Book Notes: After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads by Francis Fukuyama

By Ben Casnocha

Chapter 1: Principles and Prudence

After 9/11 Bush admin responded with dramatic and sweeping policies:

  1. Dept of Homeland Security and Patriot Act
  2. Invaded Afghanistan
  3. New strategic doctrine of preventive war that would take fight to enemy
  4. Invaded Iraq and deposed of Saddam

First two were inevitable; second two controversial.

There is grounds to associate neo-conservatism with Bush’s first term, but it’s far more complex than people make it out to seem. We won’t know till later in biographies and works of history whether the key actors in administration were driven by larger ideas or just reacting to fast-changing events.

Four common principles ran through the neoconservative body of ideas through the end of the Cold War:

  1. A concern with democracy, human rights, and more generally the internal politics of states
  2. A belief that U.S. power can used for moral purposes
  3. A skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems
  4. A view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and undermines its own ends

In the abstract these are not controversial and we may be tempted to believe Bush tried to carry out these principles and made tactical errors. Yet we see three main areas of “biased judgment” from Bush admin in its stewardship of foreign policy:

  1. Threat assessment – overestimated and mischaracterized the threat facing US from radical Islamism.
  2. Failed to estimate the virulently negative global reaction to its exercise of “benevolent hegemony”. Brushed off international institutions.
  3. Failed to anticipate the requirements for pacifying and reconstructing Iraq

Neo-conservatism has now become linked to concepts like preemption, regime change, unilateralism, and benevolent hegemony. Fukuyama wants to abandon the label.

Neo-conservatism is one of four different approaches to American foreign policy today. In addition to neocons;

  1. Realists – tradition of Kissinger; respect power, downplay internal nature of other regimes
  2. Liberal internationalists – hope to transcend power politics altogether and move to an international order based on law and institutions
  3. Jacksonian American nationalists who take a narrow, security-related view of American national interests. Extreme manifestations tend toward isolationism.

Iraq war was supported by Neocons and Jacksonian Nationalists, for different reasons.

None of these four is sufficient for post 9/11 world which is characterized by American hegemony and a global anti-American backlash, shift in power from nation-states toward non-state actors, emergence of weak and failed states which are source of most global problems. A new approach – “realistic Wilsoniasm” – starts with some neocon premises. First, U.S. policy and international community need to concern themselves with what goes on inside other countries, not just their external behavior as realists would have it. Second, power – specifically American power – is often necessary to bring about moral purposes.

Big difference btwn Realistic Wilsoniasm and classical realism is its focus on what goes on inside. “To say that nation-building or democracy promotion is hard is not to say that it is impossible or that it should be scrupulously avoided. Indeed, weak or failed states are one of the biggest sources of global disorder today, and it is simply impossible, for reasons relating to both security and morality, for the world’s lone superpower to walk away.”

Big difference btwn RW and neo-conservatism and Jacksonian nationalism is it takes international institutions seriously. This doesn’t mean U.N, which is broke. But new methods of accountability to match the “intense economic and social interpenetration that we call globalization.”

Chapter 2: The Neoconservative Legacy

Much of the facts are wrong and distorted…Neocons made out to be some kind of conspirical base in Bush administration.

Its roots lie in a group of Jewish intellectuals from City College New York. Common bond was hatred for communism. Thus we get the opposition to social engineering which runs through the movement. A formative battle that shaped neoconservatism was the fight w/ Stalinists in the 30s and 40s and a second fight with the New Left and Counterculture it spawned in the 1960s. Second battle had foreign (oppo to Vietnam) and domestic policy dimensions. Vietnam bred a generation of American leftists who were sympathetic to communist regimes and wanted the U.S. to emulate European welfare state.

Public Interest founded by Kristol and Bell cast critical eye on domestic part of this agenda. Main theme of this influential journal was skepticism of social engineering projects. These projects, they argued, “often left societies worse off than before because either they required massive state intervention that disrupted organic social relations (e.g. forced busing) or else produced unanticipated consequences (such as increase in single parent families due to welfare).

Leo Strauss – a lot of nonsense written about him and his relation to Iraq war. Silly to think his thinking had influence on Bush admin. Only way this came to be is b/c Wolfowitz studied briefly with Strauss. He was a U of Chicago professor, German Jewish political theorist. Most of his writing is dense and long interpretive essays on philosophy. Very hard to extract any public policy analysis from his writings. Two of his students, though, transitioned his thinking to more public policy prescriptions. Harry Jaffa of Claremont (Sousa wing) and late Allan Bloom (Wagnerian wing) of Straussianism.

Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind touched on “the contemporary crisis of the American university, as well as with sex, drugs, music, and other trends in popular culture. It identified a real problem. Cultural relativism – the belief that reason was incapable of rising above the cultural horizons that people inherited – had in fact become ensconced in contemporary intellectual life. It was legitimated at a high level by serious thinkers like Nietzsche and Heidegger, transmitted through intellectual fads like postmodernism and deconstructionism, and translated into practice by cultural anthropology and other parts of the contemporary academy. These ideas found fertile ground in the egalitarianism of American political culture, whose participants objected to having their “lifestyle” choices criticized.”

Straussain does talk about “regime,” but this ultimately comes from Plato and Aristotle. They understand a regime not in the modern way (set of formal institutions) but rather as a way of life in which political institutions and informal habits constantly shape one another. A democratic regime produces a certain kind of citizen. Hence Socrates’ famous description book 8 of the Republic: “Then, I said, he also lives along day by day, gratifying the desire that occurs to him, at one time drinking and listening to the flute, at another downing water and reducing; now practicing gymnastic, and again idling and neglecting everything; and sometimes spending his time as though he were occupied with philosophy. Often he engages in politics and, jumping up, says and does whatever chances to come to him; and if he ever admires any soldiers, he turns in that direction; and if it’s money-makers, in that one. And there is neither order nor necessity in his life, but calling this life sweet, free, and blessed he follows it throughout.”

So, the instituations and culture and habits played a key role in shaping American character. Strauss, and Tocqueville, and Plato and Aristotle all believed in the centrality of politics. “Strauss like Aristotle believed that humans were political by nature and reached their full flourishing only by participating in the life of the city.”

This is why Straussian wing of neocon movement has always had a problem w/ libertarian conservatives. “Libertarians understand freedom only negatively, as freedom from government power. In the words of Adam Wolfson, ‘Libertarians rise to the defense of every conceivable freedom but that of self-government…To the neoconservative, the true road to serfdom lies in the efforts of libertarian and left-wing elites to mandate an anti-democratic social policy all in the name of liberty. But it is a narrow, privatized liberty that is secured. An active and lively interest in public affairs is discouraged as a result. Everything is permitted except a say in the shaping of the public ethos.’”

In sum, Strauss believed some political change could be achieved through regime change to the extent regimes constitute a way of life. Can’t just provide external rewards and punishments; need internal change. Poland, Hungary, Czecho in 1989, for example. But Straussian also clearly defined regimes as more than just formal institutions but rather as unwritten rules by which people operate (habits, religion, kinships, etc). “A central theme to Strauss’s skepticism of modern Enlightenment is the idea that reason alone is sufficient to establish a durable political order or that nonrational claims of revelation can be banished from politics.”

Military “transformation” from Rumsfeld promotes lean, swift operation w/ precision missiles etc. Can defeat any conventional enemy with this approach, but not a prolonged insurgency.

Given origins of neocons in left wing anticommunism, not surprisingly that neocons would oppose Kissinger realist foreign policy in 1970s. “Realism begins w/ premise that all nations, regardless of regime, struggle for power. Realism can at times become relativistic and agnostic about regimes; they by and large do not believe that liberal democracy is a potentially universal form of government or that the human values underlying it are necessarily superior to those underlying nondemocratic societies.” Kissinger thought U.S. should seek détente (peace) with Soviet Union and accept it as a reality. Neocons supported Reagan’s re-moralizing of the struggle btwn Soviet communism and liberal democracy.

By the 80’s neo-conservatism become intertwined w/ other forms of conservatism, making it hard to figure out which is which. Lack of uniformity. In 90’s “hard Wilsoniansim” took on fashion upon Bill Kristol and others and that’s the kind that most people know of – expansive, interventionist, democracy-promoting. Neocons in 90’s turned away from international economics and development.

George W. Bush, by second term, has become neocon, placing Wilsonian rhetoric at top of agenda (universality of democracy and freedom). Some say this became so because other justification for Iraq fell apart; maybe so, but once policy is here, it’s here. Bush believes what he says. But the problem is that his first term generated so much hostility that he managed to discredit the perfectly fine agenda of democracy promotion even as he himself was coming to it. “His ex post effort to justify a preventive war in idealistic terms has led many critics to simply desire the opposite of whatever he wants.”

In the global struggle against communism, neocons were more right than their opponents. Regan was ridiculed for labeling SU as “evil empire” and for having such a hard line position. Attacked as hopelessly out of touch by the sophisticated centrists. And yet victory in Cold War is exactly what happened. Polish, Hungarian, and East German defections from empire. Former subjects of evil empire like Poles, Czechs, and Estonians had no quarrel w/ Reagan’s moralistic language and to this day resent western Europe’s abandoning the cause during Cold War.

Collapse of Soviet Empire was an extraordinary event, a political miracle that no would anticipated. No would predicted peace to Eastern Europe peacefully. One can respond to miracles in two ways. “Miracles happen” and raise expectations for their repetition across the board. “We had been fooled by people who said East Europe loved their captivity” etc etc. The second reaction is to pocket our luck and reflect on the uniqueness of the circumstances of what one has just witnessed.

Fukuyama’s End of History argues that what’s initially universal around the world is a desire for modernization: with its tech, standard of living, health care, etc. Economic modernization, when successful, tends to drive demands for political participation by creating middle class w/ property to protect, higher ed, etc. Liberal democracy is one of the by-products of this modernization process, something that becomes universal aspiration over time. Democracy is likely to expand universally in the long run. When democracy does not have certain structural conditions, setbacks are in the store. Seen this in Haiti, Cambodia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, various Latin American countries, and Russia. Democratic revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine in early 21st century suggest there’s still considerable momentum left in former communist world.

Chapter 3: Threat, Risk, and Preventive War

9/11 changed U.S. threat perceptions b/c it brought together two threats that were much more deadly in combination than they were separately: radical Islamism and WMD. Both had existed separately for long time, but not together. Idea that a small or weak non-state could inflict catastrophic damage is genuinely new concept in IR.

Significant differences btwn Islamic fundamentalists, Islamists, radical Islamists, and ordinary Muslims. Islamic fundamentalists act out of pure religious motives and seek to revive an imaged earlier and purer form of religious practice. Islamists, by contrast, trend to emphasize political goals and want to bring religion into politics but not necessarily in ways hostile to democracy. Radical Islamists or Jihadists emphasize the need for violence in pursuit of their political goals. We are righting a distinct minority of Muslims who hold a radical ideology; not the world of Islam itself.

Olivier Roy has made argument that jihadism cannot be understood primarily in cultural or religious terms. Genuine Muslim religiosity has always been embedded in a local or national culture, where the universalist religious doctrine is modified by an accretion of local customs, mores, saints, and the like. This is not the kind that’s root of present day terrorism. Radical jihad is “deterritoriralized” Islam, in which individual Muslims find themselves cut off from authentic local traditions, often as uprooted minorities in non-Muslim lands. This explains why so many jihadists have come from Western Europe and not the Middle East. Jihadism, then, is not an attempt to restore a genuine earlier form of Islam but rather an attempt to create a new, universalistic doctrine that can be a source of identity within the context of the modern, globalized, multicultural world. So, the most dangerous people are not pious Muslims in Middle East but alienated and uprooted young people in Hamburg, London, or Amsterdam who, like the fascists and Marxists before them, see ideology (jihadsim) as the answer to their personal search for identity.

So the likely battlegrounds for struggle ahead will be in Western Europe as in Middle East. Western democracy won’t be a short-term solution to problem of terrorism. 9/11, Madrid, and London attackers all lived in modern societies. It’s precisely the democratic society they found alienating.

U.N. survey of Arab youth shows strong majorities in virtually every Arab state said they’d like to move to a Western country if they had the opportunity. If we’re fighting a relatively small number of fanatics sheltering behind a larger group of sympathizers the conflict looks like a counterinsurgency. This makes exclusively military action inappropriate.

It took several hundred years for Protestantism to smash the connection btwn religious and political power and sep of church and state. We can only hope for an accelerated timetable for Muslims today.

National Security Strategy of United States (NSS) published in September 2002 was exceptional because it expanded traditional notions of preemption to include preventive war. “Preemption is usually understood to be an effort to break up an imminent military attack; preventive war is a military operation designed to head off a threat that is months or years away from materializing.” Preventive war is far costlier and harder to justify than preemptive war. Preventive war has always been prudentially problematic b/c it depends on being able to predict the future. Better intelligence is predicated on improving signal-to-noise ratio, which depends on cognitive factors like prior expectations, mental frameworks, incentives, and the like that we’ll never get completely right. Current intelligence reforms will increase total intelligence, signal and noise.

Justified risk? Bush administration took risks after 9/11—were they appropriate based on information available? The danger of Saddam’s regime was much lower than portrayed by the administration. The U.S. intelligence community, UN weapons inspectors, and most non-US intelligence services all shocked when the weapons search came up empty post-invasion. That said, administration is guilty of exaggerating threat. Not flat out lying, just exaggerating.

Chapter Four: American Exceptionalism and International Legitimacy

Bush admin believed in its own good motives which is why they failed to anticipate negative international reaction. Many admin members believed Cold War, first Gulf War, and the Balkans showed that legitimacy is sometimes rewarded by the international system ex post rather than ex ante and that owing to weaknesses in the collective decision-making institutions in world politics, US would have to act first and receive approbation later. Another argument was that Iraq had violated 17 UN resolutions mandating their disarmament. True they had violated, question is whether US/Britain can enforce on their own, sans security council OK.

Several examples of when the UN and international community didn’t act to solve big problems. In Bosnia, for example, European lead peace keeping force couldn’t protect Bosnians they were charged to protect, as they themselves were taken hostage by the Serbs. Similarly, in Kosovo crisis, Russian veto prevented Security Council from acting at all. U.S. would have been happy to let the Europeans handle a problem that, after all, was in their backyard. But both crises ended when the U.S. entered the picture and used its military power in decisive way.

One reason why there was such a surge of anti-Americanism is that implicit in the NSS was recognition of American exceptionalism. A doctrine of preventive war is not one that can be safely generalized in the international system. U.S. would object if any other country adopted this view. Exceptionalism has a long history in U.S. history.

Idea that in the past U.S. has acted in broad-minded way and provided global public goods has plausibility. Post WWII transformations of Germany and Japan into democracies, support for Bretton Woods institutions and UN, Marshall Plan, and Cold War. U.S. could have been isolationist in all these periods, but wasn’t. Problem with the NSS, though, is that it wasn’t qualified, not enough detail when preventive war would be ok.

U.S. should have seen the anti-Americanism rising, though, over past 20 years. After Cold War, something else brewing, not just familiar hostility to US power. One cause may be U.S. shift to dismantle welfare state and promote markets and capitalism. This caused great burst of innovation and progress in 90’s, which Americans say could only have happened in competitive capitalist markets free of government interference. Yet what some libertarians forget is that many major tech advances in part stimulated by government investment and encouragement. Globalization got a bad rap, with some countries seeing liberalization of markets as American attempt to impose his antistatist values on rest of world. Latin America neoliberalism experiment turned into disaster.

The notion that American Cold War leadership could be transformed into a posture of benevolent hegemony vis-à-vis the rest of the world is untenable. First it rests on belief of American exceptionalism. America can’t act disinterestedly on the global stage. There are plenty of global goods that have no economic interest to America like African peacekeeping that the States finds too burdensome to provide. Second, benevolent hegemony presupposes high-level competence on part of hegemonic power. Third, American people’s attention to foreign affairs and willingness to fund projects overseas with no clear benefit to U.S. interests.

Chapter Five: Social Engineering and the Problem of Development

A great debate in neoconservatism is about the dangers of overly ambitious social engineering.

Bush argues, “the human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth. To be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, desire to care for children…for these reasons freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.” It’s one thing to say there’s a broad, centuries long trend toward the spread of liberal democracy, and another to say either democracy or prosperity can emerge in a given society at a given time. Institutions are necessary before society can move from a longing to freedom to a well-functioning democratic political system w/ modern economy.

There’s a tremendous literature on democratic transitions, institutions, etc but many neocons stand outside this debate, ignoring these critical civil functions. In 1960s-70s big emphasis on infrastructure/economic development, after failures, new emphasis on human capital. In the failures, it’s not that the economic orthodoxy was wrong (worked well in Chile) but that w/o strong institutions and political will the policies couldn’t be implemented properly. While we know institutions are important for economic growth and democratic transition, we don’t know how to create good institutions where they don’t exist. Which drives which – political development or economic development?

What has America’s success been at nation building? Mixed bag. U.S. has been quite helpful when there’s internal movement, but not effective w/o strong domestic actors. When successful because a result of soft power. There are external, western organizations that help democracy efforts, but need to start from within. U.S. ought to set its overriding goal as good governance, not just democracy.

Right now U.S. soft power efforts are fragmented. Lots of different orgs and efforts. Also lack of pride within the efforts. Failure to use soft power deadly clear in Iraq.

Chapter Six: Rethinking Institutions for World Order

Prime task for coming generation will be to create new institutions that balance the requirements of legitimacy and effectiveness. UN is broken. Need strong intergovernmental organizations. Few exist right now.

People in Middle East desperately want democracy for themselves, but there’s so much anti-Americanism in the region that they want to distance themselves from the U.S.

Chapter Seven: A Different Kind of American Foreign Policy

Iraq is and will be perceived a failure. Huge political cost for American efforts. Backlash against neocon agenda. Would be a shame if U.S. retreated from global stage, though. It should adopt “Realistic Wilsonianism” that recognizes the importance to world order of what goes on inside states and that better matches the available tools to the achievement of democratic ends. Emphasis on non-military policy means, soft power.

Democratizing the Middle East is something that’s desirable in its own right, and not because it will solve our problems w/ terrorism. Terrorists exist in Western Europe and elsewhere and democracy in mid east won’t eradicate the problem. U.S. has no credibility in the region. U.S. must try to re-build international institutations.