Friday, December 22, 2006

NEVER UNDERSTAND. From The Economist's third-hand report, it seems Frances Fukuyama has a reasonable view of the Iraq invasion and the preemptive war strategy that goes with:
...The problem with such a strategy is that it requires the United States to be able to accurately predict the future, not just in terms of enemy capabilities but also in terms of the complex calculations that foreign leaders will make years hence. “In Iraq,” [Fukuyama] said, “American knowledge of enemy capabilities — even its near-term capabilities with respect to weapons of mass destruction — was sorely deficient”...

According to Fukuyama, the primary lesson that America should learn from its travails in Iraq is ... that there are limits to what any nation can do in promoting democracy abroad. “No country has ever been democratized without the people doing it themselves,” he noted. The demand must come from within...

“Ultimately, democracy is spread by the prestige and moral credibility of countries that are democratic,” Fukuyama said, pointing out that the United States was a beacon to Eastern European countries throughout the Cold War because of what America represented, not because of the way it used its military power.
But The Economist's commentator takes exception:
Most of that is common sense, but I'm not sure about the conclusion.

If it was a matter of "prestige and moral credibility", why didn't the captive nations dream about Switzerland or Sweden? What they liked about America was the proof it offered that titanic military power could be reconciled with liberal and economic order. There was no necessary trade-off between a strong country and a free people, as the Soviet model presumed.

Fukuyama omits, too, the role played prosperity. It was the consumerist wealth of the West that made its model irresistible to threadbare communist states. So much so that the broad masses in Russia didn't much care what the model was, so long as the consumer goods came with it.

I doubt that American prosperity has quite the same tantalising effect on the Iraqi or the Iranian sensibility.

So actually, as far as I can see, the way that America uses its military power will be quite central to any spreading of democracy in the Middle East. If you can be victorious, kind and smart, then people are going to want to find out how you did it. And I can't see why Fukuyama would want to argue to the contrary.
Forgive the long quotes, but without them it's hard to see what the beef is -- or rather, with them it's hard to see it, too. Of course the Eastern Europeans admired our military power -- but those of them who expected us to use it to free their countries were sorely disappointed.

Still, the world turned and the Bloc was broken. Is the commentator suggesting that we should have stepped to the Soviets in 1956, as we later stepped to Saddam? If not, what is the problem with admitting that the Iraq invasion was a mistake?

Not that it is entirely clear that commentator doesn't think it was a mistake. But if so, he or she won't cop to it. The argument is simply pushed in an another direction: what's wrong with having big armed forces? As if Fukuyama or anyone else were suggesting we shouldn't. Not bloody likely!

This piece strikes me as part of the persistently messy thinking seen elsewhere: that as wrong as we have demonstrably been on Iraq, we must have been right in some way -- which will be revealed if only we keep digging. This tic can be amusing, but as the better-than-usually-spoken case above shows, it is disturbing, too. Because if you don't know that you went wrong, you have very little chance of going right.

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