'America, in its domestic institutions, feels that concentrated power is a danger. Yet when we go into international politics we say, trust US.'


'America, in its domestic institutions, feels that concentrated power is a danger. Yet when we go into international politics we say, trust US.'


'America, in its domestic institutions, feels that concentrated power is a danger. Yet when we go into international politics we say, trust US.'




Francis Fukuyama used to be one of America’s leading neo-conservative thinkers, a friend and protege of one of the chief architects of the Bush Doctrine, former U.S. deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz. His 1989 essay, “The End of History?” argued that history is inexorably moving toward the triumph of the Western model of democracy and free markets. In the neo-con canon, early Fukuyama was high on the reading list.

And then the Iraq war happened. Fukuyama criticized the administration, engaged in a heated exchange with conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, and summed up his increasingly skeptical view of the war on terror in his new book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press). He no longer considers himself a neocon, and the feeling is mutual. So what changed? Neo-conservatism, or him?

QA lot of our readers will be familiar with what I’ll call the George Clooney/Syriana thesis: the war in Iraq is wrong because its alleged goals—oil, money, power, empire—are evil. Your argument against the war is very different.

Right. I and a lot of other serious people had a very difficult time coming to a judgment about the war, because there are competing goods on both sides. The George Clooney types completely disregarded the idealistic

dimension of the war, but I think that was actually quite important. There was a belief that if you did not stand up to certain forms of tyranny, then you couldn’t create a just world order. That was really one of the important motives, especially for someone like Paul Wolfowitz. I think probably less for his boss, [U.S. Secretary of Defense] Don Rumsfeld. Although people would presumably prefer to work things out peacefully, there come times when military power needs to be used for moral ends. A lot of people thought this was one of them.

And yet you nevertheless say that the war was a mistake. What was the error?

The most obvious one was just the miscalculation—the complete miscalculation—of how much the war would cost and how difficult it would be to move to anything that looks like a stable democracy in post-Saddam Iraq. And in a way this is the most unaccountable error, because many of the neo-conservatives who had supported the war had also, in earlier years and decades, been very, very cautious in their attitude toward ambitious social engineering. There’d been a lot of argument, in the context of domestic American social policy, about how it was extremely hard to achieve good social results in education, affirmative action, busing, welfare, these issues that bedevilled the United States. And then they all of a sudden turned around and argued that the root cause of terrorism is the lack of democracy in the Middle East and the United States is somehow going to midwife the emergence of Middle East democracy.

Were there other mistakes?

A Another one was just about how the world would regard this exercise of American power. People like William Kristol [editor of The Weekly Standard] and Bob Kagan [author of Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order], writing before the war, had made this general case for what they called “benevolent hegemony.” The United States was King Kong on the world stage, we spend as much as the rest of the world combined on our military, and we would use that margin of power to fix problems, to provide global public goods, get rid of dictators, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and human rights violations. I think the basic mistake they made was the belief that the rest of the world would approve this. There’s actually a phrase that I quote in my book, where they ask themselves rhetorically, would people resist this exercise of power, and they say, “Well, no, because American foreign policy is unusually suffused with morality.” That belief in American exceptionalism, and the idea that the world would legitimate the exercise of American power, was the other really big, fundamental mistake.

But neo-cons criticized Bill Clinton and the Democrats for pursuing an activist foreign policy, for nation-building—and then within a few years they’re actually engaging in something far more ambitious. How did this happen?

A The one you have to explain is George W. Bush. As a candidate in 2000, Bush argued very explicitly against nationbuilding and he said we needed a more humble foreign policy. And [U.S. Secretary of State] Condi Rice gave this famous interview where she said American troops can’t be escorting children to school in the Balkans and places like that. And then they have this second inaugural address with all this soaring rhetoric about how American foreign policy is going to be based purely on values and the spread of freedom to every last corner of the world. I think there’s just a really simple explanation for how they got there, which is that they actually did not go to war to spread democracy, they went to war for security reasons related to WMDs, terrorism, and I think they had a strategic view of the importance of access to oil that was also in the background. And then those reasons, one by one, they blew up. All they were left with was the idealistic justification, and that’s why they have put that front and centre.

But you agree with those ideals?

Oh, absolutely.

So is the debate between you and the neo-conservatives over means rather than ends?

In a sense, I do share the same ends as the neo-cons. But we’ve just dramatically overmilitarized the means. I also disagree with other parts of the neo-con agenda, for example, the attitude toward international organizations. I continue to be skeptical that the UN is going to be the one global institution that can solve all of these complex nationbuilding, security, weak-state issues, but I do think that forms of international co-operation other than “coalitions of the willing” are necessary to legitimate and make effective the use of American power around the world.

I was trying to think of a simple slogan that sums up your position. How’s this: “The Neocons in Iraq: Not Evil, Just Stupid. ”

[laughs] No, I don’t think they were evil. I mean, when people say that they were evil it attributes to them all of these hidden agendas. One category of accusation is that they were really working on behalf of Israel, another one is that it’s just about oil and the Bush family and a lot of short-term economic payoffs, another is that it’s just somehow throwing American weight around for the sake of throwing our weight around. And all of those are, you know, they’re just wrong. Those were not the motives that drove them. So what should have been done on Iraq? The United States was essentially following a containment strategy—as we are doing in North Korea and Iran right now. We could have revitalized the sanctions regime. We did get the inspectors back into Iraq, and those

inspectors actually did a much better job than anyone realized, keeping track of Saddam’s WMD programs. And we could have lived with that situation for quite a while.

But the people of Iraq would still be living under Saddam.

That’s absolutely right. All these decisions involve risk one way or the other, and doing nothing involves the risk of leaving people victims of terrible regimes, so that’s why I say this was not an obvious slam-dunk decision.

I want to ask you about Canada and Afghanistan. Canada has a lot of troops in the country and we’ve taken casualties. Is Canada making the same mistake...

No, absolutely not. The situation in Afghanistan is, to everybody’s surprise, much more promising than Iraq, and I think the reason is that after a generation of really horrible civil war there’s much more consensus inside Afghanistan that they want the help of the outside world. I think that it’s going better than we had a right to expect, so I wouldn’t at all regret the Canadian role.

But how should we judge intervention elsewhere? What principles are we supposed to use to say Kosovo intervention good, Afghanistan good, but Iraq bad?

I don’t think that there is any kind of universally valid test that you can use, because a lot of it really is this very difficult matter of judgment and prudence. I also don’t think it’s such a bad idea for the United States to have a kind of reality check: if you cannot get a substantial number of other developed democracies whose legitimacy you don’t question to go along with you, it’s probably not a good idea.

QHas the United States reacted—or overreacted—to threats because it is by far the strongest military power? You know, when you have a hammer you see all

problems as nails?

I actually used that metaphor in my book. America, in its domestic institutions, very deeply believes that concentrated power is a danger. Even when that power is legitimated by democratic majorities and represents the will of the sovereign people, we divide and limit and balance power in all sorts ofways. Yet somehow when we go into international politics we say, “Well, just trust us. Concentrated power in our hands is fine because we’re benevolent and we will use this responsibly.” That just seems like one of those contradictions. If you can’t trust the sovereign with power in domestic politics why should you trust the sovereign with power internationally? In many respects, if we weren’t in such a hegemonic position we wouldn’t be tempted to do dumb things.

After all of this, do you still call yourself a neo-conservative?

No. That title—although it didn’t have to be

interpreted that way—has now become so associated with unilateralism, pre-emption, benevolent hegemony, all these concepts that the Bush people put into effect that, you know, that’s not the kind of foreign policy I believe in. I think we need something different. And that’s something I’ve labelled “realistic Wilsonianism.” I don’t like the name particularly, but it’s not realism, and it’s not neo-conservatism as it’s evolved. It’s another position that’s out there that needs really to be defined, in which we care about universal human rights and these moral issues around the world, but we approach it in a much more realistic way.

How do you react to the following statement: “The United States is the greatest force for good in the world. ”Is that true, false or both?

In potential I think it’s true, but the question is the judgment with which that American power is used. In the past it has been a tremendous force for good. That’s the moral

'Afghanistan is much more promising than Iraq. So I wouldn't at all regret the Canadian role.'

story I think a lot of Americans like to tell themselves about the American Revolution, and the bloody Civil War that ended slavery, and liberating Europe from Nazism and Communism. I think that American power has been used for good purposes, but not always, and not in all circumstances.

So Americans only tell themselves one part of the story.

They like to tell themselves the positive part of the story, and in many respects that’s quite legitimate. But it’s not the whole story. M