Hoffmann vs. Zakaria, 2003 - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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Stanley Hoffmann is a Franco-American history and politics professor of Austrian descent. He is one of my heroes.


His special fields of study are international politics and French politics. He teaches French intellectual and political history, American foreign policy, post-World War Two European history, the sociology of war, international politics, ethics and world affairs, modern political ideologies, and the development of the modern state.

The stuff I'd like to teach, though I'd a little Africa and Latin America in there. Hoffmann makes his living by appearing wise, explaining France to America (and somewhat less, America to France), and shooting down the sensationalist and reductionist theories of other scholars, among them, Francis Fukuyama, Sam Huntington and John Mearsheimer. He learns everything he can, using every resource, on a topic before teaching or writing about it. In order to earn his French citizenship he served as a conscript in the French Army, which he said was the most boring thing he'd ever done.

Here we have him sparring with a former student of his, Fareed Zakaria, a mere 10 days before the Iraq War. Click here. Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International and the new voice of liberal democratic, free market universalism (along with Tom Friedman and Francis Fukuyama).


After saying that, unfortunately, diplomatic legitimisation by the UN would be impossible, Fareed argues:

Zakaria wrote:I believe that the only thing that can legitimise this operation, and I say this reluctantly, is the war itself. That is if the war takes place and it goes well, which I think it probably will. You will also see at the end of this war that Saddam Hussein was indeed a murderous tyrant, there will be stories, there will be evidence, and in that sense this war will look better in history perhaps than it does today.

Instead, he gets to what he believes is really at stake in world opposition:

Zakaria wrote:But that won’t solve the fundamental problem of, which is what is motivating so much of the opposition, which is the fear of the arbitrary exercise of American power. I mean what has become absolutely clear is that this is not a debate about Iraq. This is a debate about American power. The war will I believe solve the legitimacy problem about Iraq. It will not solve the problem about America.

Six years later, and it is amazing watching this. Fareed Zakaria claiming that the whole pre-Iraq War diplomatic crisis was not about the war itself at all. That the question of actually invading and occupying a country did not raise any issues in itself. Let me brush my Hubert Vedrine of 1996 vintage and the reasons he says Mitterrand did not want to go to Baghdad in 1991:

Vedrine wrote:To not make the Iraqi leader a martyr in the eyes of an Arab public opinion already convinced of the unfairness of the Westerners. To not throw ourselves into an urban guerrilla war with unpredictable consequences. To not play with Iraq's breaking up. Indeed, the elimination of Saddam Hussein would lead to a Kurdish declaration of independence and, as a consequence, wars implicating Turkey, Syria, Iran, as well as Iranian maneuvers into Iraq's Shiite South.

A cool 9 years before the invasion, some people were thinking about the problems an occupation of Iraq would raise.

Stanley Hoffmann's response:

Hoffmann wrote:We have no idea how to democratise the region and this notion that it will spread like an oil slick from one country to other is preposterous. We may be bogged down in Iraq exactly the way that general Powell and George Bush the First said it have become bogged down if we had gone to Baghdad in 1991. … There is no agreement on how long the American occupation should last. And if one wants to create democracy in a society as complex and divided as this one, it means really stationing American forces there much longer I think than the American people will tolerate. … The other danger is of sinking the American economy with the costs of the war, occupation, reconstruction that very few other countries will want to share…. So it has the reckless nature of a gamble entirely predicated on a slightly pie-in-the-sky best-case hypothesis. Imprudent!

The finger-wagging professor certainly comes out! Fareed does make a good point about whether there really is an unworkable dilemma between war on Saddam and reintegrating Saddam in the international community. Worth thinking about, and worth remembering that American containment worked well against a super-nuclear 300-million strong Soviet Empire, who is to say it couldn’t work against a small tin-pot dictatorship, unable to control two thirds of its airspace and one third of its territory?
Oh, and Fareed finishes with gloriously condenscending wishful thinking so characteristic of thoughtless liberal ideologues:

Zakaria wrote:We are going to war in the face of international opposition, more isolated than we've ever been. At this point, lets do it, do it well. Then at the end of the war bring the world back in, do it under UN auspices, stun the French with our gratitude by asking them to be involved in the reconstruction... Demonstrate that many of the fears about American intentions were misplaced. I do believe that this war will look better in retrospect than it does now.

Yes, the French were going to be just dying to give their money to reconstruct the buildings the Americans bombed! Amazing. A mere 6 years ago the 'global story' was that of an unstoppable America stronger than any other power in history, now it's that of an anachronistic military power facing economic crisis unprepared for the rise of the Rest.

There's a particularly intense way of hating if you once were it. It is almost a cleansing, purifying emotion.

I hate neoliberals and neoconservatives, one can argue about what the best words to describe these people are, but they are those who believe in a morally absolutist notion of history: freedom is liberal democracy, capitalism and globalization. There is no qualification. There is no humility. There was no colonialism, no slave trade, no enclosure movement, no 'satanic mill', no industrialization of war, no Great Depression, no racism, no death factories... there were only bumps and potholes on the road of progress. A road common to all mankind. All roads lead to suburbia. A hideous view of history.

Man's goal is merely go towards universal consumer capitalism and liberal democracy; which is self-evident (or worse, it is inevitable). They might even squirm about the means, especially if those involve the opposition of one nation (the US) against the world (they'd like to think, truly, that they are internationalists that have overcome the parochial Western or American origins of their beliefs). At the end of the day, however, they are no moderates. They are crusaders. They have moral certainty. And that is why almost all of these thinkers supported war in Iraq, no matter how much that support might be 'reluctant' or 'qualified'. For them, freedom does basically flow mystically from American occupation. It's all just simple. (And obviously, there is no Haiti, no Panama, no Philippines, no Cuba, no Liberia, hell before the 1960s, no Alabama...)

Hoffmann for me is the heir of a dying, venerable and distinguished tradition of very European 'liberal conservatives' in the line of Gaetano Mosca, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin and Raymond Aron. That is, thinkers who are at once realistic, guardedly progressive, anti-extremist, skeptical about universalist claims (moral or political) and humble about man's own abilities to shape his world. Today it seems, however, that they are the only ones with the honesty of intellectual modesty. The skeptical liberals have ceded to the triumphalist ones.

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