A 'Realistic Wilsonianism'

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the source: “After Neoconservatism” by Francis Fukuyama, in The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 19, 2006.

When the Bush administration ends three years from now, so, in all likelihood, will the effective life of neoconservatism, the ideology that inspired the war in Iraq. Francis Fukuyama, the onetime neoconservative oracle, writes that neoconservatism “has evolved into something I can no longer support.” But it would be “a huge tragedy” if, in reaction to neoconservative overreaching in Iraq, America retreats from the Wilsonian ideals of democracy and human rights that the movement embodied and embraces instead either isolationism or “narrow and cynical” Kissingerian foreign-policy “realism.”

“The problem with neoconserv­atism’s agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them,” Fuku­yama argues.

The “war against terrorism,” for example, is the wrong name and the wrong concept for what must be a long-term struggle for the “hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world.” Contrary to what many “realists” argue, it is in America’s interest to continue to promote good governance abroad: Dem­oc­racy, the rule of law, and econ­omic development are “critical to a host of outcomes we desire, from alleviating poverty to dealing with pandemics to controlling violent conflicts.” Yet the United States shouldn’t imagine that it can impose democracy where it is not wanted; it can only cultivate favorable conditions.

Contrary to neoconservative hopes, democracy and modernization in the Middle East will not solve the problem of jihadist terrorism. In the short run, they will likely exacerbate tensions, as Hamas’s victory in the recent Palestinian election shows. “Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society.” Yet even without U.S. encouragement, “greater political participation by Islamist groups” is probably inevitable, and “will be the only way that the poison of radical Islamism can ultimately work its way through the body politic of Muslim communities around the world.” The realists’ prescription of striking deals with friendly authoritarians to keep a lid on things simply won’t work anymore.

Finally, Fukuyama believes that the United States must commit itself to building effective new international organizations. He dismisses the United Nations as unreformable, saying that it lacks  “both democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues,” but he also thinks that the ad hoc “coalitions of the willing” the United States has assembled in Iraq and elsewhere lack international legitimacy. Washington should instead “promote what has been emerging in any event, a ‘multi-multilateral world’ of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions that are organized on regional or functional lines.” NATO is an example. An East Asian counterpart might be useful.

“What is needed now,” Fukuyama concludes, “are new ideas . . . for how America is to relate to the rest of the world—ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony.”

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