Francis Fukuyama: A self-defeating hegemony

When I wrote about the End of History almost 20 years ago, one thing that I did not anticipate was the degree to which American behaviour and misjudgments would make anti-Americanism one of the chief fault lines of global politics. And yet, particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, that is precisely what has happened, owing to four key mistakes made by the Bush administration.

First, the doctrine of "preemption", which was devised in response to the 2001 attacks, was inappropriately broadened to include Iraq and other so-called "rogue states" that threatened to develop weapons of mass destruction. To be sure, preemption is fully justified vis-a-vis stateless terrorists wielding such weapons. But it cannot be the core of a general non-proliferation policy, whereby the United States intervenes militarily everywhere to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.

The cost of executing such a policy simply would be too high (several hundred billion dollars and tens of thousands of casualties in Iraq and still counting). This is why the Bush administration has shied away from military confrontations with North Korea and Iran, despite its veneration of Israel's air strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, which set back Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme by several years. After all, the very success of that attack meant that such limited intervention could never be repeated, because would-be proliferators learned to bury, hide, or duplicate their nascent weapons programmes.

The second important miscalculation concerned the likely global reaction to America's exercise of its hegemonic power. Many people within the Bush administration believed that even without approval by the UN security council or Nato, American power would be legitimised by its successful use. This had been the pattern for many US initiatives during the cold war, and in the Balkans during the 1990s; back then, it was known as "leadership" rather than "unilateralism".

But, by the time of the Iraq war, conditions had changed: the US had grown so powerful relative to the rest of the world that the lack of reciprocity became an intense source of irritation even to America's closest allies. The structural anti-Americanism arising from the global distribution of power was evident well before the Iraq war, in the opposition to American-led globalisation during the Clinton years. But it was exacerbated by the Bush administration's "in-your-face" disregard for a variety of international institutions as soon it came into office - a pattern that continued through the onset of the Iraq war.

America's third mistake was to overestimate how effective conventional military power would be in dealing with the weak states and networked transnational organisations that characterise international politics, at least in the broader Middle East. It is worth pondering why a country with more military power than any other in human history, and that spends as much on its military as virtually the rest of the world combined, cannot bring security to a small country of 24 million people after more than three years of occupation. At least part of the problem is that it is dealing with complex social forces that are not organised into centralised hierarchies that can enforce rules, and thus be deterred, coerced, or otherwise manipulated through conventional power.

Israel made a similar mistake in thinking that it could use its enormous margin of conventional military power to destroy Hizbullah in last summer's Lebanon war. Both Israel and the US are nostalgic for a 20th century world of nation-states, which is understandable, since that is the world to which the kind of conventional power they possess is best suited.

But nostalgia has led both states to misinterpret the challenges they now face, whether by linking al-Qaida to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or Hizbullah to Iran and Syria. This linkage does exist in the case of Hizbullah, but the networked actors have their own social roots and are not simply pawns used by regional powers. This is why the exercise of conventional power has become frustrating.

Finally, the Bush administration's use of power has lacked not only a compelling strategy or doctrine, but also simple competence. In Iraq alone, the administration misestimated the threat of WMD, failed to plan adequately for the occupation, and then proved unable to adjust quickly when things went wrong. To this day, it has dropped the ball on very straightforward operational issues in Iraq, such as funding democracy promotion efforts....

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E. Simon - 11/1/2007

There certainly has been a drive toward liberal capitalism in the push toward a more formal consecration of the E.U., but one has to bear in mind that these efforts are what seem to have been working against it. Despite the election of conservatives to power in Germany, France and now Britain, the defeat of pan-European constitutional referenda in, at the least, France, seemed to hinge largely on a backlash against what was termed "Anglo-Saxon capitalism". I am not sure that this was the same impulse that led to its defeat in the Netherlands, but the tension back and forth between socialism and market "fundamentalism" seems to have been a constant feature in the debate over what form the E.U. will eventually take in economic terms. And if the pro-socialism side keeps gaining by defeating efforts at further integration, then it is certainly open to question how much market "fundamentalism" the E.U. will be allowed, in reality, to embrace.

John Edward Philips - 10/31/2007


The EU is as much liberal capitalism as is the US, and it is certainly not some kind of different system in the sense that Islamism tries to be. If you really want to understand the argument Fukuyama makes about it, then read his book _State Building_. He was never a market fundamentalist, unlike some of his fans, apparently including you, or so it seems.

John Edward Philips - 10/31/2007

Fukuyama didn't take a position, and he had a good case for not taking one. The administration claimed WMD. They were lying, but how many people (outside of Joe Wilson) knew that at the time?

The mass of the population went along because they thought Saddam must have had something to do with 9/11. I mean, why else would the president attack him?

E. Simon - 10/30/2007

I suppose I should be more interested in figuring out why it is that so many people - (indeed, the "rest ofthe (sic) world", no less) - see nothing but "exploitation" in demanding ownership over the fruits of THEIR OWN labor, but the perspective must be more psychological than logical. Perhaps "the restof the world" just assumes that nebulous, un-named "others" must be in control their own labor, and therefore the entire enterprise must be infinitely regulated by the benevolent, paternalistic-maternalism of the Great and All-Knowing Redistributing Mommy State. Cause everyone knows that getting ahead and excelling personally and contributing to economic growth JUST AIN'T FAIR. Such efforts must therefore be halted, or pushed back against. Or at least disincentivized.

There, I've just become a better person by justifying the same sense of mediocrity that I must embrace and share with others. I can't make it my own because that would be selfish.

Lorraine Paul - 10/30/2007

Mr Kueter,
I am one who has never read the End of History, mainly because the title gives one a clue to its shakey credentials. Now, even its author is distancing himself from it. On the other hand, it's really sweet to see those who swallowed it whole defending it. One does have to admire a staunch believer!

If one views the 'hope of the world' as rampant capitalism, then god help us all!!

As most of the rest ofthe world knows, the fundamental premise of capitalism is basically exploitation. Therefore, it is basically flawed. How one cannot grasp that is beyond me. Unless, of course, they expect to be one of the exploiters!

Surely with all these 'brilliant minds' we can come up with better than what we have now, which is - as Mr Kueter states above - neo-imperialism!!

Arnold Shcherban - 10/30/2007

As far as we see and know today that "new organizing principle" you (and, perhaps, Fukuyama) hope for
is actually the very old one: Imperialistic.
To be exact: World Empire with
one Emperor state - THE USA.
And you call EU policy the contuniation of European "nationalism"?
Or we know, we know: American super-idealism, American super-alruism, unmatched in history of mankind, and so on and so forth.
Who do you think in their sober mind will fall for that song and dance now in 21st century? The majority of the world population fear the US military might on one token, while needing US (Western - in general) financial back up on another. But they despise the USA as a conceited, imperialistic bully that, in their opinion (well known from the many polls taken around the world) is the major threat to the peace, stability, and sovereignity of their own and other nations.

Jason Blake Keuter - 10/29/2007

The End of History argues primarily that liberal- democratic capitalism is the final stage of history; that it addresses the conflicts raised by all previous forms of social, economic and political organization and that now new organiziing principle would come into being that would go beyond it. It did not argue, as the critics of the book (most of whom really haven't read it) said that liberal, democratic capitalism was "triumphant" and "on the march". To the contrary, it said that it may or may not succeed; that it brought with it immense challenges to individuals who could very likely seek release from those challenges in other systems, but that those systems could never be anything but regressive. The book correctly identifies communism as one such faux-progressive ideology that was fundamentally regressive in both its premise and practice.

Nothing in a war on terror against Islamists that is decidedly unpopular amongst European welfare-statists refutes any of Fukuyama's major points. Radical Islam and the EU both represent, to a large extent, regressive copinig mechanisms to a liberal social and economic order. Radical Islam requires no explanation; the EU is essentially communism light and a continuation of European Nationalism on a larger scale - namely, the gradual elimination of national identities for a larger regional identity.

Lorraine Paul - 10/29/2007

I do agree that another objective WAS to preserve Israel's place as regional superpower. However, even a surface analysis of their foreign policy over the last 200 years shows that the US always puts its own interests first. However, the interests of both ruling elites are so closely entwined as to be almost identical.

Lorraine Paul - 10/29/2007

Well, I was there protesting in February of 2003 on the day of world-wide protest against the invasion of Iraq.

I was also protesting earlier on in this century against the 'humanitarian bombing' of Kosova and Serbia. It is only recently that many on the left have understood exactly what their acquiescense at that time has led too.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/29/2007

"They merely want to sit on the oil reserves in Iraq over the next 100 years"

is correct enough except that it is objective No 2..not 1.

Objective no 1 was,still
is, to empowwer Israel into its present status of regional superpower.
That this is, was, the primary objective of the Bush/Wolfowitz administration is confirmed by the USA present political priority which is to emasculate IRAN .
Patently neither Iraq in the recent past nor Iran in the present did pause any serious challenge or threat to the USA; but to Israel Iraq did in the recent past and Iran does now .

The only way to understand, to decipher, US policy in the Middle East is to have a close look at the Israeli angle, input, in this US equation which has many variables (most of them readily dicardable; WMD, democracy etc) and only one constant:Israel, not the interests of the USA!

rob h adams - 10/27/2007

It is unfair to argue that Fukuyama states the obvious. What I would like to know is why he didn't state it in 2002 when it was already crystal clear that the moron in the White House and his puppeteers were hijacking U.S. foreign policy to start a Middle East Makeover, as much to capitalize on a re-election opportunity as to control the flow of oil.
I am simply amazed how far ahead of you many of us readers out here in the real world were, how glaringly obvious it was, and how many historians in the public spotlight were not only not outraged, but were even supporting the effort.
Now that it's too late, now that it's history, I suppose it's safe to criticize.

Lisa Kazmier - 10/27/2007

Kinda a minor issue, no? The author probably thinks this would be a real goal, but I'm not sure you need to read that or presume that entirely from what he says.

david redick - 10/27/2007

Click on Part 5 'Empire' in the left margin of my site heck read it all !! click on # 8 and see the Real Reasons Bush invaded !! Dave

Lorraine Paul - 10/27/2007

The Bush administration was never interested in bringing democracy to Iraq. Therefore, why should they bother making even token gestures towards that outcome?

They merely want to sit on the oil reserves in Iraq over the next 100 years or so. If the entire population of Iraq, Iran and other areas in the oil-rich ME die, then they will merely see that as an unexpected bonus.

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