Fukuyama treading carefully

An article that’s worth discussing is Fukuyama’s  What Became of the Freedom Agenda?.  It’s based on a United States Institute of Peace working paper which was released on January 21.

Fukuyama withdrew his support for the war in Iraq as soon as things became difficult,  yet at the same time he continues to  acknowledge  the reality that the  US can’t afford to keep cozying up to the autocratic regimes   in the Middle East.

He manages to quote Bush (2003) with approval:

“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom . . . did nothing to make us safe. . . . As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.”

But he continues to oppose what he calls ” return(ing) to the loud trumpeting of promises for support of regional democracy that we cannot keep” and    ignores the fact that in Iraq, the US has kept exactly that promise. Instead  he tries to argue that the overhrow of Baathism in Iraq can only be seen as a setback for “democracy promotion”  because it “undercut (the) credibility” of that policy, and in his view increased Arab hostility toward America.

He rightly points to the way in which the autocrats of the region continue to get away with justifying the repression of opposition groups by saying that this is necessary to keep militant Islamists out of power and then goes on to call on Obama to “recommit the United States to peaceful democratic change”

What he wants the US to do now is to follow a policy of  “working quietly behind the scenes to push friendly authoritarians towards a genuine broadening of political space in their countries through the repeal of countless exceptional laws, defamation codes, party registration statutes and the like that hinder the emergence of real democratic contestation.”

The article is quite extraordinary in the way it makes no attempt to analyse the impact of the changes in Iraq, apart from maintaining that it damaged US credibility in the region.  I don’t know how anyone can purport to be writing a serious article about the prospects for democratic change in the Middle East, without writing in some detail about the one country in which democratic change has actually happened!  The thing which will do most to force (not gently “push”) the autocrats of the region out of power, is the move from fascism to democracy in Iraq. Fukuyama may disagree with that, but he doesn’t even address the issue.

Fukuyama and all those others who initially supported the overthrow of Saddam,  but later  withdrew their support and moved to actively undermine US  support for democratic revolution in Iraq,  did so precisely because they had never understood the enormity of what was being wrought in Iraq.  Getting rid of Saddam was ok, but going on to unleash full scale revolution against the entire old regime was not.  These people wanted to continue with the old policy of the US achieving its aims in the Middle East via a policy of meddling behind the scenes.  The idea of actually empowering an Arab population to build its own democracy was entirely foreign to them.

The Bush administration did succeed in getting the ball rolling in Iraq before any of these people understood enough to stop it.  It’s now a done deal,  as far as I can see.   Iraq is an imperfect democracy and the people of Iraq will have to struggle to improve it, but that struggle now can (and will) take place.   The days of facsist “peace”, stability and stagnation are over.   I have no doubt that at some point, history will make the correct judgement of what the US has done in Iraq, and people like Fukuyama will be either ignored, or seen as having played an entirely negative role.

Fukuyama is now urging Obama to “do more” to end autocratic rule in the rest of the region.  That’s all well and good. Obama should be doing that – in fact he has no real choice.  Just as he has no choice but to get serious in Afghanistan.   But without what the Bush administration achieved in Iraq, he would have no chance.

It’s worth downloading and reading the entire  US Institute of Peace working paper.  I’ve only skimmed it at this point.  As far as I can see it simply avoids any analysis of Iraq and how the changes there are likely to affect the rest of the region. (except to argue that it was  an unpopular war and therefore bad for US credibility etc).  It contains 5 “country studies” and Iraq is not one of them!

It  asserts (correctly) that there was an “historically exceptional four year period” (this is in Part 3 “The Freedom Agenda: Enduring Legacies and Questions” ) and the whole tone of the discussion in this section is that this was some sort of aberration,  based on  the oversimplified  idea that democracy can spread. (And thank goodness more sober people are now in charge.)  This is followed by discussion of whether it would be better for the US to push for  some form of top-down liberalisation which would not actually topple the autocracies (they call this “supply side” liberalisation) or instead to encourage more bottom-up processes (demand-side liberalisation).  It’s acknowledged that the US can no longer continue to prop up these regimes (and the Bush  regime is criticised for not having put them under more pressure …. as well as for exerting the most extreme “pressure” on  the fascist regime in Iraq), but the whole tone of the analysis is that in choosing a policy, a key issue will be maintaining stability by doing things incrementally.

3 Responses to “Fukuyama treading carefully”

  1. 1 Arthur

    I’ve only read the working paper executive summary and haven’t been following Washington policy debates generally. My impression is its more about “positioning” than policy. As far as I can see the autocracies are continuing to isolate themselves from the people and the discussion about how the US should help them manage a top down liberalization remains more or less oblivious to the declining relevance of what the US says or does from now on. There’s no way those regimes can survive with a democracy in Iraq.

  2. 2 steve owens

    Keza I think your unfair to Fukuyama when you state that he was in the group that supported the war but then turned because they “never understood”
    If you read other Fukuyama stuff he claims that he supported the idea of democracy in Iraq and democratic revolution in the region. He claims that he turned against the war because he thought that Bush’s claims about democracy were duplicitous and he thought that the war was being fought “on the cheap”
    He thinks that the idea of spreading democracy has been discredited because the Iraq part has been so badly managed.

  3. 3 Bill Kerr

    slightly off topic but I came across an interesting comment in a review of Ministry of Defeat which claims to be an expose of incompetence about how the British conducted their side of the war in Iraq. Anyway, this reviewer, CM Weston, has some insight:

    In the US context, it was a small group of army officers, some retired, under the cover of President Bush and Republican Senator McCain, who pushed through an increased level of forces to successfully conduct a counter insurgency campaign as a counterproposal to the military and political establishment`s view of a progressive, if not outright, reduction of forces in Iraq

    Also worth following the CM Weston link to his/her other reviews, which contain a good selection of marxist and others writings about world political hotspots

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