Francis Fukuyama's somewhat tendentious piece in the New York Times flays President Bush and his neo-conservatives for perceived inadequacies in the conception and planning of the Iraq war and its aftermath.
Fukuyama makes some bizarre comparisons, contrasting the supposedly "Marxist" thesis of his book, The End of History with the "Leninist" ideas of Bush and his neo-cons. Bush et al are "Leninist", says Fukuyama, in the sense that they think that the use of power can help push history along, as the world blossoms into democracy. Whilst these are eye-catching, media-friendly comparisons, they are also singularly unhelpful and tending to muddy the waters.
At one point, Fukuyama says that it may have been better to let the regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq be, that it was wrong to "stir the (Middle Eastern) pot". Better to have stuck with America's "authoritarian friends". American "over-optimism about postwar transitions to democracy" is criticised in this context. Later on, though, Fukuyama seems to endorse "Wilsonian" idealism (ie spreading democracy and freedom) - provided it is "more realistic" than it has been under Bush. This is also somewhat unenlightening advice. One man's "realism" is another man's "appeasement", after all. And the lesson of Reagan's successful, hardline stance against communism is not one which Fukuyama challenges.
When Fukyama advocates the creation of more "overlapping" multinational institutions alongside the UN and NATO, he may be on to something, for sources of international legitimacy for action against terrorists and rogue states are indeed scarce on the ground. The again, overreliance on international legitimacy may lead, as seems likely with Iran, to impotence.
Fukuyama points out that the neo-conservatives saw that social engineering within nation states was counterproductive when it comes, say, to controlling crime. Better clamp down locally on graffiti and panhandling, say, than launch well-meaning but abstract affirmative action programmes. He then wonders why, if the neocons saw this so clearly, they could not also see that Wilsonian social engineering on an international scale (ie spreading democracy to the Middle East) was also doomed to fail. Here Fukuyama is, apparently wilfully, misrepresenting the nature of American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. America has, after all, dealt in the most direct and practical way in those countries. His comparison also misrepresents the nature of terrorist and rogue state crimes and the practicalities of preventing them. For whatever its drawbacks, regime change has indeed removed two rogue states from the scene, staunching their crimes, in a way that positive action programmes do not remove graffiti or panhandlers. Fukuyama's analogy is thus inept.
The effect of regime change on the incidence of terrorism is another question. It can be argued either way, as no figures exist to determine the effects of action versus inaction. Fukuyama clearly believes regime change in Iraq has exacerbated terrorism, but provides nothing to back up his assertion.
All in all, Fukuyama's piece comes over as a piece of high-profile recantation - one not so much of neoconservatism, as of Fukuyama's own thesis in his now foolish-seeming book The End of History. Perhaps one should say he offers a correction of the commonly-held interpretation of his book, which, he implies, has been so sorely misunderstood.
After Neoconservatism - New York Times