To the Editor:
Charles Krauthammer alleges that after September 11, “many realists were brought to acknowledge the poverty of realism,” but his description of the “realist” perspective on foreign policy is not one that most realists would recognize [“The Neoconservative Convergence,” July-August].
Mr. Krauthammer’s statement that “the classic shortcoming of realism” is “a failure of imagination” is hard to take seriously. Leaders like Benjamin Disraeli, Otto von Bismarck, Henry Kissinger, and Richard Nixon had no shortage of imagination or vision. His notion that realists are “centered on the illusion of stability and equilibrium” is an oversimplication at best. This charge was frequently made against the Nixon-Kissinger team in the 1970’s, when for a period of time the United States was preoccupied with Vietnam and on the defensive elsewhere. But even then, Nixon and Kissinger were not afraid to use brutal force or to put American forces on global alert to outmaneuver the Soviets in the Middle East.
Realists throughout history have been second to none in pursuing robust foreign policies, including preemptive attacks when the potential benefits have justified the costs. Many realists did not oppose the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, Kissinger and James Schle-singer supported the war clearly and publicly. I myself wrote in February 2003 that “the path to war is not only inevitable but desirable.” This opinion was not based strictly on the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but rather on the view that a policy of containment was unsustainable after 9/11 and that, accordingly, the Iraq situation had to be resolved by force.
What most realists (myself included) opposed was not the defeat and removal of Saddam Hussein, but making a grand democracy-building project in Iraq into a paramount objective of American foreign policy at a time when we face other major challenges. By now it is clear that the administration and its neoconservative supporters grossly underestimated the cost and complexity of building a democratic Iraq.
The dispute between neoconservatives and realists (and there are obviously varied perspectives in each group) is not about whether “the desire for freedom is indeed universal and not the private preserve of Westerners.” Henry Kissinger, a refugee from the Nazis and the dean of contemporary realists, certainly believes firmly in the virtues of democracy. And I know from many personal conversations that Richard Nixon always viewed the cold war as more than a struggle against a rival superpower; it was also a war to protect and expand the free world.
But even if the desire for freedom is universal, that does not mean that all people prefer freedom at all times under all circumstances. Those of us who live in mature democracies are prepared to sacrifice some of our freedoms for secu-rity—physical, economic, and otherwise. Those with less security than we enjoy may be willing to give up more of their freedom. Moreover, democracy is not a panacea against terrorism. If it were, there would have been no Atlanta or Oklahoma bombings and no recent attacks in London.
Both sides of the political spectrum want simple explanations for terrorism, whether it is the Left’s belief in the suffering of the Palestinians and America’s imperial foreign policy or the Right’s new myth that terrorism is a result of the lack of freedom in the Arab world. But extremist Islamist terrorists are not asking for the right to be heard—they want to create a Muslim caliphate and to impose their own practices on the societies in which they live. And while liberalization of the Arab world would probably slow terrorist recruiting, trying to impose democracy by force in places where it has no history, where minority rights are not protected, and where tribal mistrust runs deep may generate more terrorism rather than less.
I am glad that Mr. Krauthammer understands the need to be selective and to define priorities in our foreign-policy objectives. I hope that he is one of the neoconservatives who have been “mugged by reality” and see that while policy without convictions is defensive and empty, policy based on blind faith—even if it is faith in the righteous cause of democracy—may have unintended and devastating consequences. Clearly, some have not yet come to this conclusion. One hopes that their education will not be too costly for them and the rest of us.
Dimitri K. Simes
To the Editor:
Charles Krauthammer offers a systematic and judicious review of the evolutionary character of neoconservatism, reminding us of its unheralded success while at the same time belying the caricatures of its critics. I would add only a small note.
Mr. Krauthammer cites my article in the May Commentary, “The Bush Doctrine’s Next Test,” and suggests that I advocate “going after” the “three principal Islamic autocracies: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.” “Not so fast” is his reply; “relentless and ruthless means” are “better applied to enemies.”
Though my suggestions for encouraging the evolution of Middle-Eastern countries toward democracy might be characterized as “relentless,” I did not advocate “ruthless” means, and certainly not the use of American military force against our autocratic allies. Just the opposite: as I wrote, we should apply multifaceted pressures and incentives—with candor, tact, and firmness—to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Such policies are the only way to avoid implosions in those countries—as in Iran in 1979 or Lebanon and Algeria in the 1980’s—while at the same time remaining true to our ongoing sacrifices for democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Indeed, Secretary of State Rice’s address to the American University at Cairo on June 20, 2005 was a model of this consistent approach to our recalcitrant friends. She duly noted the limitations of past American realism: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East—and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course.” While noting our “strategic relationship” with Egypt and praising the “wisdom and counsel” of President Mubarak, she refused to back away from tough talk of the inevitable reform ahead. As she said, “The Egyptian government must fulfill the promise it has made to its people—and to the entire world—by giving its citizens the freedom to choose.”
Victor Davis Hanson
To the Editor:
Charles Krauthammer correctly argues that neoconservatism has matured into a governing ideology over the last four years. Many of its opponents have accepted its basic rationale for the war in Iraq: to establish democracy there and inspire Arabs across the Middle East to do the same. If that does not indicate a neoconservative triumph, I do not know what does.
Mr. Krauthammer attributes this ideological realignment to a “compromise with reality, and a convergence to the middle.” But questions remain. If what he calls “democratic realism” leaves room for friendly dictatorships in the Middle East, then how do we draw the line with respect to currently friendly but potentially adversarial nations like China and Russia? At what point does his own brand of neoconservatism cease to be neoconservative?
Mr. Krauthammer also fails to mention that while the neoconservative camp has indeed grown, several prominent conservative figures have jumped ship and have yet to reboard, at least not publicly. The list of wobblers and defectors is not limited to David Brooks and Francis Fukuyama, for it also includes William F. Buckley, Jr., who told the New York Times in 2004 that “[i]f I knew [before the war] what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war”; George F. Will, who called for “a dose of conservatism without the prefix”; Tucker Carlson, who called the war “a major mistake”; and Owen Harries, who described neoconservatism as “profoundly unconservative.” Does not the absence of their support put a dent in the Right—and in Mr. Krauthammer’s thesis of “convergence”?
Charles Krauthammer writes:
If I understand Dimitri K. Simes correctly, he is saying that the realist position on the war in Iraq is that we should have invaded, yes, but instead of “imposing democracy” we should have simply substituted a more pliant Baathist thug for Saddam Hussein.
Of all the possible policies one could have adopted toward Saddam’s Iraq, this is the most absurd. It is absurd to risk American blood and treasure simply to perpetuate precisely the same kind of corrupt, corrupting, and ultimately self-defeating support of local thugs that helped create the conditions for 9/11. If that is the objective, far better simply to do nothing, as the liberal isolationists would have it.
The rest of Mr. Simes’s letter is so filled with caricatures of neoconservatism that it should have been accompanied by a cartoon. They are hardly worth responding to. I would make only two points.
First, no one is claiming that the absence of democracy is the only cause of Arab-Islamic radicalism. But it certainly is a central cause. Who would deny that the local dictators have provided unending encouragement, support, and even incitement for the kind of anti-Western, anti-Semitic, anti-American Zeitgeist in which bin Ladenism thrived and metastasized?
Second, the idea that neoconservatives were promising some sort of democratic Arab paradise is merely silly. In my own writings I have stressed at every opportunity how difficult, risky, and problematic the enterprise would be. Nonetheless, I came to the conclusion that it was necessary. The question put to Mr. Simes and other realists—what is your alternative policy for fighting Arab/Islamic radicalism, other than going cave to cave in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan?—receives no answer, as Mr. Simes’s letter once again confirms.
I did not mean to overstate Victor Davis Hanson’s position on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. I simply wanted to suggest that these well-argued concerns should be assigned to the second tier for now, at a time when our hands are full in Iraq and when the greatest promise lies in Lebanon and possibly Syria.
Windsor Mann points out that George F. Will, William F. Buckley, Jr., Owen Harries, and several others have either jumped ship or never signed up for the journey. That is perfectly true. I would only emphasize that neither they nor many of the others cruising far over the horizon would take lightly the suggestion that they are neoconservatives. It is, therefore, not surprising that they are not part of the neoconservative convergence. My subject was the convergence of the major strains of neoconservatism—the more idealist and the more realist—into a new governing consensus.