August 22, 2004

War Heats Up in the Neoconservative Fold


IN the 18 months since President Bush declared war on Iraq, the close-knit community of hawkish intellectuals who built the case for the invasion have largely stood their ground.

This clique, often called neoconservative - which includes Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and William Kristol of the Weekly Standard magazine - has often emphasized what it said were the invasion's underappreciated successes. Occasionally, some have faulted the United States military for mistakes in execution, like using too little force.

Lately, however, there has been emerging discord within their ranks over the lessons from the war. Earlier this month, Francis Fukuyama, author of "The End of History" and one of the most influential thinkers associated with the movement, surprised many by delivering a lengthy attack on the neoconservatives' longstanding arguments in support of the war in Iraq, including their confidence in building a democracy there and their assessment of the threat from Islamic radicalism.

In the clubby world of neoconservative intellectuals, many of whom are longtime friends and allies, Mr. Fukuyama's repudiation of the case for war, which appeared in The National Interest, was all the more startling because he presented it as an attack on a recent speech by his friend, the columnist Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post.

Mr. Fukuyama faces stiff resistance. In an interview on Friday, Mr. Krauthammer says he is publishing a rebuttal in the next issue of The National Interest portraying Mr. Fukuyama's critique as "breathtakingly incoherent."

Others are redoubling their arguments for the invasion of Iraq, contending it should be the first step in a campaign to transform the region. In the next issue of Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz, who helped found the neoconservative movement in the 1970's, has written a 37- page defense of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

In "World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win," he argues that the United States should now help seek the liberation of other Middle Eastern countries to help drain the swamp where Islamic radicalism breeds, just as the cold war helped liberate the Soviet Union.

"Like anybody else in the world who is sane, I am very much worried about Iran gaining nuclear capacity," Mr. Podhoretz said in an interview Friday. "I am not advocating the invasion of Iran at this moment, although I wouldn't be heartbroken if it happened."

Certainly, many plain old conservatives - or paleoconservatives - opposed the war from the beginning or changed their minds as the war progressed. But neoconservatives laid the intellectual foundation for the war, and they attained influence within the Bush administration.

Many are also bound together by friendships with influential members of the administration's foreign policy team, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz and the under secretary of defense, Douglas Feith. Mr. Fukuyama, for example, said he was a student at Cornell decades ago when he first became friends with Mr. Wolfowitz.

Although few in the movement have criticized the neoconservative argument for the war as comprehensively as Mr. Fukuyama did, several others said his argument with Mr. Krauthammer had captured widespread attention as a new stage in the debate over the lessons of Iraq.

"These are two of the intellectual heavyweights among neoconservatives, and their dispute is real," said Gary Rosen, managing editor of Commentary. "People are looking for guidance on this, and these are two strong proponents of opposing views within the movement."

In an interview last week, Mr. Fukuyama said that he had harbored private doubts about the war at the time, although he kept quiet about them then. "I figured it was going to happen anyway, and there wasn't anything I could do about it," he said. "I believed it was a big roll of the dice, and I didn't believe it was a wise bet. But on the other hand, it was a roll of the dice, and for all I knew, it might have worked."

He added, "It turned out to be even worse than I anticipated."

But as he was listening to his friend Mr. Krauthammer deliver a recent speech on the theme of the United States as a unipolar power, Mr. Fukuyama said, he grew increasingly agitated.

Mr. Krauthammer's speech "is strangely disconnected from reality," Mr. Fukuyama said in his article.

"One gets the impression that the Iraq war," Mr. Fukuyama continued, "has been an unqualified success, with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based vindicated."

Like many other critics of the war, he argued that Mr. Krauthammer and other neoconservatives were overconfident about turning Iraq into a democracy, too quick to dismiss arguments of longtime allies, and too willing to give up the practical advantages of partnership with other nations.

Most of all, though, he argued that Mr. Krauthammer and other supporters of the war mischaracterized Iraq and Islamic radicals as an immediate threat to the existence of the United States, a claim that justified immediate intervention. The Soviet Union arguably threatened the existence of the United States, Mr. Fukuyama argues, but Iraq never did.

But, Mr. Fukuyama said, he retained his neoconservative principles - a belief in the universal aspiration for democracy and the use of American power to spread democracy in the world. He said he was acknowledging the mistakes to preserve the credibility of the neoconservative movement.

Mr. Krauthammer, for his part, argued that Mr. Fukuyama's essay did not amount to much of a critique at all. "His recalibrations are astonishingly empty," he said, arguing that Mr. Fukuyama's criticisms were undercut by his ultimate endorsement of the same neoconservative views.

"I have never read a piece which is ostensibly meant to attack a person's position and then ends up explicitly endorsing it," he said.

But he said that there was one substantive disagreement. "To think that the threat to the United States from Islamic radicalism is not existential is absurd," he said, comparing Al Qaeda today to Hitler in 1936, when he occupied the Rhineland. Hitler did not have the means then to overrun Europe, but Mr. Krauthammer said, "he soon acquired the means."

Mr. Podhoretz, another old friend of Mr. Fukuyama's, said, he, too, disagreed. "Some things went wrong, but things always go wrong in every war," he said. "It is always a question of compared to what?"

Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former United Nations ambassador and another founder of the neoconservative movement, said she, too, had doubts about the invasion. But she didn't think the debate over the Iraq war was about neoconservatism.

"I think there's almost an epidemic of the use of the term," she said.

For now, Mr. Fukuyama said, he was awaiting the full response from Mr. Krauthammer and his other neoconservative friends.

"I have gotten a lot of e-mails from non-neoconservatives who liked it," he said. "I have yet to hear from almost any of my friends about it."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top