The Neoconservative Moment
Matthew Yglesias recommends and excerpts an article by Francis Fukuyama (of “End of History” fame) in the current National Interest. Only an except is online and Matt does not wish to incur the wrath of the copyright gods by cutting-and-pasting the entire piece into his blog. Commenter Garb Dnoled feels no such constraint and the entirety appears, with copyright statement and all, for the nonce.
Fukuyama critiques in the piece a speech made by Krauthammer at a gathering of the American Enterprise Institution and, by extension, some of the thinking of the part of the neo-con movement that has gained sway within the Bush administration. While I’m generally more sympathetic to Krauthammer than Fukuyama–certainly, the “Unipolar Moment” has stood the test of time longer than “The End of History”–both are men are well worth paying attention to. Taken together, they demonstrate that the neo-cons are hardly a monolith, even on the issue of Iraq.
Of all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neoconservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the United States could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy, and go on from there to democratize the broader Middle East. It struck me as strange precisely because these same neoconservatives had spent much of the past generation warning-in The National Interest’s former sister publication, The Public Interest, for example-about the dangers of ambitious social engineering, and how social planners could never control behavior or deal with unanticipated consequences. If the United States cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, dc, how does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?
Krauthammer picks up this theme in his speech. Noting how wrong people were after World War II in asserting that Japan could not democratize, he asks, “Where is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?” He is echoing an argument made most forthrightly by the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who has at several junctures suggested that pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq betrays lack of respect for Arabs. It is, of course, nowhere written that Arabs are incapable of democracy, and it is certainly foolish for cynical Europeans to assert with great confidence that democracy is impossible in the Middle East. We have, indeed, been fooled before, not just in Japan but in Eastern Europe prior to the collapse of communism.
But possibility is not likelihood, and good policy is not made by staking everything on a throw of the dice. Culture is not destiny, but culture plays an important role in making possible certain kinds of institutions-something that is usually taken to be a conservative insight. Though I, more than most people, am associated with the idea that history’s arrow points to democracy, I have never believed that democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through sheer political will. Prior to the Iraq War, there were many reasons for thinking that building a democratic Iraq was a task of a complexity that would be nearly unmanageable. Some reasons had to do with the nature of Iraqi society: the fact that it would be decompressing rapidly from totalitarianism, its ethnic divisions, the role of politicized religion, the society’s propensity for violence, its tribal structure and the dominance of extended kin and patronage networks, and its susceptibility to influence from other parts of the Middle East that were passionately anti-American.
This critique is fair enough. It is the element of our Iraq policy that I was always most skeptical of and, certainly, the part that has given us the most trouble. Toppling Saddam’s regime cost us roughly 200 soldiers; the aftermath has cost us 800 and counting. The goal is absolutely worthwhile. Whether it will be achieved is an open question.
Fukuyama echoes the sentiments of Michael Scheur, author of Imperial Hubris:
Towards the end of his AEI speech, Krauthammer speaks of the United States as being in the midst of a bitter and remorseless war with an implacable enemy that is out to destroy Western civilization. This kind of language is appropriate as a description of Israel’s strategic situation since the outbreak of the second intifada. The question is whether this accurately describes the position of the United States as well. Are we like Israel, locked in a remorseless struggle with a large part of the Arab and Muslim world, with few avenues open to us for dealing with them other than an iron fist? And in general, does a strategic doctrine developed by a small, vulnerable country surrounded by implacable enemies make sense when applied to the situation of the world’s sole superpower, a country that spends as much on defense as the next 16 most powerful countries put together? I believe that there are real problems in transposing one situation to the other. While Israel’s most immediate Arab interlocutors are indeed implacable enemies, the United States faces a much more complex situation. In Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups, we do in fact confront an enemy that hates us for what we are rather than for what we do. For the reasons given above, I do not believe they are an existential threat to us, but they certainly would like to be, and it is hard to see how we can deal with them other than by killing, capturing or otherwise militarily neutralizing them.
But the radicals swim in a much larger sea of Muslims-1.2 billion of them, more or less-who are not yet implacable enemies of the United States. If one has any doubts about this, one has only to look at the first of the United Nations Development Program’s two Arab Human Development reports, which contained a poll asking whether respondents would like to emigrate to the United States if they had the opportunity. In virtually every Arab country, a majority of respondents said yes. On the other hand, recent Pew surveys of global public opinion show that positive feelings about the United States in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and other supposedly friendly Muslim countries has sunk to disastrously low levels. What these data taken as a whole suggest is that for the broad mass of public opinion in Muslim countries, we are disliked or hated not for what we are, but rather for what we do. What they do not like is a familiar list of complaints about our foreign policy that we somehow continue to fail to take seriously: our lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians, our hypocritical support for dictators in Muslim countries, and now our occupation of Iraq.
The War on Terror is, in other words, a classic counter-insurgency war, except that it is one being played out on a global scale. There are genuine bad guys out there who are much more bitter ideological enemies than the Soviets ever were, but their success depends on the attitudes of the broader populations around them who can be alternatively supportive, hostile or indifferent-depending on how we play our cards. As we are seeing vividly in Iraqi cities like Fallujah and Najaf, counter-insurgency wars are incredibly difficult to fight, because we must somehow destroy the enemy without alienating the broader population and making things worse. Counter-insurgency requires a tricky mixture of precisely targeted force, political judgment and extremely good intelligence: a combination of carrots and sticks.
The problem with this argument, though, is that there is no way to destroy the enemy without alienating the broader population! That is simply the nature of counter-insurgency. Indeed, it’s the very rationale behind insurgency in the first place: An inferior force can defeat a superior one, especially an outside occupier, if the latter is unwilling to use all the tools at its disposal because of political obstacles.
It may well be that the enemy hates us “for what we do” rather than “for who we are.” The distinction is moot, however, in that “what we do” is very much tied to “who we are.” Our support of Israeli, our dependency on oil, and our desire to protect our national interest are fundamental to our political, social, and economic structures. They’re not changing any time soon.