John Simkin Posted February 24, 2006 Share Posted February 24, 2006 Francis Fukuyama is the famous NeoCon philosopher and the man who claimed that with the defeat of communism in Eastern Europe we had reached the "end of history". However, in his new book, After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads, his philosophy appears to have changed. This is an extract from his book: As we approach the third anniversary of the onset of the Iraq war, it seems unlikely that history will judge the intervention or the ideas animating it kindly. More than any other group, it was the neoconservatives inside and outside the Bush administration who pushed for democratising Iraq and the Middle East. They are widely credited (or blamed) for being the decisive voices promoting regime change in Iraq, and yet it is their idealistic agenda that, in the coming months and years, will be the most directly threatened. 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. How did the neoconservatives end up overreaching to such an extent that they risk undermining their own goals? How did a group with such a pedigree come to decide that the "root cause" of terrorism lay in the Middle East's lack of democracy, that the US had the wisdom and the ability to fix this problem, and that democracy would come quickly and painlessly to Iraq? Neoconservatives would not have taken this turn but for the peculiar way the cold war ended. The way it ended shaped the thinking of supporters of the Iraq war in two ways. First, it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow and would crumble with a small push from outside. This helps explain the Bush administration's failure to plan adequately for the insurgency that emerged. 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. The administration and its neoconservative supporters also misunderstood the way the world would react to the use of American power. Of course, the cold war was replete with instances wherein Washington acted first and sought legitimacy and support from its allies only after the fact. But in the post-cold-war period, world politics changed in ways that made this kind of exercise of power much more problematic in the eyes of allies. 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. Finally, benevolent hegemony presumed the hegemon was not only well intentioned but competent. Much of the criticism of the Iraq intervention from Europeans and others was not based on a normative case that the US was not getting authorisation from the UN security council, but on the belief that it had not made an adequate case for invading and didn't know what it was doing in trying to democratise Iraq. The critics were, unfortunately, quite prescient. 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 US needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries. The world lacks effective international institutions to confer legitimacy on collective action. The conservative critique of the UN is all too cogent: while useful for some peacekeeping and nation-building operations, it lacks democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues. The solution is to promote a "multi-multilateral world" of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions organised on regional or functional lines. 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 age is long gone when friendly authoritarians could rule over passive populations. The Bush administration has been walking away from the legacy of its first term, as evidenced by the cautious multilateral approach it has taken toward the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea. But the legacy of the first-term foreign policy and its neoconservative supporters has been so polarising that it is going to be hard to have a reasoned debate about how to appropriately balance US ideals and interests. What we need are new ideas for how America is to relate to the world - ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of US power and hegemony to bring these ends about. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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