Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fukuyama on neoconservatism

Francis Fukuyama writes in the Guardian that, "Neoconservatism has evolved into something I can no longer support". Despite accusations to the contrary, I don't believe in neoconservatism so I have no interest in defending it and Fukuyama's piece contains some commonplace criticism of neoconnery that I'd imagine no-one who isn't Irving Kristol would disagree with. And apart from those who have proved themselves unable to discern a difference between neoconservatism and Kissinger realpolitik, most people would agree that a return to an isolationist version of the latter would be on balance undesirable.

But in general, it's a rather confused piece that makes points that are either ahistorical and/or don't make any sense. For instance, he argues that the understanding of the lack of democracy to be a 'root cause' of terrorism led to a fatal misunderstanding of the insurgency in Iraq:
"First, it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow and would crumble with a small push from outside. This helps explain the Bush administration's failure to plan adequately for the insurgency that emerged."
No sensible person now disputes that the Bush Administration's postwar strategy has been characterised by gross incompetence rooted in a fundamental planning failure, but how Fukuyama links this to their understanding of 'totalitarian regimes' is beyond me. If anything, the opposite was the case: the expectation that the Ba'athist 'totalitarian regime' was 'hollow' was more accurate than anyone anticipated. People seem to have forgotten that Saddam's regime caved-in faster than the Taliban, simply for want of anyone to fight for it. Fukuyama seems to be linking the insurgency with some kind of identification with the previous 'totalitarian' order whereas surely the very strength of it is testimony to the truth of the analysis that supporting secular tyrants to contain political Islam is counter-productive.

Fukuyama is far too dismissive of political democracy and its historical importance in bring political stability to peoples and nations - strange given that he fundamentally retains the view that the world on balance benefits from the presence of the American model - which is nothing if not democratic.

The other thing I don't get in this piece is what "realistic Wilsonianism" is supposed to be about. What would make "Wilsonianism" more "realistic" for Fukuyama? A willingness to use guns, one suspects. But what was it about the historic Wilsonianism without guns that makes him think this is some model we can work with? Has he heard of a place called Yugoslavia? (Wilson: Yeah I know I said 'national self-determination for all' but this is getting silly.) Or of a palace in Versailles? Or a thing called the League of Nations? Surely Wilson's mistake was to work on the assumption that human beings aren't mental? Does 'realistic Wilsonianism' look back and imagine the terms of the peace with Germany being enforced when they occupied the Rhineland rather than waiting until they got to Poland? And if so, Fukuyama's argument would be that many of the present problems could have been avoided had Saddam been confronted sooner, after the invasion of Kuwait, or when the UN was expelled?

But I don't think this is what he means. Rather is not the idea that American engagement in the world is a positive thing but let's get real about this democracy business? But haven't you gone full-circle and come over a bit Kissinger-lite there? But it is the Guardian, after all.

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