America at the Crossroads | Francis Fukuyama

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


In ‘America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy’, Francis Fukuyama delves into the shifts in U.S. policy and strategic foreign relations in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Specifically, he examines the roots of neoconservatism, its influence on the Bush administration, and its limitations as a foreign policy doctrine. Fukuyama explores the broader intellectual foundation of the movement, its effects on nation-building, and the perceived successes and failures of U.S. policies in Iraq. While addressing different political philosophies, the book ultimately suggests a new approach of ‘realistic Wilsonianism’ which combines moral goals and international institutions.

Bush’s Foreign Policy and the Schools of Thought that Influence It

After the 9/11 attack, President George W. Bush spearheaded fundamental changes in US policy and strategic foreign relations. In response to the Al Qaeda attack, he created the Homeland Security agency and spearheaded the removal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. He replaced deterrence and containment with a pre-emptive strategy, leading to the invasion of Iraq, to depose Saddam Hussein and prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. This doctrine has been linked with Neoconservatism, which includes beliefs in democracy, human rights, and using US policies to achieve moral goals.

However, US foreign policymaking is not only influenced by Neoconservatives. Other schools of thought, such as Liberal Internationalists, Jacksonian American nationalists, and Realists, also have ideas on managing foreign policy. Realists, for instance, primarily focus on measuring a country’s power and act accordingly, probably neglecting that nation’s human rights and internal management. Neoconservatives, on the contrary, prioritize democracy, human rights, and morality over realism.

Although the Neocon doctrine seemed right in line with the Bush administration’s interests at the time, its implementation led to some false assumptions, such as not being prepared for the resistance from radical Islam and overplaying Iraq’s possession of WMDs, which necessitated a pre-emptive strike. Furthermore, the administration lacked an adequate plan to restore order after Saddam Hussein’s fall, which allowed for a fertile ground for the rise of insurgency groups and dissension among the US’s allies over the war.

The Bush administration’s foreign policies were executed under false assumptions, and Neoconservatism was implemented rather clumsily. It is important to adopt a “realistic Wilsonianism,” where international institutions play a big role, and the US can use its power only if humane values are at stake. This doctrine aims to prevent failed states from facilitating global disorder.

Origins and Beliefs of Neoconservatism

Neoconservatism emerged in the late 1930s as a reaction against Stalinism and communism. The movement’s founding thinkers came to reject liberalism, particularly its embrace of large-scale social programs as a means of eliminating social problems. The brutality of the Stalinist state and America’s victory in World War II encouraged the neocons to embrace military power and reject isolationism. During the Cold War, the movement gained more prominence, and in the 1960s, neoconservatives criticized the Great Society’s social programs as unrealistic. Neoconservative thought includes key beliefs that a state’s regime determines its international policies and internal operations, that governments should promote democratic values, that the U.S. should avoid isolationism, and that social programs do not work. International law and institutions, according to the neoconservatives, are incapable of solving the world’s problems.

Political Development

The collapse of the Soviet Union led to political theorists exploring how dictatorships could transition to democracies. Neoconservative theorists examined factors that lead to these transitions by studying political development and answering questions like how democracy and economic development balance; whether imitation could foster societal advancements, and how dictators manipulate democratic language.

According to these theorists, democracy may develop in any country despite its economic status. However, nations with a per capita income of at least $6,000 are less likely to face political destabilization compared to poorer countries. They claim modernization is a catalyst towards liberal democracy. Dictatorships often manipulate democratic language and use it to explain why they should continue to rule, but it doesn’t mean that they become democracies.

European countries started to emerge by maintaining large armies and reducing the costs of trading. The Japanese started mass modernization after Commodore Perry. However, imitation should not be the sole solution to the problem of lacking economic development models. Incomplete solutions may lead to the adoption of insufficient policies.

Localized theories do not explain passive transitions from dictatorships to democracies or why some nations prefer newer parties to established ones. Neoconservative theorists provide a different perspective on political development.

Efforts and Limitations in U.S. Nation Building

The success of U.S. nation building attempts has been varied. While some international collaborations have brought about democratic reforms, it is crucial to note that nation-building efforts cannot be successful when imposed from outside. Recent instances of nonviolent changes of government in nations like Serbia and Ukraine show that democracy can only come from within. In addition, authoritarians are not suited for nonviolent power shifts, and substantial change requires governments that are open to external help. The success stories of Japan and Germany should be viewed in their historical context to avoid misguided policies.

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