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Reeb on Fukuyama on Iraq

I’m not sure that Richard Reeb has left much to say about Francis Fukuyama’s rather conventional NYT op-ed on Iraq. What Fukuyama offers is a measured version of Democratic talking points, liberally sprinkled with wishful thinking about the sustainability of a sanctions-and-inspection regime that was riddled with corruption and bound ultimately to fail.

Yes, President Bush’s attempt to plant a viable seed of reform in the Middle East is bold, and may fail. But it’s not clear to me that there was, or is, an adequate alternative promising any sort of hope that we would not face a growing threat of terrorism (with or without WMD).

Discussions - 5 Comments

It could also have tightened economic sanctions and secured the return of arms inspectors to Iraq without going to war.

Much has been made of the emergence of "red state" America, which supposedly constitutes the political base for President Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy, and of the increased number of conservative Christians who supposedly shape the president’s international agenda.

This first statement is almost humurous and don’t think I need to get into the explanation why. The second one, however, I can’t help but see this as an anti-christian remark which is unsettling to say the least.

So much for the end of history! He dares to deviate from the neocon talking points.
Maybe Bush will give him the boot from his Council on Bioethics now?

As far as "Democratic" talking points go, we should first of all remind ourselves that there are Democrats who have supported, and do support, the war in Iraq.

On Fukuyama, Joseph has addressed the sanctions point: only the threat of use of force got the inspectors back in and the removal of that threat and the return to sanctions as usual would surely have produced non-compliance as usual. Besides, the sanctions had perverse effects, strengthening Saddam’s strangehold on the people of Iraq and causing widespread human misery.

While Fukuyama postures himself as against war on idealist grounds, the only reason he gives is that some constituency out there will not support war on such grounds and thus that popular support is fragile. Also, Fukuyama also fails to appreciate that the case for war as means of political transformation in the middle east is not entirely idealistic, but can be argued to support the long term interests of the United States. Certainly, if democracy takes in Iraq the pressure for change elsewhere will build. It will be hard for the neighboring regimes to remain autocracies.


Fukuyama draws a sharp distinction between the Middle East and Asia. At one level, this shows a failure to realize that, through the politics of Islam, the fate of Asia and that of the Middle East are linked. What happens in the arab nations of the Middle East reverberates in Jakarta, K-L, Manila.

At another level, he is simply elusive as to what policy or policies the Administration SHOULD be pursuing in Asia, which it is not pursuing because of Iraq. Without such elucidation, his criticism seems trite and opportunistic.

Fukuyama claims the US has "alienated" its close allies. This is simply a canard. America and its allies are cooperating in many places in the world, including indeed Afghanistan and Iraq. America’s allies voted in the Security Council for a resolution that legalized the occupation of Iraq and outlawed the insurgency. The level of tension between the US and Europe on trade and economic issues in not really much higher than usual, though perhaps a bit higher after the departure of Lamy and Zoellick (whose relationship was a very positive influence) from their respective posts. There are issues related to cooperation on terrorism, but mostly that continues on a day to day basis with success. Where our allies are alienated and have every right to be is concerning the failure of the Administration to clean up Guantanamo Bay. There is simply no excuse not to either release or try those people. However, that is an issue apart from the Iraq war.

My own prognosis on Iraq is that once the possibility of democracy is put before a people they are not going to easily be turned back even if the path ahead is a very bloody one. I think it will be long and bloody and subject to certain setbacks, and the question is not whether the Iraqis have the nerves to stay the course but whether Americans do. I suspect what really motivates the likes of Fukuyama is a distate for a cause that does not appear obviously successful in the short term and where where real sacrifice is inevitable. Having decided at the end of the cold war that History was over and there was nothing for which it was reasonable any more to fight to the death, Fukuyama’s distate for such a cause is understandable. After all, the post-historical condition will come to Iraq, too, some day--so why not wait on the sidelines and just let it happen. His difference with the neo-cons amounts largely to this: they think that, after 9/11, the costs of staying on the sidelines at the End of History are too high. And some of them think there is History again, a new "enemy"--the "terrorists." On balance, I am convinced still that the US was right to give the post-historical condition a helping hand. For a power such as the United States, staying on the sidelines creates real vulnerabilities. And does Fukuyama think that if we hadn’t gone in, the Hussein regime would eventually have gone with a wimper, peacefully. A velvet revolution? Hardly, the counterfactual would be that in 5 or 10 or 20 years the place would blow up into civil war after Saddam’s death or assassination or whatever, becoming a new Afghanistan, a haven for terrorists, drug lords and other thugs and/or subject to the ambitions of such friendly neighbors as the Iranians and Syrians. If we waited around for that scenario, its true that the people Fukuyama calls "allies" would have been begging us to go in to prevent a "humanitarian" disaster. We would have looked "nicer" to alot of people. But we would have also waited for thousands more to have perished than are now being taken by the insurgency. And our passivity would have made us into targets of opportunity for those who wish us ill.

Rob, I agree with most of what you say (although Gitmo is a red herring in my view...it’s just a vulnerability that our critics utilize...they nor most other people are really concerned about the prisoners there).

As for the counterfactual on Iraq, Kagan wrote a fine piece along those lines recently. Check it out.

Kagan - What if we hadn’t invaded Iraq?

My own prognosis on Iraq is that once the possibility of democracy is put before a people they are not going to easily be turned back even if the path ahead is a very bloody one.

This is a very good point, Rob.

One useful way to look at the last few years in Iraq, I think, is to abstract a bit from the coalition presence and view it as a "hard-knocks" learning experience for the Arabic-speaking Sunnis. For about 800 years leading up to March 19, 2003, they were the masters in The Land Between the Rivers, no matter who the nominal imperial overlord happened to be (the overlords all ruled through the Sunnis, who before a few decades ago were much closer the the Shi’a in numbers as well).

The invasion changed all that in an eyewink, and there really isn’t any going back to March 18, no matter how many people the Iraqi Sunni Arabs and their non-Iraqi Wahhabi terrorist friends blow up.

They’re simply not going to get it back, and that will be true whether the coalition stays or goes. But after 800 years, the "top-rail" "rule or die" mentality is deeply ingrained, and will probably take more "hard knocks" to drive out of their heads.

The Sunnis (in the person of Saddam) miscalculated badly in 2002-2003 when they thought that they could avert the coalition’s regime-ending attack with the usual combination of "cheat & retreat" and "divide the Security Council" tactics. They miscalculated badly again in January 2005 when they thought that the pincers effect of Sunni terrorism and the boycott encouraged by the more "respectable" Sunni leaders would tank the elections, and I suspect that they are in the midst of yet another major miscalculation in the form of their apparent belief that they can sink the new constitution with a 2/3 "no" vote in 3 of the 4 Sunni-majority provinces.

Eventually they will figure out that there’s really pretty much just one train, that it’s leaving the station, and that they ought to be on it but can’t always drive it--indeed, that the much-despised Shi’a, now in the majority, will drive it most of the time. It will take time and sadly, more explosions. But I still think the odds are good that the Sunnis will learn and eventually take their place in the new Iraq (which may well be a loose federation, but will probably still be one state).

The USA is the first outside power to go into Mesopotamia and actually let the people who live there hash things out. We are also now helping to sponsor the first predominantly Arab state in which a Shi’ite majority is governing according to the principle of majority rule with constitutional features. This is revolutionary. It has never happened before in the entire history of the modern Middle East. To think that such a change can occur without adjustment hardships would fly in the face of all we know about human history. Such hardships can be gut-wrenching, but they are more or less inevitable and shouldn’t necessarily be overinterpreted for the purpose of arguing that the whole enterprise is failing (something that even some of Bush’s more even-toned critics, such as Fukuyama, strike me as way too eager to do).

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