America at the Crossroads | Francis Fukuyama

Summary of: America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy
By: Francis Fukuyama


Delve into the intriguing world of neoconservatism and its impact on U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 era through Francis Fukuyama’s insightful book, ‘America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy’. Examine the evolution of neoconservative ideas and their eventual adoption by the George W. Bush administration, with particular focus on the Iraq war. The book explores various schools of thought in relation to foreign policy, including realism and liberal internationalism, and their limitations in addressing the complexities of the current world. Fukuyama argues the need for a new foreign policy approach, termed ‘realistic Wilsonianism,’ to help nations navigate the global challenges they face.

The Complexity of Post-Sept. 11 U.S. Foreign Policy

The aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks saw a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush’s administration. The creation of Homeland Security and the invasion of Afghanistan were in response to the attack, while the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes in Iraq was not. Though often linked with neoconservatism, the Bush administration’s policies do not reflect its core ideas. Other schools of thought, such as liberal internationalists, Jacksonian American nationalists, and realists, also have varying ideas on managing foreign policy. With failed states and hostile forces posing threats to established nations, the U.S. seeks to use its power to fulfill its moral goals in a “realistic Wilsonianism” approach, which emphasizes the importance of international institutions.

The Origins and Foundations of Neoconservatism

Neoconservatism emerged in New York during the late 1930s as a rejection of communism and its liberal sympathizers who failed to recognize its true danger. The brutality of the Stalinist state shattered the neocons’ former utopian visions of an egalitarian society. The decision of the capitalist U.S. to enter World War II pushed neocons further to the right as they saw victory over the fascists as proof of the U.S.’s moral power using military force. The Post-WWII national debate about the Cold War and McCarthyism produced more neoconservatives. The 1960s civil rights movement and the Viet Nam war shaped neoconservative beliefs about the limitations of government, specifically, social programs that could not solve complex issues like crime, racism, and family disintegration. The Public Interest, which the founders Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell established, criticized Great Society social programs and suggested revamping them. The emerging policy positions that unified neocons include the beliefs that a nation’s total government administrative structure determines its internal operations and international policies, governments should uphold democratic values, isolationism is untenable, U.S. influence can serve a moral good, government-sponsored social programs are ineffective, and international law and institutions do not solve global problems, which contradicts European and liberal beliefs in internationalism.

Where Democracy Comes From

How the collapse of the Soviet Union led neoconservative theorists to examine the factors driving passive transitions from dictatorship to democracy.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, political theorists turned their attention to how dictatorial societies become democracies. These theories have focused on how democracy and economic development can balance each other, how imitation can foster societal advancements, and how despots manipulate the language of democracy. Neoconservative theorists have tried to address political development by exploring these specific factors.

According to these theorists, democracy can develop in a country regardless of its economic status. However, nations with a minimum of $6,000 per capita income are less likely to become politically destabilized than poorer countries. It’s unclear whether economic development advances political development or vice versa. Modernization is seen as a catalyst toward liberal democracy since technology and higher living standards are byproducts of modernization.

Theorists also suggest that European states grew in response to the need to maintain large armies and reduce the costs of trading with each other. The Japanese embarked on mass modernization after Commodore Perry. When countries do not understand why their economies lag or lack appropriate models, they often adopt insufficient or incomplete solutions.

Finally, in nations without democracy, dictators often use democratic language to explain why they should remain in power. It’s important to recognize how despots manipulate the language of democracy and ultimately undermine the possibility of true democratic governance.

U.S. Nation Building and the Illusion of Democracy

Despite mixed results, the United States continues to advocate for nation building to spread democracy. However, true democratic change can only come from within a nation and cannot be imposed by outsiders. Examples of successful nonviolent changes of government include Serbia, Soviet Georgia, and Ukraine where election monitors, media and NGOs played a crucial role. Authoritarian governments like Russia, China and most Arab nations are not receptive to nonviolent power shifts. Ultimately, lasting change requires governments that are open to international help and willing to embrace democracy.

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