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The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World Hardcover – September 18, 2018
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"[I]t is time to say it: I am a Kaganite… There is no modern author who has taught me more, or changed the way I view the world more, than he has… For identifying and clearly explaining the chief forces driving human history, Bob is brilliant."
—Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings
"[S]o important… In clear and forceful language, [The Jungle Grows Back] makes the case for America continuing its role as the guarantor of a liberal world order."
—Eli Lake, Bloomberg
"[Kagan] has in many ways become the biographer of American power… He brings to the page a true sense of the stakes involved—not some abstract notion of the 'rules-based order,' but the basic security and prosperity of Americans."
"The Jungle Grows Back displays the characteristic Kagan virtues of lucid writing and thought—and a strong sense of history that adds drama and sweep to his argument."
—Gideon Rachman, The Financial Times
"This short book is a valuable read and makes a valiant effort to argue for America’s continued deep engagement in the world… The world order is not natural; it needed to be built and it needs to be carefully maintained."
—Doug Stokes, Quillette
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Kagan warns that American listlessness in foreign policy risks letting what he calls "the Liberal Order" that has made the Postwar world so incredibly prosperous and peaceful -- his "garden" -- disappear into an encroaching jungle of repression and war. He (rightly, in my opinion) argues that such a brutish and nasty world is the historic norm. He also argues (again, I would say rightly) and American firepower has, until now, tended the garden and caused it to flower. Like the Pax Romana, or that period during which Britannia ruled the seas, America's enlightened self-interest more or less has kept the peace at gunpoint. Good for us and good for the world and let's have more of it!
Paul Kennedy, on the other hand, warned us years ago in his "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers" that "imperial overstretch" is what did in prior great empires. A desire to police everything, everywhere inevitably weakened and demoralized the policemen. Great powers, that is, commit suicide by stretching themselves too thin and engaging too often in armed intervention.
The two views cannot be reconciled. In the aftermath of the Vietnam debacle it was Kennedy who seemed like a prophet for our time. But, since the election of Mr. Trump as president, more and more pundits urge that the USA stay active (nosy?) throughout the world and so commit the world to individual rights, "whirrled peas," unfettered international trade and . . . well, you know. (Just read Paul Klugman -- if you can stand to do so.)
Kagan argues like one of the long-forgotten Empire Loyalists, a tweedy group of English, chiefly led by former colonels in the British indian Army, who argued in the last century that the British Empire was a boon and blessing to humanity (who else would have put an end to suttee?) and that world peace and prosperity depended on a strong, vigorous and assertive England. Turns out they were right.
England's problem was that it just no longer had the horses to do the job. The Great British Public seemed not to give a hoot about the Empire, battleships are damned expensive and the international climate of opinion (typlified by FDR) scorned imperialism. So, by 1938 the British battle-line was a creaking collection of rusty tea-kettles while Alf and Mrs. Alf wanted peace at any price. We know what followed.
Kagan makes a good argument -- for the Past. But, it is not 1946, the American people are not boundlessly optimistic any longer (thanks, in large part, to academics like Kagan with their inherent anti-Americanism) and the nation is more divided against itself than at any time since the lead-up to Civil War.
America has relatively reduced economic and military power --- but you would hardly know that from reading "The Jungle Grows Back." Patriotism has long since been condemned as a failing of the "Rednecks" ("America was really never that great" -- Gov. Cuomo) and Vietnam and Iraq sobered us all up about other people's fights.
I remember America of the immediate Postwar. It had unrivaled economic strength (no more!) and a sense of mission. Now, some public schools will not even let classes say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. Everything Kagan writes about the Past is true -- but it does not apply to the Future.
America is a deeply divided nation in slow relative decline. Its people increasingly are divided into mutually hostile identities and cynicism is the order of the day.
Kagan's tribute to the America of FDR, HST, Ike, Acheson, Dulles, Marshall . . . and all the other great figures of the 20th Century is touching and, if you are my age, it breaks one's heart. But, today's America cannot even decide the difference between a boy and a girl for itself -- it's not about to lead a new Great Crusade.
Sic transit gloria.