No Lack of Interest in GOP Foreign Policy

By Dana Milbank
Saturday, May 7, 2005

When President Bush looks back on his legacy, he will be able to point to a time of major conflicts -- war in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and now, a nasty feud within the Republican foreign policy establishment.

At 9:30 yesterday morning, in a small room at the National Press Club, the on-again, off-again alliance between the two factions of conservative foreign policy thought -- the pragmatic realists and the hawkish neoconservatives -- finally ended. The famous neocon Francis Fukuyama announced that he is starting a new journal, the American Interest, as an alternative to the National Interest, which has become tainted by realists.

"We wanted our own magazine," said Fukuyama, allowing that he was fired from the National Interest's editorial board even as he was writing his resignation letter. As for the similar names of the publications, Fukuyama taunted: "I don't think they copyrighted the word 'Interest.' "

Reached by phone, National Interest co-publisher Dimitri Simes returned the insults. "Years ago, he predicted the end of history, which proved to be somewhat premature," Simes said, referring to a 1989 Fukuyama article. "If somebody expects they will build their magazine at the expense of the National Interest, those hopes, I'm certain, will also be premature."

The split at the obscure but respected journal is a classic Washington brawl about ego and influence. But it also reflects the serious rift exposed in Bush's first term between the neocon-dominated Pentagon and the realist-infused State Department.

The struggle between the neocons and the realists dates to hardliners' objections to President Gerald R. Ford's arms-control agreements. President Ronald Reagan kept a relative truce between the two factions, as did Irving Kristol's National Interest among intellectuals.

But during this presidency, both cease-fires have ended. The Iraq war -- championed by neocons -- caused an open split with realists. The purchase of the National Interest in the past four years by the Nixon Center -- a temple of realism -- led 10 of the magazine's 14 editorial board members to depart. An article by Simes, who also is the Nixon Center president, worsened matters by accusing the neocons of holding "a neo-Trotskyite belief in a permanent revolution."

Both sides, naturally, say that their opponents are the ones motivated by ideology. Eliot Cohen, another hardliner who spoke at yesterday's kickoff, said he was particularly irked about a new column in the National Interest called "The Realist," adding: "I was uncomfortable being on the editorial board of this kind of journal."

"Laughable," replied National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev, pointing out that three of the new publication's board members wrote in the past year for the National Interest. It's the breakaway journal, he said, where "debate is going to be more muted."

To make their points, both publications trotted out a list of editorial advisers yesterday that covered a range of foreign policy views. But the chairman of each board tells the story: For the rebels, it's Fukuyama; for the establishment, it's James Schlesinger, defense secretary in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

The spat -- and the recent demise of Kristol's other magazine, Public Interest, has amused the liberal Nation magazine, which predicted a string of knockoffs such as "Selfish Interest," "Compound Interest" and "Lack of Interest."

That last title is a particular threat. There were only 23 seats in the room for the kickoff event yesterday, which proved too optimistic when only 15 people came, at least a third of them staff of the magazine. The business plan seemed incomplete. "I hoped to have kind of a mock cover to show you the motif, but we couldn't get it together," editor Adam Garfinkle said.

Instead, Garfinkle went into great detail about his plans for a four-day workweek. Added the publisher/financier, venture capitalist Charles Davidson: "We've got two very high-quality coffee machines, one for espresso, you know, with the capsules, and then drip coffee, which will be freshly ground."

But these are serious men. And they have serious grudges. "At the end of April of 2003 I was fired" as National Interest editor, Garfinkle said. "I was really devastated. I was very hurt." Zbigniew Brzezinski, the one Democrat, said he was "increasingly uncomfortable" that the magazine was "essentially an organ of the Nixon Center." Cohen also pronounced himself "very unhappy" with the magazine but hastened to add, "This is not so much the product of a fight."

Maybe not (although Simes says the rebellion began after he refused to give Davidson a stake in the National Interest). But the breakaway publishers were in danger of protesting too much when they spoke of how eclectic they would be:

"We're going to have a very universal, very catholic with a small 'c' editorial board," Brzezinski said. "This will be a catholic kind of magazine," Cohen echoed. "I was going to say Unitarian, too," Davidson piped up.

Only Fukuyama left room for an unthinkable possibility. "Maybe," he said, "there will be more of a position than complete open-mindedness to all ideas."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company