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Best of Blogs Round-Up: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Non-disclaimer: We're liberal to the core, but we include in this daily blog review the political, the social, the cultural and the undefinable from the left, the right, the in-between from all over the globe. And we're suckers for good writing regardless of ideology. Clicking the link will take you to the original post.


Featured Blog I: CV Ethics
A Vetoed Resumé

I’ve often been employed in places where people are a bit, um, unprofessional in that they don’t mind having a good old hee-haw at the contents of a resume sent in by a prospective job seeker. I’m sure most places are the same, although officially they’re supposed to be all into protecting the privacy of job candidates and stuff. Before you send off a job application, make sure your resume doesn’t make you look like an A-grade arse-clown. Otherwise bored office workers will be pissing themselves laughing at your expense. As well as making sure your spelling and punctuation aren’t disgraceful, you should also pay attention to other details like not listing an email address in your contact details you’ve clearly set up to meet women on Adult Matchmaker, not putting down questionable referees, and not applying for executive jobs when you’re 19, semi-literate and have a total of seven months’ work experience outside your family’s business. Read the rest where The Spin starts...


Featured Blogger II: Francis Fukuyama Converts
The End of Neo-Conservatism and the Last Word

Francis Fukuyama used to be one of the seminal neoconservative thinkers of our time.

Now he’s just a seminal thinker, having abandoned what he terms the “militaristic” excesses and unrealistic goals of the neocons in favor of a “realistic Wilsonian” approach to American foreign policy.

In a lucid, richly textured argument in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, Fukuyama takes Neoconservatives to the woodshed and delivers a beating from which they may not recover. The piece is a devastating critique of policies advanced by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle (who although out of government is generally credited with wielding considerable influence on the Neoconservatives in the Defense Department) and others which include pre-emptive wars of self defense, promotion of human rights and democracy, a belief in the moral purposes of American foreign policy and of a kind of “benevolent hegemony” by America that could remake the world.

Fukuyama rejects all of those tenets as unrealistic and damaging to our long term foreign policy goals. What he proposes as a replacement is a little muddled but would be something that Henry Kissinger would have no trouble recognizing; a kind of realpolitik light that would feature some of the taste but none of the heft contained in Kissinger’s hard eyed calculations of the application of American power.

Kissinger was an actor in a bi-polar world who, in my opinion, is not given enough credit for guiding American foreign policy through the most turbulent period of the 20th century. It wasn’t just the war in Southeast Asia that presented a challenge to US foreign policy. There was a whole subset of extraordinary historical undercurrents at work in the world that Kissinger was able to recognize and respond to.

A quarter century after the end of World War II Western Europe had finally recovered both psychologically and economically from the almost total destruction wrought by that conflict and began to challenge the United States in competing for overseas markets and exercising influence. There was also the emergence of economies in East Asia as well as the awakening of China that had to be dealt with by Kissinger. I’m sure I’d get a good argument from Christopher Hitchens who believes the former Secretary of State should be tried as a war criminal, but the fact is Kissinger navigated those perilous shoals and brought America safely through with a competence that has been sorely lacking in most of his successors.

As a conservative, I’ve always viewed some of the neocon’s enthusiasms with a jaded eye, having lived long enough to see American idealism regarding our ability to remake the world flounder on the rocks of realism and the limits placed on our exercise of power by a domestic isolationist tradition that spans the ideological spectrum. Peter Beinhart of the New Republic recently wrote that historians would not see September 11 as the beginning of a new, more muscular American foreign policy but rather the apex of an old one. Beinhart correctly viewed the interventionist policy of Bill Clinton as a continuation of the internationalist policies carried out by every President since World War II. Whether 9/11 will be seen as the beginning of the end of that policy is what concerns Fukuyama:

The reaction against democracy promotion and an activist foreign policy may not end there. Those whom Walter Russell Mead labels Jacksonian conservatives — red-state Americans whose sons and daughters are fighting and dying in the Middle East — supported the Iraq war because they believed that their children were fighting to defend the United States against nuclear terrorism, not to promote democracy. They don’t want to abandon the president in the middle of a vicious war, but down the road the perceived failure of the Iraq intervention may push them to favor a more isolationist foreign policy, which is a more natural political position for them. A recent Pew poll indicates a swing in public opinion toward isolationism; the percentage of Americans saying that the United States “should mind its own business” has never been higher since the end of the Vietnam War.

Fukuyama argues that a turn toward isolationism would be a tragedy. I say it is simply an impossibility. American hegemony runs the gamut from military domination to what detractors call a “cultural imperialism” that has overlaid American aspirations for technological modernity over the rest of the world. Fukuyama recognized this in his book The End of History and the Last Man where he saw the people of the world yearning not so much for democracy but rather the accoutrement’s of modern living. Give them flush toilets and electric lights and democracy naturally follows would be an oversimplification of his argument but accurate nonetheless.

The political ramifications of isolationism is that after years of war and domestic political conflict, the American people may indeed be ready for some kind of a “return to normalcy” which was a phrase used by President Warren G. Harding in 1921 to describe how his administration would take America back to the time before World War I so rudely interrupted the march of progress. I wrote last summer (and written about recently by Slate’s Mickey Kaus) that if the Democrats were smart, they would run their 2008 presidential campaign using some variation of that slogan. The return, of course, would be to a pre-9/11 world; something that people may devoutly wish for but which could never be done. In that sense, Fukuyama rightly points out that isolationism would be a trap in that it would make the world more dangerous if America gave up her mission to promote democracy and human rights just at the time her support is most needed. He sees the problem in terms of the innate cautiousness of the American people and their “staying power” in maintaining any kind of hegemonistic foreign policy:

Another problem with benevolent hegemony was domestic. There are sharp limits to the American people’s attention to foreign affairs and willingness to finance projects overseas that do not have clear benefits to American interests. Sept. 11 changed that calculus in many ways, providing popular support for two wars in the Middle East and large increases in defense spending. But the durability of the support is uncertain: although most Americans want to do what is necessary to make the project of rebuilding Iraq succeed, the aftermath of the invasion did not increase the public appetite for further costly interventions. Americans are not, at heart, an imperial people. Even benevolent hegemons sometimes have to act ruthlessly, and they need a staying power that does not come easily to people who are reasonably content with their own lives and society.

Fukuyama’s critique of Neoconservatism is devastating not because he faults the people who are carrying out the policies (as most critics from the left demonize the neocons) but because he sees the policies themselves as classic overreach:

The Bush administration and its neoconservative supporters did not simply underestimate the difficulty of bringing about congenial political outcomes in places like Iraq; they also misunderstood the way the world would react to the use of American power. Of course, the cold war was replete with instances of what the foreign policy analyst Stephen Sestanovich calls American maximalism, wherein Washington acted first and sought legitimacy and support from its allies only after the fact. But in the post-cold-war period, the structural situation of world politics changed in ways that made this kind of exercise of power much more problematic in the eyes of even close allies. After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and Robert Kagan suggested that the United States would use its margin of power to exert a kind of “benevolent hegemony” over the rest of the world, fixing problems like rogue states with W.M.D., human rights abuses and terrorist threats as they came up. Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, “It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power.”

Other neocon writers such as Max Boot have made similar miscalculations about “benevolent hegemony,” Mr. Boot going so far as to advocate embracing our role as an imperial power largely because of our “moral authority.” Other countries don’t concern themselves much with morality. Their power calculations regarding America are based much more on how much and how fast our military could show up at their front door. “Morality” is something they play at when making speeches in the UN General Assembly and other inconsequential places.

In the end, Fukuyama’s reasons for parting company with the neocons has more to do with a recognition that policies he thought wrong headed in the first place were carried out incompetently:

Finally, benevolent hegemony presumed that the hegemon was not only well intentioned but competent as well. Much of the criticism of the Iraq intervention from Europeans and others was not based on a normative case that the United States was not getting authorization from the United Nations Security Council, but rather on the belief that it had not made an adequate case for invading Iraq in the first place and didn’t know what it was doing in trying to democratize Iraq. In this, the critics were unfortunately quite prescient.

The most basic misjudgment was an overestimation of the threat facing the United States from radical Islamism. Although the new and ominous possibility of undeterrable terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction did indeed present itself, advocates of the war wrongly conflated this with the threat presented by Iraq and with the rogue state/proliferation problem more generally. The misjudgment was based in part on the massive failure of the American intelligence community to correctly assess the state of Iraq’s W.M.D. programs before the war. But the intelligence community never took nearly as alarmist a view of the terrorist/W.M.D. threat as the war’s supporters did. Overestimation of this threat was then used to justify the elevation of preventive war to the centerpiece of a new security strategy, as well as a whole series of measures that infringed on civil liberties, from detention policy to domestic eavesdropping.

Fukuyama makes an excellent point about the competency of those charged with both explaining and carrying out policy. But is there really “misjudgment” and “overestimation” of the threat posed by radical Islamism?

Here’s where Fukuyama is dead wrong. The Ivory Tower he is living in may be a nice perch to view the world and sagely comment on American policy and the Neoconservative movement. But at that height, he appears to have difficulty resolving how truly menacing the fanatical Islamists are and their potential to destroy America and the west.

What Fukuyama misses is that it only takes one – one maniac with one WMD (leaving aside chemical weapons in that calculation) purchasing or acquiring it from one rogue state, and used on one American city. The resulting reaction by the US would likely lead to our own use of WMD not to mention a further loss of civil liberties. Whether or not Iraq would have been that “one state” is beside the point. The real question, unasked by Fukuyama and unanswered by most of the left in this country, is how in good conscience can the United States take the chance that Iraq wouldn’t be that “one?”

Fukuyama optimistically (hopefully?) points out that Saddam could have been contained with “no fly zones” and UN inspectors. As I’ve written on numerous occasions, the pressure to lift sanctions on Iraq and bring them back into the community of nations would have been irresistible without the intervention of 9/11. Along with Saddam’s organized bribery (that Fukuyama fails to mention), the idea that containment of Iraq could have been continued indefinitely makes no sense whatsoever. The very same people who are using this anti-war argument today were yelping the loudest to lift sanctions and stop bothering Saddam with our bellicose “no fly zones” before 9/11. Saddam was already fooling the UN inspectors badly as we’ve recently seen. For Fukuyama to adopt this meme lock, stock, and barrel is a curious example (but not the only one) of leaving out inconvenient facts that get in the way of his critique of the war.

As far as Saddam making common cause with the radicals, he already had arms length relationships with several terrorist groups in the region and was exploring the idea of developing closer ties with al Qaeda. This is the minimum of what we know at the moment. Further information about Saddam’s ties to terror could be brought to light in the nearly 2 million pages of documents that fell into our hands after the fall of Baghdad and are still unexamined.

Knowing all of this, the divide between pro-war and anti-war Americans is still a question of risk: Should we have taken the risk that Saddam would not reconstitute his WMD program and find a way to use them on America or should we pre-emptively attack? Fukuyama believes the risk was acceptable. George Bush did not. History will prove that one of them was wrong.

Fukuyama inadvertently strengthens the neocon’s case by pointing out the recent ascendancy of Shi’ite fundamentalists in Iran and Iraq as well as the victory by Hamas and the political re-emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. What Fukuyama fails to point out is that these radicals all have an enormous problem; their anti-modern politics will clash with the desires and aspirations of their own peoples. Fukuyama is hopeful that the exigencies of governing will moderate Hamas’ bellicosity toward Israel. If so, it may also be possible to expect Iraqi Shi’ites to act more like nationalists than pawns of Iran.

As for Iraq, there is still hope that more secular parties, who received a strong plurality of the vote in January, will have a moderating influence on the Shi’ite majority. Fukuyama may not be aware that the main reason for the success of the Islamic Party was the fact that it had been in existence since the late 1970’s and had been planning for that election for nearly 30 years. With offices in Syria and Iran, the party was able to build up its grassroots organization and hit the ground running when Saddam was toppled. This gave them a huge advantage over other, more broadly based secular parties.

At bottom, Fukuyama proposes that instead of a Neoconservative, unilateralist approach to Islamism, that we adopt what he calls a “Wilsonian realist” approach that will not necessarily include the UN (thank goodness) but more often what he terms “multi-multilateral” groups. He points to Bosnia as an example where a Russian veto blocked UN action but America acted in concert with its NATO allies. Sounds a lot like a Coalition of the Willing” but, of course he doesn’t call it that. It sounds more like a tepid version of Clintonian internationalism.

In an age where there are not only state supporters of terrorism but elements within other, friendlier governments that support our enemies (Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services for example), it is unclear how this idealized Wilsonianism will help protect us. Fukuyama wishes to strengthen and increase funding for USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (which played a key role in bring down the Iron Curtain) and other internationalist agencies including the State Department itself. While there is much to be said against a purely unilateralist foreign policy, to place any faith in those institutions to head off al Qaeda is dangerously wrong. They are not equipped to deal with or understand the fanaticism that goes to the heart of Islamic radicalism. As such, they may in fact act as a brake instead of facilitating action when the time comes.

I sympathize with much of what Fukuyama is rebelling against. I agree with much of his critique. But when it comes to his prescriptions, I find them lacking in depth and wrong headed in totally abandoning some of the more idealistic aspects of the Bush foreign policy. In short, he wants to throw the baby out with the bath water.

And I also believe he tragically underestimates the threat of Islamism both from a domestic political point of view and a real world miscalculation of their intentions. This is nothing new for intellectuals who have throughout history underestimated fanatics and their determination to achieve their goals. While the necons may be dead wrong about any number of things, their decision to go to war in Iraq and their belief that democracy in the Middle East will eventually make us safer still sounds like the correct policy to me.


I’m glad to see James Joyner has taken on Fukuyama as well:

Realism has long been the natural voice of the foreign policy establishment. Neoconservatism was derided from the beginning. That said, the idea that we are better off supporting authoritarian thugs rather than risking the election of those whose goals are different than ours is short sighted. We have learned time and again that dictators’ aims are almost always out of synch with ours and that their promises are worthless. Further, when and if popular sovereignty emerges—even in the form of a revolution that installs a new dictatorship as in Iran—a history of supporting the previous regime will work against U.S. interests.

Mr. Joyner make many of the same points I do, although he appears to be a little more in step with the neocons than myself. Read the whole thing for both some first class thinking as well as a nice roundup of opinion on what I think will be a blow from which the necons will have a hard time recovering their equilibrium.


Greg Djerejian links to an excellent counterpoint to Fukuyama’s argument about democracy not being a solution to extremism in the Middle East from Secretary Rice:

Let me take this opportunity to say something about what we’ve just been through, because I’m reading a lot in the papers these days about how—“Well, you know, you made this mistake, you thought democracy could take hold in the Middle East, you supported elections and what have you done? You’ve supported elections that brought to power Islamists or extremists or in the case of Hamas, a group that you consider a terrorist group. Aren’t you sorry that you supported these democratic processes?”
Absolutely not. It was the only thing to do. It was—first of all, from the point of view of the United States, the only moral thing to do. The idea that somehow, it is better for people to lack the means and the chance to express themselves, that it’s better to support that and to, therefore, support dictatorship or oppression or authoritarianism where people don’t have a voice—it’s, I think, morally reprehensible. People have to have a way to express themselves or, if they don’t have a legitimate way to express themselves, they express themselves through extremism.

Rice made the remarks to a group of Arab print journalists. Her remarks can be found in their entirety here.

See Rick Moran's permalink, with comments

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