Daniel W. Drezner

Power and Weakness… and perspective

Power and Weakness… and perspective

It’s hard to believe, but ten years ago Robert Kagan published "Power and Weakness" in the pages of Policy Review.  Coming on the heels of the invasion of Afghanistan and the start of the Iraq debate, Kagan’s essay seemed to crystallize the state of the transatlantic relationship back in the day. 

To celebrate it’s 10th anniversary, Policy Review has come out with a special issue devoted to the essay, asking a variety of smart people to weigh in.  Oh, and me.  As I put it in my essay, "I come to praise Kagan’s insights — and then to bury them."  You’ll have to read the whole thing to see what I mean. 

Check out the rest of the essays as well.  With the passing of a decade, it’s pretty easy to point out the ways in which Kagan’s analysis breaks down (and, to be fair, the ways in which it doesn’t).  To his credit, Kagan himself is painfully aware of how his essay has aged

Ten years ago, when I wrote the original essay, it would not have occurred to me that anyone would be commenting on it a year later, let alone a decade later. As Tod knows, I only wrote the essay because he had invited me to speak at a conference, and I had to deliver something. No doubt the other contributors will recognize the experience. Therefore from the beginning I have been acutely aware of the essay’s limitations — and have had the good fortune to have all those limitations pointed out to me frequently, in many languages, with greater or lesser kindness over the years, and now again at the scene of the crime a decade later.

I remember talking with Kagan when the original essay came out and blew up, and I can aver that he was just as surprised as anyone else about its impact.  Let this be a lesson for policy wonks everywhere.  Sure, most of the time when you write something it disappears into the ether, to be forgotten almost immediately.  But on occasion, serendiptity or fortuna strikes, and you’ve suddenly got a major essay on your hands.  Always write with that in mind — because if your essay does blow up, you better be ready, willing and able to defend every paragraph of it.