Francis Fukuyama: His changed tune on Iraq upsets old allies

Historians in the News

If they were still on speaking terms, arch-neoconservative Charles Krauthammer and ex-neoconservative Francis Fukuyama might be able to thrash out exactly what happened on February 10 2004 at a dinner attended by rightwing thinkers at the Hilton hotel in Washington. Krauthammer remembers giving a "fairly theoretical" foreign policy address. Fukuyama, listening, seems to have experienced an epiphany. The speech "treated the war [in Iraq] as a virtually unqualified success", he remembered later. "I could not understand why everyone was applauding the speech enthusiastically, given that the United States had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, was bogged down in a vicious insurgency and had almost totally isolated itself from the rest of the world."

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. ...
Read entire article at Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian

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Tim Matthewson - 2/9/2007

Every once in a while commentators anticipate an end to history or the end of ideology, as it was phrased in the 1950s by Daniel Bell. Just as ideology did not end in the 1950s so it has not ended in the new century!