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Francis Fukuyama has made headlines once again for abandoning the neoconservativism that he once espoused. His change of heart came, he says, when he attended a speech two years ago that treated the Iraq War as an unqualified success, and realized that he had nothing in common with this movement. Interestingly, it's taken him a while to come public with this information -- say, just about the time that public support for the war has ebbed -- and he does so just as his new book is being released.
Of course, Fukuyama has every right to change his mind, as well as be stunningly and laughably wrong, such as when he insisted that we had come to the "end of history" fifteen years ago. What he lacks is an honest rendition of why he changed his mind, as Charles Krauthammer (the man who spoke at that fateful event in 2004) insists that he never said the Iraq war was an "unqualified success", and that the speech wasn't even about the war:
It was, as the hero tells it, his Road to Damascus moment. There he is, in a hall of 1,500 people he has long considered to be his allies, hearing the speaker treat the Iraq war, nearing the end of its first year, as "a virtually unqualified success." He gasps as the audience enthusiastically applauds. Aghast to discover himself in a sea of comrades so deluded by ideology as to have lost touch with reality, he decides he can no longer be one of them.
And thus did Francis Fukuyama become the world's most celebrated ex-neoconservative, a well-timed metamorphosis that has brought him a piece of the fame that he once enjoyed 15 years ago as the man who declared, a mite prematurely, that history had ended.
A very nice story. It appears in the preface to Fukuyama's post-neocon coming out, "America at the Crossroads." On Sunday it was repeated on the front page of the New York Times Book Review in Paul Berman's review.
I happen to know something about this story, as I was the speaker whose 2004 Irving Kristol lecture to the American Enterprise Institute Fukuyama has now brought to prominence. I can therefore testify that Fukuyama's claim that I attributed "virtually unqualified success" to the war is a fabrication.
Ever since this nugget of information appeared in the New York Times' book review of Fukuyama's new book, people have pulled a similar citation in the New Yorker out as a demonstration of the sorry state of the war. One of the resident liberals here at CQ did so last night for the thread on the latest "revelation" that the US and UK had decided to end the twelve-year quagmire on Iraq in 2003, one way or another. For some reason, Fukuyama has suddenly developed unassailable credibility with the left.
Krauthammer dismantles Fukuyama's credibility in one article, complete with a link to the original speech. Since it aired on CSPAN and has long been published at the American Enterprise Institute, Fukuyama's assertion can easily be checked. Try checking the references for Iraq and success, separately or together, and one will find that Fukuyama has made this story up out of whole cloth. As Krauthammer says, the speech discusses what he sees as four schools of thought for foreign policy. He winds up supporting "democratic realism", a meld between Wilsonianism and muscular engagement that treats the UN as only one avenue for democratizing the world, and a minor one at that.
It's a fascinating speech and an excellent look at our varying efforts in foreign policy and a defense of the current direction of the administration. Krauthammer makes the case that we have tried the other schools and have achieved no lasting stability and have increased the capacity for violence by turning a blind eye to despots like Saddam. He also argues that the existence of WMD in a post-Cold War era requires pre-emptive action, as mutually-assured destruction means nothing to suicidal and/or asymmetrical foes such as Saddam or al-Qaeda. But what Krauthammer most assuredly did not argue was that the Iraq War was an unqualified success, or even speak much about the war at all.
What I find fascinating about Fukuyama's folly is that history has proven him right in his initial stance. Using another link provided by Monkyboy, let's review what the neocons said in early 1998, shortly before Bill Clinton and Congress made regime change our national policy:
The policy of “containment” of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over the past several months. As recent events have demonstrated, we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. Our ability to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not producing weapons of mass destruction, therefore, has substantially diminished. Even if full inspections were eventually to resume, which now seems highly unlikely, experience has shown that it is difficult if not impossible to monitor Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons production. The lengthy period during which the inspectors will have been unable to enter many Iraqi facilities has made it even less likely that they will be able to uncover all of Saddam’s secrets. As a result, in the not-too-distant future we will be unable to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess such weapons.
Such uncertainty will, by itself, have a seriously destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East. It hardly needs to be added that if Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard. As you have rightly declared, Mr. President, the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century will be determined largely by how we handle this threat.
Now, after the fall of Baghdad, we know that our UN "partners" France and Russia busily enriched themselves by Saddam's bribery. We know that the UN put billions into Saddam's pockets while the humanitarian aid the money ostensibly provided never existed. The Russians provided military intelligence to Saddam as well as materiel even while American troops approached Baghdad. Far from being "contained", Saddam felt convinced he could ride the sanctions out and restart his WMD programs, a conclusion that Charles Duelfer reached in his final report and which new intelligence bears out.
Containment had failed; Fukuyama and the other signers were right. One can argue about tactics and timing, but the need to remove Saddam from power was obvious in 1998, and obvious in a bipartisan way, and 9/11 showed we could not afford to wait for him to die and his sons to take over. Saddam had played footsie with AQ and other terrorist groups too long to ignore the threat and to wait until they attacked again.
So why change his mind now? Only Fukuyama knows that. One thing is certain: the fairy tale he shared with his readers isn't the reason, and until he makes a better accounting of himself, I'd say that Fukuyama's reached the end of his history as a credible voice on foreign affairs.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire tallies up the scorecard and comes up with a closer game, but still says Fukuyama and the Times have some 'splaining to do.Sphere It View blog reactions
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