April 7, 2006


DOUBTFUL DOVE (John O'Sullivan, March 31, 2006, Financial Times)

Fukuyama identifies four main currents of neocon thought. Two have just been mentioned: the significance of a nation's internal regime and the risks of social engineering. The other two are that the US, almost uniquely among great powers, can be trusted to use its strength for moral purposes, and that international institutions cannot be trusted to safeguard security and justice.

Given urgency and apparent credibility by September 11, these ideas helped to generate the declaration of the war on terror, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the promotion of democracy as central to US foreign policy.

Many critiques of these policies have been launched since Baghdad fell. But Fukuyama's analysis is rooted in his continuing scepticism towards grand schemes of social engineering. He believes that neoconservatives ignored their own warning when they invaded Iraq and launched the democracy project. Even if such a policy could succeed - about which he is agnostic - it is an excessive response to an exaggerated threat. Islamist terrorists with weapons of mass destruction overthrowing regimes in the Middle East and posing an existential threat to the US are not the formidable force they seemed immediately after September 11, he says. They pose a problem less for US foreign policy than for western intelligence services. The Bush administration not only misdirected the full resources of American power against this target. But because others had doubts, it adopted a unilateralism that alienated allies and international institutions, increased instability in the Middle East and cast doubt on its good intentions.

This is a forceful indictment. But there is less in it than meets the eye. Fukuyama's prescription of a more "realistic Wilsonianism" is designed to rescue neoconservatism rather than to destroy it. It embodies most neoconservative aims, but pursues them by softer means: NGOs over armies, foreign aid over military intervention. The resulting policies are almost always sensible. But they look modest alongside his sharper criticisms. And they are marred by the same wishful thinking he detects in neoconservative analyses.

This weakness is clearest in his argument that Islamist terrorism is an exaggerated threat. It is true that jihadists are a small proportion of Muslims worldwide. But a small proportion of a billion Muslims would still amount to many potential terrorists. Similarly, many jihadist ideas are incubated in the alienated Muslim communities of Europe. But the internet ensures that they are rapidly transmitted to the Middle East, Indonesia and the US. The results - the USS Cole attack, September 11, the Madrid bombings, Bali - at least suggest a serious threat.

It might be less unnerving if Fukuyama had some new solution to offer other than intelligence co-operation. But he is reduced to hoping that an "accelerated" Islamic version of the Protestant Reformation will midwife the kind of social liberalism that the original version produced after a few hundred years of fierce sectarianism. Something more seems to be required.

That perhaps explains why Fukuyama, while condemning the hubris of social engineering, is not actually opposed to promoting democracy in the Middle East, even at the risk of letting extremist organisations into power such as Hamas. He would prefer the US to concentrate more on encouraging good governance - building stable state institutions, establishing a rule of law - and less on directly promoting democracy as such. But he accepts that the local people who want such things also want democracy.

Indeed, it's hard not to see Mr. Fukuyama as simply replaying the life of George Kennan, who likewise signed his influential Foreign Affairs piece "X," at this point. Just as Kennan recognized the inevitability of Communism failing and recommended mainting pressure on the USSR until that happened, but then grew frustrated as American got entangled in various wars with Soviet proxies, so too has Mr. Fukuyama become frustrated with a more forcible confrontation with dysfunctional Islamic states than he believes is required. Both men just underestimated the impatience of the American demos and the inability of a moralistic people to sit idly by while folks sugffered under indecent and unworkable regimes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 7, 2006 7:49 AM

Apparant credibility?????

Posted by: Sandy P at April 7, 2006 9:47 AM

Fukuyama, in shrinking from the clash of civilization with barbarism, demonstrates the pollyanna-ish blindness of the chiefest of disloyalties, the fear that the truth may be bad.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 7, 2006 12:31 PM

bet he wears silk panties and eats crumpets from a lace doily.

Posted by: toe at April 7, 2006 2:44 PM

"NGOs over armies, foreign aid over military intervention. The resulting policies are almost always sensible." I've never laughed so hard before. We should have sent NGOs to tell Saddam he should stopped WMD, tell him to kill less of his people, send him aids instead of imposing sanctions so that he could use our aid money to build more bombs, kill more Iraqis. Don't these academics know, there is wishful thinking, there is reality? Another "almost always sensible" policy example: aid to Arafat. If only 1% of the money the West had sent to Palestine was used to develop the country, Palestine would be thriving today. The only solution is: develop other energy sources from other places, and let the Middle East burnt. They seem to enjoy killing each other anyway.

Posted by: ic at April 7, 2006 4:26 PM

Will someone take mercy on me and tell me why we care what Frankie has to say?

Posted by: erp at April 7, 2006 8:28 PM