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Le Mont de Sisyphe
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Location: Zurich, Switzerland

Je suis beau et intelligent. À part cela, je suis juriste helvète, libéral-conservateur, amateur d'armes, passionné d'histoire et de politique. Je suis libéral et capitaliste convaincu car je pense que c'est cela l'état naturel de l'homme. Je parle le "Schwiizerdütsch" avec un accent zurichois, j'adore la bonne musique, la bière et surtout la femme avec qui je vis.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Fukuyama vs. Neocons

Francis Fukuyama, one of the leading neoconservative scholars who supported the war in Iraq changes his mind: "Neoconservatism has evolved into something I can no longer support":
Were the US to retreat from the world stage, following a drawdown in Iraq, it would be a huge tragedy, because American power and influence have been critical to the maintenance of an open and increasingly democratic order around the world. The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, but in the overmilitarised means by which it has sought to accomplish them. What US foreign policy needs is not a return to a narrow and cynical realism, but rather the formulation of a "realistic Wilsonianism" that better matches means to ends.(...)

The war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a default condition to which societies reverted once coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform. Neoconservatism, as a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support. (...)

After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors suggested that the US would use its margin of power to exert a kind of "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, fixing problems such as rogue states with WMD as they came up.

The idea that the US is a hegemon more benevolent than most isn't absurd, but there were warning signs that things had changed in America's relationship to the world long before the start of the Iraq war. The imbalance in global power had grown enormous. The US surpassed the rest of the world in every dimension of power by an unprecedented margin.

There were other reasons why the world did not accept American benevolent hegemony. In the first place, it was premised on the idea that America could use its power in instances where others could not because it was more virtuous than other countries. Another problem with benevolent hegemony was domestic. Although most Americans want to do what is necessary to make the rebuilding of 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.(...)

The most basic misjudgment was an overestimation of the threat facing the US from radical Islamism. Although the ominous possibility of undeterrable terrorists armed with WMD did present itself, advocates of the war wrongly conflated this with the threat presented by Iraq and with the rogue state/proliferation problem.

Now that the neoconservative moment appears to have passed, the US needs to reconceptualise its foreign policy. First, we need to demilitarise what we have been calling the global war on terrorism and shift to other policy instruments. We are fighting counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and against the international jihadist movement, wars in which we need to prevail. But "war" is the wrong metaphor for the broader struggle. Meeting the jihadist challenge needs not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world. As recent events in France and Denmark suggest, Europe will be a central battleground.(...)

The final area that needs rethinking is the place of democracy promotion in American foreign policy. The worst legacy from the Iraq war would be an anti-neoconservative backlash that coupled a sharp turn toward isolation with a cynical realist policy aligning the US with friendly authoritarians. 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.

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 Wall Street Journal, is of course not amused. It recalls the fact that Fukuyama was one of the signatories of the now famous letter adressed to Clinton in 1998 demanding a removal of Saddam Hussein's regime. It goes on in refuting Fukuyama's analysis and conclusions:
(...) Mr. Fukuyama's more relevant objections are as follows. First, he says, the administration failed to anticipate the extent to which the war would aggravate anti-Americanism and reshape global politics accordingly. Second, it mischaracterized and exaggerated the threat posed by radical Islamism: Jihadism, he writes, is "a byproduct of modernization and globalization, not traditionalism," which is better dealt with by integrating Muslims already living in the West than by " 'fixing' the Middle East." Third, the administration neglected the insight of the founding neoconservatives--intellectuals like Irving Kristol and Daniel Patrick Moynihan who, beginning in the 1960s, wrote critiques of large-scale government programs--that ambitious attempts at social engineering tend to backfire.

On the first point, there's no doubt that the war was deeply unpopular around the world. But it plainly wasn't so unpopular as to create the kind of catastrophic backlash Mr. Fukuyama imagines. Since the war, four of the most prominent members of the "Coalition of the Willing"--Britain's Tony Blair, Australia's John Howard, Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Japan's Junichiro Koizumi--have been returned to office by large majorities. Canada's Paul Martin and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder have been cashiered in favor of Stephen Harper and Angela Merkel, both of whom campaigned on the explicit promise of better ties with the U.S. France's Jacques Chirac looks to be politically finished; Nicolas Sarkozy, his likeliest successor, is avowedly pro-American. In the Middle East, where we once had enemies in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, we now have pro-American, democratic governments.

Next there is Mr. Fukuyama's view about the nature of jihadism. It is true that Europe's failure to assimilate its Muslims has helped spawn the likes of Mohamed Atta and the London bombers. Then again, Osama bin Laden is not an alienated child of Europe, nor is Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The religious madrassas through which jihadist ideology spreads are funded by Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah's Al-Manar satellite TV station broadcasts its message of hate from Beirut and gets its funding from Tehran. Iran, in turn, also helps to arm groups such as the Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which is a sister organization of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, from which Ayman al Zawahiri sprang. Before 9/11, most of the jihadists got their "military" training in Afghanistan and possibly also in Saddam's Iraq. Mr. Fukuyama may or may not be right that Islamist radicalism is a "byproduct of modernization," but the idea that the heart of the problem is somewhere other than the Middle East is inane.

Hardly more persuasive is Mr. Fukuyama's argument about social engineering, a term he tends to abuse. Properly understood, social engineering isn't simply a matter of instituting radical change per se. What counts is the kind of change. Imposing price controls, for instance, is a form of social engineering because it upsets the natural balance of supply and demand. But it would be absurd to argue that removing price controls is also a kind of social engineering, even if it entails short-term economic dislocations.

The question then becomes whether removing dictators is an example of the former or the latter. Mr. Fukuyama devotes a chapter to the subject and concludes that solid democratic institutions will take root only when there is strong internal demand for them. True enough. But on what basis should we conclude there is no strong internal demand for democracy in Iraq, or Burma, or Iran?

None of this is to ignore the very real difficulties the U.S. faces in Iraq and the very real possibility of failure. The work of liberators is never easy, and the Bush administration may be faulted for suggesting that it would be. But I'll wager that it's considerably more doable than the delicate concept that Mr. Fukuyama proposes: a world in which the U.S. operates within and between "multiple multilateralisms"; seeks to "downplay its dominance"; reinvents the World Bank (again) to better disburse foreign aid, and so on.

Six months after 9/11, it was noted that "a passive policy that did nothing to clean up festering pockets of instability does not necessarily produce security, and there are times when bolder action is required." One can only wish that Mr. Fukuyama would heed those words, particularly since they are his own.
Reading that Fukuyama pleads for a "realistic Wilsonianism", I still have to consider myself to be a "neoconservative Bismarckian".

(Hat tip: Jack)


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