After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads
By Francis Fukuyama, 2006
Profile Books Limited, 226 pages
“Neoconservatism” as a way of thinking is a mishmash of contradicting social and foreign policy ideas originated by some New York City intellectuals who used to worship Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin’s buddy who espoused “world proletarian revolution.” How these once communist intellectuals and their thoughts permeated into America’s foreign policy during the administration of George W. Bush and brought the world’s superpower to a disastrous misadventure in Iraq and the Middle East, therefore, is a very compelling story. In his latest book After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads, Francis Fukuyama, political scientist and a former neocon himself, tells us this story with great depth and forceful insights, then proceeded to disavow and castigate the movement that he was once a proud member of.
Fukuyama traces the origins of neoconservative thinking to a group of working class intellectuals studying at the City College of New York in the 30s. They were once Marxists who turned to the right shade of the political spectrum following Trotsky’s exposes of Joseph Stalin’s brutality. Thus from being ardent supporters of socialism, these intellectuals, mostly Jews, became haters of communism and bitter critiques of “social engineering” programs and social planning that they thought tend to create unintended social consequences that make societies even worse off. When America joined the Allies to defeat Germany and Japan during World War II, the neocons started to see American military power as a force for good, something that America’s leaders should use to transform the world in an exercise of “benevolent hegemony.”
Neocons, having taken some pages from Plato and Aristotle, believe that “regime” or the internal character of states matter in foreign relations. “Rogue states” are likely to become a destabilizing force in global affairs, as “regimes that treat their own citizens unjustly are likely to do the same to foreigners.” America and her allies usually deal with these totalitarian and tyrannical states through carrot and stick but said measures are likely to be ineffective, according to the neocons. The best way out therefore is through changing the “underlying nature of that regime,” a phrase that translates into what is known as “regime change” under the Bush administration.
Prior to the collapse of Berlin Wall, foreign policy circles in Washington DC didn’t really take the neocons seriously even if their views fitted well with Ronald Reagan’s Cold War rhetoric about the Soviet Union as “evil empire.” The more credible voice then were the “realists” in the tradition of Henry Kissinger who respect power, downplay human rights as well as the internal character of states. For the realists, all states whether liberal democratic or authoritarian, seek and power and America and other democratic societies have to accommodate them.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the influence of neocons soared, vindicated as they were with the fact that the communist threat didn’t vanish through containment and détente as proffered by foreign policy “realists” but by the transformation of Eastern Europe and Russia into “democratic states.” It was a profound lesson Fukuyama thinks that Neocons—deeply ensconced into the mainstream foreign policy establishment under George W. Bush—wrongly applied in a world that has drastically changed since 911.
For Fukuyama, the Neocons, in a rapidly globalizing world, have failed to appreciate the growing influence and power of non-state actors (e.g. terrorists groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas) that couldn’t be deterred by conventional military forces. They have overestimated the capacity of the American military that, while unmatched in the conventional and high-tech warfare, was not prepared to deal with insurgency and the task of nation building. Neoconservatism, he argues, has proved contradictory in the real world in that, while neoconservatives loathe social planning and “nation-building,” measures toward these ends are necessary if Bush’s democratization project in Iraq and Middle East has to succeed.
The Neocons assumed that the world will buy the idea of America’s “benevolent hegemony” and confer her actions—clothed with scary rhetoric about preemptive wars against the axis of evil—with legitimacy, unmindful of the fact that anti-Americanism had been brewing all over the world decades prior to the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Anti-Americanism—Fukuyama contends—came about as a result of several factors, among them the American-led IT revolution and globalization that are perceived by Europeans as threats to the European welfare state system, the uneven result of “Washington consensus” (i.e. structural adjustment loans that tried to foster market-driven policies) in Latin America, and the Asian financial crises precipitated by American pressure to open up financial markets without adequate safeguards.
This book is Fukuyama’s way of explaining why he turn-coated on the neoconservative movement. And yet, he remained a Neocon in essence, warning against the greater dangers of American isolationism following the debacle in Iraq. This time, however, he labels his new advocacy as “realistic Wilsonianism” characterized by the greater reliance on soft power, the promotion of economic and political development worldwide, and the creation of legitimate international institutions that could respond effectively vis-à-vis global threats and issues emerging out in this brave new world of globalization and technological change.
Readers won’t probably agree with all the things that Fukuyama say in this book, but this piece of work once again seems to prove why many think Fukuyama is one of most engaging thinker and analyst of this era. It’s his finest piece since his equally controversial work, The End of History and the Last Man, came almost two decades ago. It’s a must-read for all those who want to understand the nature of America’s foreign policy after 9/11 and figure out where it is heading for.