After Neoconservatism

Ken AshfordIraq, Republicans, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Poltical types are abuzz about the editorial in yesterday’s NYT Magazine by Francis Fukuyama, spelling the death of — or at least the flaws revealed in — the neoconservative movement.  It’s a heavy read, but interesting.

Ex-neoconservative Andrew Sullivan weighs in:

I have no doubt that Frank Fukuyama’s essay in the New York Times Magazine will prompt a lot of debate. For my part, I think he gets his analysis almost perfectly right. In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors in the last few years. The first was to over-estimate the competence of government, especially in extremely delicate areas like WMD intelligence.


The second error was narcissism. America’s power blinded many of us to the resentments that such power must necessarily provoke. Those resentments are often as deep among our global acquaintances as enemies – in fact, may be deeper. Acting without a profound understanding of the dangers to the U.S. of inflaming such resentment is imprudent.


The final error was not taking culture seriously enough. Fukuyama is absolutely right to note the discrepancy between neoconservatism’s skepticism toward’s government’s ability to change culture at home and its naivete when it comes to complex, tribal, sectarian and un-Western cultures, like Iraq’s, abroad. We have learned a tough lesson… The correct response to this is not more triumphalism and spin, but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by intellectuals like me.

Matt Yglesius may have the better view on what the "correct response" to the failure of neoconservatism should be:

I really liked Francis Fukuyama’s new article, "After Neoconservatism" which extends some recent work of his that’s been bouncing around for the past little while. The ending, however, bugged me:

Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, 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 to bring these ends about.

We do need ideas like that, but these aren’t mysterious hard-to-locate "new" ideas. What he’s describing is just regular old liberal internationalism , a set of ideas that’s fallen into political eclipse during the Bush years, but that are as robust and important as ever, if not more so. That’s where Fukuyama’s argument points, and since he’s surely heard of it, I don’t know why he can’t bring himself to say the words.