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America at the Crossroads
Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy
By Francis Fukuyama
Yale University Press
HC, 240 pgs. US$25
ISBN: 0-3001-1399-4

Fukuyama's John Kerry moment

By Steven Martinovich
web posted March 27, 2006

America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative LegacyBack in September 2003, John Kerry stated that voting against a wartime funding bill was essentially abandoning America's soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just one month later, Kerry -- who a year earlier had voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq -- voted against a supplemental funding bill earmarked for those very soldiers. In attempting to explain his contrary vote, he famously stated, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Francis Fukuyama's latest book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, proves that flip-flopping on the war isn't a sin unique to politicians. Fukuyama claims that even while he publicly supported the war, he knew it was a mistake. It wasn't a mistake in 1998 when he co-signed an open letter arguing for an invasion, nor was it a mistake in April 2003 when he wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal celebrating the fall of the Ba'athist regime.

That aside, America at the Crossroads is one of the better arguments against the war and its aftermath, both on philosophical grounds and real-world politics. In it Fukuyama argues that the current strain of neoconservatism, one he no longer considers himself a part of, responsible for the war in Iraq is far different from the one pioneered by the alumnus of the City College of New York in the 1930s and 40s. While the movement's founding fathers were convinced that American power could be used for good in the world -- as World War II proved -- today's neoconservatives have departed from several key principles.

Those principles include an aversion to preemptive wars and recognition that social engineering -- which Fukuyama uses as a euphemism for nation building -- was extraordinarily difficult. If Saddam Hussein was indeed a danger to global security, Fukuyama argues, then the war was too preemptive considering the failure to actually find the weapons of mass destruction the world was led to believe he possessed. And the post-war difficulty the coalition is experiencing is certainly proof that building a democracy is impossible without the internal demand for liberty and the institutions necessary to sustain it.

The neoconservative drive to right the world's wrongs, Fukuyama states, has produced a catastrophe in Iraq and a worldwide backlash against what many perceive to be an attempt at American "benevolent hegemony." By relying on temporary alliances and unilateral action, the United States has signaled to the world that it is not interested in multilateral approaches to the war against terrorism. Rather than create new world bodies or reform existing ones -- he admits that the United Nations has been a singular failure since its inception -- the Bush administration's policies promises only scattered wars without long-term resolution of the problems that cause terrorism in the first place.

To be sure, Fukuyama's arguments and analysis, particularly when he traces the philosophical history of neoconservatism, are uncommonly adroit given some of the recent efforts to criticize the Bush administration. He is correct to argue that modernization -- or globalization as Dr. Thomas Barnett prefers -- is one of the key underlying causes of the jihadist movement. He is also certainly on the right side of history when he states that the United States was utterly unprepared for what came after the Iraqi war and that it took too lightly the challenges in bringing Iraq into the democratic community of nations. And there is a large volume of academic work that buttresses his argument that democracy cannot grow without the civil institutions necessary to sustain it.

Yet while many of his criticisms are valid, though to be fair to the administration it is easy to craft policy in hindsight, Fukuyama's solutions seem written for a world that does not exist. Rather than go it alone, Fukuyama believes America must work within "multiple multilateralisms," even as he admits the price of legitimacy is the speed of international bureaucracy -- the same which "liberated" Srebenica after Gen. Ratko Mladic's forces overran it and stood by while Kurds were being exterminated in northern Iraq.

Fukuyama also believes that the United States mustn't simply assume the world will accept that American power when used is being employed for moral purposes; it must convince them before that power is unleashed. The solution to that is the employment of "soft power" -- as practiced by Europe and Canada -- and the recognition that other nations can offer their own brand of expertise. Given the competing interests of the players involved in the run-up to the Iraq war, Fukuyama's faith in international diplomacy might be somewhat optimistic. Soft power is an admirable principle in theory but it has shown little sign of affecting any real change with rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

Ultimately, America at the Crossroads reads like a more conservative version of John Kerry's foreign policy platform, complete with tacit support for the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court. While Fukuyama's conservative credentials remain intact, it's hard to imagine that this book will do anything but preach to the choir that forms the administration's critics. By anchoring neoconservatism in a time which disappeared long ago, readers might rightly question whether Fukuyama has regressed to September 10, 2001 thinking.

Despite that, America at the Crossroads does raise a number of valid questions that need answering by this and future generations of American leaders. Fukuyama may be right that the old Leninist strain in neoconservatism which argues a nation's power can be used to change the world for good may be held too high an ideal in the administration. He may also be right in arguing that his most famous thesis, that the world is moving towards universal liberal democratic values, is not a justification for forcing that process. Unfortunately, much of what Fukuyama advocates seems to be the same sort of inaction that got us where we are today. In other words, America voted for his ideas before they voted against them.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

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