Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 226 pp., $25.
Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992, 2006), 432 pp., $15.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity ( New York: Free Press, 1996), 456 pp., $16.
NEOCONSERVATISM, AT least as a powerful movement bearing that name, now looks moribund. The mortal blow may well be seen in the future to have been delivered by the defection of neoconservatism's last truly distinguished intellectual, Francis Fukuyama, and the shattering critique of neoconservatism delivered in his new book, America at the Crossroads. Fukuyama declares:
"Whatever its complex roots, neoconservatism has now become inevitably linked to concepts like preemption, regime change, unilateralism, and benevolent hegemony as put into practice by the Bush administration. Rather than attempting the feckless task of reclaiming the meaning of the term, it seems to me better to abandon the label and articulate an altogether distinct foreign policy position."
Until 2002, Fukuyama was closely identified with the neoconservative movement and in particular the related Project for a New American Century (PNAC). He was a signatory to several PNAC public statements, including one from 1998 accusing President Clinton of having "capitulated" to Saddam Hussein and calling on the United States to do everything necessary to remove him from power in Iraq. In America at the Crossroads, Fukuyama suggests regret for that signature but says that "an American invasion of Iraq was not then in the cards, however, and would not be until the events of September 11, 2001."
Nonetheless, on September 20, 2001, Fukuyama signed another public PNAC letter declaring, "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq." This statement also called for the War on Terror to target Hizballah, and for U.S. "retaliation" against Iran and Syria if they failed to break off support for that organization. In other words, this document was an early introduction to all the key strategic errors later committed by the Bush Administration in the War on Terror.
In the course of 2002, however, Fukuyama took part in a study on long-term U.S. strategy in the War on Terror: "It was at this point that I finally decided the war [with Iraq] didn't make any sense", he writes in America at the Crossroads. He also began to think through his wider differences with the neoconservative movement. As a result of this analysis, Fukuyama takes issue in his new book with the now-widespread excuse of neoconservatives and liberal hawks that the disasters in Iraq have been the result of unpredictably incompetent execution by the Bush Administration, rather than of the ideas that led to war:
"[These] abstract ideas were interpreted in certain characteristic ways that might better be described as mindsets or worldviews rather than principled positions. The prudential choices that flowed from these mindsets were biased in certain consistent directions that made them, when they proved to be wrong, something more than individual errors of judgment."
In the book he also accurately identifies three main areas of biased judgment with regard to Iraq on the part of the administration and its supporters: exaggerated threat assessment; indifference to international public opinion, leading to underestimation of the damage that the global backlash against the war would do to American interests; and "wild over-optimism" concerning America's ability to pacify, reconstruct and reshape Iraq after the initial conquest. It was above all these errors of judgment, Fukuyama says, that led to his break with the neoconservatives.
With regard to that overoptimism, Fukuyama writes, "If there is a single overarching theme to the domestic social policy critiques carried out by those who wrote for the Public Interest, it is the limits of social engineering." Too many of those who took this line at home, he says, forgot it utterly when it came to advocating vastly more radical reshaping in vastly less propitious places than the slums of the United States.
Even before Fukuyama's recantation, the neoconservatives as such were in very serious trouble. Their leading representatives in the Bush Administration have been removed or marginalized. According to recent polls, their leading ideas have been rejected by large majorities of Americans. Intellectually and publicly, they are very much on the defensive. While extremely welcome, America at the Crossroads is therefore not quite the radical work it would have been three years ago and is also of course a great deal less helpful to the United States than it would have been if it had been published and debated before, not after, the launch of the Iraq War.
After Neoconservatism, Then What?
IN LEAVING the ranks of the neoconservatives, Fukuyama is following a pattern that has existed almost since the beginning of this movement in the 1960s, by which certain figures have left while others have joined. The ones who have left over time have been the deepest and most truly original thinkers, from Daniel Bell and Daniel Patrick Moynihan through Samuel Huntington to Fukuyama himself.
The remaining neoconservatives are by no means so intellectually distinguished. Having heard so much about them as controversial but genuinely interesting intellectuals, it was with a certain astonishment that on coming to the United States six years ago and reading their books, I found most to be little more than strings of topical newspaper op-eds laid end to end.
That characterization could never be made of the complex and profound man sometimes identified as the father of this school, Leo Strauss, or of his student and Fukuyama's teacher, Allan Bloom. Nor can it be said of Fukuyama himself. He is in some ways a wildly undisciplined thinker, but he is also a genuinely brilliant, imaginative and provocative one. Even when you disagree profoundly with parts of them, his books, including his latest, are a joy to read.
Over the years, some leading intellectuals have broken publicly with the movement, like Fukuyama. Others have just gradually drifted away, leading to perceptions among the uninformed that the movement remains much larger than it actually is. Thus Huntington is occasionally still identified by some writer or other as a "neoconservative", although most of his key ideas on foreign policy are by now diametrically opposed to theirs.
Of course, the neoconservatives retain well-known figures like Charles Krauthammer, who comes under particular attack in the book and authored a fierce counterattack in a Washington Post column. But while they make very good targets, when it comes to true depth or originality of thought, Krauthammer and other neoconservatives like Richard Perle might also be described as straw hyenas--prominent and strikingly vicious features of the American foreign policy ecology, but hardly intellectual lions.
The remaining true neoconservatives are best described not as a school of thought, but rather as a kind of para-bureaucratic grouping, which (as Jacob Weisberg has pointed out in the New Yorker) also somewhat resembles an extended lineage or clan. This kind of grouping is made possible by the American system's blurring of the lines between government, pseudo-academia, the media and business. As leading neoconservatives have left, their numbers have been made up by new adherents, motivated chiefly in recent years by a mixture of nationalism (both American and Israeli) and political ambition.Essay Types: Book Review