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America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy Hardcover – February, 2006
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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.
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.