Commentary Magazine


Fukuyama’s Wrong

Francis Fukuyama has taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to argue that while virtually all the trend lines in Iraq have been moving in a positive direction for the past year, the war was still a grave mistake.

Let’s examine some of the arguments Fukuyama makes to support his case.

1. Fukuyama writes, “By invading Iraq in the manner it did, the U.S. exacerbated all of the threats it faced prior to 2003. Recruitment into terrorist cells shot up all over the world.”

That was true for a time–but it’s not true any more. Professor Fukuyama writes as if we’re still in 2006 instead of 2008. Among the most important developments of this decade is the worldwide Muslim uprising against al Qaeda and militant Islam, which I have documented here, here, and here.

Al Qaeda is not only battered and on the run, due in large measure to our success in the arena (Iraq) they chose to be the central battleground in the war against global jihadism, but Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are significantly less popular in the Arab world than they were in 2002–which was prior to the Iraq war.

The Anbar Awakening has spread not only to other parts of Iraq, but more broadly to the Arab Middle East. In May, CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Washington Post that al Qaeda is essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world. While cautioning that al Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said OBL is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. And as the Times of London wrote in July, driving al Qaeda in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country (in Mosul) is “the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror.”

The fact that Fukuyama fails to acknowledge any of this–surely he cannot be ignorant of what has happened–is itself quite telling.

2. Fukuyama writes, “Iran has emerged as the dominant regional power in the Persian Gulf once the U.S. removed its major rival from the scene and put its Shiite clients into power in Baghdad.”

This is another example of Fukuyama having failed to catch up to events on the ground. As Professor Vali Nasr wrote recently, “America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels.”

Iran now faces on its east and west democratically elected, pro-American governments. Both the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan are weak and imperfect–but both are light years better for America than what preceded them. And the claim that Prime Minister Maliki is simply a “Shiite client” of Iran is counterfactual. Maliki’s strong military actions against the Mahdi Army and the “special groups,” both backed by Iran, subvert the Fukuyama argument.

3. Fukuyama writes:

The Bush administration this week rebuked Russia for its disproportionate military intervention in Georgia; many rightly suspect Moscow’s real goal is regime change of the pro-Western, democratic government in Tbilisi. But who set the most recent precedent for a big power intervening to change a regime it didn’t like, without the sanction of the U.N. Security Council or any other legitimating international body?

The inability to distinguish between the circumstances of our liberation of Iraq and Russia’s invasion of Georgia is a sign of intellectual unseriousness. It ignores the dozen years Iraq flaunted 16 U.N. resolutions, the unanimous passage of U.N. Resolution 1441, the coalition assembled by America v. the unilateral action by Russia, and the nature of the two regimes (which Fukuyama only briefly alludes to).

4. Fukuyama writes, “Republican presidential candidate John McCain says he was right in supporting the surge and that Democrat Barack Obama was wrong in opposing it. On this tactical issue I grant that Sen. McCain was right.”

For Fukuyama to almost dismissively refer to the surge as a “tactical issue” is, I think, evidence of his lack of understanding as to what is happening in Iraq. The surge was a strategic change of enormous consequence; it not only led to more troops being sent to Iraq but, much more importantly, it changed our mission to a population-centric one. Our entire approach to Iraq was fundamentally different post-surge from what it was pre-surge. You simply do not alter the outcome of a war like Iraq, which we are in the process of achieving, simply by making a tactical change.

5. According to Fukuyama,

While everyone is better off without Saddam Hussein around, the cost was hugely disproportionate. If you don’t believe this, ask yourself whether Congress would ever have voted to authorize the war in 2002 if it knew there was no WMD, or that there would be trillion-dollar budget outlays, or that there would be 30,000 dead and wounded after five years of bitter struggle.

But of course if, in the early months of 1864, people from the North were asked if the Civil War was worth it, many of them would have said no. At that point, after all, the losses were enormous–equivalent to around 6 million American deaths today. The carnage was enormous and the people of both the Union and the Confederacy were weary. But the North prevailed, and today Lincoln ranks as our greatest president.

The merits of war, including the Iraq war, depends on its final outcome. That has yet to unfold in Iraq. But if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, it’s clear that a decent outcome, and even an outright victory, is within reach. And if five years from now we have achieved victory in Iraq, then the war will have been worth it–and Fukuyama, who once declared we had reached the end of history, will be proved wrong yet again.

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