The Washington foreign policy elite finds itself on pins and needles this week awaiting a response from the neoconservative heavyweights at the Weekly Standard magazine to a scorching denunciation by one of their most venerable fellow travelers, Francis Fukuyama, in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.
Fukuyama, best known for his post-Cold War essay proclaiming the historic inevitability of liberal democracy, "The End of History," argued in the Times article that neoconservatives so badly miscalculated the myriad costs of the Iraq war that they may have empowered their two foreign policy nemeses realists, who disdain democracy-promotion; and isolationists, who oppose foreign entanglements of almost any kind.
Even more provocatively, Fukuyama called the Standard‘s editor, William Kristol, his ideological sidekick, Robert Kagan, and their neoconservative comrades who led the drive to war in Iraq "Leninist" in their conviction that liberal democracy can be achieved through "coercive regime change" or imposed by military means.
"[T]he neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will," according to Fukuyama. "Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States."
"Neoconservativism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought," he went on, "has evolved into something I can no longer support."
Fukuyama’s break with the neoconservatives marks the latest albeit among the most spectacular fracture in the ongoing splintering of the Republican foreign policy elite that has included aggressive nationalists, such as Vice President Dick Cheney; the Christian Right; traditional realists in the mold of former President George H.W. Bush; as well as neoconservatives
His divorce from the movement is particularly remarkable given his long and close friendship dating back to his college days with former deputy defense secretary (and now World Bank President) Paul Wolfowitz, perhaps the neoconservative movement’s most idealistic luminary. He also played a role in the development of the unilateralist Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an organization founded in 1997 by Kristol and Kagan and designed to forge an alliance between the neoconservatives, the Christian Right, and aggressive nationalists in the run-up to the 2000 elections.
Along with Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, Fukuyama was one of just two dozen PNAC charter members. He also signed a 1998 PNAC letter to then-President Bill Clinton urging him to "undertake military action" aimed at "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power."
Indeed, as late as Sept. 20, 2001, nine days after 9/11, he signed another PNAC letter to Bush that also called for Hussein’s ouster "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack." Anything less, the letter argued, "will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."
Despite those hawkish antecedents, Fukuyama had second thoughts even before the Iraq invasion, particularly about the democratic messianism and unilateralism with which the "war on terror" was being conducted.
In a December 2002 Wall Street Journal article, he warned that "the idealist project" of transforming the region may "come to look more like empire pure and simple" and that "it is not at all clear that the American public understand that it is getting into an imperial project as opposed to a brief in-and-out intervention in Iraq."
But by late 2004, he was writing that anyone particularly neoconservatives who believed that the situation in Iraq would become sufficiently stable after elections in early 2005 for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing was "living in fantasyland."
And one year later, Fukuyama was already warning that failures in Iraq were paving the way for a return to U.S. isolationism. He believed that the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, coupled with Washington’s failure to marshal international support for its efforts in Iraq and its incompetence in stabilizing the country, had largely destroyed its credibility as a "benevolent hegemon" to which the world, Kristol and Kagan confidently predicted, would willingly, if not eagerly, defer.
Fukuyama’s latest article, "After Neoconservatism," is essentially an elaboration of these ideas in a more comprehensive form, as well as a plea for a more modest and classically "conservative" foreign policy that, without abandoning "the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights," will also be conducted "without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about."
To Fukuyama, as to foreign policy realists among both Republicans and Democrats, events of the past few months, particularly the victory of Islamists in elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, as well as their strong showing in Egypt, has bolstered his critique of the neoconservative project in the Middle East.
In his view, the way in which the Cold War ended created among neoconservatives like Kristol and Kagan "an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from outside" and that Hussein’s Iraq would be no different.
"The war’s supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform," according to Fukuyama.
He noted that that expectation helps explain "the Bush administration’s incomprehensible failure to plan adequately for the insurgency that subsequently emerged in Iraq."
The administration and its neoconservative backers also assumed, mistakenly, that the rest of the world would accept Washington’s unilateralism, including preemptive war, because, as a "benevolent hegemon," Washington would be seen as both more virtuous and more competent than other countries.
These delusions have come at a very high cost, according to Fukuyama, who, notwithstanding the sweeping pro-democracy rhetoric in which both Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continue to indulge, "the neoconservative moment appears to have passed."
But Fukuyama is most concerned that these failures may spur an "anti-neoconservative backlash that coupled a sharp turn toward isolation with a cynical realist policy aligning the United States with friendly authoritarians."
"What American 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," he wrote in what appears to be a bid to delineate a new foreign policy consensus some already call it "neo-realism" around which centrist Republicans and Democrats can rally.
Indeed, in the prescriptive part of his essay, he calls for "reconceptuali[zing] foreign policy in several fundamental ways" that are broadly compatible with ideas put forward by critics in both parties.
These include "demilitariz[ing]" the "global war on terrorism" by focusing more on winning "hearts and minds;" relying less on "coalitions of the willing" and more in multilateral mechanisms "that can confer legitimacy on collective action;" and placing more emphasis on "rule of law and economic development," as well as democracy-promotion, which "in the Middle East is not a solution to the problem of jihadist terrorism; in all likelihood it will make the short-term problem worse, as we have seen in the case of the Palestinian election bringing Hamas to power."
"Neoconservativism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism, and American hegemony," according to Fukuyama. "What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world."
(Inter Press Service)