A Conversation with Francis Fukuyama

Fukuyama_3An essay adapted from Francis Fukuyama’s new book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, was published by the New York Times Magazine this weekend. Fukuyama’s criticism of the Iraq war put him at odds with neoconservative friends both within and outside the Bush administration. Here, Fukuyama answers some candid questions:

Q: You have called America at the Crossroads your most personal book to date. Why is that?

A: I have ties to almost all of the important strands of the neoconservative movement—I’ve known Paul Wolfowitz since college and worked for him on two occasions, as well as with his mentor Albert Wohlstetter; I was a student of the Straussian political theorist Allan Bloom; and I have been a long-time contributor to neoconservative journals like Commentary and The Public Interest. The fact that I didn’t like the Iraq war from the start has made me wonder, who was wrong, me or my friends?

Q: What, exactly, are your criticisms of the Bush administration in regard to the Iraq war?

A: Three things principally. First, an overestimation of the threat from radical Islamism that drove us to take the risk of preventive war in Iraq. Second, a belief that we could exert “benevolent hegemony” over the world in a way that would make non-Americans grateful. And finally, a belief that the United States could undertake an incredibly ambitious plan to politically transform the Middle East in a way that completely contradicted everything neocons said about the limits of social engineering.

Q: What principles, then, should guide American foreign policy in a new political reality marked by globalization and American hegemony?

A: The neocons are absolutely right that in a globalized world full of failed states and terrorists with access to WMD, we have to pay attention to what goes on inside other countries and have strategies to promote democracy and good governance in them. But preemptive war cannot be the primary means of doing this: it is soft rather than hard power that is most effective. And the United States has to come up with a new forms of international organization, beyond the United Nations, to promote legitimate and effective cooperation.

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