Balkinization  

Sunday, February 19, 2006

After Neoconservatism

JB

Francis Fukayama's autopsy of neoconservatism is well worth reading, and makes many sensible points about the direction that American foreign policy should now take. What struck me though, in reading it, was how many of his claims about what was wrong with the Bush Administration's policies were available in 2001, and, indeed, were stated over and over again by critics of the Administration in the run up to the Iraq war. People in power simply didn't want to listen, or if they did listen, they discounted the advice because they were completely convinced of the correctness and righteousness of their own world view. They ridiculed their critics as naive, cowards, sore losers, weak-willed conciliators, unconcerned with America's national security, and sometimes even as traitors. And much of the country, which likes strong leadership, simply went along, trusting that its leaders had the knowledge, the wisdom, and the expertise to back up their bluster.

Fukayama makes the excellent point that neoconservatives were perhaps seduced by the ease with which Communism fell in the late 1980's and early 1990's. The fall of Communism was, after all the great confirmation of neoconservatives' fervent anti-communism and their belief that promoting American ideals of democracy and freedom could make the world better. But that very example also shows why the Bush Doctrine was so deeply unrealistic. The fall of communism began with Truman's policies of containment in the late 1940's, which were continued with various fits and starts along the way by every U.S. President thereafter for 40 more years. Only after a long and sustained strategy of opposition and containment, in which military force played only one role (and often, as in Korea and Vietnam, not an entirely successful one), did Soviet-style Communism finally give up the ghost. Neoconservatives were right to believe that it was worth fighting the Cold War, but they had forgotten why it was called a "cold" war-- that it did not primarily rely on the use of direct military force to topple your enemy.

That does not mean that the best way forward is the model of the Cold War in all of its aspects. The current struggle is different in many respects. What the failure of neoconservatism does teach us is the inevitable limits of an ideological approach to foreign policy, and indeed, to human betterment generally. Neoconservatives first emerged as disillusioned leftists who criticized the naivete of American liberalism, arguing that it was not enough merely to have good intentions to make the world better place; that society was far more complex than human foresight could comprehend, and that direct and massive interventions into social arrangements would inevitably produce unintended consequences. How ironic that this lesson of the first generation of neoconservatives was lost on the next generation, who boldly, blindly, and smugly led the United States into a foreign policy disaster.


Comments:

People in power simply didn't want to listen, or if they did listen, they discounted the advice because they were completely convinced of the correctness and righteousness of their own world view. They ridiculed their critics as naive, cowards, sore losers, weak-willed conciliators, unconcerned with America's national security, and sometimes even as traitors. And much of the country, which likes strong leadership, simply went along, trusting that its leaders had the knowledge, the wisdom, and the expertise to back up their bluster.

Right. What Fukuyama calls the "Leninism" of the 2d-generation neocons: "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."

This "Leninism" appeals strongly to the American character; we like to think that enough "power and will" suffice in the long run, whatever the conditions on the ground. WW2 in particular left us with this conviction. Are we "all Leninists now"?
 

Fukuyama is trying to make the same kind of hair-splitting argument which characterized infighting within the Russian bolshevik experiment. He does not admit that the experiment was a failure, rather he argues it was not carried out correctly. In short, he is a Trotskyite who condemns Leninism.
 

"He does not admit that the experiment was a failure, rather he argues it was not carried out correctly."

Well, the latter is obviously true. But he rejects "the intervention itself" in his 1st graf. See his final prescriptive section, where renouncing military means of promoting liberty is item 1. So I don't think Whig's criticism is well-founded.
 

The neoconservative project has largely been a success and holds great promises for further success.

Afghanistan is in fact becoming an increasingly stable, peaceful democratic ally in the war on terror, despite ineffective and broadly unpopular fighting from the losers of the recent war.

Iraq is now a bit of a mess, but it too is trending positive and has been for more than a year. Ten years from now, it may well be what was hoped.

Aftershocks of Iraq have included increased democracy in Lebanon and other states of the ME, including Kuwait (I won't count Eqypt -- that strikes me as cosmetic -- but hey, at least they are pandering to our ideology rather than the other way around).

Of course history can be forced by human will and ideology. Heck, I'll take the example of Lenin.
Fukuyama's past writing acknowledges the good of the ideas we are exporting. The article you cite is Fukuyama's squemishness at seeing that the victory of liberal democracy that he cast as "inevitable" doesn't look so inevitable when its introduction into new territory is fought tooth and nail by its natural ideological enemies. The neocons, far from adopting Marx's fallacy of a mechanically inevitable trend of history,, have acted under the exact opposite (and correct) premise: that history is moved by people who act on ideas.
 

It is interesting that the account of neoconservatism's intellectual roots is entirely outward-facing and driven by foreign-policy concepts.

The parallel legal philosophy of exclusive executive war power is really a more recent phenomenon, born in the Bush/Cheney White House. There neoconservatism married its "legal" partner.

The radical consititutional theory, dressed up in pseudo-originalist rationalizations from John Yoo but driven by Cheney, would create a Strong Man figure at the head of the military. Such a theory, of course, is more than compatible with the adventurous foreign policy contemplated by the neoconservative philosophy Fukuyama describes.
 

Gee I read this stuff and might almost think "we're in worse trouble than I thought," if wasn't for the fact that I knew we in deep trouble form the get go.

And the utterly delusional malarky of folks like Robert, is really clear illustration of why... But that's not the real problem - greedy lunatics like Cheney and Rumsfeld are old news, and least they are a self-correcting problem.

What bothers me is that so many reasonable people buy the paradigms at all. We didn't defeat "communism" - the Soviet version of folks like Cheney and Rumsfeld finally got what it earned. And what struggle? The GWOT isn't a struggle, it's a self-destructive exercise in parnoid dementia. Crack heads have better sense than the USA does.

Charly
 

Two points.

First, I was struck by Fuukuyama's description of the neocons' zeal that the America's projection of government power abroad can change a country's fundamental operation. But those same neocons recoil in horror at the projection of America's power here at home. Real irony, I guess.

The second point is that while a (well-planned and well-managed) hot war here or there may be useful -- but nothing more -- what will really tip the balance is energy independence.

Once we stop funding terror abroad through oil purchases and simultaneously stop paying to fight terror by borrowing nearly 45% of our annual deficit from the real competition in the far east, this Country might actually have a chance of killing Muslim extremism by denying it money.
 

Of course, in order to kill off muslim extremism by denying it money, EVERYBODY, not just the US, would have to stop buying their oil.

Not that it isn't worth doing, anyway, just for security purposes.
 

I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.
Agen Judi Online Terpercaya
 

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