From ....... NEWSWEEK
DECEMBER 9, 1996
The Clash of a New Order
Samuel Huntington's brilliant, flawed book
BY BILL POWELL
IN JULY 1947, "X" - A YOUNG AMERICAN diplomat named George Kennan - wrote an article for Foreign Affairs arguing that the Soviet Union was inevitably going to be an expansionist power. In turn, X wrote, the Soviets needed to be contained "by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce." And so a doctrine - containment - was born, and it would underpin Western diplomacy until the Soviet bloc finally imploded in 1989.
Ever since, we have waited for the next X - someone who could look at the mess that is the post-cold-war world and give it order. In 1993 the most formidable stab at it to date appeared, once again in the pages of Foreign Affairs. In a piece titled The Clash of Civilizations, Harvard's Samuel Huntington wrote that in the cold war's wake, the world would be defined not by conflict among nation-states but by "the cultural fault lines separating civilizations": groups of people bound by certain shared values that are in conflict with the values of other groups. In short, Huntington argued, it would be the Christian West against the rest: Islam, Confucian East Asia, the orthodoxpan-Slavs, etc.
Whether you agreed with it or not, it was a brilliantly provocative piece.
This month the book expanding on those themes has arrived. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (367 pages. Simon & Schuster. $26) is just like the original, only more so: awesomely sweeping, often brilliant, just as often maddening and ultimately not as persuasive as Huntington would like it to be.
I say that, mind you, as someone very sympathetic to the idea that tribes are a powerful organizing force in the world, and potentially a very divisive one. Look, as Huntington does, at East Asia (where I reported for 5 1/2 years, based in Tokyo). The perpetually forced quality to the U.S. - Japan alliance - the compulsion of both sides to reiterate constantly how they'll always and forever be each other's best pals - is simply a reflection of just how different Japan is from the United States and of how each side harbors deep suspicions about whether the other is really in this partnership for the long run. Those suspicions are not rooted in politics; they're rooted in culture, in just how plainly different the Americans and the Japanese are from each other
While stupefyingly learned, the book overreaches. There are simply too many exceptions to the Huntington rule. To take just one: Huntington calls the former Yugoslavia "the most complex, confused and complete set of fault line wars of the early 1990s." Serbs, Croats and Muslims "all received substantial help from civilizational kin outside the former Yugoslavia." By 1994, he goes on to say, even the United States had begun to fund (Christian) Croatia's military buildup.
The implication is that the United States felt some sort of cultural kinship with Croatia and finally got involved in ending the Bosnian war. But this overstates the "civilizational" case. There are a lot of reasons why the United States stayed out of the Bosnian disaster for so long, but surely the fact that direct intervention would have helped the "Muslims" is not among them. No; a lot of the fault in this "fault line" war lay in Washington, where the most powerful nation on Earth had no stomach to impose its will on a part of the world that did not produce massive amounts of oil.
Perhaps the most maddening thing about this book is that Huntington seems convinced that the "West" is in decline. By the West he means the United States and Europe. But he also argues that because of their shared values - like individual liberty - America should bind itself more closely to Europe and stop jabbering about things like the "Pacific Century."
But the "West" is not in decline. Or, rather, Europe arguably is, but the United States is not. In every sphere - whether military "hard power" or economic and cultural "soft power " - the gap between the United States and every other country is widening, not shrinking.
Why, then, should the United States emphasize its ties to Europe more heavily than its interests in rambunctious, rapidly growing Asia? Yes, those Asian markets are tough nuts to crack; yes, they are indeed culturally very different from ''us." But American interests still plainly dictate that we engage in Asia - at least as heavily as we engage in Europe. In fact, the one sure way to usher in the decline that so concerns Huntington would be to let Americans' cultural comfort level dictate our foreign policy. Let's not.
[picture caption] - After the cold war, is it the Christian West against the rest? The Harvard professor
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