Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Playing at Debate

I've only now read Francis Fukuyama's recent Times essay (adapted from his new book), which first appeared February 19, in which he admits that things aren't going so well in Iraq. It's quite comical. Or would be, if this didn't represent what passes for debate and discussion in this country.

Once again on point is Joshua Clover at his routinely excellent blog, jane dark's sugarhigh!:
Alas, Fukuyama's blinders aren't off so much as optimized. He is still searching for a successful strategy for American hegemony; he's just come to realize that a somewhat higher competence level may be required. A world in which this brings comfort to anyone of conscience is tragic to say the least.
Indeed. I am reminded of John Kerry's content-free run for the presidency, and the widespread inability to notice what his actual positions amounted to. Later, Clover addresses Fukuyama's survey in Slate of books about Europe & Radical Islam, in which, in passing, Fukuyama ascribes the riots in France last year to "radical Islamism (aka 'the war on terrorism')", refusing to see (being constitutionally unable to see) the class conflict:
What the rioters had in common was, in ascending order of commonality, a) varying tones of darker-colored-than-Sarkozy skin, b) a history of being actively and passively brutalized by governmental agents, most notably cops with batons, tasers, and guns, and c) disenfranchisement.

To not see this is to see nothing
. One wonders if Mr. Fukuyama is able to present the current unrest by poor and disenfranchised French youth as similarly linked to "radical Islamism," or if, in what may be an even greater achievement in magical thinking, he finds this wave to be unrelated and only coincidentally similar. Unable to see, much less speak, the obvious, these are his choices — and ours. Which is to say that, as an intelligent and informed person with the apparent capacity to open and change his mind, Fukuyama is the America we would like to believe in. But with his hysterical inability to mention social relations, social class, and the transnational, transreligious confrontation between the wealthy and the disenfranchised, Fukuyama is the America we know, in which any story can be told as long as it doesn't mention those niceties. In that regard, Fukuyama clings to to the murderous blindness of the New American Century as dogmatically any of his colleagues, while playing at debate — a farce indeed.
I've never paid much attention to Fukuyama (anyone who could publish something with the premise of The End of History with a straight face hardly seemed serious to me), but he's obviously influential in certain circles and, besides, quite typical of American public discourse. His is the sort of mainstream bilge one must filter through and combat when trying to discuss these matters with real people. Back to the Times piece; these are the second and third paragraphs:
The so-called Bush Doctrine that set the framework for the administration's first term is now in shambles. The doctrine (elaborated, among other places, in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States) argued that, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, America would have to launch periodic preventive wars to defend itself against rogue states and terrorists with weapons of mass destruction; that it would do this alone, if necessary; and that it would work to democratize the greater Middle East as a long-term solution to the terrorist problem. But successful pre-emption depends on the ability to predict the future accurately and on good intelligence, which was not forthcoming, while America's perceived unilateralism has isolated it as never before. It is not surprising that in its second term, the administration has been distancing itself from these policies and is in the process of rewriting the National Security Strategy document.

But it is the idealistic effort to use American power to promote democracy and human rights abroad that may suffer the greatest setback. Perceived failure in Iraq has restored the authority of foreign policy "realists" in the tradition of Henry Kissinger. Already there is a host of books and articles decrying America's naïve Wilsonianism and attacking the notion of trying to democratize the world. The administration's second-term efforts to push for greater Middle Eastern democracy, introduced with the soaring rhetoric of Bush's second Inaugural Address, have borne very problematic fruits. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood made a strong showing in Egypt's parliamentary elections in November and December. While the holding of elections in Iraq this past December was an achievement in itself, the vote led to the ascendance of a Shiite bloc with close ties to Iran (following on the election of the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran in June). But the clincher was the decisive Hamas victory in the Palestinian election last month, which brought to power a movement overtly dedicated to the destruction of Israel. In his second inaugural, Bush said that "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one," but the charge will be made with increasing frequency that the Bush administration made a big mistake when it stirred the pot, and that the United States would have done better to stick by its traditional authoritarian friends in the Middle East. Indeed, the effort to promote democracy around the world has been attacked as an illegitimate activity both by people on the left like Jeffrey Sachs and by traditional conservatives like Pat Buchanan.
The sheer quantity of nonsense packed into these paragraphs, and throughout the essay, is astounding, or would be, again, if they weren't standard issue. The throwaway rehearsal of the thoroughly discredited notion that "good intelligence" "was not forthcoming" in the run-up to the war in Iraq. The repeated references to "idealistic efforts . . .to promote democracy and human rights abroad"--presumably Fukuyama actually believes this, or else his head would explode from the cognitive dissonance. Of course, he's hardly alone. The remainder of the essay discusses in general, in a parallel universe sort of way, the legacies of neo-conservatism and the Cold War. Neo-con fantasies about their alleged "concern with democracy, human rights" and the use of American power for "moral purposes". Fukuyama reflects the sad truth that Americans across the political spectrum, such as it is, accept the basic idea that America's role in the world is essentially positive, or, more to the point, well-intentioned, that it would be a "benevolent hegemon", if hegemon it need be. I recall several conversations prior to the war, with people, intelligent people, who strongly opposed it, but who nonetheless thought that the topic of whether the United States ought to act as "the world's policeman" was valid, that the terms under which that discussion invariably takes place are coherent.

Elsewhere in the piece, Fukuyama cites a Pew poll, which reports that "the percentage of Americans saying that the United States 'should mind its own business' has never been higher since the end of the Vietnam War." This "should mind its own business" is symptomatic of a basic ignorance informing general American attitudes, from right to "left". Americans see the "problems in the Middle East" as somebody else's, so completely ignorant of history are we, so completely ignorant of the basic purposes of American foreign policy, of American might as an instrument of American capital. For as long as we maintain this kind of comprehensive failure to see, we will never understand what's going on, never understand why there continues to be unrest in certain mysteriously perpetual "problem spots". Similarly, as I was perhaps overly fond of pointing out at the time, anti-war folks who displayed those "War Is NOT the Answer" signs didn't understand what the fucking question was.

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