The Neoconservative Convergence
Some once famously dissenting ideas now govern U.S. foreign policy,
maturing as they go.
BY CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
WSJ Thursday, July 21, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
The post-Cold War era has seen a remarkable ideological experiment: Over
the past 15 years, each of the three major American schools of foreign
policy--realism, liberal internationalism and neoconservatism--has taken
its turn at running things. (A fourth school, isolationism, has a long
pedigree, but has yet to recover from Pearl Harbor and probably never
will; it remains a minor source of dissidence with no chance of becoming
a governing ideology.) There is much to be learned from this unusual and
The era began with the senior George Bush and a classically realist
approach. This was Kissingerism without Kissinger--although Brent
Scowcroft, James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger filled in admirably. The
very phrase the administration coined to describe its vision--the New
World Order--captured the core idea: an orderly world with orderly rulers
living in stable equilibrium.
The elder Mr. Bush had two enormous achievements to his credit: the
peaceful reunification of Germany, still historically undervalued, and
the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, which maintained the status
quo in the Persian Gulf. Nonetheless, his administration suffered from
the classic shortcoming of realism: a failure of imagination. Mr. Bush
brilliantly managed the reconstitution of Germany and the restoration of
the independence of the East European states, but he could not see far
enough to the liberation of the Soviet peoples themselves. His notorious
"chicken Kiev" speech of 1991, warning Ukrainians against "suicidal
nationalism," seemed to prefer Soviet stability to the risk of 15 free
and independent states.
But we must not be retrospectively too severe. Democracy in Ukraine was
hard to envision even a few years ago, let alone in the early 1990s, and
Mr. Bush's hesitancy did not stop the march of liberation in the Soviet
sphere. It was the failure of imagination in Mr. Bush's other area of
triumph--Iraq--that had truly stark, even tragic, consequences.
Leaving Saddam in place, and declining to support the Kurdish and Shiite
uprisings that followed the first Gulf War, begat more than a decade of
Iraqi suffering, rancor among our war allies, diplomatic isolation for
the U.S., and a crumbling regime of U.N. sanctions. All this led
ultimately and inevitably to a second war that could have been fought far
more easily--and with the enthusiastic support of Iraq's Shiites, who to
this day remain suspicious of our intentions--in 1991. One recalls with
dismay that the first two of Osama bin Laden's announced justifications
for his declaration of war on America were the garrisoning of the holy
places (i.e., Saudi Arabia) by crusader (i.e., American) soldiers and the
suffering of Iraqis under sanctions. Both were a direct result of the
inconclusive end to the first Gulf War.
Still, the achievements of the elder Mr. Bush far outweigh the failures.
The smooth and peaceful dissolution of the Soviet empire began, Saddam
was stopped, and Arabia was saved. But then came the second, radically
different experiment. For the balance of the 1990s, for reasons having
nothing to do with foreign policy, realism was abruptly replaced by the
classic liberal internationalism of the Clinton administration.
It is hard to be charitable in assessing the record. Liberal
internationalism's one major achievement in those years--saving the
Muslims in the Balkans and creating conditions for their possible
peaceful integration into Europe--was achieved, ironically, in defiance
of its own major principle. It lacked what liberal internationalists
incessantly claim is the sine qua non of legitimacy: the approval of the
U.N. Security Council.
Otherwise, the period between 1993 and 2001 was a waste, eight years of
sleepwalking, of the absurd pursuit of one treaty more useless than the
last, while the rising threat--Islamic terrorism--was treated as a
problem of law enforcement. Perhaps the most symbolic moment occurred at
the residence of the U.S. ambassador to France in October 2000, after
Yasser Arafat had rejected Israel's peace offer at Camp David and instead
launched his bloody second intifada. In Paris for another round of talks,
Arafat abruptly broke off negotiations and was leaving the residence when
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ran after him, chasing him in her
heels on the cobblestone courtyard to induce him, to cajole him, into
signing yet another worthless piece of paper.
Leon Trotsky is said to have remarked of the New York intellectual Dwight
Macdonald, "Everyone has a right to be stupid, but Comrade Macdonald
abuses the privilege." During its 7 1/2-year Oslo folly, the Clinton
administration abused the privilege consistently.
Then came another radical change. By a fluke or a miracle, depending on
your point of view, because of the confusion of a few disoriented voters
in Palm Beach, Fla., this has been the decade of neoconservatism.
Bismarck once said that God looks after fools, drunkards, children and
the United States of America. Given the 2000 presidential election, it is
clear that he works in very mysterious ways.
In place of realism or liberal internationalism, the past 4 1/2 years
have seen an unashamed assertion and deployment of American power, a
resort to unilateralism when necessary, and a willingness to pre-empt
threats before they emerge. Most importantly, the second Bush
administration has explicitly declared the spread of freedom to be the
central principle of American foreign policy. George W. Bush's second
inaugural address in January was the most dramatic and expansive
expression of this principle. A few weeks later, at the National Defense
University, the president offered its most succinct formulation: "The
defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom."
The remarkable fact that the Bush doctrine is, essentially, a synonym for
neoconservative foreign policy marks neoconservatism's own transition
from a position of dissidence, which it occupied during the first Bush
administration and the Clinton years, to governance. Neoconservative
foreign policy, one might say, has reached maturity. That is not only a
portentous development, requiring some rethinking of principles and
practice, but a rather unexpected one.
It is unexpected because, only a year ago, neoconservative foreign policy
was being consigned to the ash heap of history. In the spring and summer
of 2004, in the midst of increasing difficulties in Iraq, it was very
widely believed that neoconservative policies had been run to the ground,
that the administration that had purveyed them would soon be thrown out
of office, and that internecine recriminations were about to begin over
who lost the war on terror, the war in Iraq and indeed the reins of
American foreign policy. One prominent columnist, speaking for the
conventional wisdom of the moment, called the Bush project in Iraq "a
childish fantasy." And this, from a friend of neoconservatism.
As for the liberals who had come on board the project of liberating Iraq,
they took its perceived foundering as an opportunity to engage in a mass
jumping of ship. Some justified their abandonment of the Bush doctrine on
the grounds that it was they who had been betrayed--by an administration
whose incompetence, mendacity, political opportunism and various other
crimes had ruined a policy that would already have been crowned with
success if only they had been in charge of postwar Iraq, calibrating
brilliantly precise troop levels, calculating to three decimal places the
required degree of de-Baathification, and overseeing just about every
other operational detail according to the dictates of their own tactical
Other liberals donned the guise of realists, who by the summer of 2004
were back in fashion. At the height of this new vogue, just before the
November election, even John Kerry's advisers, noting that the liberal-
internationalist critique of the war (namely, that it lacked
international support and legitimacy) was not exactly winning converts,
settled instead on a "realist" line of attack. From then on, Iraq would
be known as the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," which,
translated, meant that we should be chasing terrorists cave-to-cave in
Afghanistan rather than pursuing an ideological crusade in the Middle
If you add to this mix the classical realists, from Brent Scowcroft to
Dimitri Simes, who had opposed the entire project from the beginning and
were now penning their I-told-you-so's, there seemed scarcely anyone left
on board the neoconservative ship. But the most interesting about-face
was that of some professed neoconservatives themselves. Among these, the
most prominent was Francis Fukuyama, whose lead article in the summer
2004 National Interest was a "realist" attack on the entire ideological
underpinnings of the Iraq war and the liberationist idea. The article's
very title, "The Neoconservative Moment," made the mocking suggestion,
also very much in vogue, that neoconservative foreign policy was
finished, that its moment had come and gone, that it had been done in by
Iraq, by its own overweening arrogance, and by its blindness to the
realist wisdom that failure in Iraq was, as Mr. Fukuyama put it,
"predictable in advance."
As it happens, Mr. Fukuyama had neglected to make that prediction in
advance; at the time of the war and during the months of debate preceding
it, he had been silent. Moreover, from the perspective of today, even his
retroactive prediction in summer 2004 of inevitable and catastrophic
failure in Iraq appears doubtful, to say the least. Getting a retroactive
prediction wrong is quite an achievement, but it tells you much about the
intellectual climate just a year ago.
Today, there is no euphoria regarding the Iraq project, but sobriety has
replaced panic. Things have changed, and what changed them was four
elections: two in the West, and two in the Middle East. First came the
re-election in Australia of John Howard, a firm ally of the
administration. This presaged the re-election of George W. Bush, which
reaffirmed to the world America's staying power, gave popular legitimacy
to the Bush doctrine, and established a clear mandate to continue the
democratic project. The refusal of the American people last November to
turn out a president who, rejecting an "exit strategy," pledged instead
to remain until Iraqi self-governance had been secured, was a seminal
The other two elections took place in the areas of our exertion: first
the Afghan elections, scandalously underplayed by the American media,
then the Iraqi elections, impossible to underplay even by the American
media. The latter were a historical hinge point. After a string of other
important steps in Iraq that had been confidently dismissed as impossible
and certainly impossible to do on time--the writing of an interim
constitution, the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government--came
the greatest impossibility of all: free elections as scheduled. The
overwhelming popular turnout, in what was essentially a referendum on the
insurgency and on the democratic idea, sent a clear-cut message. Those
who had said that the Iraqis, like Arabs in general, had no particular
interest in self-government were wrong--as were those who claimed that
the insurgency was a nationalist, anti-imperialist and widely popular
This is hardly to say that things have not remained difficult in Iraq.
The insurgency is still raging. It has the capacity to kill, to instill
fear, and perhaps ultimately to destabilize the elected government. What
the election did do, however, was to confirm what was already suggested
by the insurgency's clear lack of any political program, any political
wing, any ideology, indeed even any pretense of competing for hearts and
minds. The election exposed the insurgency as an alliance of Baathist
nihilism and atavistic jihadism, neither of which has a large
constituency in Iraq.
And that is hardly all. The elections newly empowered fully 80% of the
Iraqi population--the Kurds and the Shiites--and created an indigenous
representative leadership with a life-and-death stake in defeating the
insurgency. By giving that 80% the political and institutional means to
build the necessary forces, the elections infinitely improved the chances
that a stable, multiethnic, democratic Iraq can emerge, despite the
current mayhem. As Fouad Ajami wrote in The Wall Street Journal on May
16, upon returning from a visit to the region:
The insurgents will do what they are good at. But no one really believes
that those dispensers of death can turn back the clock. . . . By a twist
of fate, the one Arab country that had seemed ever marked for brutality
and sorrow now stands poised on the frontier of a new political world.
The elections' effect on the wider Arab world was likewise both immediate
and profound. Millions of Arabs watched on television as Iraqis exercised
their political rights, and were moved to ask the obvious question: Why
are Iraqis the only Arabs voting in free elections--and doing so,
moreover, under American aegis and protection? The rest is so well known
as barely to merit repeating. The Beirut spring. Syria's withdrawal from
Lebanon. Open demonstrations and the beginnings of political competition
in Egypt. Women's suffrage in Kuwait. Small but significant steps toward
democratization in the gulf. Bashar Assad's declared intent to legalize
political parties in Syria, purge the ruling Baath party, sponsor free
municipal elections in 2007, and move toward a market economy. (Not that
Assad is likely to do any of this, but the fact that he must pretend to
be doing it shows the astonishing reach of the Bush doctrine to date.)
Mr. Ajami has called this (in the title of a recent article in Foreign
Affairs) the "Autumn of the Autocrats." Not the winter--nothing is
certain, and we know of many democratizing movements in the past that
were successfully put down. There are too many entrenched dictatorships
and kleptocracies in the region to declare anything won. What we can
declare, with certainty, is the falsity of those confident assurances
before the Iraq war, during the Iraq war and after the Iraq war that this
project was inevitably doomed to failure because we do not know how to
"do" democracy, and they do not know how to receive it.
In Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, the forces of
democratic liberalization have emerged on the political stage in a way
that was unimaginable just two years ago. They have been energized and
emboldened by the Iraqi example and by American resolve. Until now, it
was widely assumed that the only alternative to pan-Arabist autocracy, to
the Nassers and the Saddams, was Islamism. We now know, from Iraq and
Lebanon, that there is another possibility, and that America has given it
life. As the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, hardly a noted friend
of the Bush doctrine, put it in late February in an interview with David
Ignatius of the Washington Post:
It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started
because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But
when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of
them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the
Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has
fallen. We can see it.
The Iraqi elections vindicated the two central propositions of the Bush
doctrine. First, that the desire for freedom is indeed universal and not
the private preserve of Westerners. Second, that America is genuinely
committed to democracy in and of itself. Contrary to the cynics, whether
Arab, European or American, the U.S. did not go into Iraq for oil or
hegemony but for liberation--a truth that on Jan. 30 even al-Jazeera had
to televise. Arabs in particular had had sound historical reason to doubt
American sincerity: six decades of U.S. support for Arab dictators, a
cynical "realism" that began with FDR's deal with the House of Saud and
reached its apogee with the 1991 betrayal of the anti-Saddam uprising
that the elder Bush had encouraged in Iraq. Today, however, they see a
different Bush and a different doctrine.
The Iraqi elections had one final effect. They so acutely embarrassed
foreign critics, especially in Europe, that we began to see a rash of
headlines asking the rhetorical question: Was Bush Right? The answer to
that is: Yes, so far. The democratic project has been launched, against
the critics and against the odds. That in itself is an immense historical
achievement. But success will require maturation--a neoconservatism of
discrimination and restraint, prepared to examine both its principles and
its practice in shaping a truly governing philosophy.
In a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute last year, I tried to
draw a distinction between a more expansive and a more restrictive
neoconservative foreign policy. I called the two types, respectively,
democratic globalism and democratic realism.
The chief spokesman for democratic globalism is the president himself,
and his second inaugural address is its ur-text. What is most
breathtaking about it is not what most people found shocking--his
announced goal of abolishing tyranny throughout the world. Granted, that
is rather cosmic-sounding, but it is only an expression of direction and
hope for, well, the end of time. What is most expansive is the pledge
that America will stand with dissidents throughout the world, wherever
This sort of talk immediately opens itself up to the accusation of
disingenuousness and hypocrisy. After all, the United States retains cozy
relations with autocracies of various stripes, most notably Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, Pakistan and Russia. Besides, if we place ourselves on the side
of all dissidents everywhere, must we not declare our solidarity not only
with democrats but with Islamist dissidents sitting in Pakistani,
Egyptian, Saudi and Russian jails?
But we do not act this way, and we need not. The question of alliances
with dictators, of deals with the devil, can be approached openly,
forthrightly and without any need for defensiveness. The principle is
that we cannot democratize the world overnight and, therefore, if we are
sincere about the democratic project, we must proceed sequentially. Nor,
out of a false equivalence, need we abandon democratic reformers in these
autocracies. On the contrary, we have a duty to support them, even as we
have a perfect moral right to distinguish between democrats on the one
hand and totalitarians or jihadists on the other.
In the absence of omnipotence, one must deal with the lesser of two
evils. That means postponing radically destabilizing actions in places
where the support of the current nondemocratic regime is needed against a
larger existential threat to the free world. There is no need to
apologize for that. In World War II we allied ourselves with Stalin
against Hitler. (As Churchill said shortly after the German invasion of
the U.S.S.R.: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable
reference to the devil in the House of Commons.") This was a necessary
alliance, and a temporary one: When we were done with Hitler, we turned
our attention to Stalin and his successors.
During the subsequent war, the Cold War, we again made alliances with the
devil, in the form of a variety of right-wing dictators, in order to
fight the greater evil. Here, again, the partnership was necessary and
temporary. Our deals with right-wing dictatorships were contingent upon
their usefulness and upon the status of the ongoing struggle. Once again
we were true to our word. Whenever we could, and particularly as we
approached victory in the larger war, we dispensed with those alliances.
Consider two cases of useful but temporary allies against communism:
Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. We
proved our bona fides in both of these cases when, as Moscow weakened and
the existential threat to the free world receded, we worked to bring down
both dictators. In 1986, we openly and decisively supported the Aquino
revolution that deposed and exiled Marcos, and later in the '80s we
pressed very hard for free elections in Chile that Mr. Pinochet lost,
paving the way for the return of democracy.
Alliances with dictatorships were justified in the war against fascism
and the Cold War, and they are justified now in the successor existential
struggle, the war against Arab/Islamic radicalism. This is not just
theory. It has practical implications. For nothing is more practical than
the question: After Afghanistan, after Iraq, what?
The answer is, first Lebanon, then Syria. Lebanon is next because it is
so obviously ready for democracy, having practiced a form of it for 30
years after decolonization. Its sophistication and political culture make
it ripe for transformation, as the massive pro-democracy demonstrations
Then comes Syria, both because of its vulnerability--the Lebanon
withdrawal has gravely weakened Assad--and because of its strategic
importance. A critical island of recalcitrance in a liberalizing region
stretching from the Mediterranean to the Iranian border, Syria has tried
to destabilize all of its neighbors: Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and
now, most obviously and bloodily, the new Iraq. Serious, prolonged,
ruthless pressure on the Assad regime would yield enormous geopolitical
advantage in democratizing, and thus pacifying, the entire Levant.
Some conservatives (and many liberals) have proposed instead that we be
true to the universalist language of the president's second inaugural
address and go after the three principal Islamic autocracies: Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Not so fast, and not so hard. Autocracies they
are, and in many respects nasty ones. But doing this would be a mistake.
In Egypt, we certainly have liberal resources that should be supported
and encouraged. But, keeping in mind the Algerian experience, we should
be wary of bringing down the whole house of cards and thereby derailing
any progress from authoritarianism to liberal democracy. Saudi Arabia has
a Byzantine culture, and an equally Byzantine method of governance, which
must be delicately reformed short of overthrow. And Pakistan, which has
great potential for democracy, is simply too critical as a military ally
in the war on al Qaeda to risk anything right now. Pervez Musharraf is no
bastard; but even if he were, he is ours. We should be encouraging the
evolution of democracy in all of these countries, but relentless and
ruthless means--of the kind we employed in Afghanistan and Iraq and
should, perhaps short of direct military invention, be employing in
Syria--are better applied to enemies, not friends.
What is interesting is that the Bush administration, in practice, is
proceeding precisely along these lines. It pushes on Hosni Mubarak, but
gently. It moves even more gingerly with Saudi Arabia, fearing what may
emerge in the short term if the royal kleptocracy is deposed. And,
because Pakistan is so central to the war on terror, it disturbs not a
hair on the head of Mr. Musharraf.
In short, the Bush administration--if you like, neoconservatism in
power--has been far more inclined to pursue democratic realism and to
consign democratic globalism to the realm of aspiration. This kind of
prudent circumspection is, in fact, a practical necessity for governing
in the real world. We should, for example, be doing everything in our
power, both overtly and covertly, to encourage a democratic revolution in
Iran, a deeply hostile and dangerous state, even while trying carefully
to manage democratic evolution in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
Pakistan. Indeed, the behavior of the Bush administration implies that in
practice, the distinction between democratic realism and democratic
globalism may collapse, because globalism is simply not sustainable.
Another important sign of the maturing of neoconservative foreign policy
is that it is no longer tethered to its own ideological history and
paternity. The current practitioners of neoconservative foreign policy
are George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld.
They have no history in the movement, and before 9/11 had little affinity
to or affiliation with it.
The fathers of neoconservatism are former liberals or leftists. Today,
its chief proponents, to judge by their history, are former realists. Ms.
Rice, for example, was a disciple of Brent Scowcroft; Mr. Cheney served
as secretary of defense in the first Bush administration. September 11
changed all of that. It changed the world, and changed our understanding
of the world. As neoconservatism seemed to offer the most plausible
explanation of the new reality and the most compelling and active
response to it, many realists were brought to acknowledge the poverty of
realism--not just the futility but the danger of a foreign policy
centered on the illusion of stability and equilibrium. These realists,
newly mugged by reality, have given weight to neoconservatism, making it
more diverse and, given the newcomers' past experience, more mature.
What neoconservatives have long been advocating is now being articulated
and practiced at the highest levels of government by a war cabinet
composed of individuals who, coming from a very different place, have
joined and reshaped the neoconservative camp and are carrying the
neoconservative idea throughout the world. As a result, the vast right-
wing conspiracy has grown even more vast than liberals could imagine. And
even as the tent has enlarged, the great schisms and splits in
conservative foreign policy--so widely predicted just a year ago, so
eagerly sought and amplified by outside analysts--have not occurred.
Indeed, differences have, if anything, narrowed.
This is not party discipline. It is compromise with reality, and
convergence toward the middle. Above all, it is the maturation of a
governing ideology whose time has come.
Mr. Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington
Post and an essayist for Time. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and in
2003 was a recipient of the Bradley Prize. This essay, in somewhat
different form, was delivered in New York City in May as Commentary's
first annual Norman Podhoretz Lecture, and it appears in the July/August
issue of Commentary.
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ARIEL BOLUDOVSKY wrote:
> The Neoconservative Convergence
> Some once famously dissenting ideas now govern U.S. foreign policy,
> maturing as they go.
¿Qué te pasa en la boca que hablas tan raro?, O_o
No se te entiende na de na.
Apostaría 10 Euros a que eres de los que se rasgan las vestiduras
cuando alguien envía un mensaje en Catalan.
Lokutus, Asimilando la red.
Llave Pública en hkp://wwwkeys.eu.pgp.net
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iD8DBQFC4AP+X7vwC5fkG+4RArVoAJ 4npSloHLhFHuPTlnOrHMUGTfBlgQCe O/x6
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