When Francis Fukyama writes a book critiquing the war in Iraq and the neo conservatives who backed the policy, one must sit up and take notice. His previous book, "The End of History," with its positivist view and thesis that history is inexorably marching towards liberal democracy and capitalism formed a central text in describing the neo conservative world view. Given his background, Fukuyama's decision to write a book attacking the Bush administration's Iraq policy will surely not be easily lumped with many other books opposing the war, nor will he make as easy a target for lambasting by the White House press office.
Fukayama's book focuses on two critiques of the war, on practical and the other philosophical. The first offers no real surprises as it simply states facts now widely published and generally accepted by all but the most ardent supporters of the Iraq War. These include the lack of troops on the ground, the absurd idea that all Iraqis would welcome the US as liberators, failure to quickly quell looting and lawlessness after the fall of Saddam, general lack of interest in the specifics of Iraqi culture and history, bureaucratic sidelining of experts from the state department, and the list goes on. Again, the only thing that makes this particularly interesting is that this author cannot be simply dismissed with hollow phrases like "leftist" or "Bush Basher."
In the second category, Fukuyama's book truly stands out for both a unique approach and perspective. Yes, the author does believe that world history moves towards democracy, but he looks wearily at the idea that American power can hasten that march through military power. However, the neo cons at the White House believed exactly that idea; that if one simply removed the stones of totalitarianism in Iraq, democracy would blossom. Accepting this given as an almost religious truism, the authors of the Iraq policy could simply ignore the cultural and historic realities that made it failure so tragically predictable. In an interesting connection, Fukuyama points to the simplistic idea held by many neo cons that the fall of the Soviet Union is almost entirely the result of the American military buildup in the 1980s, instead of one factor in a complex historical matrix. The author argues persuasively that, once having accepted the idea that military might led to this great historic sea change, one can easily conclude that military might can accomplish anything.
Fukuyama is not one who believes in shrinking from the use of American power. Instead, he argues it must be used judiciously or else risk a backlash. In particular, he examines the idea that American hegemony should not frighten the world because American policy is conducted with a high degree of morality, a concept near and dear to the hearts of the neo conservative movement. Fukuyama does not reject this premise, but rightly points out that it only can be meaningful if the rest of the world believes the US is moving from a point of high minded principles. Lamenting that America now stands near alone in the world, having squandered the great outpouring of international sympathy that came after 9/11 and led to the world standing almost united in the war in Afghanistan, Fukuyama offers powerful arguments about the value of diplomacy and cooperation.
In the end this more than anything else stands at this book's heart. When an American government takes a "with us or against us" approach, resentment and anger will follow as night follows day. Policy conducted based on high minded ideals may be all to the good, but one cannot simply dismiss real world concerns and expertise as "old thinking." While Fukuyama's belief in the importance of so-called "soft power," (economic aid, cultural connections, and diplomatic resources) clearly fell on deaf ears in this White House one can only hope future administrations will take such ideas more seriously. In any case, citizens wishing to formulate a post-Bush foreign policy would do well to spend time with this excellent work.
on April 27, 2006
For anyone who followed the Krauthammer/Fukuyama feud of 2004, this book, a follow-up, should come as no surprise. To summarize, Krauthammer gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute extolling the Bush administration's policies of unilateralism, preemption, regime change, and benevolent hegemony (empire?). For Krauthammer, it was the correct strategy for confronting the evils of Islamic totalitarianism. For Fukuyama, it was the breaking point; he could no longer support these policies and wrote his response for "The National Interest" called "The Neoconservative Moment."
Since then the debate has been raging and Fukuyama has started his own journal "The American Interest," fleshing out his post-neoconservative position.
In the present work, he traces the origins of neoconsevativism to a group of leftist intellectuals (Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz being the most prominent) at the City College of New York who were anti-Stalinist during the Cold War and anti-New Left during the Vietnam War. From this group emerged a set of principles that defines neoconservatism. 1)They believe that liberal democratic states are by their nature non-threatening and should therefore be promoted; 2)they believe in the use of American military power for moral purposes; 3)they are dismissive of international institutions for being too corrupted by illiberal regimes; and 4) they do not believe in government projects that entail "social engineering" or "nation building."
One can see from the fourth principle why the project in Iraq went awry. Removing a totalitarian regime with no civil society to fall back on, only forced the people into warlordism, sectarianism, and jihadist insurgency groups. Fukuyama, the Bush administration, and just about everyone else now realize that we are in an expensive long-term struggle to reconstruct a society that is coming apart at the seems. Our unilateralism and our disregard for the views of our traditional allies (cheese-eating surrender monkeys?) will make the task all the more difficult and costly. That said, he correctly believes that we should see this project through to the end. Pulling out now would only leave more fertile ground for Islamic totalitarianism.
Fukuyama feels that the neocons were seduced by the success of Reagan's policies toward Europe in the 1980's. They thought that as the Baathist regime collapsed the people would spontaneously embrace liberal democracy as they did in Eastern Europe earlier. It was a serious misreading of Middle Eastern culture. This is not to say that Iraqis won't achieve a liberal democracy, they will probably first have to experience a Reformation and an Enlightenment.
Fukuyama devotes the last part of the book staking out a revised version of his prior neoconservative position, calling it a "realistic Wilsonianism." He is a policiy wonk and a social scientist who believes that if the policy does not fit, it should be rectified. His updated version recognizes the limits of American military power and the limits of our ability to change other cultures. State-bulding in the narrowest sense is possible, nation-building is not. We should consult more with our allies and rely more on the proverbial "soft power." It is more effective, more likely to succeed, and it is cheaper to exercise power through mulitilateral institutions. We can still be the predominant power, but we have to be smarter about it.
Fukuyama is a very independent and creative thinker, but he is still the Hegelian author of "The End of History and The Last Man." He believes that all societies must inevitably embrace globalization and modernity. And that it is the proper role of American power to push this process along. But instead of using military force, we should be promoting it with the power of ideas. Fukuyama is very close to getting it right. I definitely recommend this book.
on January 17, 2007
In 1992 Francis Fukuyama, professor of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University, published his controversial book The End of History and the Last Man in which he argued that humanity had made no significant political progress since the French Revolution and that the collapse of communism in 1989 signaled the "end" of history. By "end" Fukuyama meant that western, liberal democracy had triumphed over all political options. He revised his thesis a decade later in Our Posthuman Future; Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (2002), not because he thought it was wrong, but because he failed to consider the role of science as perhaps the chief engine that drives human history. Science drives any number of interests--technological, economic, ethical, social, and so on, but Fukuyama realized that it also increasingly drives our political life.
A speech at the annual dinner for the conservative American Enterprise Institute in February 2004 by the syndicated columnist and leading neoconservative Charles Krauthammer caused Fukuyama to change course again, this time rather drastically. Krauthammer's speech came about a year after America's invasion of Iraq, and described the war as a virtually unqualified success. Whereas everyone applauded, Fukuyama was flabbergasted. Although for a long time he regarded himself as a leading neoconservative, he concluded that he could no longer support neoconservativism as "a political symbol and a body of thought." His newest book is thus "an attempt to elucidate the neoconservative legacy, explain where in my view the Bush administration has gone wrong, and outline an alternative way for the United States to relate to the rest of the world."
In his longest chapter Fukuyama considers "The Neoconservative Legacy" (pp. 12-65), starting in the 1940s with its two "godfathers" Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz. He argues that neoconservativism's detractors "vastly overstate the uniformity of views that has existed within the group of self-identified neoconservatives since the 1980s." But he also admits that most people understand neoconservativism as it was later shaped by Robert Kagan and William Kristol. Despite the disclaimer about any party line, Fukuyama identifies four basic principles of neoconservativism: the belief that the internal character of regimes matters and that foreign policy must therefore promote liberal democracies (since they are friendly and therefore not dangerous); the belief in the use of military power for moral purposes; a distrust of ambitious social engineering projects (a huge irony, to say the least, given American interventionism); and skepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international institutions.
At least in his first term, says Fukuyama, Bush was not an ideological neoconservative; his horrible errors involved lack of prudence and the implementation of policies (overstated threat assessments, underestimated global anti-Americanism, and wildly over-optimistic about the reconstruction of Iraq) rather than mistakes of underlying principles. By now, though, Bush's name is forever linked with preventive war, regime change, unilateralism, American exceptionalism, and benevolent hegemony, all of which Fukuyama now either rejects or greatly qualifies. Nor does the rest of the world think we have been morally good, wise, or trustworthy in the use of our might as the world's only superpower. They resent and distrust us, and restoring our credibility will require concerted efforts over a long time.
"It seems very doubtful at this juncture," writes Fukuyama, "that history will judge the Iraq war kindly." The war has emboldened jihadists, fostered anti-American resentment among both friends and enemies, created a weak Iraq that will remain heavily dependent upon the United States economically and militarily, spent hundreds of billions of dollars, sacrificed tens of thousands of lives, and distracted us from broader issues, all at a huge political cost. Fukuyama proposes what he calls a "realistic Wilsonianism" that pushes back from discredited neoconservativism and is characterized by drastic demilitarization, greater multilateralism, renewed efforts to create international institutions that are effective and legitimate (he believes the United Nations is discredited), and sustained commitment to development. How these generalities will effectively combat terrorism remains unclear. Clearly, in his latest view, global history is far from over. To find out where he thinks it is going, tune in to his new journal The American Interest, meant to supercede his neoconservative past.
on March 21, 2006
Francis Fukuyama's place in the public consciousness is originally tied to his 1992 seminal work The End of History and the Last Man. With America at the Crossroads, he seems eager to prove not only that history has not ended, but that he feels it could use a little selective editing -- especially when it concerns Mr. Fukuyama himself.
As first glace, the book seems to be another thick tome from a heavyweight intellectual weighing in on the war in Iraq and the direction he feels the government should take. It even has added weight given that Mr. Fukuyama was an early supporter of the war, dating back even before the current administration. In 1998, Mr. Fukuyama joined more famous neo-cons like Pail Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Bolton -- collectively known as the Project for the New American Century -- in signing a public letter addressed to then-President Bill Clinton calling for Saddam Hussein to be toppled. It's available online, opining that Mr. Hussein had become "more serious than any [threat] we have known since the end of the cold war."
Many of the letter's 18 signatories eventually became the architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but before then, American at the Crossroads says, Mr. Fukuyama himself began having second doubts about the wisdom of the then-pending war. But if that is true, why did Mr. Fukuyama continue writing articles and essays lauding the war well into 2003? In public not a word about his misgivings was published until 2004 -- the internet is littered, meanwhile, with articles arguing the opposite -- and he apparently didn't become fully convinced of his opposition until the end of that year, more or less when he says he started to work on this book.
None of this is hard to find: it took less then ten minutes with the a9.com search engine to realize the nagging doubt I had reading the book was related to something real.
Put all that aside, and Mr. Fukuyama's suggestions make good sense. He argues convincingly that the government failed to correctly calculate the extent to which the war would ignite anti-Americanism, for example, and that plans exaggerated the threat Mr. Hussein represented. True and true.
But I can't get around the fact that Mr. Fukuyama built this book around the notion that he had misgivings about the war more than a year before he started to reflect those in his writings. If the timing is a fabrication designed to strengthen this book then that's just wrong. But if the book is right and the articles and essays were inaccurate then that's borderline criminal given that if he had used his influence in 2002 and 2003 there's little doubt that Mr. Fukuyama could have changed the shape of the war, lessening the impact of a bloody and costly blunder.
on April 26, 2006
I thought the book was balanced, well-informed, and provocative.
As a development practitioner, I found his core conclusion on social engineering and development on the mark: "the secret to development, whether economic or political, is that outsiders are almost never the ones who drive the process forward. It is always people within societies - sometimes a small elite, sometimes the broader civil society - who must create a demand for reform and for institutions, and who must exercise ultimate ownership over the results. This requires tremendous patience as institutions are built, organizations founded, and coalitions formed, norms change, and conditions become ripe for democratic change." (pg. 185-186)
His recommendations regarding development issues, however, were less clear. For example, a core issue he alludes to but undervalues is that to produce results, sustainable development requires time and the commitment of those concerned, as well as the provision of financial or technical resources from "outsiders". He describes the US Congress as losing patience with that part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that deals with assistance for longer term activities, as well as for slow progress by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. However, instead of criticizing the pace of progress of agencies charged with sustainable development in the long term, isn't it more to the point that Congress and the U.S. public need to be systematically coached to be patient and realistic as to what can be accomplished over time?
A second core issue overlooked is the key role played by transforming technologies introduced by outsiders. Dr. Fukuyama salutes the success of technologies to reduce disease and increase agriculture productivity (the green revolution), but overlooks other broadly effective technological solutions such as those providing potable water, family planning, rural financial systems, and, despite his claims to the contrary, basic education. An example where transforming technologies have led to significant results over a long period is Indonesia. It is the world's fourth largest country, has the largest number of Muslim adherents, and from the 1960s, with significant and steady help of foreign aid, followed a very different nationalist path than some of its neighbors, such as Vietnam.
A third issue that deserves mention is Dr. Fukuyama's concern that: "..the ideal global order should be based on a system of states, states which coherently make and enforce rules and have the capacity to deal with other states on a relatively equal basis. But we have no idea how to get most weak or failing states to meet these conditions. We can promote political development, good governance, and democracy at the margin, but for the foreseeable future, there will remain a large core of states that simply do not fit the traditional sovereignty model." (179) Dr. Fukuyama offers some good ideas for dealing with this issue, including ways that weak states can share sovereignty with the likes of international organizations like the World Bank, and ways that democracies can work together, for example, in the promising group called the "Community of Democracies".
There are other ways to help strengthen weak, failing, or transitional states, however, that at least merit mention in this compact volume. For example, he overlooks the increasingly-well documented role played by groups employing the strategies and approaches of nonviolent struggle to achieve reform and political change. See, for example, a discussion of the importance of broad-based nonviolent civic resistance in the rise of new states and new democracies based on the results of a study of 67 transitions in "How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy" (available on the Freedom House website). Similarly, the role of independent media, including the press, radio, TV, and the internet deserved more attention. Examples abound how each separately and in common have made critical contributions to political development, good governance, and democracy. While Dr. Fukuyama refers to the unfortunate overlapping of agencies providing information and communication (IC) services, he does not elaborate on the critical ways IC technologies and communication services create internal demand for reforms and help mobilize the local knowledge, processes and pressures to achieve them.
on March 24, 2006
Anyone approaching Fukuyama's latest work expecting a head-on bashing of the war won't be disappointed. The author seems to wade into his critique of the war in stages, leaving it to his summary to hammer home the magnitude of the mistake the current Administration is leaving as its legacy. You can read the first several pages of Fukuyama's last chapter to see where he stands on the war and then spend some quiet time poring through his suggestions involving the rebuilding of "soft power" agencies in Washington and the creation of a working club of democracies outside of NATO (first theorized during the Clinton Administration) which would sift through and come to terms with a variety of legitimate global threats and opportunities.
Right now, it appears the Bush Administration is trying to "right the ship" through a combination of unilateralism (pursue the war), soft power (back door overtures to Iran) and state-silo Realism (for example, its recent accord on nuclear power with India, increasingly viewed as a counterbalance to China and Russia in the region).
It'll be up to a future Administration to give Fukuyama's suggestions a shot. For merely proposing them in a thoughtful and convincing way at this momentous moment in our history, he deserves our thanks.
on May 1, 2014
Francis Fukuyama is perhaps most notable for coming out on the bottom of the 2004 Neocon Schism. Back then he and Charles Krauthammer went head to head over the pros (Krauthammer) and cons (Fukuyama) of the Iraq Invasion. In light of everything that has subsequently transpired Fukuyama was arguably right, but at the time Krauthammer was widely perceived to have won the fight. If you follow politics you probably aren't hearing a lot about Fukuyama these days, but Krauthammer's still riding high on Fox News.
We can learn a lot from the political losers. Fukuyama is brilliant and his 2006 book continues to be relevant. In it he doesn't rehash the Neocon Schism. Instead, with great knowledge and clarity, he chronicles the history of Neoconservative thought, as well as and explaining its underlying philosophies. In these days of ideological fanatacism it might seem pointless to see what those "crazy conservatives" were thinking (then or now). But Fukuyama explains a lot of political history, including the concepts of American Exceptionalism, global presence, and global force projection that continue to underly our foreign polices. That alone is worth the price.
on April 9, 2006
This is a fascinating conceit by a true believer in a futile but clever attempt to explain why a greatly flawed ideology that fails in everyday practice is nonetheless true in theory.
Of course, Fukuyama once boasted about "the end of history" when communism collapsed. This book continues his flawed premise that the only idea of merit is the American way of doing things. History is littered with similar boasts, from Greek city states to Napoleon who believed all Europe would be vastly improved under his dynamic leadership.
It ain't necessarily so.
Two facts illustrate the folly of Fukuyama's basic assumptions: 1) Americans rightly resent outsiders telling them how to run their country, and 2) American global business is very sensitive to the "cultural relativity". Until Fukuyama and the "We're No. 1" crowd in the White House learn this, US foreign policy will continue to be a unilateral disaster.
"It seems very doubtful at this juncture that history will judge the Iraq war kindly," Fukuyama confesses near the end of the book. "Repairing American credibility will not be a matter of better public relations, it will require a new team and new policies . . . One of the consequences of a perceived failure in Iraq will be the discrediting of the entire neoconservative agenda."
In other words, dump Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice to salvage the wreckage of neoconservative fantasies. Like many pseudo-intellectuals, Fukuyama cannot admit his basic idea is badly flawed. This is the weakness of true believers who believe failure in reality simply means a more rigorous imposition of theflawed ideology.
What is the alternative? The London-based Financial Times lists eight American brands among the world's top ten. This shows the potential acceptance of American values, ideals and leadership; none of these brands succeed by using the neoconservative dogma.
However, the fundamental folly of Fukuyama doesn't leave his book without merit. Failure can be a powerful learning tool, and Fukuyama is certainly a jackdaw scholar when it comes to adroitly gathering flawed ideas into one concise dogma. Leaving aside those who think the Iraq war is a matchless success, this is a priceless collection of the follies, farragoes and fatuities that have produced an unprecedented decline in American prestige, power, respect and leadership.
Buy it. Read it. Think. If neoconservatives have truly placed "America at the Crossroads" of history, then this is probably the best available road map to explain the impending disaster. After all, it was written by one of the principal tour guides; if others can learn from history, they can make rational choices at the potentially deadly intersection between respect and relevance or rejection and revulsion.
Based on a series of lectures Fukuyama delivered at Yale University in 2005, this learned but accessible book presents an even-handed account of why the Bush administration's foreign policy vision of America as a "benevolent hegemon" has proven both practically and ideologically disastrous. A precise thinker and careful writer, Fukuyama is not merely concerned to demonstrate why this administration's foreign policy has failed (although he does this admirably well); he also posits illuminating suggestions for how America might reframe its hegemony toward more realizable ideals in the post-9/11 world.
By breaking ranks with the Bush-neoconservative consensus on the war in Iraq, Fukuyama is afforded that rare quality of insight: a cast-off who can no longer identify with the brand of neoconservatism that has been used to justify this war as part of America's mission to spread democracy the world over. This unique perspective allows Fukuyama to think through the implications of the Bush doctrine not by reverting to tried-and-true "critical" sound bytes (of which Democrats are particularly guilty) but by actually revisiting the neoconservative legacy in its most robust and coherent form.
Fukuyama engages the intellectual history and philosophical roots of neoconservatism (Kristol, Strauss, Wohlstetter) to show that the Bush doctrine has consistently violated the neoconservative tenet that a state power must "distrust...ambitious social engineering programs" (49). Fukuyama then links this sound intellectual critique to policy analysis of the making of a twenty-first century world order. In this second part of the book, Fukuyama's contention is that the "benevolent hegemon" theory of American power is fundamentally flawed in its ignorance of policy matters of institutional, political, and economic development in modernizing countries. Fukuyama ultimately suggests it's *these* matters that constitute the decisive elements in both the spread and containment of global jihadism. Without attending to such matters, any U.S.-led intervention will not only fail to attract immediate supporters but may even breed its own self-fulfilling prophecy, where more people become attracted to the types of extremism that take root in local disaffection. In this sense, the continuing failure of the Iraqi reconstruction has been the failure of the Bush administration to account for the kind of ground-up institution-building that is the essence of so-called "regime change."
Even if you disagree (as I do), politically or intellectually, with the "traditional" neoconservative points that Fukuyama comes to embrace *against* the Bush-neoconservative consensus, it's the quality and precision of his analysis--the deep insights that his beliefs allow him to make--that one should respect as an open-minded reader. This book also deserves top billing for surveying the key topics in our political world--uni- vs. multilateralism, development discourse, and sundry geopolitical hot spots--in a way that's both accessible and relevant to the analysis outlined above. For these reasons, even a self-identified progressive like me found this to be a stimulating and debate-provoking (rather than debate-foreclosing, as is wont among radical neocons) read. Highly recommended to all.
Chapter 7 begins with these words: "It seems very doubtful at this juncture that history will judge the Iraq war kindly." Such words from one of the more impressive conservative voices in the United States, Francis Fukuyama, make this an important work. Perhaps I am biased, since I have co-authored a recent volume that comes to the same conclusion.
Nonetheless, this is a powerful volume--and it builds on a slender work that is a genuine treasure in the debate over democratic nation building--his 2004 volume, State-Building. Indeed, these two works should probably be considered together.
The former lays out the prerequisites for any effort at democratic nation-building. It is a hard-headed work that complements a large literature--and is one that neocons in the Bush administration should have taken seriously.
This work attempts to show how the neoconservatives "lost their way." Fukuyama, once a player in this movement, reflected upon where the movement was going and has concluded that it has taken a wrong turn. Other revieweers accuse him of apostasy, opportunism, and so on. But this is a work from a leading intellectual that must be confronted and taken seriously.