Fukuyama's Misleading Apology
February 21, 2006 - 12:37pm ET
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In his now-infamous article in The National Interest, "The End Of History," conservative foreign policy scholar Francis Fukuyama argued that, with the end of the Cold War, geopolitics would inevitably diminish in intensity as the world's nations converged around the organizing principles of democracy and free markets. It was, as Fukuyama admits, "a kind of Marxist argument for the long-term process of social evolution...one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism." Had this one-time colleague of Paul Wolfowitz made a Jeffersonian argument for the process of social evolution, Fukuyama might not have been apologizing this past Sunday in the NYT Magazine for his complicity in launching America into our disastrous neoconservative trajectory.
Unfortunately for America, Fukuyama's new prescription is also tragically flawed.
First the good news. His extremely public denunciation of neoconservatism is indeed a boost to the coming national debate over America's purpose. Indeed, in calling a spade a spade—by admitting that underlying neoconservatism was a Leninist fantasy—Fukuyama further undermines those hawks who still believe that America can use military force to create democracies in the Middle East. Hawks with their sights set on Iran:
[T]he neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan, was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along by the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States.
No doubt, a credible conservative proclaiming Bush's policies akin to those of the founder of the Soviet Union will help to crack the rhetorical seal on debating America's future direction. But this conversion from neoconservatism to a more sober moderate realism is not reason for celebration. For, even in his newfound status of conservative realist, Fukuyama fails to understand the larger historical context of the fundamental choices facing America.
Fukuyama is, after all, a foreign policy expert. As such he makes the all-too-common mistake of creating a firewall between our domestic economy and our foreign policy. This is the root of his failure both a decade ago and today. In the early 1990s, Fukuyama and most of his colleagues failed to recognize the need to re-align America's economic engine from the task of all-out anti-communism to sustainable, inclusive progress. Instead, they believed that since America "won" the Cold War, this was validation of our economic engine. As a result, Washington set out to make the world safe for our Cold War economy and for the last 15 years we have alienated entire civilizations.
On Sunday, Fukuyama perpetuated that firewall. His article mentions our energy insecurity not once and the inclusion of China in the global economy receives an equal amount of disdain. Our national deficit? He hasn't heard of it.
In detaching himself from the messy parameters (parameters that both anger our firends and limit America's options) and focusing only on a lofty theory of power and interests, Fukuyama is failing to examine whether the challenges facing our country go beyond a question of how we pursue our national interests and therefore to ask whether those challenges are instead rooted in the very composition of those national interests . In other words, can we even talk about promoting democracy in the Middle East if the U.S. refuses to lead the world away from petroleum dependence? Can we even talk about ending poverty in Africa when our own economy is dependent upon unsustainably consuming African resources? Can we talk about free trade when we face such enormous differences in standards of living, notably between the U.S. and China?
Sadly, looking around the blogosphere, it appears many of my own colleagues are now busy making the same mistake—and are celebrating what they perceive as an emerging foreign policy consensus.
Ivo Daalder, Brookings scholar and foreign policy anchor at TPM Cafe, captures this sentiment in his headline, "After Neoconservatism -- A New Foreign Policy Consensus?" Daalder, a veteran of the Clinton National Security Council, sees Fukuyama's climb-down as a move toward the positions he and numerous other moderate realists have championed. This school of thought sees a fuller range of foreign policy challenges than Rumsfeld's vision of terrorism and China's rise. Daalder says,
The real problem is that we’re still too focused on terrorism and not enough on how to deal with all the challenges that confront us by the increasingly interconnected nature of our world (terrorism being just one these challenges).
Both Daalder and Fukuyama recognize that this fuller range of threats calls for new approaches. Daalder believes that Americans now understand that the problems facing the rest of the world are our problems. Unfortunately, he stops at the firewall of U.S. national interest, refusing to look at the root of the problems and focusing instead on the simply acknowledging the many and varied symptoms.
So we need to reorient—or reconceptualize—our foreign policy in a way that makes the reality of the world having come to America the organizing principle of how we engage that world. Part of the answer lies in understanding that we can’t cut ourselves off from what happens beyond our borders—that the very distinction between what is foreign and what is domestic has lost any real significance. And part of the answer lies in prioritizing our efforts to deal with global challenges that are coming at us.
Fukuyama puts it a bit differently. He sees the challenge as how to "have a reasoned debate about how to appropriately balance American ideals and interests in the coming years." So, "what is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world..." These statements subtly belie their most core assumption. For both these thinkers, they assume that the problems we face are problems 'out there' in the world and therefore problems to be solved by the adept use of foreign policy.
And therein lies the rub. Fukuyama and his new moderate friends have fallen prey to a powerful fallacy that dominates policy circles here in Washington. It is based on an unwillingness to admit the problems we face globally are symptoms of a deeper economic dysfunction that foreign policy has no control over.
Hopefully we're not far off from such an admission, as many clues are already available to elite policymakers. Experts from Fukuyama to the left will readily admit that the Persian Gulf is strategic because of its energy reserves and our economic addiction to oil. Students of terrorism and democracy both point to the corrupting influence of petrodollars in both perpetuating Middle Eastern despots and their Islamic antithesis, al-Qaeda. Economists recognize that the Chinese cannot cannot consume resources at the same per capita rate as Americans without exhausting the planet and that we cannot include all the Chinese workers without crashing the American economy. Economists also recognize that our projected federal deficits are unsustainable. Logically, until these questions are solved, terror, disease, poverty, energy conflict and all the other symptoms we're witnessing will get worse.
But Fukuyama and Daalder have not made that next jump and are instead calling for a new generation of band-aids to treat symptoms they now want America to address. It's well past time for treating symtoms. It's time for something bigger. The new ideas that America needs are about how to treat the disease while managing the symptoms.
Put differently, the purveyors of foreign policy need to get back to their roots and understand the fundamental relationship between the problems we face, our national interests and our foreign policy—and work to change our national interests.
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