Neoconservatism is dead. And, as Francis Fukuyama's latest book spells out, a new US foreign policy consensus is emerging. It eschews doctrine and combines elements of "realist" and "idealist" positionsby Anthony Dworkin / May 20, 2006 / Leave a comment
In January 1998, as President Clinton’s administration was engulfed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the question of America’s role in the world seemed a distant concern, a recently-formed Washington think tank came out with a short statement on Iraq. The think tank called itself forthrightly the Project for the New American Century, and its recommendation on policy towards Iraq was blunt: the US should make it a central objective to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Military action against Iraq was probably legitimate under existing UN resolutions, the authors claimed, but in any case US policy should not remain “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN security council.” Adopting a tone of generous bipartisanship, the letter’s Republican-linked signatories offered Clinton their full support if he chose to pursue this goal.
The formation of the Project for the New American Century—and its call for the overthrow of Saddam as its first policy position—marked the re-emergence of neoconservatism as a distinct and significant movement in US politics. The term had first been used to describe an influential group of writers and policy intellectuals, mostly from a Democratic or leftist background, who shifted rightwards during the 1960s and 1970s and helped give weight to an emerging conservative agenda. Now a younger generation of idealistic right-wingers was staking its claim with a call for an unapologetic exercise of US power. Those who put their names to the letter included the leading lights of the younger neoconservative crowd: Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan. Another was the political analyst Francis Fukuyama. With his new book After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads, Fukuyama is effectively repudiating his signature on this notorious letter. Three years after Clinton’s successor put the neoconservatives’ blueprint into effect, Fukuyama has become the most prominent of the former supporters of regime change to acknowledge that the Iraq war was a mistake. Characteristically, Fukuyama doesn’t confine himself to arguing that the war was badly handled or that there was insufficient planning for its aftermath (although he does recognise the truth of these familiar charges). Instead, his book interrogates the invasion of Iraq as an expression of genuine neoconservative thinking. A true understanding of the neoconservative tradition, Fukuyama contends, might have given pause to the Bush administration in its march towards war. However, the failed Iraq venture has become so identified with…