Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fukuyama on Iraq

A must-read. Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man (and something of a Straussian), writes on the Times Op-Ed page that the Bush Administration "squandered the overwhelming public mandate it had received after Sept. 11" and "alienated most of its close allies, many of whom have since engaged in 'soft balancing' against American influence, and stirred up anti-Americanism in the Middle East":

So much attention has been paid to [various] false determinants of administration policy that a different political dynamic has been underappreciated. Within the Republican Party, the Bush administration got support for the Iraq war from the neoconservatives (who lack a political base of their own but who provide considerable intellectual firepower) and from what Walter Russell Mead calls "Jacksonian America" -- American nationalists whose instincts lead them toward a pugnacious isolationism.

Happenstance then magnified this unlikely alliance. Failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the inability to prove relevant connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda left the president, by the time of his second inaugural address, justifying the war exclusively in neoconservative terms: that is, as part of an idealistic policy of political transformation of the broader Middle East. The president's Jacksonian base, which provides the bulk of the troops serving and dying in Iraq, has no natural affinity for such a policy but would not abandon the commander in chief in the middle of a war, particularly if there is clear hope of success.

This war coalition is fragile, however, and vulnerable to mishap. If Jacksonians begin to perceive the war as unwinnable or a failure, there will be little future support for an expansive foreign policy that focuses on promoting democracy. That in turn could drive the 2008 Republican presidential primaries in ways likely to affect the future of American foreign policy as a whole.

So where are we now?

With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. If the United States withdraws prematurely, Iraq will slide into greater chaos. That would set off a chain of unfortunate events that will further damage American credibility around the world and ensure that the United States remains preoccupied with the Middle East to the detriment of other important regions -- Asia, for example -- for years to come.

We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.

If you read one thing today, this should be it. Fukuyama is right on the mark.

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  • What really scares me about Iraq is that, unlike Viet Nam, there really is a legitimate argument that leaving will embolden the terrorists. We didn't have to worry about the VC attacking the United States, but we do have to worry about how Al Quaida will read a withdrawl. That, to me, was one of the prime reasons for making war an instrument of last resort, not first. The United States began thinking that we were invulnerable, but the problem is that war is unpredictable, especially an unconventional war like this.

    Now, it's clear that we are in a quagmire--no matter what our friends at Centerfield argue and that there is no easy way out. I am convinced that Bush will withdraw a substantial number of troops before 2008, but that doesn't mean our problems will be over in Iraq.

    Personally, I think the policy was based on a mixture of power politics and moralism. I think the Bushies did think that Saddam was a threat in some way and certainly Paul Wolfowitz believed in the idea of transforming the Middle East. Neither of these ideas was wrong in itself but using a blunt instrument of war to acheive them was, IMO, always problematic both from a prudential standpoint and morally.

    But now where do we go? We broke Iraq so we have some obligation to fix it. But is it fixable? Maybe the Iraqis are better off without Saddam Hussein (certainly the Shiites are), but they are paying a high price which may include civil war. And Bush just goes blithely along, apparently ignoring any problems and spouting more platitudes to the public.

    American foreign policy has always been beset by a moralistic tendency on both the left and the right; an unwillingness to believe that there are limitations on what the United States can do. In addition, 9/11 brought out our desire not just to manage problems but to fix them--to seek an ultimate (and preferably quick) solution to terrorism without having to ask any hard questions.

    I don't think George Bush is a bad man and I think he does mean well. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and his arrogance and lack of any doubts has put American security in question. I do think the Administration has largely learned its lesson--I don't think we will be seeing any further adventures (although I worry about some of the talk about Iran and North Korea)but it's too late to fix the damage that has been done.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:05 AM  

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