Friday, November 19, 2004

The Neocon schism: Fukuyama vs. Krauthammer

I’ve long been a fan of Francis Fukuyama, who first made his name with his seminal essay “The End of History,” which (in early 1989, before the Fall of the Berlin Wall) argued that the Cold War battle of ideologies had played itself out, and that, no matter what the protests from Beijing or Moscow, world elites had more or less settled on liberal democracy and capitalism as the proper way to organize modern political economies.

Both infuriating and provocative, Fukuyama’s essay was short on specifics, deliberately punting on the issue of “how much state” was really part of this so-called historical consensus. But his theory was only made more interesting by his book-length expansion of the topic which appeared four years later, and which revealed that Fukuyama’s reasoning had been built on top of a profound philosophical engagement with both a Hegelian view of history and a Nietzschean view of human psychology.

In the 1990s, Fukuyama emerged as the most thoughtful and profound of the neo-cons. This is what makes his rupture with the mainstream of that movement, over the wisdom of the War in Iraq, all the more startling. This debate has flowered (behind a password, alas) in The National Interest, one of the leading neocon organs. Specifically, the rupture began when Fukuyama took public issue with a speech given by another neocon light, Charles Krauthammer, at the American Enterprise Institute in February 2004. Fukuyama’s beef with Krauthammer was both over intellectual honesty and fundamental political theory. In terms of intellectual honesty, Fukuyama called Krauthammer’s speech “strangely disconnected from reality”:
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… There is not the slightest nod… towards the new empirical facts.
That charge alone would have been enough to start a war with notoriously vituperative Krauthammer, but what Fukuyama said next was even worse. He explained that Krauthammer’s logic was
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.
Fukuyama claimed that this perspective represented common sense: nation-building was incredibly difficult, as neocons had long argued, and that anyone reasonable could have predicted that things would go south trying to democratize and rebuild a state and society as traumatized as post-Saddam Iraq.

Krauthammer’s response was, predictably, explosive. The stakes were clearly huge, because Fukuyama was in essence attacking the very basis for the Iraq War, the results of which many neocons (probably correctly) consider will be a verdict on their entire worldview. Fukuyama, in other words was an apostate, a traitor, or (to use Krauthammer’s words) “bizarre,” “ridiculous,” “absurd,” “silly,” and “odd in the extreme.” Among Krauthammer’s many retorts, one of the nastiest was that Fukuyama was, in essence, engaging in Monday morning theorizing, or the intellectual equivalent of post facto CYA.

This claim is, however, simply not true. I’m currently reading Fukuyama’s excellent new book, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 20th Century. Let me quote a few paragraphs from the first chapter, which was originally delivered as a lecture in February 2003 – i.e., on the eve of the Iraq War.

In this lecture, Fukuyama explained that successful transition to properly-scoped and efficient administrative governance usually comes about as a result of internal, domestic demand for such governance -- something Fukuyama was at pains to explain we cannot presume exists, despite Bush’s lofty claims about freedom being a “universal human hope.” On the contrary, demand for good government as often as not comes from external sources, i.e. from other countries. Sometimes these countries try to directly intervene in poorly-run countries to impose effective governance. Fukuyama continued:

This is what we label “nation-building.” An occupation authority obviously has much more direct leverage over the local country than does an external lender or aid agency working through conditionality. On the other hand, most nation-builders find that their ability to shape the local society is very limited as well. Moreover, most countries in need of nation-building are failed states or other types of postconflict societies with far more severe governance problems than the average recipient of a conditional loan.

If nation-building means the creation of self-sustaining state capacity that can survive once foreign advice and support are withdrawn, then the number of cases where this has happened successfully drops to a depressingly small handful. The most notable examples come from the history of European colonialism. The British above all succeeded in creating durable institutions in a number of their

Fukuyama then debunked a notorious piece of American false political memory, namely the notion that the United States has amassed a successful track record of state- and nation-building. Fukuyama began by discussing post-World War II Japan and Germany, the examples most commonly cited as models for the nation-building we would emulate in postwar Iraq:
The United States is sometimes credited with successful nation-building in postwar Germany and Japan, where it was an occupying power. In terms of the administrative capacity that is the subject of this book, it is clear that nothing of the sort happened. Both Germany and Japan were very strong bureaucratic states long before the United States defeated them; indeed, it was the strength of their states that lef them to be great powers and threats to the international system in the first place. In both countries the state apparatus survived the war and was preserved into the postwar period with remarkably little changes. What the United States did successfully was to change the basis of legitimation in both cases from authoritarianism to democracy and to purge the members of the old regime who had started the war….
Having summarily (albeit obliquely) dispatched with Germany and Japan as relevant models for postwar Iraqi state-building, Fukuyama went in for the kill:
The United States has intervened and/or acted as an occupation authority in many other countries, including Cuba, the Philippines, Haiti, the Dominican Republican, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, South Korea, and South Vietnam. In each of these countries it pursued what amounted to nation-building activities—holding elections, trying to stamp out warlords and corruption, and promoting economic development. South Korea was the only country to achieve long-term economic growth, which came about more through the Koreans’ own efforts than those of the United States. Lasting institutions were few and far between.
We'll later get back to the substance of Fukuyama's argument -- which is basically correct -- but what I'd like to point out here is that Krauthammer is simply wrong to allege that Fukuyama did not warn before the war about the challenges the postwar would present.


Zak Braverman said...

Here is a good long summation of the Fukuyama/Krauthammer feud and some of its ramifications:

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