Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fukuyama's revisionism

Francis Fukuyama reassesses neoconservatism, distancing himself from the tragedies and grand fiasco that is Bush Administration foreign policy. He does so by repeating neoconservative revisionist mythology. Neoconservatism is not idealism. Strauss was indeed a serious scholar of Greek texts, but his anti-democratic, elitist Platonist and Machiavellian conclusions underride all neocon thought. What we have here is an apologetics where the main figure, Fukuyama himself, reimplicates himself by showing he still doesn't get it. Indeed, this is a piece of revisionism itself - same old necon approach - since there's little argument to be made. Let's take a look at his piece from the NY Times Sunday Magazine:

...The reaction against democracy promotion and an activist foreign policy may not end there. Those whom Walter Russell Mead labels Jacksonian conservatives — red-state Americans whose sons and daughters are fighting and dying in the Middle East — supported the Iraq war because they believed that their children were fighting to defend the United States against nuclear terrorism, not to promote democracy. They don't want to abandon the president in the middle of a vicious war, but down the road the perceived failure of the Iraq intervention may push them to favor a more isolationist foreign policy, which is a more natural political position for them. A recent Pew poll indicates a swing in public opinion toward isolationism; the percentage of Americans saying that the United States "should mind its own business" has never been higher since the end of the Vietnam War.

More than any other group, it was the neoconservatives both inside and outside the Bush administration who pushed for democratizing Iraq and the broader Middle East. They are widely credited (or blamed) for being the decisive voices promoting regime change in Iraq, and yet it is their idealistic agenda that in the coming months and years will be the most directly threatened. Were the United States to retreat from the world stage, following a drawdown in Iraq, it would in my view be a huge tragedy, because American power and influence have been critical to the maintenance of an open and increasingly democratic order around the world. The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them. What American foreign policy needs is not a return to a narrow and cynical realism, but rather the formulation of a "realistic Wilsonianism" that better matches means to ends....

First, I know the term "idealism" has been tossed around as a summary for Bush's foreign policy, but we have to remember an important point: human rights play a very minor role among Bush administration concerns, and the pro-democratic reconstruction justification for the Iraq War was ex post facto or at least played way down the list of justifications for the war. The war was, we were told, about WMDs. Fukuyama makes the point, but then whitewashes it by calling for a "realistic Wilsonianism" in the face of what turns out to be "cynical realism" on the part of the neocons. See, it's all in the means. The goals were noble. Fukuyama's delusions notwithstanding, we have to remember that the US public was given a packet of lies pre-war. "Idealism" is a complete backtrack on all that the neocons stand for, which just is standard old Cold War realism in which the most powerful states get to carve up the global pie. The "end of history" thesis suggests that there is a final victor and it is us. That fits the realist paradigm a whole lot better than it does any idealist notion of foreign affairs.

Second, the options are not realism (or even cynical realism) vs. isolationism. The polls Fukuyama cites do not make distinctions between types of international engagement. If anything, they express mistrust of the administration's and its ideologues' competence to deal with anything on the world stage. Yes, the war is a disaster. But there are other options than war in international relations. The US pushed for war, cajoled while it worked, and lied and cheated and spied when it didn't. Fukuyama didn't have much to say then other than expressions of support for the war.

In fact, Fukuyama suggests that Americans are self-centered when it seems more accurate at this point to say that they are not concerned only about themselves nor only about isolationism, but about a competent foreign policy. Fukuyama is one of the masters of this incompetent foreign policy. He shouldn't be allowed off the hook here now. Too late. And there were plenty of smart people he and the other neocon ideologues could have listened to before it was too late and indeed before the war even started. They didn't. Ignorance and arrogance don't count as excuses. Americans know that, and they don't like to be deluded. But Americans, at rare times, can be pretty generous too - such as after the Indian Ocean tsunami - and that had nothing to do with the Bush administration laggard approach to helping people in need. This administration has done about the very minimum possible to help anyone other than its cronies. Many citizens, however, are more than willing to give money and volunteer for causes that actually do help people. The latter is idealism. The former is a crock.

...How did the neoconservatives end up overreaching to such an extent that they risk undermining their own goals? The Bush administration's first-term foreign policy did not flow ineluctably from the views of earlier generations of people who considered themselves neoconservatives, since those views were themselves complex and subject to differing interpretations. Four common principles or threads ran through much of this thought up through the end of the cold war: a concern with democracy, human rights and, more generally, the internal politics of states; a belief that American power can be used for moral purposes; a skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems; and finally, a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and thereby undermines its own ends.

The problem was that two of these principles were in potential collision. The skeptical stance toward ambitious social engineering — which in earlier years had been applied mostly to domestic policies like affirmative action, busing and welfare — suggested a cautious approach toward remaking the world and an awareness that ambitious initiatives always have unanticipated consequences. The belief in the potential moral uses of American power, on the other hand, implied that American activism could reshape the structure of global politics. By the time of the Iraq war, the belief in the transformational uses of power had prevailed over the doubts about social engineering....

That's a delightfully sunny protrayal of neoconservatism and even its alleged internal conflict. No, wait, it's tragic. The neocons are tragic über-democrats faced with the difficult existential choice of furthering democratic and human rights goals but knowing that such projects amount to doomed "social engineering." Alas, the bitter angst of noble imperium! Engineer Iraq, engineer public opinion in the US and abroad in order to engage in the engineering in Iraq.... What's the goal here? Oppression, occupation, propaganda, and lies with what end? Freedom? Human rights? Democracy?

Let's take a further look at how Fukuyama twists his way through this one.
...If there was a single overarching theme to the domestic social policy critiques issued by those who wrote for the neoconservative journal The Public Interest, founded by Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell in 1965, it was the limits of social engineering. Writers like Glazer, Moynihan and, later, Glenn Loury argued that ambitious efforts to seek social justice often left societies worse off than before because they either required massive state intervention that disrupted pre-existing social relations (for example, forced busing) or else produced unanticipated consequences (like an increase in single-parent families as a result of welfare). A major theme running through James Q. Wilson's extensive writings on crime was the idea that you could not lower crime rates by trying to solve deep underlying problems like poverty and racism; effective policies needed to focus on shorter-term measures that went after symptoms of social distress (like subway graffiti or panhandling) rather than root causes.

How, then, did a group with such a pedigree come to decide 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? Neoconservatives would not have taken this turn but for the peculiar way that the cold war ended....

One: "root causes" are important. You can't change anything by treating symptoms. The US doesn't resolve its high rate of gun (or any) crime, it turns out, by incarcerating at a rate higher than any other developed nation. So, that's wrong. What "pedigree"? Democratization doesn't take place at the end of a gun barrel and through the gratuitous use of torture (also with its attempted justifications, human rights watchers). Poverty, it is known among development practitioners, is best tackled through social and educational reforms.
...By the 1990's, neoconservatism had been fed by several other intellectual streams. One came from the students of the German Jewish political theorist Leo Strauss, who, contrary to much of the nonsense written about him by people like Anne Norton and Shadia Drury, was a serious reader of philosophical texts who did not express opinions on contemporary politics or policy issues. Rather, he was concerned with the "crisis of modernity" brought on by the relativism of Nietzsche and Heidegger, as well as the fact that neither the claims of religion nor deeply-held opinions about the nature of the good life could be banished from politics, as the thinkers of the European Enlightenment had hoped. Another stream came from Albert Wohlstetter, a Rand Corporation strategist who was the teacher of Richard Perle, Zalmay Khalilzad (the current American ambassador to Iraq) and Paul Wolfowitz (the former deputy secretary of defense), among other people. Wohlstetter was intensely concerned with the problem of nuclear proliferation and the way that the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty left loopholes, in its support for "peaceful" nuclear energy, large enough for countries like Iraq and Iran to walk through.

I have numerous affiliations with the different strands of the neoconservative movement. I was a student of Strauss's protégé Allan Bloom, who wrote the bestseller "The Closing of the American Mind"; worked at Rand and with Wohlstetter on Persian Gulf issues; and worked also on two occasions for Wolfowitz. Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.

Strauss was a pretty good scholar of Greek texts. His edited volume, History of Political Philosophy, is terrific. But he wasn't some benign communitarian, as Fukuyama appears to suggest. He also left an elitist school of thought that says that the ancient texts carry within them a message only accessible by an intellectual elite of elites. Think: Platonic philosopher-king or the guardians. The guardians, in Plato's account in The Republic, would find it necessary to create a mythology of class and social status in order that the elite could govern effectively by keeping everyone else in society in their natural place. Strauss taught a similar idea, and left a style of inquiry among his acolytes. Close readings of the Greeks and other texts could yield an understanding of the world inaccessible to the ordinary person. This understanding of the world would yield a capacity to govern like no other, to see what's really real. But this enlightenment could only be the domain of the exceptional few. Potential dissenters, by implication, could be dealt with through a parallel story about philosophical thought and governance. Thus, the typical Machiavellianism. Strauss writes of Machiavelli, "He was a generous man, while knowing very well that what passes for generosity in political life is most of the time nothing but shrewd calculation, which as such deserves to be commended." Yes, tragically, the great thinkers would need to calculate and conceal behind a curtain in order to save the world from its darkest impulses.

"The End of History," in other words, 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. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan 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. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support....

There's one of the main punchlines. Fukuyama has been a Marxist all along, while Kristol and Kagan went a step too far in becoming insouciant Leninists. A problem here is that communism, for Marx, was a dream. Marx himself said that he didn't know what communism would look like, and merely speculated in the Manifesto. As such, it was difficult to make any claim about the "end of history." Marx, thinking of himself as a social scientist, simply claimed that internal contradictions to various modes of production (feudalism, capitalism, socialism, etc.) give rise to the overthrow of those modes of production and yield a further, different form of production and moment in history. Marx speculated about communism as a historically logical progression from capitalism-dictatorship of the proletariat-socialism, each containing their own contradictions. Marx, living in a period of inhumane industrialization, wanted further to push capitalism's contradictions to their limits. Thus, the clarion call for proletarian revolution in the Manifesto; and thus the call for philosophers to change history, not merely recount it. Fukuyama, by contrast, saw a fixed end to history in - surprise - his preferred form of governance that just happened to be the tradition of his own country. The logic or illogic of the present, in other words, entails a final outcome of the logic of history. Either way, history runs a linear course ending in liberal democracy. It's largely - with some tweaks here and there - my preferred form too, but it would be illiberal and undemocratic of me to maintain that the logic of history has resulted in my own wise choice.

Where Marx and Lenin, Fukuyama and Kristol are all wrong is in the characterization of history as a linear project of modernization accompanied by the mutually facilitating political form of liberal democracy. This takes us to another long discussion best left for another time, but I'll say for now that we're probably better off looking at history as evolutionary than anything else. As such, as Darwinians observing history, there is no final end. On another note, and another topic for further discussion, we can view "development" and its implicit - when not explicit - linear notion of history (look at the terms: "developed nations" and "undeveloped nations") as a byproduct of this notion of modernity and fixed historical ends. The claim is that the resting point for developmental processes is in the form that America best exemplifies.

...After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and Robert Kagan suggested that the United States would use its margin of power to exert a kind of "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, fixing problems like rogue states with W.M.D., human rights abuses and terrorist threats as they came up. Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power."

It is hard to read these lines without irony in the wake of the global reaction to the Iraq war, which succeeded in uniting much of the world in a frenzy of anti-Americanism. The idea that the United States is a hegemon more benevolent than most is not an absurd one, but there were warning signs that things had changed in America's relationship to the world long before the start of the Iraq war. The structural imbalance in global power had grown enormous. America surpassed the rest of the world in every dimension of power by an unprecedented margin, with its defense spending nearly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. Already during the Clinton years, American economic hegemony had generated enormous hostility to an American-dominated process of globalization, frequently on the part of close democratic allies who thought the United States was seeking to impose its antistatist social model on them....
Yes, this is right. But it should have been foreseen by Fukuyama as well as by the other neocons. They do, after all, come from the realist school of international relations. This school - perhaps best exemplified for our purposes here by Kissinger - understands the significance of legitimacy in the international sphere. Legitimacy of behavior in the international sphere requires that others, even those who may have something to lose in a given action, view the action as nonetheless right or appropriate or at least understandable. Fukuyama is correct if he means that the US overlooked the legitimacy of its own actions - both regarding the near-religious faith in economic globalization with its concomitant sects of economic growth and liberalization, and regarding the extension of its military power. The Bush administration gave a nod to the issue of legitimacy but only through duplicitousness. The entire world figured it out quickly because they had seen it before by the same people. Yes, doubts about "benevolent hegemony." The Cold War was simple - the Stalinist Soviet Union in particular provided a clear example of who the bad guys were. The default "good" position was the US. But this allowed the US to engage in its own abuses in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. Even if most Americans don't know the dark underside to the story of the US role in the Cold War, the rest of the world does. When we're talking about legitimacy, we're talking about international perceptions. The Iraq War is one big lesson in the importance of legitimacy in a world that isn't stupid. (For more on international legitimacy, see here.)

There's also an important side-note here: international legitimacy itself doesn't follow the old realist formula. A byproduct of economic globalization and cause of broader political and cultural globalization is the propagation of different social and political forces - NGOs, the anti-globalization movement, the internet, and such - that transect the realist's traditional conceptualization of state power. Legitimacy is no longer a question of force and forcefulness. It is one giant global question-mark, and well worth rethinking (see Ian Clark's recent book).
...If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like. The United States has played an often decisive role in helping along many recent democratic transitions, including in the Philippines in 1986; South Korea and Taiwan in 1987; Chile in 1988; Poland and Hungary in 1989; Serbia in 2000; Georgia in 2003; and Ukraine in 2004-5. But the overarching lesson that emerges from these cases is that the United States does not get to decide when and where democracy comes about. By definition, outsiders can't "impose" democracy on a country that doesn't want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective....
This is a highly selective reading of history, first of all, and oblivious to a more pragmatic approach to helping other countries in need. Take Latin America, for instance. There is little trust in Latin America for the NED, especially given that it played the front role for the CIA in the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002, not to mention a whole string of other shenanigans. How are such institutions going to rebuild good faith and actual good works? "Outsiders can't 'impose' democracy..." but we should use instruments with well-known pedigrees in promoting precisely America's preferred forms of government as the new reformed tools?
...Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.
Well, he got that right....

(cross-posted at Majikthise)


There's what I think is a good exchange going on about this post between me and Rob at Lawyers, Guns and Money about the relations, or lack thereof, between realists and neocons. Alas, I'm afraid Rob has the upper hand. But I'm trying to hold the line.

See also Lance Mannion's discussion.

And the one by Publius that Rob thinks is better than my assessment above.

1 comment:

MT said...

Also there's a nice short piece by Louis Menand in this week's or the last's New Yorker.