The Neocon War

The Neocon War

Further salvos in the war of words between neoconservatives Charles Krauthammer and Francis Fukuyama.

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“In Defense of Democratic Realism” by Charles Krauthammer, in The National Interest (Fall 2004), 1615 L St., N.W., Ste. 1230, Washington, D.C. 20036.

An unlikely war of words erupted this summer between two prominent neoconservative thinkers over the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. As we reported in last issue’s Periodical Observer, political scientist Francis Fukuyama fired first, with a scathing critique of columnist Charles Kraut­hammer, whose views were said to have strongly influenced the Bush administration’s pre-invasion thinking.

Fukuyama criticized the air of unreality that he claimed surrounded Krauthammer’s rhet­oric, charging that neither Iraq nor Al Qaeda posed a threat to the existence of the United States. The columnist replies that Fukuyama fails to grasp that “Arab/Islamic radicalism” does pose an existential threat to America. “When Hitler marched into the Rhineland in 1936, he did not ‘currently’ have the means to overrun Europe. Many Europeans believed, delusionally, that he did not present an existential threat. By Fuku­yama’s logic, they were right.” And what if terrorists get their hands on nuclear weapons?

Fukuyama underestimates the power of religion, according to Krauthammer. Grounded in Islam, which has a billion adherents, Is­lamic radicalism has a ready supply of recruits and can draw on a long tradition of messianic zeal and a cult of martyrdom. Fuku­yama also has an interest in upholding the “end of his­tory” thesis that made his reputation. The thesis, “if it means anything, means an end to precisely this kind of ideological existential threat.”

Pace Fukuyama, Iraq was and is “central” to the war against Islamic radicalism, Kraut­hammer maintains. Everything was changed by 9/11. “We could continue to fight Arab/ Islamic radicalism by catching a terrorist leader here, rolling up a cell there. Or we could go to the heart of the problem, and take the risky but imperative course of trying to reorder the Arab world.” The fact that many allies opposed the invasion didn’t make it any less necessary, Krauthammer writes.

Fukuyama found it strange that his fellow neoconservatives, who had long warned of “the dangers of ambitious social engineering” at home, were so confident in America’s ability to foster democracy abroad. Krauthammer replies that when the stakes were high enough in the past—as in Germany, Japan, and South Korea—the United States succeeded in doing just that. “The rejection of nation-building, whether on grounds of American incompetence or Arab recalcitrance, reduces the War on Terror to cops-and-robbers. It simply does not get to the root of the problem, which is the cauldron of political oppression, religious intolerance, and social ruin in the Arab-Islamic world.”

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