Book Review: Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale UP 2006). 226 pp.

by Kenneth W. Krause.

Kenneth W. Krause is a contributing editor and “Science Watch” columnist for the Skeptical Inquirer.  Formerly a contributing editor and books columnist for the Humanist, Kenneth contributes regularly to Skeptic as well.  He may be contacted at krausekc@msn.com.

Johns Hopkins international studies guru, Francis Fukuyama, has jumped an embattled neoconservative ship.  In America at the Crossroads, the author proposes a more “realistic Wilsonianism,” rejecting both the isolationist tendencies of Jacksonian nationalism and the stubborn disregard of other nations’ internal affairs characteristic of Kissingeresque realism.  Like many contemporary neocons, Fukuyama defends American military power as an occasionally appropriate means to a moral end, but, like liberal internationalists, he emphasizes soft power, multilateralism, and the use of global institutions.

Nevertheless, neither preventive war, international social programs, nor the Bush Doctrine are compatible with Fukuyama’s eclectic worldview.  Consistent with the teachings of Leo Strauss, Fukuyama defines “regime” broadly to encompass not only a society’s political authority but its cultural underpinnings as well.  Even so, the author recommends that “certain political problems can be solved only through regime change.”  But such intercessions, he warns, are not easily accomplished, certainly much more difficult than the Bush administration appeared to believe before its invasion of Iraq.

Even a superficial understanding of Islam’s history and doctrine would have dissuaded the Bush administration from attempting to impose Enlightenment values upon Iraq in such brisk and brutish order.  As Benjamin Barber recently observed, no government can export democracy because no society can import civil rights.  Such institutions must evolve slowly and from deep inside a culture’s gut.

“This makes an exclusively military response to the challenge inappropriate,” Fukuyama concurs.  America’s record with regard to international democratization has been spotty at best.  Prior to the second Iraq war, Bush administration officials peddled Germany and Japan as obvious models of successful regime changes, but, as Fukuyama notes, those cultures were highly developed prior to WWII.  Instead, the professor offers American ventures in Cuba, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Haiti as more relevant, noting that in neither instance did our intervention result in timely and effective democratization.

Intercession becomes more promising, Fukuyama argues, when the democratic initiative emanates from within the target society.  Such initiative is unlikely, of course, unless the culture’s history supports it and unless the regime is already semi-authoritarian and at least somewhat tolerant of both political organization and economic liberation.

On the one hand, the author appears to recognize the obstinacy of certain religious traditions, but, on the other, he refuses to acknowledge the degree to which Islamic culture is inherently irreconcilable with the Western values of freedom of conscience, expression and economic self-determination.

While confessing to a “large number of unknowns” concerning the “nature of the terrorist threat,” including the sources from which it draws new recruits and the parameters and geographic borders of its support, Fukuyama denies that Westerners are embroiled in what either Bernard Lewis or Samuel Huntington referred to as a clash of civilizations.  “We are not fighting Islam,” the author claims, “but a radical ideology that appeals to a distinct minority of Muslims.”

Given these admittedly numerous unknowns, and in light of the consistently surly and violent history of relations between the West and Islam, upon what facts and theory does Fukuyama base this conclusion?

“Genuine Muslim religiosity,” he contends, is and has always been a “local or national” phenomenon, and not the result of radical attempts to universalize or globalize doctrine.  Thus, for Fukuyama, religion is an insignificant part of the problem, and, because Westerners have no reason to deal with Islam as such or to impose democracy through force, all we can “hope for” is that “radical Islamists” will “eventually evolve into more responsible political parties willing to accept pluralism.”

Many have argued similarly on behalf of religious moderation or even evolution, and, of course, conscientious but intractable religionists must so argue in order to feel both rational and devout.  Nevertheless, if a religion is to survive, it must, at inevitable and critical moments, fall back upon its foundational texts.  As such, perhaps both Islam and Christianity will always be dogmatic, oppressive and universalist because, when the religious meme is threatened—either from without or from within—followers will expect their religious leaders to reveal clarity and authority, and, in turn, such leaders will feel compelled to return to the Qu’ran and the Hadith, or to Deuteronomy, Ephesians and Revelations.  Thus, others will argue, Abrahamic monotheisms will remain both dictatorial and violent and, on balance, much more harmful than beneficial.

Regardless, America at the Crossroads is an informed and thoughtful illumination of neoconservative origins, principles and internal complexity and a conscientious proposal for the future of American foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond.  Better yet, Francis Fukuyama once again effectively challenges American readers to rethink their traditional political affiliations, their democracy by proxy, and to tutor themselves regarding the leading theories of international relations, theories that, unfortunately, are seldom discussed openly among politicians or the popular media.

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