Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Review: America at the Crossroads

This is a book review I published on amazon.com for America at the Crossroads by Francis Fukuyama.

Fukuyama, Francis. 2006. America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. New Haven: Yale University Press.

The Twilight of Post-Cold War Triumphalism

When one reads this book, it is hard to believe this is the same Francis Fukuyama who fifteen years ago was cheerleading the coming global democratic capitalist crusade with the enthusiasm of Urban II. How those days have passed. Since September 11, and the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the author has had to adapt his theoretical tenets to current geopolitical complexities, creating results that are not entirely desirable for the author.

You can always detect a grand theory's degeneration when its own advocates begin writing confessions about the failures of their pet theory in the world of practical application. To that extent, `America at the Crossroads' should be the right's `God That Failed.' However, the author's reticence in the face of the debacles (with the 2003 Iraq War being the reality debunker) only reifies the continued belief of neoconservatives in their world quest. For his part, Fukuyama commits the ultimate wire act of critiquing his grand theory without ever admitting its complete inapplicableness, while living the illusion that the US, residing in a globalized world with de-nationalized states, can continue to rule as if we were living in the Victorian Age.

:The Origins of the Fallacy:

The book starts by illuminating on the antecedent roots of American neoconservatism. For those that are not in the know, neoconservatism is basically a post-World War Two innovation of conservatism. Its first disseminators were disgruntled Marxists and Trotskyites, such as Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol (for a good example of this dedication to Communism by early neoconservatives, reference Norman Podhoretz's ode to the Red Army during the Battle of Stalingrad). These early American Marxists became obviously disenchanted with the Soviet Union by the 1950s and with the left entirely, precipitating their move to the right, albeit with a concentration on foreign policy and international issues (a separation from the nativist nationalism and isolationism of pre-World War Two conservatives/paleoconservatives).

Parallel to this movement was a lesser known, but highly influential, sect of young impressionable students of the naturalized American academic Leo Strauss. Strauss was a neo-classicist, who felt most all of the political problems of society could be deciphered through reading the philosophical works of the Greeks and Romans (a not too disagreeable pursuit). However, Strauss's lessons, what ones he weaned, were subjectively defined in terms of the necessity for force for the maintenance of civilization. Parroting early fascist thinkers like Gabriele D'Annunzio, ironic considering that Strauss was Jewish, the Straussian interpretation of the classics is one closer to a society based on the bold action of philosophers in the ancient mold (with particular attention to Socrates and Plato). Strauss's philosopher kings and decisions makers were not believers in the liberal relativism of classic democratic Athens, but those who believed government should take a greater role in promoting virtue (the philosophical enabler for those who would go on to greater endeavors in the civilian section of the DOD to promote forceful `democratization' of Iraq). It is a strange marriage of Plato's Republic, which has been denounced by many as a blueprint for totalitarianism (Karl Popper, et al.), along with a highly dark, cynical, even necessarily violent view of human nature, but this is what made Strauss so unique.

Over time, neoconservatism developed from its Marxist and Platonic roots to what we know today, a worldview predicated on a belief in an interventionist foreign policy (environment of perpetual war, be it real or simply a hegemonic political and economic struggle between peer competitors [i.e., the US and the Soviet Union]), a garrison state (national security taking priority in all budgetary matters), and an unbending faith in the universal application and imposition of their preferred form of government--capitalist democracies (of course, this was not perfectly applied throughout the Cold War, since many of these same neoconservatives supported the empowerment of market authoritarian regimes in countries with democratic socialist outcomes [i.e., Chile, Guatemala, Persia, etc.]). Thus, democratic interventionism became for enlightened leaders and their intellectual guardians (who Strauss calls scholars, but have apparently morphed into fellow pundits and friendly media outlets for contemporaries) the call for action to promote a virtuous cause, a cause of good vs. evil, if you will.

:Early Post-Cold War Trials:

According to Fukuyama, neoconservatism's first real test came with the end of the Cold War and the search for new places and rationales for intervention (since anti-Communism no longer held the same ideational legitimacy as before 1989). That test was hand delivered when Iraq made the fateful decision to invade Kuwait in 1990, but the consequences of the Gulf War were never entirely satisfactory. Its ending lacked the reintroduction of a global competitive ideology in dire need of destruction and its resident populations liberated courtesy of the uniformed sons and daughters of others.

The promise of humanitarian intervention in the late 1990s, especially in Kosovo, illustrated a new justification for the use of force, a new call of arms for the promotion of global virtue, but was not counterbalanced by a competing ideology (since most humanitarian interventions, be it Somalia or the Balkans, were utilized to punish outbreaks of nationalism and localized ethnic violence). It was not until the September 11, 2001, attacks that neoconservatives were able to finally associate this Manichean task to an old cause most dear to them since 1991, democratizing recalcitrant Muslims.

:2003 Iraq War: The Height and Fall of Neoconservatism:

It should be noted that at one time Fukuyama was the academic standard for believers in post-Cold War democratization and the miraculous benefits of globalization. This led the author to sign a public letter in 1998, as well as one right after September 11th, along with fellow neoconservatives calling for an invasion and occupation of Iraq (other signatories to the 1998 letter include future Bush Administration Iraq War policymakers Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz). Fukuyama defended his initial support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, as the potential use of military force as a liberating mechanism for democratization in the Middle East, thereby making Iraq a potential demonstration effect for the rest of the region's autocratic states (most of whom, interestingly enough, including theocracies like Saudi Arabia, are closely allied with the US). Nevertheless, Fukuyama was also an early (going back to 2004) neoconservative in-house critic of the resultant occupation blunders.

I do not need to recount the news of the past three years to illustrate the monumental failures of attempting to introduce democracy to regions and peoples with no history of such a form of government (Fukuyama allots a good amount of space in the book to this effort). Suffice it to say, Iraq has not turned out like most neoconservatives thought it would (anymore than the believers in the first Five Year Plan). To this point, most have chosen to remain silent on the complete inability of their campaign for the promotion of virtue to succeed or engender eternal appreciation by the oppressed. Indeed, if you read the front pages of neoconservative publications, like The Weekly Standard, it is still operating with an air of unreality, as though everything has succeeded beyond its wildest expectations (with periodic recognition of some "bumps" along the way).

For Fukuyama, the failure to recognize the problems of Iraq has done more than anything else to discredit neoconservatives in the eyes of those of us that pay attention to reality. Out of the entire text, this contention rings the most hollow, on account that the author signed two very public petitions calling for the invasion of Iraq before 2003 and defended the war initially, before becoming critical of it (a year afterward), even though Fukuyama claims to have had reservations about going to war in Iraq a full year beforehand. If this was truly the case, then why did he not state those objections? If he was truly worried about the war, worried enough to write a book about it three years following the invasion that has led to all of the calumnies he now claims to have foreseen back in 2002, why wait until 2006 to write anything about it? That is, unless he wanted to wait until the war became such a disaster that he knew he could politically get away with criticizing it openly. Either way, it makes the author look disingenuous.

It is also this disingenuousness that clarifies the author's lack of capacity to admit defeat, to which he remedies the shortcomings for neoconservatism by advancing a "return" of what he calls "realistic Wilsonianism" (it seems dubious to assert the need for a return to something that has never existed). It is a more refined variant of neoconservatism that takes into account local political and cultural realities and, most offensive of all, retains the need to work within the constructs of international institutions. Naturally, the author, still not completely disheartened with the test and post-test results, continues to cling to the belief in a global morality play, pitting the barbarism and backwardness of the "jihad elite" (a nicer of way of saying bin Laden and his associates) against his end-of-history progressive forces of democratic capitalism. The remaining ideological absolutism is almost stultifying, especially his refusal to envision anything between the two worlds of being a happy global consumer or suicide bomber.

Just how continually blind is Fukuyama? He claims that of the post-September 11th interventions by the US, only post-2001 Afghanistan "resembles" post-World War Two Germany and Japan in the degree to which its leadership has "rejected" the political order (i.e., the Taliban) replaced by the US. Ladies and gentleman, five years after World War Two, in 1950, West Germany and Japan retained full political sovereignty and complete domestic political stability (with no insurgencies to speak of), not to mention recovering economies that would go on to make these nations two of the wealthiest countries on earth. To this day, there is little to no electricity in Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul, and its "moderate" political leadership (the ones who "rejected" the Taliban) depends on people whose theological conceptualization of the world is still mired in the greatest hits of the 7th century Arab peninsula. To even compare Afghanistan in 2006 to post-war West Germany and Japan epitomizes why Fukuyama still has a difficult time grasping reality.

:Conclusions and Observations:

This book reads like the intellectual's confession of guilt for the sins of his past. Of course, theories have been the fetish of the intelligentsia since the modern age, and it is not ironic that so many of today's stars of neo-conservatism owe their epistemology to Marx. It merely took a re-imagination of their innermost beliefs and extrapolated onto another cause, with the same messianism, universalism, and belief in expansionism and global domination that motivated the likes of Trotsky to today's advocates of democratization through cluster bombs. Fukuyama calls this Wilsonian creed the missionary aspect of neoconservatism, but couching it in religious terminology gives it a legitimacy it does not deserve.

Lastly, it is Fukuyama's inability to make the final break with his utopia that ultimately dooms the book to the farthest rungs of a marketing ploy to snooker readers into buying something they almost never see, an American neoconservative finally admitting that their god failed. For those commissars who cannot imagine such a break, there need be no worry. The author still lives the faith. He just thinks we should be more cooperative about blowing countries up.


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