April 01, 2006

The Fukuyama Flap

This blog doesn't try to keep close tabs on intra-conservative, intra-libertarian, or other ideological inside faction fights unless they have some wider bearing on Anglosphere issues. However, what happens on the Right, whether in the USA, the UK, or elsewhere, in a wider sense has an impact on the future of the Anglosphere, and does bear some watching. (So long as the left is entirely committed to transnational progressivism, the right is by default where the action is.)

In that vein, it's worth pointing attention to John O'Sullivan's current discussion of Francis Fukuyama's new book. O'Sullivan observes:

A visitor to London soon becomes accustomed to nightmare theories that a small conspiracy of neocons has been manipulating US foreign policy from behind the curtains and that their Iraq venture has achieved nothing worthwhile - no free speech, no competing political parties, no liberation of political prisoners. One even encounters a barely disguised desire for a second Saigon in Baghdad with, as in 1975, a blithe unconcern for the plight of the natives as long as the Americans (and Tony Blair) are humiliated.

Fukuyama gives short shrift to this unpleasant nonsense. Much of the literature on the neocons, he writes, "is factually wrong, animated by ill-will, and a deliberate distortion of the record of both the Bush administration and its supporters".

His brief history of the neoconservative movement defends it against these fantasies. He points out, for instance, that the philosopher Leo Strauss was not the Marx of neoconservatism (as the nightmare theories have it) but bequeathed only one important concept. This wasn't the crackpot notion that elites have a duty to tell "noble" lies to the people. It was the commonsense argument that the character of a "regime" is an important influence on its international behaviour. Most other ideas in the neocons' lexicon are rooted in the reactions of liberal intellectuals to the cold war and the radicalism of the 1960s - notably, and in Fukuyama's own case especially, a scepticism towards large-scale government programmes as likely to produce unintended results.

i found O'Sullivan's piece (read the whole thing, as I think somebody has said on the blogosphere once ot twice before) interesting. I have been thinking for a while that neo-realists and chastened neocons might be finding common ground soon -- this piece could be a beacon on the path.  

Right now the received opinion seems to be that Iraq will have discredited the optimism of the neocons.  But I think there will also soon be another reaction, as more and more evidence of the real nature of Saddam's regime comes to light over time.  The more we see of it, the more we realize that neither leaving Saddam in power, as the realist perscription entailed, nor trying to edge him out by international action short of war, as the multilateralists implied was an option, were in fact viable or tolerable options. Although we don't have much stomach for an imperfect counterinsurgency with no clear exit, we could only really stomach leaving Saddam in power by a strong dose of aversion of eyes. That sort of aversion is becoming harder and harder to accomplish in an increasingly transparent age; if that is the case, and I think it is, classical realism will become harder and harder to sell as well.

What we are left with is the realization that there never had been an easy, desirable option.  Digging Saddam out with a nasty, imperfect war and a not-very-inspiring final product may actually have been the best of a lot of bad options.  This conlusion would be consistent with a neorealist/reformulated-neocon compromise worldview.

Posted by James C. Bennett at April 1, 2006 04:36 PM

IMO their are three things that we in the Anglosphere take for granted that are the key to peace and stability in the Middle East.
1. The idea of representative government that serves at the pleasure of the citizens. 2.Private property rights with titles backed by laws and courts. 3. The separation of church and state.

Maybe many in the Middle East understand the benefits of representative government, but so few have experienced it that the concept is still a hard sell. Old tribal loyalties and governments headed by a "strongman" seem more comfortable to them.

Few countries in the Middle East allow ordinary citizens to own property and have their title guaranteed by courts. Again many may look with favor on this idea, but it is difficult to put into practice because of the old ways and the lack of representative government.

It required many bloody wars before the separation of church and state was accepted in the Anglosphere and it will Undoubtedly require bloody wars in the Muslim world as well. In fact this may be the most difficult consept to export to a dominant Muslim world.

Our attempt to export these ideas to Iraq is not going smoothly, but, truth be told, we never should have expected it to be easy. If we are successful, a very major step in installing these concepts in the Middle East will have been taken.
If not, it will be a set back, but should not the end of our trying. The goal of bringing these ideas to the Middle East is a worthy one and should continue to be pursued by both hard and soft means.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at April 1, 2006 08:37 PM

All possible actions have risks. "Peace Kills" is the title of one of PJ O'Rourke's recent books (excellent, BTW). Y'all should be glad I'm not president, because I'd be a good deal more impulsive than Bush is.

Maximize freedom of action. By taking some covert actions off the table, we made war more likely. Covert action is preferable -- when it works. Economic sanctions are preferable -- when they work. A key factor in the run-up to Iraq was that economic sanctions were increasingly ineffective. Turns out, our allies weren't really allies when it came to making money from the Oil-For Food program. Wasting time on the UN, which seemed frustrating but reasonable at the time, turns out to have been enormously damaging to us. Failing to persuade Turkey to provide a second route for our troops into Iraq has likewise proved costly.

Attacking Iraq obviously had some enormous consequences: some good, some bad; some immediate, some long-term. I'm glad I am not entrusted with making those calculations. What angers me most is the unwillingness of much of the left to consider all options. In Iraq, they have semi-successfully set up a metric which says "If it doesn't work perfectly, it must be a failure." Foreign affairs are simply much more complicated that that. Heck, plumbing or buying shoes are more complicated than that.

Attacking Iraq cost us a great deal in sympathy and good will, in treasure and blood, in national comity and domestic cooperation. But we may have had to do it anyway, as the alternatives were worse.

A similar calculation might be made for Iran, unfortunately.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at April 2, 2006 08:51 PM

"But I think there will also soon be another reaction, as more and more evidence of the real nature of Saddam's regime comes to light over time."

But we've had virtually the whole high command of the regime in custody for a couple of years and, as you may have noticed, we have ways of making them talk. What we're discovering is that many of the horror stories that circulated before the war were propaganda. Indeed, the trend is clearly the opposite direction -- we're seeing more and more evidence that Saddam's regime by 2003 was no threat to other country's and had lost most internal dynamism. Moreover, we are beginning to appreciate why Saddam ruled Iraq the way he did, as we increasingly resort to similar tactics, but with less effectiveness.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at April 2, 2006 08:57 PM

Whether the prewar stories were true or not, what has been documented and is being documented is incedibly gruesome. It is certainly showing that Saddam's regime was extremely well dug in, was not about to be overthrown domestically, and was actively working to undermine sanctions and resume its pursuit of WMD. With his psychopathic sons dug in as well, it was extremely likely that the regime and its ambitions were going to survive Saddam's death. It was totalitarian rather than authoritarian in nature, and was actively buying the loyalty of substantial parts of the power bases of Europe.

Whatever regime will likely emerge under US guidance, it will almost certainly be substantially less vicious than Saddam's, and no threat to stability on the region.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at April 2, 2006 10:00 PM

I think the government in Iraq will be a threat to the stability in the Middle East. But I think thats a good thing. I don't want dictators who hanker for nuclear weapons, abuse their populations, and stage 'Death to America' + 'Death to Israel' marches to be comfortable, and stable. I want to tip over tables.

But then I'm an unrepentant neocon.

Posted by: Eric R. Ashley at April 8, 2006 01:31 PM


Posted by: bcxbgcbc at April 3, 2007 09:38 AM
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