Across the Bay

Monday, March 27, 2006

Three Reviews of Fukuyama

Here are three very interesting reviews of Francis Fukuyama's latest book that are worth a click. Unfortunately, I don't have the time now to comment on them at more length, but would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section (if you've read the book).

First, Paul Berman's in the NYT. A few quotes:

Now, I notice that in stressing this strategic argument, together with the humanitarian and human rights issue, and in pointing out lessons from the Balkans, Fukuyama has willy-nilly outlined some main elements of the liberal interventionist position of three years ago, at least in one of its versions. In the Iraq war, liberal interventionism was the road not taken, to be sure. Nor was liberal interventionism his own position. However, I have to say that, having read his book, I'm not entirely sure what position he did adopt, apart from wisely admonishing everyone to tread carefully. He does make plain that, having launched wars hither and yon, the United States had better ensure that, in Afghanistan and Iraq alike, stable antiterrorist governments finally emerge.

He proposes a post-Bush foreign policy, which he styles "realistic Wilsonianism" — his new motto in place of neoconservatism. He worries that because of Bush's blunders, Americans on the right and the left are going to retreat into a Kissinger-style reluctance to promote democratic values in other parts of the world. Fukuyama does want to promote democratic values — "what is in the end a revolutionary American foreign policy agenda" — though he would like to be cautious about it, and even multilateral about it. The United Nations seems to him largely unsalvageable, given the role of nondemocratic countries there. But he thinks that a variety of other institutions, consisting strictly of democracies, might be able to establish and sometimes even enforce a new and superior version of international legitimacy. He wants to encourage economic development in poor countries, too — if only a method can be found that avoids the dreadful phrase "social engineering."

The bit about strictly democratic multilateral institutions (outside the UN) is intriguing. I'll have to read what he has to say about it in depth. We've seen the potential benefits with the American-French-British cooperation over Lebanon (while Russia continues to hint at a spoiler role). But then again, it's not without problems. It would be interesting to see what Fukuyama has in mind.

As anyone who has read Terror and Liberalism knows, Berman is interested in the ideological component of the war on radical Islamism, and finds that lacking in Fukuyama's book:

In "America at the Crossroads," Fukuyama describes the Hegelianism of "The End of History" as a version of "modernization" theory, bringing his optimistic vision of progress into the world of modern social science. But the problem with modernization theory was always a tendency to concentrate most of its attention on the steadily progressing phases of history, as determined by the predictable workings of sociology or economics or psychology — and to relegate the free play of unpredictable ideas and ideologies to the margins of world events.

And yet, what dominated the 20th century, what drowned the century in oceans of blood, was precisely the free play of ideas and ideologies, which could never be relegated entirely to the workings of sociology, economics, psychology or any of the other categories of social science. In my view, we are seeing the continuing strength of 20th-century-style ideologies right now — the ideologies that have motivated Baathists and the more radical Islamists to slaughter millions of their fellow Muslims in the last 25 years, together with a few thousand people who were not Muslims. Fukuyama is always worth reading, and his new book contains ideas that I hope the non-neoconservatives of America will adopt. But 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.

The second review is by Niall Ferguson in the Telegraph. Ferguson comments on Fukuyama's U-turn and its possible significance:

It coincides with a sea-change in the public mood. Disillusionment with Iraq has even begun to penetrate Bush's once-loyal base in the American heartland.

The worst of all this is that all those who from the outset opposed the war in Iraq now appear vindicated, no matter how dubious their arguments. We are rapidly reverting to the default setting of the Democratic Left, that it is preferable to leave tyrants in power than to sully the republic with the taint of imperialism. Better a multitude of Attilas abroad than Rome at home.

I agree that the neocons got it wrong, but my reasons are different from Fukuyama's, and they do not lead me to conclude that the Left was correct all along.

Ferguson goes on to outline his reasons, and ends up reaffirming his own thesis (from his book, Colossus):

And yet the logical conclusion from all this is not that the United States should pack up and march off home. For what precisely is the alternative to American hegemony, benign or blundering? Fukuyama pins his hopes on a new multilateralism, trying to breathe life into the corpse of the United Nations and other kindred institutions. The French fantasise that the European Union should somehow act as a counterweight to American power.

Yet when people in other countries are asked: "Would the world be safer if another country were as powerful as the United States?", they generally say "No". We and the Turks are evenly split, but a majority of Russians, Germans and even Jordanians, Moroccans and Pakistanis think the world would be less safe with a second superpower.

What all this tells us is not that American hegemony is finished and should be wound up. It tells us that there is no better alternative available. Pace Fukuyama, the United States does not need to say "sorry" for getting rid of Saddam. What it needs to do is to be more realistic, better informed historically and less fiscally profligate; and to get more boots on the ground.

I'm all for admitting to error. But let's get it right about what has gone wrong.

I have yet to read Fukuyama's book (which is another reason why I'm reserving comment for now), but one gets conflicting remarks from Berman and Ferguson about his attitude towards the UN. It seems that Fukuyama is trying to find a way to have both legitimacy and efficiency (esp. when, as Berman points out, UN action is often crippled by authoritarian states).

These issues are touched on in the third review by Gary Rosen in the WaPo:

His [Fukuyama] own tool of choice is what foreign policy types call "soft power" -- the less coercive means at America's disposal, from foreign aid and election monitoring to the sort of civil affairs know-how that was so conspicuously lacking when U.S. forces arrived in Baghdad. Indeed, so important is this aspect of Fukuyama's newfound "realistic Wilsonianism" that he devotes a third of his slender book to it. We learn about the "huge" body of technical literature on democratic transitions, state-building and economic development. And we receive a long tutorial on how the United States might better use "overlapping and sometimes competitive international institutions," practicing what Fukuyama calls "multi-multilateralism." It's all very instructive in its scholarly, wonkish way -- a kind of primer for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

This summary, if accurate, begs a series of question which Rosen goes on to ask:

But can such "soft power" succeed without sterner stuff behind it? Is it an answer to the multiple pathologies of the modern Middle East? Short of military intervention, it is difficult to see how any sort of democratic spark could have penetrated Iraq's police state. For that matter, in a region flush with petrodollars, dominated by strongmen and sheikhs, and threatened by Islamist insurgency, reform-minded leaders are unlikely to emerge anywhere without considerable pressure from the outside -- at the very least, of the economic and diplomatic variety. Fukuyama prefers carrots -- "our ability to set an example, to train and educate, to support with advice and often money" -- but the job plainly demands sticks as well if we hope to see results in our own lifetime.

Of course, anyone familiar with the track record of such an approach in the ME may snicker bitterly upon reading that last quote from Fukuyama. A cynic might add a clause in there: "we train and educate, they jail and crack down!"

Again, I don't have time right now to go into this, and furthermore, I'll hold back till I've read the book.

But Rosen explains further:

And that may be the point. Fukuyama is in no hurry to confront the chronic problems of the Middle East. It isn't just that he doubts the feasibility of the neocons' nation-building schemes or their claims that democracy is the best antidote to Islamism. For Fukuyama, the challenge posed by Osama bin Laden's brand of radicalism is simply not that serious -- not, in his carefully chosen word, the sort of "existential" threat that should trouble our sleep. There's something to this view, of course, after more than four years of peace on the home front. But it depends too much on the good fortune we've enjoyed -- and underestimates an enemy whom we've underestimated before. A spectacular American encore by al-Qaeda would not literally destroy the country, but it could well cripple it for a time, with far-reaching effects on our way of life. Neocons have refused to discount such dire prospects.

According to Rosen, it seems that this position emanates to a certain degree from an assumption -- or a theory -- on Fukuyama's part about Islamism:

More surprising is Fukuyama's rejection of the very idea that liberalization in the Middle East would make us safer. His point is not merely the obvious one that the short-term beneficiaries of any political opening are likely to be extremists like Hamas. Rather, as he sees it, jihadism itself is "a by-product of modernization and globalization," not a return to tradition but a thoroughly 21st-century balm for alienated young people whose communal identities have been shattered by the West's aggressive, often vulgar materialism. The Islamist wave is emphatically not, in his view, the result of any lack of freedom or democracy in the countries across which it has swept in recent decades.

Here Fukuyama commits apostasy of a different kind: against the thesis that made him famous. His new rendering of "the end of history" -- of liberal democracy as the culmination of humankind's ideological development -- verges on economic determinism; it is, as he recently put it, "a kind of Marxist argument." Just as he finds the roots of jihadism in the confounding material bounty of the West, so too does he define modernization itself as little more than the longing for "technology, high standards of living, health standards, and access to the wider world." Politics is an afterthought, the icing on the economic cake.

Again, I'll have to read Fukuyama first, but prima facie, this strikes me as quite the problematic assumption.

Fukuyama elaborated a bit on this theory in an essay co-written with Adam Garfinkkle and featured in the Opinion Journal.

There are so many problematic statements and assumptions in this piece, it would take me a while to give them their due (and this is not to say that the authors don't make good points). But a lot of the statements are perplexing to me, and seem to give legitimacy to certain cretinous theses about the ruling regimes in the region (e.g., that they are "secular Arab nationalists"). For instance, the notion that free elections would bring "the mosque into the public square" simply does not take into account that in Egypt, e.g., the regime has long ceded the public sphere to the clerical institution.

In other words, what some of us have been saying for a while is that the regimes and the Islamists are in many ways two sides of the same coin. That includes violence, illiberalism, the strangling of free and liberal voices, etc., resulting in a battered socio-political culture. It's a game that the regimes have perfected. So, for example, while the only serious challenger to Mubarak's regime is the Muslim Brotherhood, his crackdowns are against liberals!

I will stop here, but when you keep such matters in mind, parts of the essay will simply make your jaw drop. The implications they may have on future policy, of course, are deeply worrying (esp. when we keep in mind the remark by Ferguson about "the default setting of the Democratic Left" or Berman's "Kissinger-style reluctance to promote democratic values"). Other parts are simply wrong. It wasn't "extremist Islamists" who rioted against the Danish cartoons. It was very much "traditional pious Muslims." And by the way, these "secular" regimes were deeply implicated in fanning the flames, as happened in "secular" Baathist Syria for instance.

In the end, I find Fukuyama's assumptions on Islamism (and "traditional Islam" -- ed.'s note: the dominance of traditional Islam is already asserted in the region!), modernization, the ME and its discourses and socio-political culture, and the role of liberalism, to be highly problematic (and that might explain Berman's dissatisfaction with the lack of a proper discussion of ideology). We can't make this only about "us" (e.g., "Islamism is a by-product of modernization" and that somehow it should be seen as separate from the socio-political culture of the ME).

There are lots of questions that need to be asked, and critical points to be made, but again, I'll reserve further comment till I've read the book.