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Francis Fukuyama Got it Wrong


You might not have thought of George W. Bush as a Marxist revolutionary, but the one of the leading thinkers of the American new Right, Francis Fukuyama, in his new book compares the President to V. I. Lenin. Like the Russian Bolshevik leader, Dubya has been trying to impose radical political change by force of arms in the Middle East – only with rather less success.

“Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version and it has turned into farce when practised by the United States”, says Fukuyama, paraphrasing Karl Marx. Perhaps. But Iraq is still a tragedy, as Fukuyama himself admits. More than fifteen thousand Americans killed or injured, many seriously; tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead; two trillion dollars lost. And all because, as Fukuyama puts it, American needed to “make a statement” after 9/11.

It’s strange how many of the American Right use Marxist imagery in their writing. Or perhaps it isn’t because neo-conservatives mostly came from the Left – “liberals mugged by reality”, as William Kristol once put it. Certainly, the idea of revolution world revolution lives on in their politics. Neocons talk in apocalyptic terms, about changing history, about fulfilling America’s destiny by using force to spread free market liberalism across the globe. The ends justified the means.

Iraq was the bastard offspring of the infamous Project for a New American Century – an agenda for world mastery penned in 1998 by Republican academics, politicians and journalists, includling the Vice President Dick Cheney, and his former aide, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol and, er, Francis Fukuyama. Intoxicated by the collapse of Communism, the PNAC called for America to use its military power to promote its moral objectives, which were assumed to be identical to the world’s.
Fukuyma was perhaps the most intoxicated of all. He had recently published an intellectual best seller, “The End of History and the Last Man”, which argued that, since American liberal democracy had triumphed, nothing really significant is every likely to happen in human history ever again. Making George W. Bush the Last Man, presumably – a sobering thought that.

And indeed, Fukuyama and co are now suffering the devil of a millennial hangover. Dubya has gone from man of destiny to object of ridicule, and the PNAC dream has been shattered. “One of the consequences of the perceived failure in Iraq”, writes Fukuyama, “will be the discrediting of the entire neoconservative agenda”. Well, it’s an ill wind.

History, it seems, has started up again. Unfortunately, Fukuyama finds himself on the wrong side of it. For while he rightly denounces the war as misconceived, incompetent and self-defeating, he was himself an advocate of the Iraq invasion. As recently as September 20th 2001, Fukuyama signed a PNAC letter to Bush calling for Saddam’s removal “even if the evidence does not link Iraq directly with the attack (on 9/11)”. Well, everyone makes mistakes.

Let us at least be thankful that the fathers of the Bush revolution are now thoroughly ashamed of themselves, or some of them. The twin doctrines of “American exceptionalism”, which assumed that the US had a moral right to act independently of the rest of the world, and “pre-emptive” or “preventive” war, which gave America the right to invade sovereign nations purely because of a theoretical risk, have been exposed as neo-imperialism. And to give Fukuyama his due, he demolishes them very comprehensively in this book. America has no monopoly on moral rectitude – especially after Iraq – and you pre-emption requires certainty about the future which no intelligence service can provide. Certainly not one which imagined WMD in Iraq.

“Benevolent hegemony”, is all very well, says Fukuyama. “But the hegemony has to be not only benevolent, but smart and prudent”. Iraq he concedes was anything but. It was a stupid war, fought on dodgy intelligence, with no planning for the future, and with stunning naiveté about the readiness of Iraqi for western liberal democracy. The result has been an unmitigated disaster which has weakened America morally and militarily. It has left America in no position to deal with real problems, such as Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear infrastructure.

Worst of all, Iraq created precisely the terrorist threat it was intended to destroy. “By invading Iraq, the Bush administration created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, training ground and operational base for jihadist terrorists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at”.

The real tragedy of all this is that America did, briefly, enjoy moral leadership of the world. After the peaceful ending of the Cold War in the 1990’s, when President Bill Clinton was trying to make make America address problems like debt and failing states in Africa, the Balkans, Northern Ireland. Everyone at least respected America .

The lesson of the Cold War, as Fukuyama points out, is that “soft power” can be more powerful than military force. Fukuyama actually quotes the Clinton adviser Joseph Nye, who defined soft power as: “the ability to get what you want, not through military and economic coercion, but rather through the positive attraction of you values and society”. A neoconservative quoting a Clinton aide – now there’s something you don’t see every day.

Clearly, humble pie is on the menu. Fukuyama calls for a return to what he calls “realistic Wilsoniainism” – for America to re-engage with the world community, and even cites the European Union as one of the better examples of international institution building.

However, it isn’t clear that the Republicans are ready to listen to the “cheese eating surrender monkeys” quite yet. Neo cons in America have turned on Fukuyama as a muddle headed wimp who can’t see that omelettes involve breaking eggs. A little perhaps as the Bolsheviks turned on Leon Trotsky when he warned them against revolution in one country. Mr Fukuyama should steer well clear of ice picks.

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


One thought on “Francis Fukuyama Got it Wrong

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