Wednesday, March 29, 2006

# Posted 9:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUKUYAMA: Does it matter when a celebrity pundit changes his political stripes? I think so. Such events are rare enough inside the Beltway that they merit examination (ecen a full month after the fact).

The essence of Fukuyama's dissent from neo-conservatism can be found in his mid-February essay for the NYT Magazine [now securely behind a firewall].

Although firmly critical of neo-conservatism, the essay's tone is fairly moderate. The same is apparently true of the book, since liberal reviewer Paul Berman allocated most of his word count in Sunday's NYT to insisting Fukuyama wasn't nasty enough.

Nonetheless, Fukuyama has embraced enough of the center-left's conventional wisdom about the Bush administration to provoke a serious outbreak of schadenfreude among the war's critics. Here's a sample from the New Yorker's Louis Menand:
It would certainly be nice to see the independent intellectuals who should have known better when they loudly supported the Bush-Cheney war on terror explain publicly, as Fukuyama has done, where they went wrong. Who did they think was going to run that war, the Committee on Social Thought?
Since we on OxBlog fancy ourselves to be independent intellectuals, I guess it is incumbent upon us to consider Fukuyama's argument. Naturally, OxBlog endorses some of the basic points made by Fukuyama, such as his insistence that planning for postwar Iraq was woefully inadequate.

But the key question is, to what degree are neo-conservatives and neo-conservatism responsible for the current state of the occupation? To an extent, Fukuyama pardons neo-conservatism, since he lists one of its fundamental principles as a profound skepticism with regard to social engineering. But Fukuyama slams his fellow neo-conservatives, on the grounds that they lost touch with this one of their own fundamental principles.

In my opinion, Fukuyama's attack on neo-conservatives suffers from two analytical flaws that have impaired almost all liberal attacks on neo-conservatism. The first is that the Bush administration as a whole can be thought of as neo-conservative. The second is that democracy promotion was the essential motive for the invasion of Iraq.

On the first point, consider two names that simply don't appear in Fukuyama's 4500-word essay in the NYT Magazine: Cheney and Rumsfeld. Within the cabinet, they were the driving force behind the invasion. Yet neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld has ever shown much enthusiasm for America's democratic mission in the Middle East.

Now consider two names that appear in Fukuyama's essay over and over again: (Robert) Kagan and (William) Kristol. Fukuyama correctly asserts that there is a powerful strain of democratic idealism in Kagan & Kristol's writings during the Clinton era. Yet Fukuyama seems to forget that Bush ran for president in 2000 as a precisely the sort of realist whom Kagan & Kristol endlessly condemn.

Nor does Fukuyama pay much attention to the fact that Kagan & Kristol have relentlessly criticized Rumsfeld for his insufficient commitment to democracy in Iraq. Clearly, Bob & Bill don't consider the SecDef to be one of their own.

But what about the President? He hasn't come in for that sort of criticism, precisely because he has championed the democratic cause with extraordinary consistency for almost three years now.

Although most neo-conservatives, at least for tactical reasons, try not to remind Bush that he was once a realist, a dissident like Fukuyama should be well aware of that fact. However, such a fact might distrub his narrative of the Iraq war representing the pinnacle of neo-conservative arrogance and militarism.

Although chapter and verse elude me at the moment, my sense is that numerous liberal critics of neo-conservatism have sought, in hindsight, to present the invasion of Iraq as the ultimate emodiment of the neo-conservative ethos.

At the same time, liberals (think Kevin Drum and Suzanne Nossel) have often insisted quite loudly that everything Bush says about democracy promotion is just hollow rhetoric and that he will bring the troops home as soon it becomes a political necessity.

So which is it? Bush the crusader of Bush the cynic? If the former, how to explain Bush's initial realism? If the latter, how can one define the invasion of Iraq as the essence of neo-conservatism?

My answer, of course, is neither crusader nor cynic. Although I argued even before the war that Bush was quite serious about promoting democracy in postwar Iraq, I have never said that that was his rationale for going to war. At least in his essay, Fukuyama never addresses this distinction.

So where does this leave us? It's hard to say. This is Bush's war. Whether it is also the neo-cons' war is debate that won't have much resonance outside Washington policy circles. Either way, it would be a good idea to keep in mind something very valuable Fukuyama did write in his essay:
The worst legacy that could come from the Iraq war would be an anti-neoconservative backlash that coupled a sharp turn toward isolation with a cynical realist policy aligning the United States with friendly authoritarians.
More probable is a general disinterest in democracy promotion and a lackluster desire to reform friendly dictatorships, rather than an open-armed embrace. I hope that when those come to pass, Fukuyama will take advantage of his celebrity to denounce them as well.
(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

I am reading "With the Old Breed" right now and I couldn't even focus on your article. I couldn't stop looking at the picture and thinking "I wonder if he is planning some sort of sneak attack with a bayonet."
Whether it is also the neo-cons' war is debate that won't have much resonance outside Washington policy circles.

You really think so?
I'm not sure America at large cares much about the distinctions between neo-cons, theo-cons, paleo-cons and the rest. This is the President's war and now it has become a war for democracy.

Anyhow, I'm glad to see two whole people read all the way to the end of my post!
excellent essay, David, really. A good response also to Belgravia and other "neo realists" who are chomping at the bit to tear into both "neocons", and the left that wants to tear into both neocons and liberal hawks.
Move along, nothing to see here.

The only thing Fukuyama is addressing is his career. It's not pretty.
It may be the case that America at large views the war as "Bush's war," but my sense is that much of the foreign policy establishment/elite sees this entirely as a neocon war, and to the extent that they are opinion leaders, I think it is quite dangerous.

In fact, I'm taking a class with an extremely prominent ex. govt. official, who not only considers the war to be a neocon war, but considers it to have been fought for the sake of Israel (for evidence of this, he identifies Perle, Feith, et al with the "clean break" group, which wrote a stategy paper for Israel in 1996 advocating for Saddam's removal). I suspect the recent Mearshimer/Walt hatchet job -- which said ex. official referenced with a look of absolute glee and self-satisfaction on his face -- has only made this view more of an acceptable mainstream opinion. And I wonder if the defection of Fukuyama, one of the token non-Jewish neocons, has reinforced this perception.
Jeff is the extremely prominent ex. government official Pat Buchanon? I don't see how any serious person would think that this is a war for Israel.
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