Greed Didn’t Work for Napoleon

A&L links to Frederick R. Kagan’s “Power and Persuasion” in the Wilson Quarterly. Like most important balances (of tenderness, discipline & love in child raising or of customers, employees & profit in business), the one between the military, diplomacy & a certain humility in victory is obvious; nonetheless, finding the right proportions and being sure enough of those proportions – courageous enough – to persist is difficult. May we hope Bush is stubborn where it counts. If it achieves this balance, America’s non-imperial imperialism will not be an oxymoron but a paradox. Keegan argues:

For the United States, there is no path that will spare it criticism and even outright opposition, but its broad goals of spreading freedom and political reform are ones that a great many people in the Muslim world and beyond will be able to accept. The challenge is not only to continue balancing power and persuasion but also simply to continue—to persist in the face of adversity and despite arguments that the very exercise of power ensures that the United States will never persuade and never prevail.

And he understands that diplomacy without power can be as dangerous as power without diplomacy, its consequences even more unpredictable.

As Kennan suggested nearly 60 years ago, when states act militarily without clearly defined political objectives supported by skillful diplomacy, they risk undermining their military successes by creating significant long-term problems. So, too, states that attempt to conduct complicated and dangerous diplomatic initiatives without the support of credible military options frequently fail to accomplish even their immediate goals—and sometimes create more severe long-term problems. The greatest danger lies neither in using force nor in avoiding it, but rather in failing to understand the intricate relationship between power and persuasion. Some rulers rely excessively upon the naked use of force, some upon unsupported diplomacy. History shows that the most successful of them skillfully integrate the two.

Update: A&L linked, today, to Jonathan Last’s complaint that Americans, like Brits in the early 20th century, have ideas that are likely to sap not just the will to imperialize but the will to respect their tradition, a tradition that may well need defending.

2 thoughts on “Greed Didn’t Work for Napoleon”

  1. A friend of mine emailed me the link to that very Kagan piece. If you look closely at the top of the Wilson website, there is an image on the top of the page that is cut in half.

    I used to have a collection of Communist imagery culled from a website that had images of Communist propaganda posters. That very image, which was in that collection, is of a Chinese farm worker admiring the harvest. An odd choice for the Wilson site, eh?

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