Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is Fukuyama The Tipping Point?

Todays Timesselect has a collection of reaction to Francis Fukuyama's piece in Sunday's Magazine declaring the failure of neoconservatism and the current Middle East policy. It also references Andrew Sullivan's apparent admission of his sinful thought and guilty responsibility for the deaths of Iraqis and western soldiers.

Fukuyama raises important questions that require more that snap, facile responses. I hope to write at some length on this topic in the near future. In the meantime, here's the quote for those of you walled off by the Times:

Francis Fukuyama, a onetime neo­con­ser­vat­ive famous for his 1989 essay “The End of History?” (later expanded into a 1992 book), pronounces the end of neoconservatism in an essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Because of the aftermath of the Iraq war, Fukuyama writes, the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive warfare in the face of gathering threats “is now in shambles.”

What should replace it? “Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a ‘long, twilight struggle’ whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world,” says Fukuyama, who sees the need for new international institutions to “confer legitimacy on collective action” and to more effectively promote democracy and “good governance” worldwide, without the reliance on “coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony” endorsed by the Bush Doctrine.

A blogburst of commentary has followed Fukuyama’s essay, and almost all of it shares a central theme: “Fukuyama is almost exactly right, because he agrees with me.”

Iraq hawk turned Iraq war critic Andrew Sullivan (who, as a self-described “eagle,” might reject that characterization) applauds Fukuyama’s accurate dissection of how prewar hawks overestimated “the competence of government,” dismissed the importance of culture and narcissistically blinded themselves to the resentments caused by American power. Mea culpa, writes Sullivan: “The correct response to this is not more triumphalism and spin, but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by intellectuals like me.”

Joseph Knippenberg of the conservative Ashbrook Center, however, says Fukuyama rejects only a “caricature” of neoconservatism, and that his policy prescriptions are “neoconservatism properly understood, balancing its realism with its commitment to universal liberal principles.” Fukuyama is “willing to retain almost every policy originally advocated by neo-conservatives, from occasional military intervention to various more subtle forms of democracy promotion,” Knipperberg writes.

Wrong, says Matthew Yglesias at TPMCafe. Fukuyama is endorsing (without admitting it) “regular old liberal internationalism” when he says he wants to “retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.” Daniel Larison of Eunomia agrees, saying that Fukuyama’s ideal foreign policy sounds suspiciously Clintonite, particularly his endorsement of the NATO-approved war in Kosovo, “interventionism based on ‘human rights’ that should transcend national sovereignty.” (Though it should be noted that Larison, unlike Yglesias, is a critic of both Clinton and Fukuyama.)

But wait, doesn’t Fukuyama sound just like the prewar critics of the Iraq invasion? That’s what Yale law professor Jack Balkin writes on his blog:

What struck me though, in reading it, was how many of his claims about what was wrong with the Bush Administration’s policies were available in 2001, and, indeed, were stated over and over again by critics of the Administration in the run up to the Iraq war. People in power simply didn’t want to listen, or if they did listen, they discounted the advice because they were completely convinced of the correctness and righteousness of their own world view. They ridiculed their critics as naive, cowards, sore losers, weak-willed conciliators, unconcerned with America’s national security, and sometimes even as traitors. And much of the country, which likes strong leadership, simply went along, trusting that its leaders had the knowledge, the wisdom, and the expertise to back up their bluster. …

Neoconservatives first emerged as disillusioned leftists who criticized the naivete of American liberalism, arguing that it was not enough merely to have good intentions to make the world [a] better place; that society was far more complex than human foresight could comprehend, and that direct and massive interventions into social arrangements would inevitably produce unintended consequences. How ironic that this lesson of the first generation of neoconservatives was lost on the next generation, who boldly, blindly, and smugly led the United States into a foreign policy disaster.

The anonymous blogger “Publius” at Legal Fiction is less interested in what the essay means for neoconservatism and American foreign policy than what it means for Fukuyama. He sees Fukuyama moving from “ideological and Hegelian” analysis in “The End of History” (a belief in ideas as the driver of history) to a “materialist and Marxist” analysis in his Times magazine essay (a belief in economics as the most important factor): “This is the philosophical equivalent of a Tar Heel fan slipping on a J.J. Redick T-shirt.”