- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

AMERICA AT THE CROSSROADS: DEMOCRACY, POWER, AND THE NEOCONSERVATIVE LEGACY

By Francis Fukuyama

Yale University Press. $25, 226 pages

REVIEWED BY A.G. GANCARSKI

In the last few months, there has been no shortage of “second thoughts” about the prudence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq three years ago. Many of the action’s most fervent advocates — National Review’s William Buckley and Andrew Sullivan among them — have rethought their positions on the war.

Some will be tempted to dismiss Francis Fukuyama’s “America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy” as a likeminded attempt by the author to separate himself from the seemingly-universal desire for ground war with Iraq a few years ago. But as always is the case with Mr. Fukuyama, the truth is more complex and profound than his critics let on — especially given that in his case, he had been skeptical of the Iraq invasion as executed from the beginning.

In the preface of his current book, much of which compiles the “Castle Lectures” the author delivered at Yale last year, Mr. Fukuyama asserts baldly that “neoconservatism … has evolved into something I can no longer support.” The author’s literal renunciation of the school of thought he is most closely linked to, naturally, comes with something more positive.

In the present volume, Mr. Fukuyama stakes out a new and mildly compelling position — “realistic Wilsonianism” — that he thinks “would win support from a fairly broad spectrum of Americans.” Even by the end of the book, “realistic Wilsonianism” was not fully fleshed out to this reviewer’s satisfaction. That said, the concept is laden with a certain potential, and its assertion allows the author to make an ideologically-rooted break with his former allies in the neoconservative movement.

One of the book’s more compelling arguments, early on, implicitly inverts the old paleoconservative charge that neoconservatives “hijacked” the Bush Administration; Mr. Fukuyama argues that the reverse is true, and that it is entirely plausible that the Bush Administration hijacked neoconservatism.

The author asserts that there has been considerable neoconservative influence on the Bush Administration’s “fairly rich doctrinal record,” but questions whether Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld are really neoconservative or were simply borrowing the language of the creed while “muddling through in response to fast-changing events.” Along these lines, Mr. Fukuyama asserts that the Iraq war was not a strictly neoconservative enthusiasm, but was promoted by “an alliance of neoconservatives and Jacksonian nationalists.”

What may read to the casual reader as hair-splitting here is something far more significant. In separating himself and the creed of neoconservatism fromthe current action in Iraq, Mr. Fukuyama essentially guarantees himself a place at the table when devising the seemingly-inevitable post-Bush foreign policy.

With this in mind, much of the book is something that a hawkish Democratic Presidential hopeful could get behind. Somewhat surprisingly, in that context: Arguably the most interesting parts of the book involved Mr. Fukuyama attempting to reclaim the neoconservative legacy and separate it from that of the larger conservative movement.

In Chapter 2, the author argues, along those lines, that “more nonsense has been written about Leo Strauss and the Iraq War than on any other subject.” This unmistakable rebuke to the fringe elements who have argued that the Iraq War was a concoction built on Straussian premises comes with further confirmation of Mr. Fukuyama’s final break with the right: The “Straussian wing of the neoconservative movement has always had a problem with libertarian conservatives.” As is the fashion of late, Mr. Fukuyama renders blistering criticisms of the current president, suggesting that Mr. Bush is a de facto “Leninist,” responsible for the emergence of “neoconservative” as a “term of abuse”.

Having asserted his independence from the Iraq War and the current administration, Mr. Fukuyama freed himself to make prescriptions for the post-Bush world. Most of these are not particularly novel, but they are sober-minded and merit consideration.

The author asserts, that “democratic transitions are hard to bring about,” suggesting that the activity at the end of the Cold War was an exception to a larger rule. Many of the world’s emerging democracies, according to Mr. Fukuyama, are trapped in a “semi-authoritarian gray zone.”

Presenting further challenges, the author argues that the current war against non-state actors is a war against “jihadism”, a direct challenge to national-security doctrine which renders concepts like “containment” and “deterence” fairly irrelevant. Mr. Fukuyama argues that this jihadism essentially uses radical Islam as a cover for recycled Marxist/Fascist ideology.

In Mr. Fukuyama’s reckoning, the administration missed an opportunity in this context to sell the Iraqi invasion as a “global public good” — in part, because September 11occasioned an unseemly “opportunism” from advocates of a full-court-press foreign policy.

The president, in this context, failed to honor the difference between “preventive” and “preemptive” warfare, and conflated the challenge of dealing with “rogue states” and “nuclear terrorism.” Most surprisingly, Mr. Fukuyama concedes that the United States cannot successfully militate against emergent nuclear powers [such as Iran]; in theauthorial reckoning, America simply cannot project its power in that direction long enough to attain the desired results.

The Iraq action, argues Mr. Fukuyama, went pear-shaped because we could not attain “political legitimacy” from the international community. Chapter 4 of the book finds the author taking direct aim at former neoconservative comrades Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, and William Kristol for unrealistic reliance on the perpetuity of “American exceptionalism” and the concept of America as a “benevolent hegemony.” Like so much else in the book, this section is suffused with tones of regret.Much of the rest of the present volume recapitulates the arguments rendered early on.

Just as America is “at the crossroads,” so too is the author himself, trapped in a gray area between neoconservatism and neoliberalism. With much of the balance of the book extolling the virtues of “soft power” and international institutions, it takes very little imagination to visualize Mr. Fukuyama as a foreign-policy adviser to the Democratic Presidential nominee two years from now.

A.G. Gancarski writes from Jacksonville, Fla.

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