I have a feeling that last week was a disappointing one for Francis Fukuyama, whose essay “After Neoconservatism” (adapted from his upcoming book America at the Crossroads) was awarded seven pages in the Feb. 19 New York Times Magazine. The anti-Danish mayhem that had been dominating the news was surpassed by the fantastic criminality and sacrilege in Samarra, and nobody seemed to have time for the best-advertised defection from the neocon ranks. This, I think, is a pity, since the essay exhibits several points of interest.
However, it must also be said that Fukuyama himself made it hard for people to concentrate on his words. There appears to be an arsenal of clichés and stock expressions located somewhere inside his word processor, so that he has only to touch the keyboard for one of them to spring abruptly onto the page. Thus, in the first paragraph, we are told that Iraq has become “a magnet” for jihadists, later that democracy-promotion has been attacked both from the left and (gasp) the right, later that neocons have issues with “overreaching,” and soon after that “it is not an accident” that many neoconservatives started out as “Trotskyites.”
Not everyone will appreciate the unironic beauty of those last two formulations; they will appeal most to the few who are connoisseurs of leftist sectarianism. The opening words, “It is no accident, comrades,” used to be the dead giveaway of a wooden Stalinist hack (who would also make use of the deliberately diminishing term Trotskyite instead of Trotskyist). And these nuances matter, because Fukuyama now tells us that the book that made him famous, The End of History and the Last Man (1992), “presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism.” Alas, the purity of his Marxism was soon to be corrupted by the likes of William Kristol and Robert Kagan, whose position was “by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States.” Pause to note, then, that even the advocate of the new foreign-policy “realism” feels compelled to borrow the most overused anti-Hegelian line from Karl Marx’s 18th Brumaire.
For all this show of knowledge about the arcana of Marxism and Straussianism, Fukuyama’s actual applications of them are surprisingly thin. It is not even a parody of the Trotskyist position to say that the lesson they drew from Stalinism was “the danger of good intentions carried to extremes.” Nor is it even half-true to say, of those who advocated an intervention in Iraq, that they concluded “that the ‘root cause’ of terrorism lay in the Middle East’s lack of democracy, that the United States had both the wisdom and the ability to fix this problem and that democracy would come quickly and painlessly to Iraq.”
The first requirement of anyone engaging in an intellectual or academic debate is that he or she be able to give a proper account of the opposing position(s), and Fukuyama simply fails this test. The term “root causes” was always employed ironically (as the term “political correctness” used to be) as a weapon against those whose naive opinions about the sources of discontent were summarized in that phrase. It wasn’t that the Middle East “lacked democracy” so much that one of its keystone states was dominated by an unstable and destabilizing dictatorship led by a psychopath. And it wasn’t any illusion about the speed and ease of a transition so much as the conviction that any change would be an improvement. The charge that used to be leveled against the neoconservatives was that they had wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein (pause for significant lowering of voice) even before Sept. 11, 2001. And that “accusation,” as Fukuyama well knows, was essentially true—and to their credit.
The three questions that anyone developing second thoughts about the Iraq conflict must answer are these: Was the George H.W. Bush administration right to confirm Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Is it right to say that we had acquired a responsibility for Iraq, given past mistaken interventions and given the great moral question raised by the imposition of sanctions? And is it the case that another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable; those answering “yes” thus being implicitly right in saying that we, not he, should choose the timing of it? Fukuyama does not even mention these considerations. Instead, by his slack use of terms like “magnet,” he concedes to the fanatics and beheaders the claim that they are a response to American blunders and excesses.
That’s why last week was a poor one for him to pick. Surely the huge spasm of Islamist hysteria over caricatures published in Copenhagen shows that there is no possible Western insurance against doing something that will inflame jihadists? The sheer audacity and evil of destroying the shrine of the 12th imam is part of an inter-Muslim civil war that had begun long before the forces of al-Qaida decided to exploit that war and also to export it to non-Muslim soil. Yes, we did indeed underestimate the ferocity and ruthlessness of the jihadists in Iraq. Where, one might inquire, have we not underestimated those forces and their virulence? (We are currently underestimating them in Nigeria, for example, which is plainly next on the Bin Laden hit list and about which I have been boring on ever since Bin Laden was good enough to warn us in the fall of 2004.)
In the face of this global threat and its recent and alarmingly rapid projection onto European and American soil, Fukuyama proposes beefing up “the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like.” You might expect a citation from a Pew poll at about this point, and, don’t worry, he doesn’t leave that out, either. But I have to admire that vague and lazy closing phrase “and the like.” Hegel meets Karen Hughes! Perhaps some genius at the CIA is even now preparing to subsidize a new version of Encounter magazine to be circulated among the intellectuals of Kashmir or Kabul or Kazakhstan? Not such a bad idea in itself, perhaps, but no substitute for having a battle-hardened army that has actually learned from fighting in the terrible conditions of rogue-state/failed-state combat. Is anyone so blind as to suppose that we shall not be needing this hard-bought experience in the future?
I have my own criticisms both of my one-time Trotskyist comrades and of my temporary neocon allies, but it can be said of the former that they saw Hitlerism and Stalinism coming—and also saw that the two foes would one day fuse together—and so did what they could to sound the alarm. And it can be said of the latter (which, alas, it can’t be said of the former) that they looked at Milosevic and Saddam and the Taliban and realized that they would have to be confronted sooner rather than later. Fukuyama’s essay betrays a secret academic wish to be living in “normal” times once more, times that will “restore the authority of foreign policy ‘realists’ in the tradition of Henry Kissinger.” Fat chance, Francis! Kissinger is moribund, and the memory of his failed dictator’s club is too fresh to be dignified with the term “tradition.” If you can’t have a sense of policy, you should at least try to have a sense of history. America at the Crossroads evidently has neither.