Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fukuyama Joins the Chorus

Francis Fukuyama writes today in the New York Times that the Iraq war is a regretable mistake. It's a very strange piece, as his main complaint seems to that in Iraq the Bush administration pursued a policy that was not in line with American "foreign policy tradition."

Well, I guess Fukuyama deserves some credit for originality -- it's no doubt challenging to come up with a new angle for Bush criticism these days -- too bad he forgot the general principle that for critique to be effective, it must be relevant. [Frankly, I can't help but feel there's some connection between this lapse and the appearance of this commentary on the page that thrice weekly subjects its readers to the precious illogic of Dowdian rhetoric.]

But even on this trivial point, Fukuyama undercuts himself by mentioning that Bush's policy in Iraq is supported by "what Walter Russell Mead calls 'Jacksonian America.'" This is a reference to an article by Mead published in The National Interest back in the winter of 1999/2000, in which he makes a compelling argument that a Jacksonian tradition of, shall we say, reactive belligerence is in fact a major component of the American foreign policy tradition.

[I am not generally an admirer of Mead's work, but this article is well worth reading. There is a story that Leslie Gelb, who at the time had some kind of leadership position within the Council on Foreign Relations, came into possession of a draft of the article and liked it so much he had copies sent to every CFR member. And I am most definitely not an admirer of Gelb, but in this case his judgement was correct.]

Tellingly, the alternative course that Fukuyama claims the Bush administration should have followed was the creation of "a true alliance of democracies to fight the illiberal currents coming out of the Middle East."


The fatuity of that assertion makes it barely worthy of comment, but for the sake of argument I'll just point out that the United Nations was unwilling to enforce its own sanctions against Iraq. That does not exactly bode well for the creation of a multilateral alliance that would effectively "fight the illiberal currents coming of out the Middle East" (though I must admit that exactly what Fukuyama means by 'fight' in this context is not clear to me). Furthermore, the idea that France and Germany would be steadfast at our side in this "fight" were it not for our military operations in Iraq is counter intuitive, to say the least.

The National Interest has not been what it once was since shortly after 911, and I had been looking forward to the coming debut of The American Interest as an alternative that would provide a more realistic world view than what has become the somewhat monolithic -- and euphemistically named -- "realism" of the current National Interest, which is essentially an organ of the Nixon Center. After reading this piece by Fukuyama, who is the editorial board chairman of the new magazine, my anticipation is somewhat tempered. Commentary this well argued and offering this level of insight I can get for free from the Huffington Post.


Blogger N. Lowe said...

I think Fukuyama's argument makes sense- this isn't in line with the successes in our foreign policy.

There is no question that a credible case can be made for the Iraq war in the abstract. But as Niall Ferguson has pointed out, we aren't going to war with the imperialist zeal of turn-of-the-century Britain. Our best and the brightest aren't serving the cause of American influence abroad. There is no real sense of national sacrifice, or of a true threat to our civilization. As one who initially supported the war, I think it is clear at this point it was sold on the wrong pretext and is being waged on the cheap, and as such it not in line with successful American wars of the past.

I don't think our American version of liberal democracy, even with our patriotic leanings, will ever have the stomach for a prolonged occupation that requires the the loss of thousands of troops. Americans by and large support action against imminent threat, which was why Bush led with the WMD argument. But we don't rebuild nations unless we obliterate and completely occupy them, neither of which we did in Iraq.

Sure, the UN and France and Germany are not at all what we would like them to be. But there are no perfect solutions here.

3:23 AM  

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