Books: Whither the US after Bush?

Disillusioned with neo-conservatism, Francis Fukuyama posits a new framework for conducting America's foreign policy. It's a good start, applauds Howard Davies.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A decade ago, Francis Fukuyama famously announced, in 1066 And All That style, that history had come to a . By that, he meant that liberal western ideology had triumphed, and ideological disputes were therefore at an end.

Fortunately for his publisher, history is still writhing on its death bed. The growth of Islamic fundamentalism has posed a new challenge to the West. The aggressive confrontational policy that Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr pursued against the Soviet Union's evil empire seems far less well suited to dealing with George W's axis of evil. And as a method of combating Al-Qaeda, its limitations are even more obvious. So, four and half years on from 9/11, America is embroiled in a hugely expensive and messy occupation of Iraq.

The US also faces regimes in Iran and Palestine that are far more hostile than they were just a year ago, and it has no clear strategy for dealing with North Korea. More seriously, perhaps, the US has lost its own back yard, with country after country in Latin America swinging to a leftist populism whose sustaining rhetoric is anti-gringo. Where did it all go wrong?

Fukuyama was one of the brightest stars in the neocon firmament. He worked for Wolfowitz and wrote often for Commentary, the parish pump of America's intellectual right. He was one of the most persuasive critics of the Kissingerian 'realistic' school of foreign policy, which favoured an approach to the Soviet Union based on containment and negotiation.

But he believes neo-conservatism has become 'irreversibly identified with the policies of the administration of George W Bush' and is no longer fit for purpose.

The US has become isolated, disliked and distrusted. It can impose its will only by the use of 'hard power' - ie, military force. It is dangerously adrift from its traditional allies and alienated from international institutions that could be harnessed in support of its laudable objectives of spreading liberty and democracy and undermining totalitarian regimes.

The US, therefore, needs a new type of policy. Fukuyama describes his own redefinition of it as 'realistic Wilsonianism', an awkward tag that tries to convey the notion of a revised commitment to international institutions, running alongside a tough-minded approach to the policies pursued by those institutions.

No well-meaning UN waffle, in other words, or human rights committees chaired by Cubans or Syrians, but a firm commitment to alliance-building to achieve specific objectives.

Here, the British reader might pause for reflection. The US has no allies?

What about us? Shoulder-to-shoulder we stand, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our prime minister is George W's best friend, surely, and plays a vital role in moderating, behind the scenes, the potential excesses of Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Fukuyama, sadly, has not understood the significance of the British contribution: Blair is mentioned only in a footnote. The French make more significant appearances: their intellectual challenge to US policy has to be addressed.

The Germans are also seen to be making a contribution to the promotion of democracy. The UK simply does not register.

Even so, his analysis of Bush's predicament is acute. But his prescription for a replacement doctrine needs further articulation. He argues for more 'horizontal accountability', pointing to the plethora of international bodies that police standards in parts of the world economy. These are the essential bureaucracies of globalisation. But it's a big step from setting wiring standards to agreeing the rules for a global policeman.

Fukuyama remains a believer in America's potential for benevolent hegemony, but thinks a hegemon 'has to be prudent and smart, as well as well intentioned'.

Critical friends can help, if they share core values. So Fukuyama hankers after a different kind of United Nations.

He reminds us that the philosopher Kant proposed a league of nations well before President Wilson's model emerged in the 1920s. Countries could join only if they shared certain political values. Indeed, only republics were eligible to play in Kant's league: the UK would not be allowed to join or to contribute to the global policing function while the Queen remained in position. Given our recent record, that might be no bad thing for the world.

It may be some time before such internationalist ideas enter the Washington mainstream. But Fukuyama's thoughtful book, based on a series of lectures at Yale last year, begins the important work of sketching out a post-Bush American foreign policy. We are in serious need of something similar in London, though the Government does not yet recognise it.

After the Neocons; Francis Fukuyama; Profile £12.99 - To order, visit

- Howard Davies is the director of the London School of Economics.

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