A celebrated New Yorker cartoon of the 1950s showed a plane crashing on a
runway. As everyone rushed to rescue the crew a solitary scientist walked
in the opposite direction. He sighed, "Oh well, back to the drawing board."
As the George Bush's Iraq adventure smoulders on the tarmac, a
small group of neo-cons are starting to escape the scene with varying
degrees of dignity. Some such as Paul Wolfowitz and Paul Bremer have
vanished. A handful, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair,
remain in denial, parroting the Vietnam line that "we are winning, really".
Others such as Francis Fukuyama have a more valid licence to recant, having
doubted whether neo-conservatism was relevant to Iraq all along.
In a devastating resume of the saga so far, Fukuyama concludes that
the so-called creation of democracy in Iraq cannot "justify the blood and
treasure that the United States has spent on the project". The war is not
worked. In any counter-terrorism operation, "successful pre-emption depends
on the ability to predict the future accurately and on good intelligence,
which was not forthcoming." The Bush doctrine "is now in shambles". America
is as isolated as never before. The chaos in Iraq is spoiling the case for
any further global projection of American values.
More Americans than since the end of Vietnam are now saying that America
"should mind its own business". The realists are coming back into the
ascendancy. From Afghanistan through Iran and Iraq to the Levant America is
in strategic retreat. It cannot realistically fight another war. The Bush
doctrine has polluted not promoted American values. It has made America
less not more safe, and its ally Israel with it.
None of this will come as particularly new to consumers of the
voluminous catalogue of Iraq book so far. It was predicted by the State
Department and many in the American military and round the world (not least
in Europe) before being discovered by Fukuyama. To him the realisation must
be the more bitter since part his "end of history" thesis was that America
had won not just the cold war but the global argument.
Fukuyama, the supreme rationalist, assumed that the rest of the world would
accept defeat and American hegemony. Like many Americans he forgot
nationalism, and did not predict how ineptly Americans would react to being
stung He forgot that the nuclear bomb is a useless weapon since the owners
cannot really use it. It has no deterrence value, as aggressors from North
Vietnam to Iraq to Argentina to al-Qaeda have realised. Military supremacy
does not conquer all. Philip Bobbitt and others have shown that it merely
changes the nature of the game. America's biggest enemy after 9/11 was
paranoia, risk aversion and a belligerent revenge psychosis. It now spends
more on protecting itself against its own fears than it did against
communism. In the process it has sown mayhem across the muslim world.
Fukuyama is intrigued by how this disaster came about. He rehearses
the often told story of the early neo-cons, born of a mixture of Zionism,
oil imperialism and honest evangelism for democracy. Among the many ironies
was the neo-conservatives' libertarian aversion to state power at home yet
an enthusiastic belief in its legitimacy and efficacy abroad when deployed
against foreigners. Watching eager neo-cons at work in Baghdad's Green Zone
I remember wondering where I had seen this before. It was under the British
Labour government of Harold Wilson.
I am sure Fukuyama is right to see his former friends' desire to
nanny the world as arising out of the cold war. I am less sure that its
motives were wholly benign. The cold war left a giant military apparatus
eager for employment. It left Washington's multitudinous defence think
tanks seeking new enemies. It left rich lobbies swirling round Israel and
oil. To all these, the crusade to bring democracy to the Middle East was
useful as much as noble.
What is extraordinary, and what Fukuyama does not fully answer, is
how so small a group of often crackpot intellectuals came to hijack a
superpower. Under Bush men such as Wolfowitz, Cheney, Richard Perle,
William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer should have been locked away in
some log cabinet. Kristol declared, "It is precisely because American
foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that
other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting
power." On what planet do these people live?
Such words would have been hubristic arrogance at the height of the
British Empire. The neo-cons still cannot see what harm is done their cause
by Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the 101st Airborne and extraordinary rendition.
They cannot see that these methods of hegemony, minor in themselves, are
9/11 to the defenceless poor of Afghanistan, Iraq and the ghettoes of
Palestine. American cried feel out pain after 9/11. They cry it now.
Justified or not, this is a fact with which diplomacy (or war) must
The good intentions of the neo-cons may seem axiomatic from within
the beltway. America's friends abroad can only reply, and at the tops of
their voices, that is now how it seems elsewhere in the world. When Cheney
and company now threaten Iran, again with the best of intentions, those
friends wonder respectfully if American has taken leave of its senses.
Kantian ethics requires as the test of a moral precept that it be
capable of generalisation. Fukuyama protests a central flaw in the 2002
National Security Strategy, Bush's core document of global intervention,
that "it could not safely be generalised through the international system."
America, he points out, "would be the first to object if Russia, China,
India or France declared a similar right of unilateral action." Washington
cannot pass judgment on others, however venal, "while being unwilling to
have its own conduct questioned in places like the International Criminal
Fukuyama writes clear prose and is a pleasure to read. Nor is he
chary of offering advice. His old creed is now discredited, "indelibly
associated with coercive regime change, unilateralism and American
hegemony". A new international order, he says, can only be promoted by
peaceful persuasion through international institutions so derided by the
neo-cons. While no friend of the United Nations, he preaches
"multi-multilateralism". America must move forward through "its ability to
shape international institutions", not sideline them. Either way, if
American policy can only stop making the world a worse place it might be on
the road to making it a better one. Amen.