No one should be in any doubt about Tony Blair’s arrogance in saying that god will judge him for invading Iraq. The implication was that he doesn’t care about the judgement of mere mortals such as the rest of us.
But it’s much too late for that. The tide of public opinion is turning against the Iraq adventure, more rapidly now in the US than in Britain.
One sign of this was an article by Francis Fukuyama called “After Neo-conservatism” that appeared recently. The neo-conservatives are the group of right wing Republican intellectuals who campaigned for war with Iraq long before 11 September 2001.
Their think tank is the Project for the New American Century, their best-known figure Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defence secretary in George Bush’s first administration.
The neo-cons share the belief of Woodrow Wilson, US president during the First World War, that spreading US-style liberal capitalism will bring peace and prosperity to the world.
But, unlike Wilson, the neo-cons have no faith in international institutions. They rely instead on the unilateral assertion of US military power to export “democratic” capitalism.
Conquering Iraq was meant to be the first step in transforming the Middle East along these lines.
For years Fukuyama was a neo-con. He belonged to the same networks connecting academia and the US national security establishment from which figures such as Wolfowitz emerged.
It was when he was serving as director of policy planning in the state department under George Bush senior in 1989 that Fukuyama came up with the famous thesis that the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of history.
There would be no more great social transformations, he argued, just endless years of liberal capitalism. This seemed like the height of neo-con triumphalism. But now Fukuyama wants to distance himself from neo-conservatism. He writes:
“‘The End of History’ presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than Communism. The neo-conservative position… was, by contrast, Leninist – they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.
“Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practised by the US. Neo-conservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.”
What Fukuyama is trying to say is that he thinks that the triumph of liberal capitalism is historically inevitable. Never mind the distortion of Marxism involved, because hidden here is an important point.
The neo-cons of the Project for the New American Century were less confident than Fukuyama. Wolfowitz has stressed that the rise of powers such as China represents a threat to both the stability of capitalism and the hegemony of the US.
The implication the neo-cons drew was that the US needs to use its military power actively, waging preventive wars. This is not just to eliminate terrorists and rogue states, but to entrench a global balance of forces that underwrites US dominance.
But, as Fukuyama shows, this enterprise has backfired badly. The US is bogged down in Iraq, thanks in large part to the wildly optimistic planning of the neo-cons in the Pentagon. Its image as a “benevolent hegemon” has suffered severe damage.
Wolfowitz and most other leading neo-cons have left the administration. Bush continues to reaffirm his “forward strategy for freedom in the Middle East”, but it is evidently in tatters.
The combination of Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections and the sight of the US president last weekend walking side by side with the Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf, whose security forces had just crushed anti-Bush protests, is sufficient demonstration of this fact.
Despite his break with the neo-cons, Fukuyama remains committed to the US as an imperial power. His chief fear is that the Iraq debacle will push it into isolationism. That is very unlikely, but no doubt history has plenty more tricks up its sleeve to confound the US empire and its ideologues.