If a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, as Irving Kristol once said, what is a neoconservative who gets mugged yet again? A realist.
So, at least, one might conclude from reading Robert Kagan's The Return of History and the End of Dreams. Over the past two decades, Kagan has emerged as the neoconservative movement's chief foreign policy theorist. The author of numerous opinion pieces and a signatory of manifestoes of the neoconservative organization the Project for the New American Century, he has also written serious books. Notable among them is the 2006 Dangerous Nation, the first volume of an ambitious two-part project that recasts the entire history of American statecraft as an affirmation of neoconservative ideals and aspirations. Yet in this latest rumination on international politics, Kagan largely eschews neoconservative theology and instead sounds themes reminiscent of the great American realists Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr. Kagan once professed to believe that "there is something about realism that runs directly counter to the fundamental principles of American society." But now he deploys realist principles to explain the world.
Or at least most of the world. Amid the great outpouring of recent books on U.S. foreign policy, The Return of History stands out in one particular respect: it all but ignores the ongoing debacle that is the war in Iraq, a war that neoconservatives such as Kagan so passionately supported in 2003. To be fair, neoconservatives did not concoct the war; it was George W. Bush who chose to invade Iraq, and the chief responsibility for all that has ensued since is his. Yet Kagan was among those lobbying for the war, chiding as "nervous nellies" those people who had the temerity to suggest that overthrowing Saddam Hussein might prove unwise. Now, instead of reflecting, forthrightly and with humility, on all that has gone awry since March 2003, the chief foreign policy theorist of the neoconservative movement has chosen to put the war in his rearview mirror. While American
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