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    Middle East
     Apr 5, 2006
An arrow to the heart of policy
By Ehsan Ahrari

Francis Fukuyama's latest book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neo-conservative Legacy, [1] provides a good partial insight into why the neo-conservative movement within the United States is in a state of bewilderment.

Paraphrasing the old adage that those who live by the sword must be prepared to die by it, the neo-cons' strong emphasis on the use of military power made the continued popularity of their

philosophy highly contingent on success in Iraq. With this not happening, serious questions are being raised about the very soundness of their philosophy.

Such questions become especially compelling when one of their own raises them. In this sense, people who care to know about what went wrong in Iraq - or what is fundamentally wrong with the frame of reference of the neo-cons - should closely read Fukuyama's book.

The first and foremost reason for the mounting sense of irrelevance of the neo-cons is America's growing troubles in Iraq and the implications for the entire Middle East. The "shock and awe" created by America's mighty military in Iraq was drowned out soon after by the cries of "tyranny" and "occupation" from the dungeons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

The US found itself on the defensive. The incidents of abuse of Iraqi prisoners, insisted President George W Bush, did not reflect what the United States stood for in the world. But it became clear soon enough that the requirements of gaining timely intelligence from those prisoners and detainees acquired a life and urgency of their own. The sad reality is that those requirements were set at the highest echelons of decision-making of the US.

To create a semblance of justice, a few soldiers were sent to prison because they were stupid enough to be caught in the act of abuse on camera, and a one-star general was demoted to the rank of colonel. However, three- or four-star generals and their senior civilian masters were either not tried or not given thorough scrutiny for their alleged dereliction of duty or complicity in the abuse of prisoners.

The uppermost question inside the US related to the systematic abuse of those "detainees" and prisoners was, whatever happened to American exceptionalism? Who turned off the lights of that "shiny city on the hill" about which Ronald Reagan used to get misty-eyed? The due process of law, the Fourth Amendment to the US constitution and the entire Bill of Rights of the same document became merely an afterthought to the "warriors" belonging to the neo-cons' rank and file.

Most of those "warriors" - aptly described as "chicken hawks" - were never exposed to a battlefield, even for one day of their lives. The chief chicken hawk, Vice President Dick Cheney, spent a great part of his draft age seeking deferments to avoid being sent to Vietnam. However, as vice president, he emerged as the most determined advocate of sending other people's sons and daughters to the killing fields of Iraq.

And Iraq did become a killing field for Iraqis and Americans. But the neo-cons remained blase. They were still insisting, according to Fukuyama, that the internal character of a regime was the key to its internal behavior, thereby arguing for "regime change", even when the outcome of that policy in Iraq had turned out so bloody and uncertain.

If changing the internal character of a regime were to become the chief driving force for America's foreign policy, how many regimes should it topple? And where should it draw the line? One apparent answer for the neo-cons - even though none among them is bold enough to say it - is that the US should oust all Muslim dictators. But the example of Iraq has proved that it cannot be done through military power alone.

There is a world of difference between ousting an established government through military action and ruling it as an occupying power. Besides, if such a campaign were to begin, it would only prove the point of the Islamists of the Middle East that the US is waging a war against Islam.

A thoughtful aspect of Fukuyama's discussion regards US power as a tool for moral ends, a decidedly unappealing argument for his neo-con cohorts. However, an emphasis on moral ends is also problematic, for there cannot be an end to such a purpose. After making moral ends the basis of conducting America's foreign policy, one cannot start making exceptions when encountering a series of "immoral regimes". The world has more than its fair share at a given time. However, once such an exception is made, its critics may condemn the entire basis of morality.

Former US president Jimmy Carter tried to make exceptions after initiating a voluble campaign for human rights on a global basis during the beginning of his administration. Those exceptions were Iran and China. Iran became an Islamic republic during the waning days of his presidency, in 1979. In fact, Iran was the chief reason Carter was not re-elected. Even after a major political change in the nature of its regime, Iran remains a violator of human rights, as does the People's Republic of China.

Fukuyama's chief criticism of his fellow neo-cons of the Bush administration is related to the fact that they were obsessed about toppling a nasty regime in Iraq, but paid no attention to the formidable task of "social engineering" (that is, nation-building) once that regime was toppled.

However, in this "crime of omission", there is ample blame to go around. The US neo-cons - whose knowledge of the Middle East was at best superficial - should not be blamed for their ignorance as much as the Iraqi expatriates. This latter bunch was made up of Iraqis, but only by birth. They had lived in the West far too long to comprehend the intricacies and nuances of the workings of their country.

Besides, most of them were largely interested in pursuing personal grandeur, the stuff of which all Middle Eastern dictators are made. The foremost neo-cons of the Bush administration - such as Cheney and former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz - and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on the contrary, were not at all concerned by the personal greed of the would-be dictators of Iraq. For them, the ouster of Saddam Hussein was the chief driving force. And that objective was also driving Bush.

The neo-cons also behaved as if the process of rebuilding Iraq would be automatic. The US would destroy a regime and the international community would come to the rescue of Iraqis soon thereafter and would eagerly clean up the mess, or so they thought.

However, the world had a nasty surprise for them. The mess that the Bush administration created in Iraq was only to be cleaned up by the US and Britain. A few other countries, including Australia, Japan and Italy, would be there to show support; however, none would invest its material resources and shed the blood of its youth as much as the United States.

Fukuyama is right in emphasizing America's "soft power" to promote democracy in the Middle East and, by extension, in the world of Islam at large. But he is patently wrong in assuming that liberalism will emerge as a powerful idea in the Middle East or in other Muslim countries. He is also wrong in asserting that jihadism is a byproduct of modernization and globalization.

If the emergence of liberalism means rewriting Islamic theological principles to make it look like the Christianity of the 21st century, then liberalism has no future in the Muslim world. However, if it means a process of incremental reforms to bring about gender equality, modernizing educational curricula, and changing the very nature of governments to reflect the will of the people, liberalism holds great promise.

As an idea that promotes popular participation and freedom of choice, democracy may only be promoted in the world of Islam through public diplomacy. However, it should be clearly understood that such an approach is starkly different from the kind promoted by the Bush administration: a kind of bumper-sticker slogan based on a simplistic public relations campaign carried out previously by Charlotte Beers and Margaret Tutwiler, and now by Karen Hughes, under the secretary of state.

The current administration has only been paying lip service to the notion of public diplomacy while creating ample disconcert in the Middle East by its persistent reiteration of "regime change" and "preemption". These concepts provided short-term military victory. However, in both Iraq and Afghanistan it has been proved that the long-term outcome of the use of those concepts is nothing but increasing political instability, a patent absence of government legitimacy, and the rising tide of insurgency.

The direly needed public diplomacy should be practiced though the use of public and private channels and through endless and intricate discussions governing the modalities of political changes affecting Muslim countries. The idea of democracy has a universal appeal when it is promoted thoughtfully and persistently.

Finally, global jihadism is not a byproduct of modernization and globalization. Rather, it is just one militant voice complaining about the current plight of Muslims. The jihadis equally blame the West and extant dictatorial regimes for the backwardness of their polities. Yet they erroneously claim that the solution to their problems rests in going back to the ways of the 7th century. In this sense the jihadis' methods are wrong-headed, but their questions about the gross backwardness of their polities receive a very large sympathetic audience in the world of Islam.

Muslims at large reject the murderous ways of jihadis. But they don't question the legitimacy of such questions as to why aren't Muslim states at the top of the hierarchy of power. Jihadis may not be best at articulating these aspects of Muslim frustrations. They are only repeating simple religious phraseologies such as "Islam is the solution".

It is possible that at least the political discourse started by the jihadis will be taken over by Muslims residing in the West, under the general rubric of ijtihad (renewal). The Muslim world is currently abuzz with suggestions for the necessity for and, indeed, imminence of the renewal of Islam.

What is not clear is who (that is, which group) will gain an upper hand in such debates. If the proponents of ijtihad were to succeed in not only leading the debate over ijtihad but also in focusing on the right set of issues, the political dynamics of the Middle East and, indeed, of the whole world of Islam would begin to change perceptibly.

1. America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neo-conservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama. Yale University Press (February 2006). ISBN: 0300113994. Price US$25, hardcover 240 pages.

Ehsan Ahrari is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, Virginia-based defense consultancy. He can be reached at eahrari@cox.net or stratparadigms@yahoo.com. His columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.

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