Fantastic conversation on Neoconservatism

Check out Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon for some usually interesting, internet-friendly radio shows. Last night's show, in particular, was an interesting critique of ends and means of Neoconservatism with regards to Iraq.

The following description is from the show's (rather good) blog:

We will let two of the grander thinkers of our time take the measure of the Neo-Conservative fall in Iraq.

The global theorist Francis Fukuyama and the Scots historian Niall Ferguson will be measuring, not least, the collapse of their own hopes, dreams and ideas.

Fukuyama is in full repentant, revisionist flight from the broad Neo-Con adventure. Though he never endorsed the US war on Saddam Hussein, he had impeccable Neo-Con credentials, as a student of Allan Bloom, a grad school classmate and friend of William Kristol, and twice a member of Paul Wolfowitz’s staff. In his new book, America at the Crossroads Fukuyama abandons the Neo-Con taste for pre-emption, unilateralism, regime-change and US “benevolent hegemony,” because they seem now a bad mix of doctrines, not just because the Bush team drove them in to the sand in Iraq. His book extends a sulfurous argument that began two years ago with his old pal Charles Krauthammer, who never stopped celebrating the mission to Baghdad.

Said Fukuyama: “Reading Krauthammer, one gets the impression that the Iraq War – the archetypical application of American unipolarity – had been an unqualified success, with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based fully vindicated.” The Krauthammer logic, still apparently the Cheney logic in Iraq, seems to Fukuyama “utterly unrealistic in its overestimation of U.S. power and our ability to control events around the world… 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 to go on from there to democratize the broader Middle East.”

Niall Ferguson is a different version, maybe a different story. His colorfully illustrated celebration of empire three years ago, on the eve of the war on Iraq, had a simple directive from the spirit of Queen Victoria: it’s your turn, America. You’re an empire in fact — come out of the closet. Take up the white man’s burden (literally) and do the job!


Andrew said...

That is pretty interesting. It’s refreshing when to see people committed to a certain ideology decide to maintain their intellectual integrity rather than go down with the ship. That being said, as someone who reads a lot of neo-con literature I not sure Francis Fukuyama and Niall Ferguson are very representative of the ideology as a whole. Fukuyama's and Ferguson's arguments though completely valid boil down to "we never should have done it in the first place" and "we should have done it, but competently" respectively; really no difference between than what was said in the 2004 democratic primary. Most neo-cons I've read still make the (also valid) argument that good progress has been made and the costs in terms of life and treasure have been justifiable in the context of historical comparison, of the real benefits already achieved and the potential the region is capable of achieving. There has been lots of press about how Bush is now blaming the bad news about Iraq on the media's repeated characterization of the war as a quagmire. These figures posted on instapundit were pretty interesting:

Take a look at the actual US Military Casualty figures since 1980. If you do the math, you will find quite a few surpises. First of all, let's compare numbers of US Military personnel that died during the first term of the last four presidents.

George W. Bush . . . . . 5187 (2001-2004)
Bill Clinton . . . . . . . . . 4302 (1993-1996)
George H.W. Bush . . . . 6223 (1989-1992)
Ronald Reagan . . . . . . 9163 (1981-1984)


Yes the military is 27% smaller now then under Reagan and the peacetime accident rate has also thankfully declined, but I still think this puts into perspective that this war is far from the death sentence many seem to believe it is.

Andrew said...

The wheeled one responds:

For Fukuyama to assert that I characterized it as "a virtually unqualified success" is simply breathtaking. My argument then, as now, was the necessity of this undertaking, never its ensured success. And it was necessary because, as I said, there is not a single, remotely plausible, alternative strategy for attacking the root causes of Sept. 11: "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."

Fukuyama's book is proof of this proposition about the lack of the plausible alternative. The alternative he proposes for the challenges of Sept. 11 -- new international institutions, new forms of foreign aid and sundry other forms of "soft power" -- is a mush of bureaucratic make-work in the face of a raging fire. Even Berman, his sympathetic reviewer, concludes that "neither his old arguments nor his new ones offer much insight into this, the most important problem of all -- the problem of murderous ideologies and how to combat them."

Fukuyama now says that he had secretly opposed the Iraq war before it was launched. An unusual and convenient reticence, notes Irwin Stelzer, editor of "The Neocon Reader," for such an inveterate pamphleteer, letter writer and essayist. After public opinion had turned against the war, Fukuyama then courageously came out against it. He has every right to change his mind at his convenience. He has no right to change what I said.