A NEOCON SCHISM OPENS
The Iraq war opened a fratricidal split among United States
neoconservatives. Danny Postel examines the bitter dispute between
two leading neocons, Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer, and
suggests that Fukuyama's critique of the Iraq war and decision not to
vote for George W Bush is a significant political as well as
Over the last two years, the term "neoconservative" has come into
sharper focus than at any other point in its roughly 30 year history.
The neoconservative movement has exerted greater influence on United
States foreign policy since 9/11 than it was ever previously able to
do, the Iraq war being its crowning achievement.
Coinciding with this ascendancy has been an unrelenting stream of
criticism directed at neoconservatism from virtually every square on
the ideological chessboard. Such sorties have become something of a
rallyingcry among much of the left. Neoconservatives either ignore
leftwing criticism (a luxury they can well afford) or else chew it up
and spit it out: the more vitriolic it is, the more emboldened it
Some of the most savage reprisals against the neocons, however, have
come from the right. I have written elsewhere of the ensemble of
realists, libertarians, and "paleoconservatives" who opposed the Iraq
adventure and the doctrines that justified it, and of other
conservatives who fear that the neocons and their war will sink Bush's
Neoconservatives are no less sanguine about attacks from this
political direction: as if to say "bring it on", neocons are armed
with counterattacks about the variously amoral, isolationist,
nativist, unpatriotic, even antiSemitic nature of the conservative
cases against them.
But the latest salvo against the war and its neocon architects has
stung its targets like none other has done. That's because the
critique Francis Fukuyama has advanced is an inside job: not only is
its author among the most celebrated members of the neoconservative
intelligentsia, but his dissection of the conceptual problems at the
core of the Iraq undertaking appeared on the neocons' home ground.
"The Neoconservative Moment," his 12page intervention into the Iraq
debate, was published in the Summer 2004 issue of The National
Interest, a flagship conservative foreignpolicy journal.
This, in short, is different. Fukuyama is to use a phrase patented
by Margaret Thatcher one of us. He's part of the club. Indeed, he's
played as prominent a role as any of his cothinkers in fostering the
life of the neo-conservative mind since helping define the postcold war
moment 15 years ago with his famous "end of history" thesis.
That's why the neocon world is abuzz about Fukuyama's jab, and about
his decision not to support Bush for reelection. "I just think that
if you're responsible for this kind of a big policy failure," he tells
openDemocracy, "you ought to be held accountable for it."
In "The Neoconservative Moment," Fukuyama turns a heat lamp on the
cogitations of one thinker in particular, Charles Krauthammer, whose
"strategic thinking has become emblematic" of the neo-conservative
camp that envisaged the Iraq invasion. Krauthammer, one of the war's
most vociferous advocates, had somewhat famously fancied the end of the
cold war as a "unipolar moment" in geopolitics which, by 2002, he was
calling a "Unipolar Era." In February 2004 Krauthammer delivered an
address at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in
Washington in which he offered a strident defence of the Iraq war in terms of
his concept of unipolarity, or what he now calls "democratic
Fukuyama was in the audience that evening and did not like what he
Krauthammer's speech was "strangely disconnected from reality,"
Fukuyama wrote in "The Neoconservative Moment." "Reading
Krauthammer,one gets the impression that the Iraq War the archetypical application
of American unipolarity had been an unqualified success,with all of
the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based fully
vindicated. There is not the slightest nod" in Krauthammer's exposition
"towards the new empirical facts" that have come to light over the
course of the occupation.
Fukuyama's case against Krauthammer's and thus the dominant
neoconservative position on Iraq is manifold.
Krauthammer's logic, Fukuyama argues, is "utterly unrealistic in its
overestimation of U.S. power and our ability to control events around
the world. Of all of the different views that have now come to be
associated with neoconservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence
that the United States could transform Iraq into a
Westernstyle democracy," he wrote, "and to go on from there to
democratise the broader Middle East."
This struck Fukuyama as strange, he explained, "precisely because
these same neoconservatives had spent much of the past generation
warning...about the dangers of ambitious social engineering, and how
social planners could never control behaviour or deal with
unanticipated consequences." If the US can't eradicate poverty at
home or improve its own education system, he asked, "how does it
expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly
resisted it and is virulently antiAmerican to boot?"
He didn't rule out the possibility of the endeavour succeeding, but
saw its chances of doing so as weak. Wise policy, he wrote, "is not
made by staking everything on a throw of the dice. Culture is not
destiny," but, he argued in tones echoing his former professor Samuel
Huntington, it "plays an important role in making possible certain kinds
of institutions something that is usually taken to be a conservative
The only way for such an "unbelievably ambitious effort to politically
transform one of the world's most troubled and hostile regions" to have
an outside chance of working, Fukuyama maintained, was a huge,longterm
commitment to postwar reconstruction. "America has been involved in
approximately 18 nationbuilding projects between its conquest of the
Philippines in 1899 and the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq," he
wrote, "and the overall record is not a pretty one."
The signs thus far in Iraq? "Lurking like an unbidden guest at a
dinner party is the reality of what has happened in Iraq since the
U.S. invasion: We have been our usual inept and disorganized selves in
planning for and carrying out the reconstruction, something that was
predictable in advance and should not have surprised anyone familiar with
American history." (There are, it should be noted, serious doubts about
whether democratisation is the real agenda of the regimechangers.
But unlike many conservative critics of nationbuilding the
aforementioned realists, libertarians, and paleocons, for example
Fukuyama believes there are cases when it is necessary, indeed vital.
While he argues that America "needs to be more realistic about its
nationbuilding abilities, and cautious in taking on large
socialengineering projects in parts of the world it does not
understand very well," he sees it as inevitable that the US will get
"sucked into similar projects in the future," and America must be
"much better prepared," he warns, for a scenario such as the "sudden
collapse of the North Korean regime."
Krauthammer and other neocon advocates of the war Robert Kagan most
famously have turned antiEuropeanism into a sport, arguing that
Europe's doubts about Iraq reflect a platetectonic shift in
consciousness and signal a cleft in transatlantic relations of epochal
Fukuyama doesn't dismiss this argument entirely, but sees a sleight of
hand at work in its rhetorical deployment in the Iraq debate. If
Krauthammer, rather than summarily spurning continental arguments as
just so much bad faith and responsibilityshirking, had instead
"listened carefully to what many Europeans were actually saying
(something that Americans are not very good at doing these days), he
would have discovered that much of their objection to the war was not a
normative one having to do with procedural issues and the UN, but
rather a prudential one having to do with the overall wisdom of
Krauthammer's almost principled disdain for European sensibilities is
particularly problematic, Fukuyama argued, when one considers that "the
European bottom line proved to be closer to the truth than the
administration's far more alarmist position" visÃ vis weapons of mass
destruction (WMD). "On the question of the manageability of postwar Iraq, the
more sceptical European position was almost certainly
right." Despite this, Krauthammer proceeds "as if the Bush
administration's judgment had been vindicated at every turn, and that
any questioning of it can only be the result of base or dishonest
Fukuyama, in contrast, exhorts the US to confront these errors headon,
realising that they have "created an enormous legitimacy problem for
us," one that will damage American interests "for a long time to come."
"This should matter to us," he inveighs, "not just for realist reasons
of state (our ability to attract allies to share the burden), but for
idealist ones as well (our ability to lead and inspire based
on the attractiveness of who we are)." The US must "spend much more
time and energy" cultivating "likeminded allies" to accomplish "both
the realist and idealist portions" of its agenda.
Finally, Fukuyama argues, Krauthammer and other neoconservatives
misconstrue the nature of the threat facing the US today, in part
because they view American foreign policy through the prism of the
IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Krauthammer's hard line, Likudnik
position on Israel "colours his views on how the United States should
deal with the Arabs more broadly." Krauthammer once quipped in a radio
interview that the only way to earn respect in the Arab world is to
reach down and squeeze between the legs. (his exact wording was slightly
Fukuyama questions the logic of transposing this Ariel Sharon style of
thought to US strategy: "Are we like Israel, locked in a remorseless
struggle with a large part of the Arab and Muslim world, with few avenues
open to us for dealing with them other than an iron fist?" In an
argument echoed by Anatol Lieven in his book America Right or Wrong,
Fukuyama asks: "does a strategic doctrine developed by a small, vulnerable
country surrounded by implacable enemies make sense when applied to the
situation of the world's sole superpowerâ€¦?"
Calling for a "more complex strategy" that "recalibrates the
proportion of sticks and carrots," Fukuyama argues that "an American
policy toward the Muslim world that, like Sharon's, is largely stick
will be a disaster: we do not have enough sticks in our closet to
'make them respect us'. The Islamists for sure hated us from the
beginning, but Krauthammerian unipolarity has increased hatred for the
United States in the broader fight for hearts and minds."
In his response to Fukuyama, published in the current (Fall 2004)
issue of The National Interest, Krauthammer polemically dismisses
Fukuyama's arguments with words like "bizarre," "ridiculous,"
"absurd," "silly," and "odd in the extreme." Fukuyama, he writes, has
"enthusiastically joined the crowd seizing upon the difficulties in
Iraq as a refutation of any forwardlooking policy that might have
gotten us thereâ€¦" As for Fukuyama's claim that the fecklessness of
the reconstruction effort was "predictable in advance," Krauthammer
writes: "Curiously, however, Fukuyama never predicted it in advance. He
waited a year to ascertain wind direction, then predicted what had
On Fukuyama's argument about the role of Israel, Krauthammer accuses
his interlocutor of "Humanizing" neoconservatism. "His is not the
crude kind, advanced by Pat Buchanan and Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad,
among others, that American neoconservatives (read: Jews) are simply
doing Israel's bidding, hijacking American foreign policy in the service
of Israel and the greater Jewish conspiracy. Fukuyama's take is more
subtle and implicit."
What makes Fukuyama's argument "quite ridiculous," Krauthammer
contends, is that at the vanguard of the policies in question are
Bush, Blair, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. "How," he asks, "did they come to
their delusional identification with Israel? Are they Marranos, or have
they been hypnotized by 'neoconservatives' into sharing the
Inside or out?
Just how deep into the body of neo-conservatism did Fukuyama's knife
go? Is he himself still a neocon? Fukuyama is ambiguous on this
point. Others are less so.
On the one hand, Fukuyama claims he's starting from faithful
neoconservative axioms and simply drawing different conclusions about
their application in the specific case of the Iraq war. "One can start
with premises identical to Krauthammer'sâ€¦ and yet come up with a
foreign policy that is very different from the one he lays out," he writes.
"I still consider myself to be a dyedinthewool neoconservative," he
told an audience in August.
In the same stroke of the pen, however, he writes (in "The
Neoconservative Moment") that "it is probably too late to reclaim the
label 'neoconservative' for any but the policies undertaken by the Bush
administration" and doubts whether the vision he proposes as an
alternative to Krauthammer's "will ever be seen as neoconservative. Then
again, there is no reason why it should not have this title."
In his National Interest response, Krauthammer writes that Fukuyama's
"intent is to take down the entire neoconservative edifice." Indeed,
Krauthammer's counterpunch is shot through with the conviction that,
notwithstanding his interlocutor's pronouncements to the contrary, this is
anything but a family quarrel: Fukuyama's train, he believes,
has pulled out of the neoconservative station.
Why Fukuyama Matters
John Mearsheimer thinks Krauthammer is on to something.
"Fukuyama understands, quite correctly, that the Bush doctrine has
washed up on the rocks," the University of Chicago political scientist
and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics tells openDemocracy.
Fukuyama's essay provides a "great service," he says, in making plain
that the neo-conservative strategy for dealing with Iraq has "crashed
and burned." Fukuyama is "to be admired for his honesty here. He is
The significance of Fukuyama's intervention, says Mearsheimer, goes
beyond its being the first inhouse, intraneocon dispute over Iraq.
"It's not only that he's a member of the [neoconservative] tribe going
after another member of the tribe; he's one of the tribe's most
important members." Indeed, he says, Fukuyama and Krauthammer are
without a doubt "the two heavyweights" of the neoconservative
intelligentsia, and their debate is about "terribly important issues,
issues of central importance to American foreign policy."
Mearsheimer agrees with Krauthammer that Fukuyama's critique threatens
to dismantle the neo-conservative project. First, he says, Fukuyama
is challenging "the unilateralist impulse that's hard wired into the
neoconservative worldview." Second, Fukuyama disputes the argument
that the Iraq war would create a democratic domino effect in the
ArabIslamic world. These, says Mearsheimer, are "two of the most
important planks" in the Bush doctrine and in the neo-conservative
Fukuyama also possesses what Mearsheimer calls a "very healthy respect
for the limits of military force." "I think you cannot bring about
democracy through the use of military force," he told the Cairobased
weekly AlAhram. Then there is Fukuyama's point about the limits of
social engineering and his argument regarding the neocon tendency to
conflate Israel's security threats with those of the United States.
Taken together, says Mearsheimer, this band of criticisms makes
Fukuyama's case nothing less than devastating. "This is not just a
minor spat within the camp. This is consequential."
High Stakes, Hard Words
The FukuyamaKrauthammer exchange has generated considerable buzz
within Washington. "The foreign policy establishment are paying
attention," National Interest editor John O'Sullivan tells
openDemocracy. The exchange, he says, is "generating debate and
discussion more generally" as well.
"It was about time somebody out of this circle broke out and dealt
with reality," says Gary Dorrien, author of The Neoconservative Mind
and Imperial Designs: Neoconservatism and the New Pax Americana, of
this "first crack in the dyke. I'm not surprised that he's the one who
did. He was never the hardline ideologue that most of them are."
Though David Frum, a daily National Review Online columnist for and
former Bush speechwriter currently at work on a history of
foreignpolicy decisionmaking in the Bush administration, continues to
support the war and thinks Krauthammer makes "intellectual mincemeat"
of Fukuyama in their exchange, says he "would find it hard to believe"
if the two men were still friends. (Fukuyama tells openDemocracy that
he and Krauthammer have not spoken since the shootout began.) Frum
attributes the rather rancorous tone of the debate particularly, one
must say, in Krauthammer's reply to the magnitude of the issues.
"We're fighting right now over who's going to control the fate of the
[Republican] party. There are large stakes."
Fukuyama does plan to respond to Krauthammer's essay, in a forthcoming
issue of The National Interest. "There's a little bit of an
implication that I'm being antiSemitic and I really do think I need to
talk about that," he tells openDemocracy.
He admits to being "a little bit disappointed" that Krauthammer didn't
employ "a more neutral tone," he says of his old friend. "On the
other hand, that's his style. He does this to everybody. I don't
know why I would be exempted."
What does Fukuyama make of Krauthammer's claim that "The
Neoconservative Moment" amounts to an attempt to raze the Neocon
Palace? "The zealousness of many people who wear the neoconservative
label for the war in Iraq has done more to undermine neoconservatism
than anything I possibly could have said," he rejoins, adding that a dose
of introspection might do them well.
"That's the thing that strikes me it's the same thing that strikes me
about President Bush, as well," he says. "I would forgive a lot if
any of these people who were very strong advocates of the war showed
any reflectiveness about what's happened or any acknowledgement that
maybe there was something problematic in what they were recommending.
Krauthammer doesn't do that, and President Bush doesn't do that. I
take that as a big flaw. It seems to me it's not going to help their case
to keep insisting that they were right about everything."
Absent from Krauthammer's reply, says Fukuyama, "was any
acknowledgement that any of my points had any validity, or that the
way the war developed led to any rethinking of anything."
Neoconservatism faces a test, says Fukuyama. Either it will adapt in
the face of changing realities on the ground or "stick to a rigid set of
principles." The outcome, he says, will "mean either the death or the
survival of this movement."
A Paradigm Shift?
Why didn't Fukuyama voice the doubts he says he had about the war in
the months leading up to it, when the debate was in full stride? "I
didn't think it would do any good for me to come out against it
because everybody was so determined to do it," he says. And so I
thought, 'well, let them have their chance.' I was not certain about
the outcome. I thought the probabilities of it working out were not
sufficient to justify taking that kind of a risk."
While the Bush people "have been much too willing to use force and to
use it recklessly," the Democrats, he says, "still have this big
problem about using it at all. I wish there were someone who had a
better balance between the two positions. "
In April 2005, Fukuyama will give a series of lectures in which he
intends to address "more systematically" his criticisms of the Iraq
adventure and its neoconservative architects.
Does Fukuyama regard the recent turn of events his critique of the
war, his debate with Krauthammer, his opposition to Bush's re-election
as signalling something of a paradigm shift in his selfunderstanding?
"I don't know whether it's going to prompt the shift so much as
reflect the shift," he explains. "I've been moving towards an
interest in development questions over the last few years".
Indeed, he explores the politics and economics of international
institutions at some length in his recent State Building: Governance
and World Order in the 21st Century and will continue to do so in 2005
when he takes over as head of the International Development Program at
SAIS (Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced
International Studies), where he is currently a professor of international
"I think one of the big divides in the world is between people who
primarily do security studies and people who do development. And I
think one of the reasons the Bush people got into so much trouble is
they put people who knew security in charge of what was really a big
development project. These are people who had not spent a lot of time
in East Timor or Somalia or Bosnia, watching how these things are
done," he says. "I think that was one of the big problems."
From Fraser Clark's weekly ezine: