Sunday, April 23, 2006

Neocons fall out

This is the weekend's second post--a brief and focused one.

Last Sunday the New York Times book review section carried an outraged letter by Charles Krauthammer responding to its review of Francis Fukuyama's new book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. Krauthammer protested bitterly, as he already had in his own column in the Washington Post, that Fukuyama had misrepresented a speech he had given at the American Enterprise Institute on February 12, 2004, one which Fukuyama had credited with disillusioning him with neoconservatism because it presented the war against Iraq as a "virtually unqualified success." The speech, Krauthammer assured us, included important disclaimers. Krauthammer quoted himself to the effect that the war "it may be a bridge too far. Realists have been warning against the hubris of thinking we can transform an alien culture because of some postulated natural and universal human will to freedom. And they may yet be right. . . .The undertaking is enormous, ambitious and arrogant. It may yet fail."

Krauthammer's text did include those words, but reading the whole text, one has to concede that Fukuyama had a point. Krauthammer is not really correct when he claims that the speech was not really about Iraq, but about four alternative foreign policies. That was how it was organized, but its whole purpose was to dismiss three of them (isolationism, liberal internationalism, and realism) and endorse the fourth, "democratic globalism"--his version of neoconservatism--which had led us into Iraq. That the undertaking might fail was not, in his view, any reason to question the wisdom of beginning it in the first place--and this is abundantly clear from the entire paragraph from which he has lifted his key quotes:

"Yes, it may be a bridge too far. Realists have been warning against the hubris of thinking we can transform an alien culture because of some postulated natural and universal human will to freedom. And they may yet be right. But how do they know in advance? Half a century ago, we heard the same confident warnings about the imperviousness to democracy of Confucian culture. That proved stunningly wrong. Where is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?

"Yes, as in Germany and Japan, the undertaking is enormous, ambitious and arrogant. It may yet fail. But we cannot afford not to try. There is not a single, remotely plausible, alternative strategy for attacking the monster behind 9/11. It’s not Osama bin Laden; it is the cauldron of political oppression, religious intolerance, and social ruin in the Arab-Islamic world--oppression transmuted and deflected by regimes with no legitimacy into virulent, murderous anti-Americanism. It’s not one man; it is a condition. It will be nice to find that man and hang him, but that’s the cops-and-robbers law-enforcement model of fighting terrorism that we tried for twenty years and that gave us 9/11. This is war, and in war arresting murderers is nice. But you win by taking territory—and leaving something behind."

Krauthammer combines a belief in America's unchallengeable power with a survey of world politics--and essentially argues that because the Muslim world is where the trouble is, that is where we have to fight--to take territory and leave something behind. He looks forward to a confrontation with China, but that, he says, is for the future. What seems to be anathema to him, as to other neoconservatives (as Andrew Bacevich has pointed out), is the idea of living at peace with the world. There must always be a dragon somewhere that the United States must slay. And failure does not, will not, cannot cast doubt on the wisdom of embarking upon the expedition in the first place. (In practice, failure can always be blamed on liberals, dissident generals, and the treacherous world community.)

Both Fukuyama and Krauthammer belong to the punditocracy. Once you have achieved such status, few care how wrong you have been. Fukuyama himself was entirely mistaken when he proclaimed The End of History in the early 1990s. Thomas Friedman, another member, thinks nothing of changing his mind on critical issues (like the wisdom of the war in Iraq) within a year or two, without ever noting that his position has entirely altered. Krauthammer has at least shown more consistency. But Fukuyama's change of heart was not, as far as I can see, based on any misreading of what Krauthammer said at the American Enterprise Institute on February 12, 2004. Perhaps he should have focused on Lincoln's birthday instead.

3 comments:

tap said...

I believe that the Confucian world that Charles Krauthammer refers to still does not embrace the god of democracy. It has, instead, embraced the god of capitalism. Therefore, critics have not been proven "stunningly wrong" at all. Only Mr.K can claim that honor.

clark.gcc@globalcitizencenter.net said...

David,

Thanks for pinpointing Krauthammer's slipping and sliding. Most excellent to put him, Fukuyama and Friedman in the same camp, as pontificators who change position without self-criticism.

I'm curious...do you know if Krauthammer is a boomer? And Fukuyama?

My bone of contention with you rests in this remark:

"What seems to be anathema to him, as to other neoconservatives (as Andrew Bacevich has pointed out), is the idea of living at peace with the world."

I certainly want to live at peace, but that is a two-way street. If 9/11 shows anything, it is that the growing social and economic polarization that characterizes the developing global market (in all its aspects) is provoking an armed resistance. It did not take the war in Iraq to provoke that resistance (though that has substantially broadened it). The laissez-faire programs (WTO, IMF, World Bank) of the Clinton years were enough to stir it up.

I would suggest that only a sustained, positive program to attack the polarization can create an era where we can all live in peace. The liberal fallacy is that we can somehow go "back" to the seeming harmony of the 90s, just by dumping the neocon agenda. I think we're going to have to do a lot better than that.

Steve Clark

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