What Next?

I’d also say that Frank gets it right again when he warns against too great an over-reaction to these failures. What we have done is done. The story of Iraq is just beginning, and we’d be nuts to predict catastrophe (almost as nuts as those who once predicted easy success). Democracy is vital for defanging Islamism in the Middle East, and whatever the real risk level of WMDs and terrorism, we have no alternative to patience. This will take a generation; and it will mean a period in which Islamists may well run countries and gain lethal weaponry. It will take huge skill on the part of our leaders to navigate this period without catastrophe. But the same could have been said for the early Cold War period as well.

I like Fukuyama’s distinction between Marxism and Leninism here – between the neocons who retained analytic distance and those who were eager to force historical change. But the real Leninists in this new millennium were not the neocons; they were the Islamists. Without 9/11, George W. Bush might still believe that China was our number one foreign policy challenge. Al Qaeda forced the historical process forward; we responded. A future conservative politics that both internalizes the importance of democratic change abroad, but is more attuned to the limits of military force and resilience of foreign culture is what we have to start building and re-thinking. I’d pay particular attention to repairing international institutions, restoring the executive branch’s respect for the rule of law, and ending the nightmare of torture. But we will forge no new approaches until we recognize our blatant errors in previous ones. Fukuyama does us all a favor by laying those errors out in full view.