Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fukuyama recants - the feline view

First point: Fukuyama's Guardian column is a cut-down version of this extended New York Times piece, which explains why it is above the Guardian's usual standards. The whole thing is well worth reading, along with some of the US blogospheric reaction - since this is a British blog I will give special note to Brit-in-America Andrew Sullivan (Fukuyama posts about 1 page down) and Yank-over-here Greg Djerjian. What Fukuyama hints at but does not say (and Djerjian makes explicit in his commentary) is that part of why "neoconservatism" "failed" in Iraq because the neocons were played by a Bush administration that is not neoconservative.

The neocons were a useful bogeyman for the anti-war left (which is typically anti-American and anti-Israel as well) back in 2002 because the involvement of a secretive group of mainly Jewish intellectuals could be used to imply that the Bush administration's real motive for invading Iraq was to support Israel. But the most prominent neocons were either in second-rank positions in the Bush administration (Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith), advisors with influence and no real power (Richard Perle), or sympathetic academics and think-tankers (Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Fukuyama himself). The most important foreign-policy thinkers were Cheyney and Rumsfeld, both of whom cut their foreign-policy teeth in the Nixon administration and had received intensive instruction in the black arts from war criminal and fugitive from justice Henry Kissinger.

The Kissinger worldview, to which Cheyney and Rumsfeld appear to subscribe wholeheartedly is that

  1. The U.S. is engaged in a titanic struggle with the "bad guys" (communists in Kissinger's day, now Islamic fundamentalists), who want to destroy it.
  2. All other goals of U.S. foreign policy should be subordinated to the need to defeat the bad guys, and therefore ensure the continued existence of the U.S.
  3. The bad guys are so evil that otherwise wicked behaviour (including torture and murder) is justified if it advances the campaign to defeat the bad guys.
  4. In particular, military action against any bad guys who do not have a nuclear deterrent does not require any particular justification except their bad guy status.
  5. Anyone else who is against the bad guys is our ally, no matter how unsavoury they are. If Osama bin Laden is against the Soviet Union, he deserves American support.
  6. The U.S. must maintain complete freedom of action to fight the bad guys. International law, domestic law, allies, and the UN should not be allowed to get in the way of this.
  7. It may be necessary to conceal the more disreputable acts we take against the bad guys from the American people. Vietnam was lost in the media, and this should not be allowed to happen again.
This has very little in common with the neocon worldview, which was based on imposing American values (notably democracy) abroad. To make matters worse, the ultimate decision taker was President Bush, who knows nothing about foreign policy and either knows or was told by Rove that his base includes Christian fundamentalists, anti-Arab racists, and patriotic conservatives in the Jacksonian tradition, all of whom would support a war against people who had the same religion and skin colour as the 9-11 terrorists. And all of whom felt more comfortable killing these people than spending blood and treasure giving them democracy. It is no surprise that these people screwed up the postwar occupation - they didn't care.

Nevertheless, the neocons entusiastically supported the Iraq war. They thought that the positive view of American military power which they shared with the more traditional conservatives meant that they were on the same side against John Kerry, Jacques Chirac, the European Union, United Nations, and anyone else who thought that aggressive war was never acceptrable. Once again, someone thouroughly compromises their moral position by assuming that sharing a common enemy makes you friends.

The lesson of Iraq that Fukuyama discusses, and it is an important one, is that democracy-promotion is harder than he thought. A corollory of this is that the U.S. (and the neocons in particular) has a lot to learn from the European Union, which has brought democracy to about 300 million people over the last 50 years, and that Kagan and Kristol's thesis about American virtue and European wussiness in "Paradise and Power" needs rethinking. To their credit, Kagan and Kristol (who are academics, and therefore have to be reality-based) have done some of this rethinking themselves.

The lesson that Fukuyama does not discuss, but had almost certainly learnt given his shrill opposition to the Bush administration's abuse of his ideas is simpler: He who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.



  • At 7:19 pm , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Just read this post, LibertyCat. It's an excellent post - the contrast in knowledge and argument between yours and mine is considerable. I'm very lucky to have you :)

  • At 9:23 pm , Blogger LibertyCat said...

    The corollary is that I post less than you - a post like that takes about half an hour to research/fact-check, fifteen minutes to collate links for, and half an hour to write (after thinking about the idea in the back of my head for several days, which is why you got there first, despite seeing the story a few days later than me).

    At over an hour a post, I can't post twice a day.

  • At 6:26 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Well, I have a habit of early waking so I have a habit of blogging for an hour until my parents' wake up and have breakfast rather than starting my PhD.

    I then blog later on an evening if I'm MSNing or on the computer for some other reason (which explains the two posts). Increasingly, I'm working on the thesis until later in the evening which stops me blogging then.

    Obviously, if I wasn't in the sticks I'd have something better to do :) And I expect if I carry on blogging after I finish this horrible writing-up then it'll be short post (15 minutes) once a day and longer posts on weekends.

    I think blogging too much kills discussion because earlier posts disappear too quickly down the blog. I love your more thoughtful posts... ATM I'm entirely capable of keeping the blog going frequency-wise :)


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