Robert Kagan’s new book is making waves.
The Ghost at the Feast: The Collapse of World Order in the 20th Century, published last month, is “a monumental book” and “profoundly relevant,” says Suzanne Maloney, the vice-president of the Brookings Institution, where he wrote it. Historian Paul Kennedy called it “probably the most comprehensive and most impressive recent analysis we have of how America regards the outside world and its own place in it” during the first decades of the 20th century.
This is a new look at America’s rise to world power, and it focuses on the domestic underpinnings of foreign policy. Public opinion matters, and so does Congress, especially on the big questions of war and peace. These factors, combined with America’s geography and economic power are the reasons foreign policy in this country oscillates between internationalism and isolationism.
And that oscillation lulls autocratic foreign powers into underestimating the American response to naked aggression. Hitler did, and so did Japanese leaders in World War II. Neither expected the United States would intervene to prevent the collapse of the liberal world order. The same can be said of Putin when he launched his assault on Ukraine just one year ago.
Dr. Kagan calls this phenomenon “The American Trap.”
His new history supports his contention that America’s best way of relating to the world is less isolationism and more “benevolent hegemony.” Not everyone will agree, but it’s a perspective worth examining.
Robert Kagan is our guest on Feb. 28 at the World Trade Center.
Please join us for what promises to be a lively conversation!
Robert Kagan is the Stephen & Barbara Friedman Senior Fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. One of his previous books was a New York Times bestseller, The World America Made. (Knopf, 2012). He is also the author of The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World (Knopf 2018), Return of History and the End of Dreams (Knopf 2008), Dangerous Nation: America’s Place in the World Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century (Knopf 2006), Of Paradise and Power (Knopf 2003) and A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990 (Free Press, 1996).
For his writings, Politico Magazine named Kagan one of the “Politico 50” in 2016, the “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016.”
He served in the State Department from 1984 to 1988 as a member of the policy planning staff, as principal speechwriter for Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and as deputy for policy in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. He is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and holds a doctorate in American history from American University.