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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Brammertz Report

The new head of the UN probe into the assassination of Lebanese former PM Hariri, Serge Brammertz, has submitted his first report to the UN Security Council. The report itself can be read here (PDF).

Michael Young comments on the report in his latest op-ed in The Daily Star. Young finds the report to be quite ominous as far as the Syrians are concerned, and that it points to the fact that Brammertz won't be distracted by scapegoats who may be offered to protect the Syrian ruling elite:

The most significant passage summing up Brammertz's current thinking about Hariri's murder came in paragraph 36. The commission stated its belief "that there is a layer of perpetrators between those who initially commissioned the crime and the actual perpetrators on the day of the crime, namely those who enabled the crime to occur." This was an intriguing formulation, intimating at least three layers of involvement: those who carried out the crime itself, those who ordered it, and an intermediate layer of accomplices who oversaw implementation. This entailed far more than, let's say, an Islamist plot, where the assassins would not require that intermediate layer, which mainly offers deniability.

If one acts on the hypothesis that Syria was behind Hariri's elimination, then the passage does two things: it underlines that Brammertz will not be misled by efforts to find scapegoats in the intermediate layer of perpetrators (apparently the middle levels of the intelligence services), to better protect those above who may have masterminded the crime; and it means the Belgian prosecutor is wise as to what took place, and that his silence is considerably more ominous than Syria and its allies would care to admit.

Syrian officials are giddy that the latest report is more discrete, unlike the previous ones by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.

But Druze leader Walid Jumblatt seems to share (scroll down) Young's reading, and is quite pleased with the report, and finds that it constitutes a clear indictment of the Syrian regime:

Although Brammertz said Syria has been cooperating, Jumblatt said the fact that the report decided there is a link between all explosions that took place before and after the assassination of Hariri was an explicit indictment of the Syrian regime.

"This is very important, as it forms a clear political indictment of the Syrian regime that ruled Lebanon at the time of the assassination," Jumblatt said.

He also said that what the report mentioned about highly professional terrorist work in Hariri's murder was further tacit "condemnation for the Syrian regime".

"This is a work on the level of a state, and Syria had strong hegemony over Lebanon then," Jumblatt said.

"Brammertz is following the work of Mehlis, and if he keeps this pace up the truth will be revealed soon," Jumblatt said, describing the report as "very positive and promising."

Meanwhile, the French reaction was relayed by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei, who said: "We have received with interest the declaration by Damascus of its willingness to cooperate fully with the Commission, according to the conditions laid out by the Commission," adding, "this proves that the tough stand that the international community has adopted in this matter, from the beginning of the investigation, has brought results." He continued, "We are now waiting for Syria to translate this position into tangible steps by complying quickly with the demands of the Commission, as demanded by international resolutions."

Finally, Feris Khishen's column today on the report may be worth a look.

Friday, March 10, 2006

I Should've Known

Never give a phone interview. Always do it by email, so that you make sure your own words are printed, and so that you wouldn't have to do what I am about to do right now.

The Daily Star ran a piece about the Lebanese blogosphere in which I was interviewed. The article was unfortunately very sloppy in how it misquoted, rephrased, and misrepresented most of what I said.

First of all, the author got my blog's name wrong. That set the tone I guess.

The main theme of the discussion was about Lebanese identity and sectarianism. That was in response to the issue of March 14. In explaining my view about layers of identity and such (themes that my readers are familiar with), I quoted Theo Hanf (see below) and others. Yet, Hanf gets dropped (perhaps he's the "obscure social scientist" mentioned in the piece) while a joker like As'ad AbuKhalil becomes the main issue!

AbuKhalil was one of the people interviewed as well, so I explained how his disparaging remarks about the March 14th phenomenon missed the point that Hanf notes, and how that hinted at a problematic understanding of identity to begin with. But don't bother to try and find that argument in the piece. Snippets of what I said in this context were cut, rephrased, and redistributed in different contexts rendering them incomprehensible and nonsensical.

Add to that of course outright sloppy errors. I never said AbuKhalil sought to Arabize the March 14th phenomenon. That's actually asking too much of AbuKhalil whose intellectual contribution peaked with the term "Hummus Revolution."

I of course was referring (by name I might add) to Chibli Mallat's article. If you go back to my posts at the time, you'd see a post dedicated to this issue. My argument was noted and elaborated on by Chuck Freund in a piece in the DS. He got it right of course.

So her quote attributed to me about AbuKhalil not acknowledging dissonance is neither comprehensible nor accurate. (The worth of AbuKhalil's commentary is encapsulated in the word Hummus. Enough said.) I said that I acknowledge the dissonance (notice the title of Chuck Freund's piece linked right above), and that I don't mind it, and I don't think it's mutually exclusive with an encompassing Lebanese national identity. Here is where I put the quote about essentialization, which got totally rephrased and misplaced. Here's where I also referred to Hanf and how he explained the layering of identity and how most Lebanese identify first as Lebanese but also as something else (family, sect, region, etc.). For more, click on the link on Hanf above.

Also -- again in the context of talking about Lebanese identity, Lebanese communalism, etc. -- I made the point I've repeatedly made on this blog about the usefulness (or lack thereof, to be more precise) of categories such as "right" and "left" in the Lebanese context. Nevertheless, I'm labeled a rightist. How so? "[I]n that [I am] supportive but critical of the March 14 movement." How does that make one a rightist again? And were the crowds of March 8 "leftist"?! (And for the record, I never said "what is that anyway?" And that's not the only thing I never said that was attributed it to me in that piece!)

Everything I mentioned about either AbuKhalil or Cobban was secondary in relation to what I said about Lebanese identity and sectarianism (in response to what was asked about March 14). Dropped were far more relevant and important names than those of these jokers. Names like Amin Maalouf and a quote from his book on identity (here's where the bit about the "core" comes from, but it's completely incomprehensible in the piece) that I also had used in one of my posts. I also mentioned how Hanf was dropped.

The end result is a piece that is essentially about AbuKhalil! He was only brought up secondarily (only because he was another interviewee!) as an example in my explanation of my position on identity and communalism. As I mentioned to the author, my overall attitude towards that joker is perfectly worded by Martin Kramer's masterful quote in a puff piece done on AbuKhalil for the LAT. The brilliant quote is worth repeating here:

"AbuKhalil speaks for a certain brand of revolutionary, utopian secular Arabism that lost most of its following in the Middle East 20 years ago." "He is against the Arab regimes, against Israel, against U.S. policy, against the Islamists, against the liberals, against the reformists. ... He's the perfect example of the supremely principled and supremely irresponsible Arab intellectual. And so he's a luxury only America can afford."

So my quote ("anti-everything") was a direct (and explicit) reference to this.

And so on and so forth. Anyway, I thank the author for including me in the piece, I just wish I was properly quoted (it's not too much to ask!). But the most ridiculous thing is that a discussion that was centered on identity and communalism in Lebanon somehow got turned into something mainly about a third-rate jester, at the expense of relevant and edifying quotes from a serious scholar like Hanf, or a serious writer like Maalouf!

So learn your lesson kiddies. Always send your quotes in writing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Khaddam on Syria, Iran, and Hizballah

Former Syrian VP Abdel Halim Khaddam gave an interview to the Israeli-Palestinian radio station "Voice of Peace" in which he reiterated his accusation that Bashar personally gave the order to kill Hariri. He also repeated his call for the downfall of the Asad regime.

But this time Khaddam touched on other matters, including Hizballah and Iran:

"The relationship between Syria and Iran is not a strategic one", he said. "Strategic cooperation should exist between two independent strategies, but Assad has no strategy. He, in fact, serves the Iranian's interest in the region. I support friendly relations among neighboring countries, but there is a difference between friendliness and situation where one country is the other's puppet".

This is certainly not news, but it is important to be noted once again. This is something I said in my article on Syrian-Saudi relations after Hariri, that Bashar has already made his strategic choice with Iran. What we're seeing in terms of attempts by some Arab states at buying him off away from Iran are truly misguided. Bashar made that choice clear the day after he murdered Hariri. He is not up for grabs, as, say, Qatar, or some parties in Saudi Arabia, may think.

There are those in Saudi who fear Iran more than they fear the US, and those who hold the opposite view. The result, a veritable squaring of the circle, is an attempt to buy off Bashar in order to both oppose the US and halt Iranian expansion into the Levant. Yet they will achieve neither objective.

In fact, that policy really shows how irrelevant and impotent these states are. They will become increasingly so should Iran get the bomb. Bashar, I think, may have figured this out, and he believes it benefits him more to be an Iranian client/proxy. It certainly fits with his preference for brinkmanship, and is quite clear from his hardline ideological rhetoric, which essentially parrots Ahmadinejad's. Khaddam's characterization is therefore correct.

Khaddam then moves on to Hizballah:

"Syria indeed helps them with arms and support. The Israeli occupation has ended, what's left is the Sheba farm issue, but Lebanon's government needs to be supported. With that in mind, supplying arms (from Syria to Hizbullah) is a mistake"

Although one cannot draw firm conclusions based on so little, it seems that Khaddam's line -- perhaps not surprisingly -- supports the Jumblat-Hariri line in Lebanon (indeed the Taef Accord and UNR 1559) with regards to Hizballah and the Shebaa Farms. It's no longer Hizballah that should be in charge of the Shebaa affair, it's the Lebanese government, which should be strengthened and supported (perhaps also a jab at how Syria is using HA to undermine the government).

But there may be a message to the Israelis here as well. Again, I say this very tentatively, and I may indeed be reading too much into this. But I think this is a fair reading nevertheless. Khaddam does address the Israelis directly in the interview:

"Israel is interested in keeping Assad in power because he is weak and he weakens Syria. They want Syria to be weak and deprived. I say to the people of Israel – if you really want peace – implement the UN resolutions about the Palestinian land and the rest of the land occupied in 1967."

Is Khaddam marketing himself to the Israelis? If you get on board toppling Assad, and support my program (along with the Sunni forces, the MB and perhaps the Kurds too), I could stop support to Hizballah, and we would not light up the Golan either. We'd negotiate, essentially based on the Saudi plan.

Speaking of the Saudis, if indeed these are Khaddam's messages to the Israelis, they function equally as missives to the Saudis, especially the part about Syria and Iran. I will rectify Syrian relations with Iran. And I would endorse Abdullah's regional plan (which Bashar had sabotaged). In other words, I would not only keep Syria in the Sunni orbit, I would also keep stability (which is the magic word).

Of course, I may be reading too much into a few lines, but I think the overall picture is in the ball park. If this is Khaddam's proposal, it certainly offers a much more convincing alternative to the inept stalemate offered by some Arab states when it comes to Bashar and Iran. It's no coincidence that Jumblat has been pushing this line as well, and has been working hard to sabotage any Arab "initiative" favoring Bashar in Lebanon.

At the end of the day, if the Arabs do not go with a similar option, they may soon find themselves on the periphery of power politics in the ME.