Thursday, February 23, 2006

Neo-conservatives get the plot... slowly...

I found Francis Fukuyama's comments in yesterday Grauniad about neoconservatism a step above the usual Grauniad dross, esp. since he's apparently associated with the neoconservative movement* ^.

He argues that the neo-conservative movement was about benign idealistic inteventionism, he fears the neo-conservatives have lost the plot and the backlash against them will drive the US back to isolationism and realpolitiking with dictators.

My main reaction to his article is 'why didn't you realise this sooner?' or rather 'why didn't your compatriots in the US administration realise this sooner?'

It was obvious to me before the Iraq War that:

democracy was [not] a default condition to which societies reverted once coercive regime change occurred [but] rather... a long-term process of institution-building and reform.

...in countries (and a region) where the people have had little experience of democratic structures and practice during their lifetimes. Russia was a different case - it was not bombed to dust by an outside power, the structures changed gradually, at no point was there a complete power vacuum. Dropping bombs on people to remove their dictator and then telling them (pretty much) "go and be democratic" seems to me beyond crazy. Francis Fukuyama is self-justifying here - there really was no excuse.

And as a liberal who resents concentrations of power it also seems self-evident that people would worry about US power when there was no longer a counter-balance from the old Soviet Union. Especially when that power is under the control of George "Dubya" Bush. I was living in an annexe with predominantly US Democrats when he was elected the first time - I remember them crowding the TV set with long faces. I also remember the Sun front page with a picture of Bush surrounded by all the people he'd sentenced to death whilst governor of Texas. I didn't think we'd manage 4 years without him doing something daft... isn't it great being right. So even if 'benevolent hegemony' could be accepted, it wouldn't be under someone using Bush's sometimes alarmingly unnuanced and absolutist language:

"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Francis Fukuyama writes: A Wilsonian policy that pays attention to how rulers treat their citizens is therefore right...

but it needs to be informed by a certain realism that was missing from the thinking of the Bush administration in its first term and of its neoconservative allies.

No s**t, sherlock!

After he's apologised for the Bush administration, I'm somewhat more convinced by some of his conclusions. He writes:

Meeting the jihadist challenge needs not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world.

The US needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries. The world lacks effective international institutions to confer legitimacy on collective action. The conservative critique of the UN is all too cogent: while useful for some peacekeeping and nation-building operations, it lacks democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues. The solution is to promote a "multi-multilateral world" of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions organised on regional or functional lines.

But can't wholeheartedly agree with him because I'm not entirely sure what form he's suggesting revised US foreign policy takes. He writes:

Promoting democracy and modernisation in the Middle East is not a solution to jihadist terrorism. Radical Islamism arises from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalisation and terrorism. But greater political participation by Islamist groups is likely to occur whatever we do, and it will be the only way that the poison of radical Islamism can work its way through the body politic of Muslim communities. The age is long gone when friendly authoritarians could rule over passive populations.

So should we be promoting democracy and modernisation or not? Is he suggesting that we should be promoting modernisation but accept that it won't have any influence on reducing Islamic radicalism and, in fact, the opposite? His conclusion:

What we need are new ideas for how America is to relate to the world - ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of US power and hegemony to bring these ends about.

Suggests he doesn't know either and is open to offers.

I believe that the international community should be promoting democracy, free speech and universal human rights, and intervening if necessary. To claim otherwise places the illegitimate sovereignty of dictatorships above the rights of individuals and falls into the trap of cultural relativism. The US is hugely influential and the last remaining superpower - to suggest the US keeps out is unrealistic and counter-productive. But wading in with opaque Ray-Bans and a big gun has never been the best way to go about promoting peace and good citizenship. And you really need to get your own house in order first if you want to avoid looking hypocritical. Alliance-building, promotion and assistance to opposition groups and propaganda are far better ways of proceeding. It's also useful to have a plan and comprehensive intelligence. This seems obvious and I know nothing about foreign policy. Hopefully the US neo-cons (who do know about foreign policy) might be able to grope their way to this conclusion eventually too.

* Link from Blogcode. I've had my customary difficulty placing Mr Eugenides on my sidebar... He has a lot of left-wingers commenting and linking. But he isn't so keen on assaults on civil liberties and George "Moonbat" Monbiot. So maybe I should split lefties into 'sensible' and 'insensible'. Where insensible lefties quote admiringly from articles by Gary Younge and/or from articles I can imagine written by the idiots beautifully lampooned in Kathy Lette's Foetal Attraction (what a waste of a satire of the lefty intelligentsia - focusing the book on affairs and childbirth instead. I'm fascinated - do the neurotic, overly politically correct, new-agey idiots she describes exist? Do they really deteriorate THAT much post-Oxbridge? And then I read the Grauniad and start worrying like h**l that they do).

^ When I say 'above the usual Grauniad dross' I mean that I found his article interesting and am responding to it as a reasonable human being... rather than just being incredulous and then laughing hysterically. I remember enjoying his book Our Posthuman Future although I sadly recall little else about the book - it was a while ago.

5 Comments:

  • At 10:09 am , Blogger Joe Otten said...

    "democracy was [not] a default condition to which societies reverted once coercive regime change occurred [but] rather... a long-term process of institution-building and reform."

    Right. I think the US is projecting its own history on the rest of the world. A somewhat mythical history of escaping English tyranny and finding freedom. Revolutions are expected to be beneficial.

    Add to this the dominant theme in popular storytelling - that problems are solved when the good guys are willing to use force - and it is easy to see how the neo-con message is so compelling.

    Btw, no sign of any other neo-cons getting the plot that I have noticed.

     
  • At 3:11 pm , Blogger Mr Eugenides said...

    Hello ladies,

    I'm probably more of a libertarian than anything else, but I like to keep my options open with a good "string 'em all up" rant now and again. No-one ever said bloggers had to be consistent...

    Like Fukuyama I'm generally sympathetic to the "project", but not stupid enough to hold to a blind, blinkered faith that says that raw power is always better than diplomacy, gradualism and, you know, nuance. Speaking from a fairly right-wing standpoint, it's good to see that some people are thinking rationally about how to move forward, not merely in Iraq but more generally, without falling into Guardianesque handwringing.

    Keep up the good work.

     
  • At 4:04 pm , Blogger Simon said...

    I'm not sure about the need to be seen NOT to be hypocritical. There will always be naysaying domestic critics and enemies overseas who will claim we are being hypocritical. I'm not bothered about charges of hypocrisy; I'm more bothered that a fear of charges of hypocrisy will stop us from doing the right thing.

    Or put another way, we can't solve all of the worlds problems at once; but we can solve some. Just because we can't compel North Korea to give up their nuclear weapon and just because we have nuclear weapons, isn't a reason not to insist that Iran gives up their own nuclear programme.

     
  • At 4:07 pm , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    I'm not sure about the need to be seen NOT to be hypocritical. There will always be naysaying domestic critics and enemies overseas who will claim we are being hypocritical

    Yes, but it helps when they don't have a point

    Mr Eugenides - I will move you into the 'libertarian' section, although for future reference - LibertyCat is a boy cat not a lady cat.

     
  • At 4:40 pm , Blogger Mr Eugenides said...

    for future reference - LibertyCat is a boy cat not a lady cat.

    Ah. Well spotted. In my defence, you don't look like a boy cat.

    As for hypocrisy, I'd point out the comment piece by David Hirst in today's Grauniad which basically argues that the US idea of spreading democracy in the Middle East has rebounded on them, because it's produced ruling parties like Hamas. Fair enough. Yet you can be sure that the selfsame Mr Hirst was their foremost critic when they were happily dealing with authoritarian regimes in times past. You can't win...

    Oh, you don't want to blog about Palestine. Well, you take my point, anyway.

     

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