The Best Defense

Yes, I am watching Mosul, but I finally am speechless about the events in Iraq

I am sitting here thinking that with the fall of Mosul, I feel like I should write something. But I also feel like: damn it, I have nothing more to say about it. This comes after about 12 years of writing about it constantly, first a couple of thousand news articles and then in two books.

I don't feel grieved by this. More, I just feel numb. It reminds me of something that Jim Gourley once wrote, "Iraq has already given and taken from me everything it's going to."

I wonder if people who spent a lot of time in Iraq feel similarly. I suspect so, because my various networks of contacts have been pretty quiet about Iraq this week. My guess is that anyone watching Iraq closely began thinking that these events became inevitable once Maliki began attacking Sunni towns. As Andrew Exum commented last night, "you can buy host nation time and space for political reform and compromise, but ultimately it's their choice."

It boils down to this: The Shiites act like they are a majority in Iraq, or at least the single biggest group. The Sunnis act like they are a majority in the Arab world. Both are right. The question is: Which is more important inside Iraq? Unfortunately, the answer likely will come from Iran, in how it supports Maliki in the coming days. I don't think the U.S. government will conduct air strikes. I don't even know how it would be done -- the big base at Balad will be a juicy target for ISIS, so you can't use that. So B-1s out of Diego Garcia? Still hard to do and coordinate with someone on the ground.

My guess: We wind up with a de facto partition of Iraq -- a Shiite south extending up to the east bank of the Tigris in Baghdad, a Sunni north and west that begins in the western side of Baghdad, and a Kurdish northeast. The Kurds have played this especially well, hanging back and letting Maliki screw up and also cutting a peace deal with the Turks so they can focus on Iraq.   

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The Best Defense

Fukuyama 25 years after 'The End of History'—what is this 'History'?

By David Sterman

Best Defense guest columnist

The question of "what is History?" loomed over the Cato Institute's June 6 retrospective on Francis Fukuyama's famous essay "The End of History," an event featuring Fukuyama himself and a group of other panelists.

As Adam Garfinkle, the founding editor of the American Interest, noted, Fukuyama's essay is perhaps "the most vulgarized" essay ever written, with many of its critics simply failing to understand the meaning of the Hegelian capital "H" history to which Fukuyama refers. Indeed, Fukuyama noted, citing an official Cuban meeting on his essay, that the most perceptive critics of his essay when it originally came out were Marxists, who had long drawn from the Hegelian dialectic and its definition of History as something grander and distinct from the progression of day-to-day events.  Fukuyama even stated his agreement with Walter Russell Mead's thesis about "The  "Return of Geopolitics."

Yet for some of Fukuyama's interlocutors on the two panels, the Hegelian view of "History" with its particular European lineage constituted too limited a view of the existing ideological challenges to liberal democracy.  Garfinkle noted that the Hegelian definition, being formed out of European debates on modernization, may miss the ideological challenge from non-western societies and others who seek to avoid modernization.  Paul Pillar, a senior fellow at Brookings and former deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, prefaced his remarks by saying that while many misunderstand the "History" Fukuyama refers to, not being students of Hegelian philosophy, they could be forgiven for insisting that day-to-day events and competition still matters.  Pillar also argued that while it is not often phrased as such, political polarization within Western society over the role of government and the willingness to hold the government's functioning hostage in debt ceiling negotiations is a crisis rooted in ideology.  As he put it, something does not need to begin with a capital letter and end with an -ism to be a competing ideology of historical import, and there is some capital H history going on in the United States.

Fukuyama for his part argued the suggested threats to liberal democratic order are exaggerated.  Though he did nod to the dangers of a failure of governance in established liberal democracies saying that his future work will focus on that issue, he warned that a foreign policy community rewarded for pessimistic analyses and criticized for optimistic ones influences the perception of threats as Historical when they may not be. 

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