'America at the Crossroads,' by Francis Fukuyama
Review by PAUL BERMAN
In February 2004, Francis Fukuyama attended a neoconservative think-tank dinner in Washington and listened aghast as the featured speaker, the columnist Charles Krauthammer, attributed "a virtually unqualified success" to America's efforts in Iraq, and the audience enthusiastically applauded. Fukuyama was aghast partly for the obvious reason, but partly for another reason, too, which, as he explains in the opening pages of his new book, "America at the Crossroads," was entirely personal. In years gone by, Fukuyama would have felt cozily at home among those applauding neoconservatives. He and Krauthammer used to share many a political instinct. It was Krauthammer who wrote the ecstatic topmost blurb ("bold, lucid, scandalously brilliant") for the back jacket of Fukuyama's masterpiece from 1992, "The End of History and the Last Man."
But that was then.
Today Fukuyama has decided to resign from the neoconservative movement — though for reasons that, as he expounds them, may seem a tad ambiguous. In his estimation, neoconservative principles in their pristine version remain valid even now. But his ex-fellow-thinkers have lately given those old ideas a regrettable twist, and dreadful errors have followed. Under these circumstances, Fukuyama figures he has no alternative but to go away and publish his complaint. And he has founded a new political journal to assert his post-neoconservative independence — though he has given this journal a name, The American Interest, that slyly invokes the legendary neoconservative journals of past (The Public Interest) and present (The National Interest), just to keep readers guessing about his ultimate relation to neoconservative tradition.
His resignation seems to me, in any case, a fairly notable event, as these things go, and that is because, among the neoconservative intellectuals, Fukuyama has surely been the most imaginative, the most playful in his thinking and the most ambitious. Then again, something about his departure may express a larger mood among the political intellectuals just now, not only on the right. For in the zones of liberalism and the left, as well, any number of people have likewise stood up in these post-9/11 times to accuse their oldest comrades of letting down the cause, and doors have slammed, and The Nation magazine has renamed itself The Weekly Purge. Nowadays, if you are any kind of political thinker at all, and you haven't issued a sweeping denunciation of your dearest friends, or haven't been hanged by them from a lamppost — why, the spirit of the age has somehow passed you by.
Fukuyama offers a thumbnail sketch of neoconservatism and its origins, back to the anti-Communist left at City College in the 1930's and 40's and to the conservative philosophers (Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom, Albert Wohlstetter) at the University of Chicago in later years. From these disparate origins, the neoconservatives eventually generated "a set of coherent principles," which, taken together, ended up defining their impulse in foreign affairs during the last quarter-century. They upheld a belief that democratic states are by nature friendly and unthreatening, and therefore America ought to go around the world promoting democracy and human rights wherever possible. They believed that American power can serve moral purposes. They doubted the usefulness of international law and institutions. And they were skeptical about what is called "social engineering" — about big government and its ability to generate positive social changes.
Such is Fukuyama's summary. It seems to me too kind. For how did the neoconservatives propose to reconcile their ambitious desire to combat despotism around the world with their cautious aversion to social engineering? Fukuyama notes that during the 1990's the neoconservatives veered in militarist directions, which strikes him as a mistake. A less sympathetic observer might recall that neoconservative foreign policy thinking has all along indulged a romance of the ruthless — an expectation that small numbers of people might be able to play a decisive role in world events, if only their ferocity could be unleashed. It was a romance of the ruthless that led some of the early generation of neoconservatives in the 1970's to champion the grisliest of anti-Communist guerrillas in Angola; and, during the next decade, led the neoconservatives to champion some not very attractive anti-Communist guerrillas in Central America, too; and led the Reagan administration's neoconservatives into the swamps of the Iran-contra scandal in order to go on championing their guerrillas. Doesn't this same impulse shed a light on the baffling question of how the Bush administration of our own time could have managed to yoke together a stirring democratic oratory with a series of grotesque scandals involving American torture — this very weird and self-defeating combination of idealism and brass knuckles? But Fukuyama must not agree.
The criticisms he does propose are pretty scathing. In 2002, Fukuyama came to the conclusion that invading Iraq was going to be a gamble with unacceptably long odds. Then he watched with dismay as the administration adopted one strange policy after another that was bound to make the odds still longer. The White House decided to ignore any useful lessons the Clinton administration might have learned in Bosnia and Kosovo, on the grounds that whatever Bill Clinton did — for example, conduct a successful intervention — George W. Bush wanted to do the opposite. There was the diplomatic folly of announcing an intention to dominate the globe, and so forth — all of which leads Fukuyama, scratching his head, to propose a psychological explanation.
The neoconservatives, he suggests, are people who, having witnessed the collapse of Communism long ago, ought to look back on those gigantic events as a one-in-a-zillion lucky break, like winning the lottery. Instead, the neoconservatives, victims of their own success, came to believe that Communism's implosion reflected the deepest laws of history, which were operating in their own and America's favor — a formula for hubris. This is a shrewd observation, and might seem peculiar only because Fukuyama's own "End of History" articulated the world's most eloquent argument for detecting within the collapse of Communism the deepest laws of history. He insists in his new book that "The End of History" ought never to have led anyone to adopt such a view, but this makes me think only that Fukuyama is an utterly unreliable interpreter of his own writings.
He wonders why Bush never proposed a more convincing justification for invading Iraq — based not just on a fear of Saddam Hussein's weapons (which could have been expressed in a non-alarmist fashion), nor just on the argument for human rights and humanitarianism, which Bush did raise, after a while. A genuinely cogent argument, as Fukuyama sees it, would have drawn attention to the problems that arose from America's prewar standoff with Hussein. The American-led sanctions against Iraq were the only factor that kept him from building his weapons. The sanctions were crumbling, though. Meanwhile, they were arousing anti-American furies across the Middle East on the grounds (entirely correct, I might add) that America was helping to inflict horrible damage on the Iraqi people. American troops took up positions in the region to help contain Hussein — and the presence of those troops succeeded in infuriating Osama bin Laden. In short, the prewar standoff with Hussein was untenable morally and even politically. But there was no way to end the standoff apart from ending Hussein's dictatorship.
Now, I notice that in stressing this strategic argument, together with the humanitarian and human rights issue, and in pointing out lessons from the Balkans, Fukuyama has willy-nilly outlined some main elements of the liberal interventionist position of three years ago, at least in one of its versions. In the Iraq war, liberal interventionism was the road not taken, to be sure. Nor was liberal interventionism his own position. However, I have to say that, having read his book, I'm not entirely sure what position he did adopt, apart from wisely admonishing everyone to tread carefully. He does make plain that, having launched wars hither and yon, the United States had better ensure that, in Afghanistan and Iraq alike, stable antiterrorist governments finally emerge.
He proposes a post-Bush foreign policy, which he styles "realistic Wilsonianism" — his new motto in place of neoconservatism. He worries that because of Bush's blunders, Americans on the right and the left are going to retreat into a Kissinger-style reluctance to promote democratic values in other parts of the world. Fukuyama does want to promote democratic values — "what is in the end a revolutionary American foreign policy agenda" — though he would like to be cautious about it, and even multilateral about it. The United Nations seems to him largely unsalvageable, given the role of nondemocratic countries there. But he thinks that a variety of other institutions, consisting strictly of democracies, might be able to establish and sometimes even enforce a new and superior version of international legitimacy. He wants to encourage economic development in poor countries, too — if only a method can be found that avoids the dreadful phrase "social engineering."
Fukuyama offers firm recommendations about the struggle against terrorism. He says, "The rhetoric about World War IV and the global war on terrorism should cease." Rhetoric of this sort, in his view, overstates our present problem, and dangerously so, by "suggesting that we are taking on a large part of the Arab and Muslim worlds." He may be right, too, depending on who is using the rhetoric. Then again, I worry that Fukuyama's preferred language may shrink our predicament into something smaller than it ever was. He pictures the present struggle as a "counterinsurgency" campaign — a struggle in which, before the Iraq war, "no more than a few thousand people around the world" threatened the United States. I suppose he has in mind an elite among the 10,000 to 20,000 people who are said to have trained at bin Laden's Afghan camps, plus other people who may never have gotten out of the immigrant districts of Western Europe. But the slaughters contemplated by this elite have always outrivaled anything contemplated by more conventional insurgencies — as Fukuyama does recognize in some passages. And there is the pesky problem that, as we have learned, the elite few thousand appear to have the ability endlessly to renew themselves.
HERE is where a rhetoric pointing to something larger than a typical counterinsurgency campaign may have a virtue, after all. A more grandiose rhetoric draws our attention, at least, to the danger of gigantic massacres. And a more grandiose rhetoric might lead us to think about ideological questions. Why are so many people eager to join the jihadi elite? They are eager for ideological reasons, exactly as in the case of fascists and other totalitarians of the past. These people will be defeated only when their ideologies begin to seem exhausted, which means that any struggle against them has to be, above all, a battle of ideas — a campaign to persuade entire mass movements around the world to abandon their present doctrines in favor of more liberal ones. Or so it seems to me. Fukuyama acknowledges that the terrorist ideology of today, as he describes it, "owes a great deal to Western ideas in addition to Islam" and appeals to the same kind of people who, in earlier times, might have been drawn to Communism or fascism. Even so, for all the marvelous fecundity of his political imagination, he has very little to say about this ideology and the war of ideas. I wonder why.
I think maybe it is because, when Fukuyama wrote "The End of History," he was a Hegelian, and he remains one even now. Hegel's doctrine is a philosophy of history in which every new phase of human development is thought to be more or less an improvement over whatever had come before. In "America at the Crossroads," Fukuyama describes the Hegelianism of "The End of History" as a version of "modernization" theory, bringing his optimistic vision of progress into the world of modern social science. But the problem with modernization theory was always a tendency to concentrate most of its attention on the steadily progressing phases of history, as determined by the predictable workings of sociology or economics or psychology — and to relegate the free play of unpredictable ideas and ideologies to the margins of world events.
And yet, what dominated the 20th century, what drowned the century in oceans of blood, was precisely the free play of ideas and ideologies, which could never be relegated entirely to the workings of sociology, economics, psychology or any of the other categories of social science. In my view, we are seeing the continuing strength of 20th-century-style ideologies right now — the ideologies that have motivated Baathists and the more radical Islamists to slaughter millions of their fellow Muslims in the last 25 years, together with a few thousand people who were not Muslims. Fukuyama is always worth reading, and his new book contains ideas that I hope the non-neoconservatives of America will adopt. But neither his old arguments nor his new ones offer much insight into this, the most important problem of all — the problem of murderous ideologies and how to combat them.
Paul Berman is a writer in residence at New York University and the author, most recently, of "Power and the Idealists: Or, The Passion of Joschka Fischer and Its Aftermath."