Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fukuyama Rashomon

Fukuyama may be "The man who changed his mind", as a title to a recent review by Anatol Lieven of After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads has it, but some of his interlocutors only seem to be more confirmed in their positions by his transition.

Paul Berman, in The New York Times, starts wittily enough:
Nowadays, if you are any kind of political thinker at all, and you haven't issued a sweeping denunciation of your dearest friends, or haven't been hanged by them from a lamppost — why, the spirit of the age has somehow passed you by.
although Lieven in New Statesman does it better:
the propaganda bulwarks of the Bush administration have, in recent months, often vanished from view behind the mass of intellectuals and journalists trying to jump off them.
For Gary Rosen (managing editor of Commentary, but writing in the Washington Post) the nub comes to this:

What's missing from [the new book], as a reader of the old Fukuyama would know, is the Hegelian twist that gave his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man its peculiar intensity and breadth. Liberal democracy, in that telling, was not only about the desire for pleasure and physical well-being but also about a second, more elevated drive: the individual's "struggle for recognition," the spirited -- and often political -- assertion of personal dignity and worth. About this deeply felt human need, Fukuyama is now silent. Yet in today's Middle East, nothing is so striking as the dearth of channels for its expression.

And Berman can't help noticing that Fukuyama has somehow come round to "some of the main elements of the liberal interventionist position of three years ago":
A genuinely cogent argument [for invading Iraq] , as Fukuyama sees it, would have drawn attention to the problems that arose from America's prewar standoff with Hussein. The American-led sanctions against Iraq were the only factor that kept him from building his weapons. The sanctions were crumbling, though. Meanwhile, they were arousing anti-American furies across the Middle East on the grounds (entirely correct, I might add) that America was helping to inflict horrible damage on the Iraqi people. American troops took up positions in the region to help contain Hussein — and the presence of those troops succeeded in infuriating Osama bin Laden. In short, the prewar standoff with Hussein was untenable morally and even politically. But there was no way to end the standoff apart from ending Hussein's dictatorship.
But of the three, only Lieven gets to the heart of the matter:
[Fukuyama's] work suffers from... a lack of detail concerning controversial questions. Fukuyama wisely advocates a limited, "Bismarckian" approach to the exercise of US power. But what does that mean in practice when it comes to the defence of Taiwan, the expansion of Nato into the former Soviet Union and a choice of war or détente with Iran? Above all, what settlement does he advocate for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
To build on Lieven's point, can Fukuyama contribute something sensible in response to Mersheimer and Walt's critique (summary here, full text here) of a policy which affords $500 per head to Israel, a wealthy industrialised nation (albeit with the highest rates of inequality and child poverty of any rich country bar the United States), while the US allocates less than $1 per head to each African? Or will we continue to be stuck with McCarthy-ite smears such as this?

(See also Jacob Weisberg and Christopher Hitchens)

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