The Neoconservatism of Francis Fukuyama

August 4, 2004

The Neoconservatism of Francis Fukuyama

On August 3, 2004, Dr.

On August 3, 2004, Dr. Francis Fukuyama, the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, spoke at a dinner jointly sponsored by The National Interest and The Nixon Center. The starting point was his recent article in the Summer 2004 issue of the magazine, "The Neoconservative Moment." But as he noted, he will not discuss his article per se, but rather the nature of neoconservatism by distinguishing it from errors committed by the Bush Administration and wrongly attributed to neoconservatism.


Dr. Fukuyama opened his remarks by noting that his appearance at The Nixon Center did not represent a defection from the neoconservative to the realist camp.  "I still consider myself to be a dyed-in-the-wool neoconservative," he declared. Indeed, the point of his article-inspired by Dr. Charles Krauthammer's lecture at the 2004 American Enterprise Institute annual dinner-was to assess how one could start from neoconservative premises yet come to a fundamentally different assessment about the Iraq war.


Dr. Fukuyama identified three areas where the Bush Administration has made mistakes in the conduct of American foreign policy, errors that have come to be identified with the neoconservatives. First, the embrace of social engineering as embodied in the whole process of exporting democracy, especially to the Middle East. Second, the lack of appreciation of the need for international legitimacy. Finally, taking an Israeli mindset about the Middle East and misapplying it to America's role in the world.


Why neoconservatives, who argued for several decades against grandiose experiments in social engineering believed it would be a feasible project for the United States to democratize Iraq when efforts to raise test scores in Anacostia have failed remains a mystery. The United States over the last century has engaged in nearly 20 nation-building exercises, from the Philippines to Afghanistan.  Only three-postwar Germany, Japan and South Korea-can be hailed as unambiguous successes, and in each of these three cases the United States deployed large numbers of forces and has remained for decades. Yet, as Charles Krauthammer and others have noted, the United States is a commercial republic, not an empire.  There is little taste for ruling other countries, and Americans traditionally look for exit strategies to permit early and quick withdrawal. Indeed, in most cases the United States withdrew leaving nothing behind in terms of self-sustaining institutions or made things worse. While he expressed his hope this would not happen in Iraq, he noted that there is a chance it might.


Legitimacy does matter, Dr. Fukuyama stressed. If other peoples believe that the American role in the world is legitimate, they will cooperate. Certainly, global institutions such as the United Nations can be corrupt or nonrepresentative, but seeking a mandate from the United Nations, NATO or other international bodies can be a pragmatic way to form true, meaningful coalitions. Certainly, the United States should never conflate the imprimatur of the UN with international legitimacy-and in the past the United States has been prepared to move away from the UN to other fora-but at the same time it is dangerous for the United States to assume that when it acts others will automatically grant a seal of approval to any step taken by Washington.


Proponents of American unipolarity make the case that the United States, in pursuing its own national interests, serves to enhance global public goods as well (e.g. a stable and secure international order that facilitates trade). This is true, and legitimacy will be accorded to the extent that American actions lead to a positive track record. But when things have gone wrong, as they have in Iraq-where warnings from others about the difficulties of postwar reconstruction or doubts about the real threat posed by Iraq, especially in terms of weapons of mass destruction were downplayed-then any future administration-Democrat or Republican-must undertake the task of repairing American credibility. America's friends must trust the United States to use its huge margin of power wisely, not only for America's own interests but to pursue these global public goods.  As he noted in his article, "This should matter to us, not just for realist reasons of state (our ability to attract allies to share the burden) but for idealist ones as well (our ability to lead and inspire based on the attractiveness of who we are)."


Dr. Fukuyama stressed that it is an extremely irresponsible criticism to declare that Israel somehow controls the formation of U.S. policy, something he described as a "total slander." But he highlighted the problem of transferring a hyper-realist, hardline Israeli position vis-à-vis the Middle East and the world (a distrust of international institutions, an offensive-minded attitude to military operations, and so on) to the United States. The United States, the world's sole superpower, is not faced with Israel's existential crisis.  As he noted, "Unlike Israel, the United States has a substantial margin of strategic depth and does not have to constantly run risks to stay on top." The United States has greater freedom to maneuver. The problems of the Middle East-which include a lack of political participation by the ruled in their governments as well as the lack of economic development and opportunity-require a major generational-long engagement that cannot be done solely by the application of American "hard" power.


Dr. Fukuyama's neoconservatism and that of some identified as being close to the Bush Administration, such as Dr. Krauthammer, can be distinguished by the care with which the Aristotelian virtue of phronesis (prudence or practical wisdom) is exercised. Better said, the scope of prudential judgment exercised by Dr. Fukuyama is informed more by the historical process of development, which tempers without overturning the doctrine of the American Founding that posits the inelienability of the natural human right to liberty. In a word, the downplaying of the importance of the intersection of history or practice with nature or theory is at the core of the dispute between the two neoconservative positions. Dr. Fukuyama seems less interested in actualizing in the immediate now the "end of history." History will come to an end, but first it must play itself out.



As reported by The National Interest editors Nikolas K. Gvosdev and Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic.