The Neocon Who Isn’t: Francis Fukuyama has all the “right” credentials. So when he opposed the Iraq War and voted for John Kerry, eyebrows were raised. They’re still rising. (Robert S. Boynton, 10.05.05, American Prospect)
On a Saturday in January 2003, as the Iraq War approached, the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment convened a meeting in a nondescript building in Arlington, Virginia, with three dozen of Washington’s top conservative policy intellectuals. Using an information-gathering technique dating back to the Eisenhower administration, the office asked four groups to study the long-term threat the United States faced from international terrorism and to report back to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
One of the groups was led by Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), best known as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, the international bestseller that led British political philosopher John Gray to dub Fukuyama “[the] court philosopher of global capitalism.” The relationship between Fukuyama and Wolfowitz went back 35 years, to when Fukuyama was a Cornell undergraduate and Wolfowitz, then a Yale political-science professor, was a board member of the Telluride Association, the elite group house where Fukuyama lived. Fukuyama interned for Wolfowitz while a graduate student in the mid-1970s at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and later followed his mentor to the State Department during the first Reagan administration. When Wolfowitz became dean of the SAIS, he recruited Fukuyama from George Mason.
When Fukuyama received the Pentagon’s call, he immersed himself in subjects — the politics of the Middle East, Islam, terrorism — he hadn’t thought about since he’d worked with Dennis Ross on the Palestinian autonomy talks that followed the Camp David accords.
Fukuyama had spent much of the previous summer in Europe promoting Our Posthuman Future, his most recent book at the time, and his encounters with editorial boards throughout the continent left an impression on him. “That was the point at which I started to think about the whole issue of American hegemony,” he says. “Until then I had accepted the neoconservative line, which is, ‘OK, we’re hegemons, but we’re benevolent hegemons.’ But when I was in Europe, the reality of what non-Americans thought hit me more forcefully than it had before. Even the editor of the Financial Times, which is a pretty conservative paper, was absolutely livid about the way the Bush administration was dealing with the U.K. and Europe.”
Fukuyama’s team prepared furiously for three months, and, of the presentations made that January day by the four groups, Fukuyama’s was the only one Wolfowitz attended. This was precisely the time when preparations to invade Iraq were in full swing. The news Fukuyama delivered was most likely not what Wolfowitz wanted to hear.
The group’s recommendations — which have never been mentioned publicly, much less released — were a photographic negative of the path the Bush administration followed. The United States, the group advised, should avoid overreacting to the events of September 11, and particularly resist military incursions that would “lead to a world in which the U.S. and its policies remain the chief focus of global concern,” as Fukuyama put it in The Washington Post on the first anniversary of the attacks. The group reasoned that although military action was a necessary component of the American response, it should be of secondary concern to a “hearts and minds” campaign directed at the vast majority of the Islamic world that generally admires America.
It was an analysis that departed from the “clash of civilizations” scenarios that Fukuyama’s friend and former teacher Samuel Huntington predicted some years earlier. In contrast, Fukuyama’s group portrayed the conflict between democratic capitalism and Islamic fundamentalism as so lopsided that Huntington’s formulation overstated the strength of America’s foe. “Neither Arab nationalists nor Islamic fundamentalists, or any other alternatives in that part of the world, present a really serious route to modernization,” he told the London Independent in April 2003.
Given this radical inequality, Fukuyama has argued in subsequent writings (which reflect the ideas that appeared in his group’s report) that the United States should avoid inflammatory rhetoric such as the “war on terror.” In contrast, Fukuyama argued that while Islamic terrorists are dangerous, they don’t resemble anything close to the threat once posed by communism or fascism. […]
The most divisive aspect of Fukuyama’s argument has been his claim that Islamic terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States. It is a theme that he says has been influenced by the French scholars Gilles Kepel (The War for Muslim Minds) and Olivier Roy (The Failure of Political Islam), who argue that political Islam has demonstrated itself to be a failure everywhere it has taken power, and that the Islamic terrorist movement had been largely a failure prior to 9-11. Those attacks, as well as the Iraq War, gave it a new lease on life.
The seeds of these ideas, however, are buried deep in Fukuyama’s own work. In his original 1989 National Interest article, “The End of History?”, he singled out Islam as the only viable theocratic alternative to liberalism and communism, although one he doubted would have “any universal significance.” In the preface to Our Posthuman Future, he dismissed the threat of Islamic radicalism as “a desperate rearguard action that will in time be overwhelmed by the broader tide of modernization.”
Critics have faulted Fukuyama for clinging to his end-of-history thesis, accusing him of systematically underestimating events that challenged it, whether it was Yugoslav nationalism in the ’90s or Islamic radicalism today. “Fukuyama’s an optimist, which blinds him to a lot,” says Paul Berman, the author of Liberalism and Terror. (Reviewing “The End of History” in The New York Review of Books, Alan Ryan dubbed Fukuyama “the conservative’s Dr. Pangloss.” “If what we’ve got is what History with a capital H intends for us,” he wrote, “then we, too, live in the best of all possible worlds.”.
Krauthammer argues that it’s Fukuyama’s secular sensibility that blinds him to the appeal of radical Islam. “It has 1 billion potential adherents, which means that [Osama] bin Laden’s ideology has the potential to appeal to infinitely more people than the Aryan ideas of Nazism ever did,” he told me. “Frank has a stake in denying the obvious nature of the threat, but the fact is that history returned after 9-11 … . There are people running around trying to acquire anthrax with which to wipe out an entire city. If that doesn’t qualify as an existential threat, I don’t know what does.”
Fukuyama replies that these are the kinds of sentiments America should resist. “For the U.S. to treat every Muslim as a potential suicide bomber is precisely what fanatics like bin Laden want,” he says. “Iraq before the U.S. invasion was certainly not an existential threat. It posed an existential threat to Kuwait, Iran, and Israel, but it had no means of threatening the continuity of our regime. Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups aspire to be existential threats to American civilization but do not currently have anything like the capacity to actualize their vision. They are extremely dangerous totalitarians, but post threats primarily to regimes in the Middle East.”
Korb agrees. “The bombing in London was terrible, but it wasn’t like the Blitz,” he says. “Terrorists can make life unpleasant, but bin Laden isn’t going to end up running Great Britain, while Hitler very well might have.”
The difference between Fukuyama and his critics is as much philosophical as empirical. Whereas Krauthammer and Berman emphasize Islamic terrorism’s potential for imminent violence, Fukuyama takes the long view, reasoning that political Islam won’t win the larger ideological war regardless of how much damage it inflicts.
It is, of course, precisely the secular sensibbility of neoconservatism generally that has sent Mr. Krauthammer spinning out of control on the Miers nomination and that makes it rather unlikely that neocons will remain in the Republican Party for any considerable period of time. However, it is Mr. Fukuyama who is right about the appeal of and the threat presented by Islamicism, neither of which is terribly great. The most amusing aspect of the whoile dustup though is that while the intellectual class argues amonst itself about such minutiae, the President has gone about happily using the pretext of Islamicism to break apart the ossified dictatorships of the Islamic world and get them all–almost without exception–moving down the path of democratic reform.
It’s interesting that Mr. Fukuyama quite consciously modeled himself after George Kennan, even down to signing his original End of History piece with the pseudonym, X. Over time, Kennan became disenchanted with the results of folk embracing his theory of containment because they opted for an overactive type of containment–fighting wars and propping up rotten regimes and so forth every time a communist bulge appeared in the encirclement. He understood that communism couldn’t possibly succeed in the long term and wanted to just passively wait it out. By the time we’d made a hash of Vietnam and were being governed by craven souls like Nixon, Kissinger, Ford and Carter it looked like we might just settle down to exactly that original plan. But along came Ronald Reagan, who found the Cold War intolerable, and by the time he was finished knocking over the china even the Soviet apparatchiks knew it was over.
Mr. Fukuyama partakes of Kennan’s wisdom–we could indeed just wait out Islamicism and authoritarianism in the Islamic world–but he got stuck with his own personal Reagan right at jump street. George W. Bush seized 9-11 as a way of avoiding another 50 year war and an excuse for hastening the inevitable End. He’s bulling his way through the Middle East: toppling regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq by force and in Palestine and Lebanon by rhetorical force; undermining regimes like Syria’s; and radically altering behavior and the pace of reform in places like Libya, Pakistan, etc.. In effect, given the opportunity to replay the Cold War, Mr. Fukuyama would, but George Bush decided not to.