Saturday February 3, 2007
A crevasse seemed to be opening up, there in the Hilton's function room, with Fukuyama on one side and everyone else on the other. Days later, he publicly resigned from the neoconservative movement. The Washington policymaking world is a small one, and the two former friends bump into each other from time to time. "I did actually say 'Hello, Charles,'..." the 54-year-old Fukuyama says over tea in a London hotel. "But he just glared at me. So I assume from that he's not talking to me."
Since that night, as the catastrophe in Iraq has deepened, stony silences and backbiting have become standard procedure among the intellectuals once unanimous in urging George Bush to go to war. But neither thinkers nor White House have learned any lessons, Fukuyama argues in a new preface to his book, After The Neocons. America's support for Israel's strategy in Lebanon, he says, highlighted an obsession with old-fashioned overwhelming force in a world "where military power is just not a good instrument to use against non-state actors that are politically embedded". The same goes for the president's "surge" of troops in Iraq and murmurings in Washington in favour of attacking Iran. "Some [neoconservatives] insist that Iran poses an even greater threat than Iraq did," he writes, "avoiding the fact that their zealous advocacy of the Iraq invasion is what has destroyed US credibility, and undercut America's ability to take strong measures against Iran."
Fukuyama's repudiation of the neocon position is the more remarkable given his refusal to repudiate another position - one for which he's best known, and continues to defend in the face of ridicule. This is the notion that the collapse of communism heralded "the end of history", to quote the title of his 1992 book; an end to the clash of ideologies, in which western-style liberal democracy would reign as the natural endpoint for all humankind. It was a thesis so suited to the times, so audaciously expressed, that it brought Fukuyama instant fame. Until then, the Chicago-born, Manhattan-raised political scientist had kept largely below the radar, completing his PhD at Harvard, then serving in the State Department under Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, specialising in Middle Eastern and European affairs.
A less tenacious mind than Fukuyama's might have conceded that 9/11 was a setback for the end-of-history idea. Instead, within weeks he was arguing that they proved his point - Islamist extremism was a rearguard action fought precisely because liberal democracy was so widely successful and desired. He put his name to a letter from the Project for a New American Century, the neocon group that incited paranoia among conspiracy theorists, but which has done little else except write retrospectively embarrassing letters, dripping with easy bravado, to President Bush. "Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack," it declared, "any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."
He changed his mind in the year before the invasion, he says, though Krauthammer accuses him of "courageously" switching "after public opinion had turned against the war". What he never believed in, Fukuyama insists, was Bush's notion that all citizens of non-democracies possess a yearning for liberty that would flower into a functioning political system the moment the tyrant at the top was dispatched. "If anybody had been reading carefully what I said about the end of history, it was never that any given society today is capable of going through a democratic revolution ... economic development matters, culture matters, and if you've got a society with these extremely illiberal religious parties, you're obviously going to have trouble."
This kind of qualification is typical of Fukuyama in person. But he insists he never longed for the life of a celebrity thinker. "I don't accept many dinner-party invitations," he explains. Married with three children, today he has returned to his academic roots and teaches at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, from where he enumerates the mistakes of the administration. But what of his own mistakes? Even if you grant that 9/11 itself didn't undermine the end-of-history thesis, hasn't the response done exactly that, by massively increasing hostility towards the west? "I'll make the following concession, which I don't think is a 180-degree turnaround," Fukuyama says. "When I wrote The End of History, I did not anticipate the degree to which mistakes on the part of American leaders, in their own stewardship of American power, could create such problems and undermine the legitimacy of the broader project. I don't think these are mistakes we'll never recover from ... but there's no question that because of decisions in Washington, the situation has become much worse than it would have been."
Part of the reason for these mistakes, Fukuyama contends, lies in tensions inherent in neoconservatism which didn't come to a head until the Iraq war. Neocon foreign policy starts from the idea that the exercise of US power abroad ought to have a moral dimension, in contrast to the realpolitik of Henry Kissinger. But neocons were also sceptical of social engineering or nation-building - after all, many were disillusioned leftists who believed big government had failed. Nonetheless, they seized their moment in the spotlight and, in the words of writer Paul Berman, yoked together "a stirring democratic oratory with a series of grotesque scandals involving American torture - [a] very weird and self-defeating combination of idealism and brass knuckles".
Having abandoned his former allies, the onus is on Fukuyama to come up with a better approach to foreign affairs. In After The Neocons he tries to do so. He is at pains, above all, to stop the Iraq disaster leading to the conclusion that the internal affairs of other countries are never, militarily speaking, the west's business. His approach "still takes humanitarian intervention seriously as an alternative for a place like Darfur," he says. "Not exclusively, not stupidly - but because you do care about how governments treat their citizens."
Hatred of the United Nations has blinded the American right to the role of international institutions, he says, though in his ideal world the weak and corrupt UN wouldn't take the leading role. He is frustratingly vague on detail. "This is what I tell my students all the time: we do not have a good set of international institutions to deal with a lot of emerging problems. And it's up to their generation to figure out what these are going to be." In this Fukuyama reflects the paucity of ideas in Washington: a static, pessimistic vagueness on all sides, as if everyone is waiting for a compelling vision for US foreign policy. Fukuyama edges towards one, but just when you find yourself longing for him to come up with a punchy new "end of history" the cautious professor takes over. ("Realistic Wilsonianism" is the mouthful of a term he gives to his approach.)
Fukuyama voted for John Kerry in 2004, but he doesn't think the likely candidates today have much to offer on foreign policy. So Washington waits for inspiration; Iraq spirals towards implosion; and former advocates of war keep themselves sane by avoiding the subject. "On the whole, I'd say I'm still friends [with many neocons]," Fukuyama says. "We manage this situation by not talking about Iraq."
· After The Neocons is published by Profile Books at £7.99