. Kagan was a foreign policy adviser to John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, and apparently to Mitt Romney now, but it would be wrong to assume that he is narrowly partisan. Kagan sits on Secretary of State Clinton's Foreign Affairs Policy Board, and President Obama (we are told) has been an eager student of his work. In this book, he is both complimentary and critical of Republican as well as Democratic presidents. He is looking not at any specific policies as much as he is looking at structures. This is not to say that his views are not informed by ideology. Correctly or not, some have identified him with the neoconservative strain in American foreign policy thinking. Whether or not that is accurate (Kagan rejects it), there is certainly an ideology at work in his writings. It is conservative, but it is not constrained by the demands of narrow partisanship.

Early in the book, Kagan nicely captures the ambiguities and ambivalences in the American character and national mythology. For much of the rest of the book, he lays out an expression of the Wilsonian liberal international ideal and its consequences. There is a tension--perhaps uniquely American--at the core of the situation Kagan describes, "the conundrum of power and interest that so bedevils" Americans, as he puts it (p. 94). The tension is between, on the one hand, the desire to maintain a world order that to a large degree suits American interests and reflects American ideals, and a reluctance, on the other hand, to exert American power in defense of that order. Any world order, Kagan maintains, is an "imposition," and will survive only as long as it reflects the interests and values of the most powerful nation and is backed up by that nation's political, economic, and military strength.

In the end, Kagan doesn't buy the arguments about American decline, not because he doesn't recognize the same signs to which others have pointed, but because those signs are neither unprecedented nor necessarily fatal. His primary point, however, really is not about either decline or restoration. It is about a choice that he believes Americans must make: between robust and reliable defense of a world order that they largely created and have maintained to this point, or the hope that in the absence of American leadership, other nations of the world will somehow continue to give assent to a world order to which none of them has the same depth of allegiance. He sees the latter alternative as highly unlikely, and his prescription is therefore clear. Kagan is a fine writer and an astute observer of foreign policy and international affairs, with a particular talent for distilling complex issues into short, intelligent analyses. This book is certainly worth the time it takes to read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Insights of America's Role in the world, April 12, 2012
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Kagan superbly captures an image of a world without the impact of America as a factor in shaping global events of the past. There isn't a day that passes where someone is bashing the United States for it's involvement (or intervention depending on your point of view), which makes this piece incredible refreshing to read the good America has done.
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23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A similar theme exists in an immigrant's recent book, February 7, 2012
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Roger S. Peterson (Rocklin, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The World America Made (Hardcover)
Kagan's book brings a sense of relief in a sea of doubt. A 2011 book by Russian immigrant Alexander Kugushev, titled "Resilient America: An immigrant examines our nation's adaptive continuity," adds another voice to our sense of optimism. Kugushev and his mother first escaped the Nazis and then the Soviets, landing and leaving various countries before settling in America. Kugushev went on to become a prominent college textbook publisher. He knows more about us than we who were born here. I sincerely hope he and Kagan are on to something and keep talking up the bright side. We need it at America's half-time.

Roger S. Peterson
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short But Excellent Overview of American Policy, March 23, 2014
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This review is from: The World America Made (Hardcover)
While this book is short it is pithy. No need for a lot of words to explain a position and give examples for thought. This is the sign of an excellent writer and thinker, and Robert Kagan easily fits the description. In The World America Made Kagan sets forth the concept that the USA is not an evil empire soaking the world with Imperialist ideals. Rather, the USA has spent money and blood to keep the world stable and insure the nurturing of democracy. The fact that since 1945 the world has been stable and productive and grown in economic prosperity beyond belief is proof enough that overall American policy has been correct.

Oddly, as I write this review in March of 2014, the Russians have invaded and conquered Crimea and threaten the Ukraine. At the same time the Russians are expanding their territory by force Red China is pressuring Japan and other nations in its orbit for territorial concessions. As the USA pulls back from its position as the leader of the world we see what the world would have been like -and will be like- as America passes from the world stage. Kagan wrote his book in 2012, but now we can see that he was entirely correct. People have not changed in the post-modern era as progressives suggest. As American power declines the world is becoming a very frightening place.

The present US administration, under Obama, has planned to remove the USA from the role of the world's policeman; however, they are doing this without allowing our allies time to rearm and fill the power vacuum. The way to leave a leadership role is to announce that you are going to pull back in 3 years and tell Germany, France, England, Japan, Australia, the Philippines and others to start protecting themselves. Let them know that they have three years to train and supply an army and navy that can protect them because the USA will no longer be there with the amount of force we have displayed in years past. Then withdraw after three years or so and let the chips fall. This administration is pulling out too quickly to allow our allies to respond effectively.

As Kagan points out so well, when America is gone the era of relative peace and tranquility will evaporate as great power politics return to the balance of power ideology that dominated the world from 1600 to 1945 and resulted in many terrible wars. America, far from being an evil presence in the world, was just the opposite - as world events are now proving.

Kagan's basic premise, that world powers and people have not changed, opposes the concept that people have somehow evolved to a new understanding of one another and we need not worry about a repetition of long past insanity. As a historian I can tell the reader that people indeed have not changed in all of human history. Read Kramer's History Begins At Sumer and learn how people thought 4,000 plus years ago. People have not evolved into a new understanding of anything. Our technology advances but our attitudes and actions do not. Kagan makes this point in spades.

An excellent book and a most necessary read in this time of worldwide change.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars and how all our work can be undone, June 8, 2013
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Kagan does a good job explaining how the US has spread its inflence over the globe. It makes a patriot proud, until Kagan makes the argument that our decline will undo all the changes we now enjoy. China, Russia and others are just not as invested in the same priorities, like human rights, and their rise will see their own agendas pushed to the forefront.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Read about America's Role in the World, December 22, 2012
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This review is from: The World America Made (Hardcover)
Having read in 1988 Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," whose front cover featured an American flag about to fall off a precipice, I was fascinated to see Kagan's title 15 years after Kennedy's book was published. In '87, when Kennedy hit the shelves, the ascendency of Japan to the throne of first among nations was widely-accepted conventional wisdom.

Of course, it didn't happen (or hasn't happened yet) the way Kennedy had predicted. Japan has been mired in economic and social messes of its own, and the U.S. economy, for all its problems, has retained its position of dominance. Kagan argues, while allowing for scenarios under which the current situation could change, that no other nation, including China, is yet in a position to seriously challenge U.S. military dominance and global thought leadership. He examines China's case, discussing the challenges that great power will need to surmount if it will ever truly share world leadership with the U.S.

Kagan survives as a somewhat conservative fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, which should tell you something of the man's stature as a top-rank analyst. He writes with Kennedy in mind; interacting openly with Kennedy's 1980's thesis that America, like all the great powers before it, had bankrupted itself due to projecting its power beyond what could be sustained.

Kagan provides his evidence that since the end of WWII, global geopolitics has been operating in a "Pax Americana" (though he does not use that term) that continues to this day, but that will require continued committment, hard work, and yes - sometimes even a compromising of values in selected cases - in order to be sustained.

Through it all, Kagan maintains a very respectful tone toward those who see the world differently from him. People who are sick and tired of the bombast of radio talk-show hosts will appreciate the calm manner with which he states his case. You get the sense that if Bob Kagan lived in your neighborhood, you wouldn't mind sitting in the corner tavern with him over a beer and letting him talk shop.

The book sometimes falls short with providing enough hard evidence that supports Kagan's thesis. This is more of a conversational book that happens to be written by a scholar, than a scholarly book written to refute other scholarly positions. In fairness to Kagan, his goal (or his publisher's goal) may have been to keep the book to a readable length (they've succeeded) and to engage a more casual readership than just the serious student of geopolitics (again, success). Still, there were perhaps half a dozen occasions where I wanted more evidence from Kagan to support his arguments.

But in the final analysis, Kagan has, I think, written an important book that any American - indeed, any world citizen - who likes to think about history and the "march of nations" ought to read. You may not agree with him, but his suggestions about how the national core values of today's leading nations interact to create the peace or conflict we experience, are worthy to consider.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Strategic Context, September 6, 2012
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Robert Kagan steps back and takes a non-partisan strategic view of the role America has played in the world over the past 60-70 years with a very balanced view. He doesn't overly compliment the US, but explains how very positve we've been in helping the world progress and remain peaceful and ten how disastrous it will be if other more self-interested countries step into that role.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still morning in America (ok, maybe early afternoon), June 2, 2012
This review is from: The World America Made (Hardcover)
In "The World America Made" (149 pages), Robert Kagan, of the Brookings Institution think-tank, puts forth a basic premise: whether American is in decline (as many people believe). Here a couple of interesting quotes from the book:

-- "The Americans are a people rife with potent national myths that both inspire and mislead them. Start with the fact that one of the most powerful, influential and expansive peoples in history still think of themselves as aloof, passive, self-contained, and generally inclined to minding their own business."

-- "By resuscitating the economies of Europe and Janapn [after WW II], the United States strengthened both as bulwarks against the Soviet Union without an excessive commitment of American forces. It was the perfect capitalist solution to a problem that was strategic as well as economic."

-- "Many nations go through protectionist phases during their economic development. The United States certainly did. The problem is that CHina's protectionist phase could coincide with its rise to dominance of the global economy. That WOULD be unprecedented."

-- "Were the United States genuinly to decline, great powers like China, Russia, India and Brazil would quickly become more dominant in their respective regions, and the world would return to something like the miltipolar system of nineteenth-century Europe."

-- "International order is not an evolution; it is an imposition. It is the domination of one vision over another. [...] It will last only as long as those who imposed it retain the capacity to defend it. This is an uncomfortable reality for liberal internationalists."

-- "The United States is not able to get what it wants much of the time. But then it never could. Many of today's impressions about declining American influence are based on a nostalgic falacy, that there ever was a time when the United States could shape the world to suit its desires."

I'm not sure I agree with all or most of the author's premise or ideas, although if the United States as a country isn't on a decline geopolitically, certainly the American people feel like THEY are on a decline (well, 99 percent of them anyway). But the author makes a strong argument that it is still "morning in America". In any event, whether America as a country is declining will not be clear for years to come.

Bottom line, I enjoyed reading this short book quite a bit, as it poses some interesting questions about who we are as a country and as a people (not necessarily the same thing), and where we're going. "The World America Made" is highly recommended!
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The World America Made
The World America Made by Robert Kagan (Hardcover - February 7, 2012)
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