After Neoconservatism

AFTER NEOCONSERVATISM….Francis Fukuyama, longtime neoconservative apostle of the “End of History” and the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy, has been weaning himself away from the post-9/11 version of neoconservatism ever since the publication of his widely read essay “The Neoconservative Moment” in the Summer 2004 issue of National Affairs. On Sunday he finished his journey to apostasy, writing in the New York Times: “Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.”

So what does Fukuyama think we need to do now?

Now that the neoconservative moment appears to have passed, the United States needs to reconceptualize its foreign policy in several fundamental ways. In the first instance, we need to demilitarize what we have been calling the global war on terrorism and shift to other types of policy instruments….”War” is the wrong metaphor for the broader struggle, since wars are fought at full intensity and have clear beginnings and endings.

….If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like….By definition, outsiders can’t “impose” democracy on a country that doesn’t want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective.

The State Department? Fukuyama really has turned on his former comrades, hasn’t he? I guess you can take the boy out of the State Department, but you can’t take the State Department out of the boy.

More seriously, I can’t help but think that in some sense Fukuyama is the foreign policy version of Bruce Bartlett: a man who has decided that both the Bush administration and its cheerleaders don’t take conservative principles seriously, and that even when they do they aren’t willing to do the toughminded, real-world analysis it takes to get their policies right. Unlike, say, Charles Krauthammer or Bill Kristol, Fukuyama is at least trying to face up to the obvious failures of the war on terror over the past few years so that he can figure out a better way to proceed in the future. If that means admitting mistakes and risking an electoral backlash, so be it.

This is admirable in its own way, though I suspect the “electoral backlash” part of that equation will prevent him from finding many supporters among the current crop of conservatives running the country. Electoral backlash is precisely the thing they’re most afraid of these days, which means that any serious analysis of where they went wrong is pretty much out of the question. Better to pretend that everything is working out perfectly and hope for the best.

But it’s a start. Unlike domestic critics like Bartlett, who are unlikely to ever find any serious common ground with liberals, newly chastened foreign policy critics like Fukuyama could very well end up aligned in spirit ? if not always in fact ? with the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. After all, as Matt Yglesias points out, Fukuyama is pretty much endorsing “regular old liberal internationalism” whether he can bring himself to say so or not. The possibility of a truce is not completely farfetched.