Expert: "Price of Not Doing Anything in Syria is High"

February 14, 2012

This morning on "Fox and Friends":

ANCHOR: Robert Kagan, who is the author of this book, The World America Made, and he joins us right now. Bob, welcome.

BOB KAGAN: Thanks for having me.

ANCHOR: So the president says we’re not in decline. Is that the theme of your book?  That, you know, the word of our decline is much overrated?

KAGAN: Yes, I think the United States currently remains very powerful and in some respects as powerful as it’s ever been. However, the point I make in my book is we could head into decline if we choose that direction, if we cut our defense budget too much, if we withdraw from the world, and the world becomes a more dangerous place.

ANCHOR: What does the world look like without America in the lead?

KAGAN: It looks like it did before the United States was in the lead. You can think of what the first half of the 20th century looked like. Wars between great powers, something the United States has been able to prevent over the past six decades. A breakdown of the international economic system, which American power and American interest has upheld since the end of the second world war, and a retreat of democracy around the world.

ANCHOR: That has not taken place, where we’ve had a virtual decade of smaller wars, not bigger wars like the ones we’ve experienced. But you see trends that are disturbing. The military budget getting cut and also in Libya where we’re not taking the initiative, having been pushed there by Europe and not doing anything in Syria.  Does that bother you?

KAGAN: It bothers me and, of course, the price of not doing anything in Syria is high. Syria is a key ally of Iran. It’s not only a humanitarian issue but a strategic issue, and I think the United States does have to play a leadership role in that situation. It becomes harder when we’re cutting the defense budget to the bone and beyond.

ANCHOR: When Russia and China say I don’t care about any U.N. sanctions, I’m going to ignore what the U.S. wants; when India says I'm still going to trade with Iran, and I’m going to ignore what the U.S. wants.  That’s a trend that many people think is the other side of the issue, that we’re in decline and not as feared we once were.

KAGAN: My concern is that we not make decline a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think we have the capacity to lead and the capacity to push back on the Russians and Chinese now as long as we understand that we do. If we start cutting back on our abilities and start believing that we’re in decline, we can actually make it true. But right now, we’re still in a position to be able to shape the world if we choose to.

ANCHOR: We took over for Britain as a world leader in capitalist principles. A lot of people think China is going to take it from us. There’s a problem with that.

KAGAN: China faces a lot of challenges. There are domestic challenges, obviously--they have a lot of people to feed and move into the middle class. They also face strategic challenges. They face powerful allies of the United States surrounding them.  Japan, India, Australia, Korea, and others. Nevertheless, if we do retract our power, China will become the regional dominant power with great affect on the international system.

ANCHOR: Right. And they ultimately think China first. They’ll tilt the wheel any way they can to make their country better and don’t have the world’s interest in mind where America does.

KAGAN: Look, if it’s not going to be the American world order, it will be somebody else’s world order. It will be less in our interest.