Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 August 2005
Issue No. 755
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama: The acceptable face of the neo-cons?

Francis Fukuyama famously announced -- first in an article and then in a book -- that we had reached the end of history. A professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University, he has long been a fixture of the American neo-conservative landscape, occupying several key editorial positions. As a founding member of the Project for a New American Century, he was early associated with the figures who went on to become Washington's highest flying hawks. More recently, though, he has called for the resignation of his one-time fellow traveller, Donald Rumsfeld, and in the last US presidential elections voted for John Kerry. What lies behind this seeming volte face?
By Ezzat Ibrahim

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"I think what they -- in the US administration -- are hoping for is a more gradual reform process in the Arab world, a more gradual expansion of political participation which Islamist groups do not use as an opportunity to come to power. So while I think there has been a shift in the US Middle East policy we will all have to wait to see how great that shift has been."

When, on 26 January 1998, President Bill Clinton received a letter urging him to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein by adopting a much more aggressive policy than containment, few would have recognised the majority of names appended to the appeal. Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton et al had to wait for an incoming Republican administration before imposing themselves on the public stage, and history will probably link their names forever with the current debacle in Iraq. One of the signatories, though, had already achieved a high level of name-recognition.

Following the publication of a 15-page article in the Summer 1989 edition of The National Interest under the title "The End of History?" Francis Fukuyama had become something of a minor celebrity. Had the writer simply been announcing the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Communism at the hands of economic and political liberalism, his would have been one voice among many, lost in the chorus. But Fukuyama was proclaiming rather more. "What we are witnessing," he wrote, "is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of Cold War history but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

The article sparked heated debate, not just in the US but in Europe, Asia, South America and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East. That debate grew stronger when, three years later, he published The End of History and the Last Man. This expansion, and more careful calibration, of the arguments first presented in The National Interest has been translated in 20 languages and appeared on best- seller lists in the US, France, Chile and Japan. Outside the rarefied world of Washington and its conservative think- tanks, of those signing the letter to President Clinton, Fukuyama, at the time, probably enjoyed the widest name- recognition.

He is also one of the few signatories who has since revised his position, breaking ranks with his one-time Project for the New American Century colleagues, going so far as to call for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld.

"I signed the letter, but I have not been at all happy with the way they have executed this," he told the UK daily The Independent. "The letter did not say you should go into this unilaterally, that you can do this in contempt of the views of the rest of the world. That was not what I signed up to. I don't think Iraq is the single most serious problem in the world and that therefore you can subordinate all of your alliance relationships and goodwill with the rest of the world to do this. It is not a good trade off."

So what does he now think of America's Iraq adventure, and of claims that Iraq could somehow provide an alternative model for Arab states which, believe the neo-conservatives, have somehow become stuck in history?

On one thing Fukuyama is clear. "First," he says, "America has never created democracy abroad. People who live in a society that want it have created democracy. The US can't simply decide it wants to democratise this part of the world, it has to build on internal discourse that is pushing in that direction. That was my basic objection to the whole concept of Iraq, that there was a theoretical possibility that everything would fall into place in Iraq and it would develop like Eastern Europe did after the fall of communism."

"There are lots of reasons to think that will not happen and the US, by forcing the pace, is taking a very big risk by pushing in that direction. But my general feeling is that we ought to encourage greater participation in political reform, that we should not simply back dictators because they are convenient to us to provide oil. We ought to maintain a level of political support, and practical support to civil society and human rights groups that are struggling for democracy but ultimately we have to be patient because unless the basic impulse for democracy comes from within societies it is not going to happen."

Fukuyama's involvement in Middle Eastern affairs predates his later fame. Between 1981 and 1982 he was a member of the policy planning staff of the US State Department, specialising in Middle East affairs, and during the same period was part of the US delegation to the Egyptian-Israeli talks on Palestinian autonomy. More recently, he participated in compiling the Washington Institute's Presidential Task Force report that recommended the US push for greater reforms in the region through high-level meetings with Arab officials. This seems to suggest that, in its pursuit of what it widely trails as democratisation, Washington is placing fewer and fewer hopes in civil society, which at least has the advantage of operating "within". How, then, does he square his belief that democracy cannot be imposed with current US administration strategies?

"There is," Fukuyama insists, "no single global strategy that works in terms of democratic openness. Sometimes it happens from the bottom up and sometimes it happens from the up down, and to be successful it usually has to work in both ways. There has to be elite that wants change, though that desire can be supported and driven by popular participation. For example in Chile, the Philippines and Korea it required pressure on leaders on top to open up their systems and those pressures couldn't have come only from civil society. In Ukraine and Georgia on the other hand there was obviously a big push from below -- pressure in both directions is necessary. There is not one single strategy that produces democratic transition."

Which begs rather more questions than it answers, perhaps, vis-à-vis US policy towards Arab states, and the sudden emphasis given to democratisation by an administration that when it invaded Iraq had not even mentioned the D-word.

"There is no question," says Fukuyama, "that the rhetorical position of the United States has shifted dramatically in the past couple of years, beginning with the speech President George W Bush gave to the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) [of which Fukuyama is a board member, responsible for overseeing the NED's Middle East programmes] and in his inaugural address in January 2005. In both speeches he said there had been a kind of Arab exception to general US support for democracy which ended with the intervention in Iraq and pressuring Syria to get out of Lebanon so quickly. I think, now, that shift reflected a certain level of the US decision-making process. But what is not clear to me is how serious, in the long run, the US is about pursuing or investing in this kind of strategy. For example, if there is a big opening up in the Egyptian political system and it looks like the banned Muslim Brotherhood could capitalise on such moves to come to power -- the same concerns Hamas in the Gaza Strip -- would the US be happy with the outcome, would it want, for instance, Hamas to be the dominant political force?:

"President Bush has made some statements suggesting the US would accept whatever democratic outcome comes. Should the US be willing to do that, it suggests a major change in their position. But I think it is a little premature to assume that any real decision has been made. I think what they -- in the US administration -- are hoping for is a more gradual reform process in the Arab world, a more gradual expansion of political participation which Islamist groups do not use as an opportunity to come to power. So while I think there has been a shift in the US Middle East policy we will all have to wait to see how great that shift has been."

Since The End of History Fukuyama, in addition to countless articles, has published several further volumes including Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (1995), The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order (1999) and Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (2002). His most recent book is State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, which appeared in 2004 and in which he argues that, ultimately, outside players can have little impact in helping countries strengthen state institutions and more often than not actually harm, by their policy decisions, the political institutions that already exist. None of which points to a great deal of optimism about the success of outside attempts to reform the countries of the Middle East.

"But there are," he argues, "a lot of other components of good governance besides democratic participation. Singapore, for example, has had non-democratic good governance. It is relatively corrupt but focussed on development goals and it doesn't promote patronage, and is very focussed on creating a state that invests in education and other genuine development goals... I would say... bad politics and democracy is sometimes a solution but not always."

And in the Middle East? Fukuyama is, after all, on record -- in an interview with this paper last year -- as arguing that the Muslim world is long overdue the kind of reformation spearheaded by Martin Luther in Europe. Is it possible a more liberal Middle East could arise from such a process, and where would that leave civil society?

"Certainly you had an internal dictatorship within Christianity that laid the groundwork for more liberal version but it is not the only path that could be taken. In Turkey Attaturk created a modernised state and democracy using political means and it had no religious authority. He declared a secular state and he used political power to create conditions for that kind of modernisation. So what can be done is through political means and through internal reform but I think that the one important point I would hold on to is that without a change on the level of ideas any reconciliation of Islam and democracy is not going to come about. Islam can be interpreted in a whole variety of ways -- it can be interpreted very like Osama Bin Laden and it can be interpreted much more liberally and unless you fight out that battle on the plain of ideas and say it is perfectly legitimate to have a more liberal version of religion then I think ultimately you will have long-term problems having genuine democracy in a Muslim country. And I think it is perfectly possible to fight that battle... Liberalism requires pluralism and parliaments. There is a form of Islam quite compatible with that but there are some who don't believe so. There are radical versions of Islamic doctrines that are threatened by liberalism and vise versa. We should not minimise the fact that there is a conflict of ideas at the present, not with Islam as a religion but with particular interpretations of Islam. Then if you look at those evidently responsible for the London bombings, they were in Europe and if their radicalisation happened in Europe you have to explain that as a sociological phenomenon.

"These were not poor people, but people who came from relatively successful families but who somehow failed to integrate into the larger society which opened them to religious or Islamist ideology. Whose fault is that? I think it is very complicated. It is partly the failure of people in the Muslim world to stop that ideology from getting out of hand and it is partly the failure of people in Europe to accept Muslims as genuine members of their societies... I think if more opportunities for careers and other kinds of personal development were available Islamist ideology wouldn't be as powerful."

For a man whose reputation was made not on extolling the virtues of Western liberal democracy but on proclaiming its complete triumph, now and forever, a degree of equivocation appears to have crept into Fukuyama's commentary. Not, though, that he ever believed the end of history meant nothing would happen. It merely meant that nothing quite as momentous would happen anew, and if history were to begin again, it could only be a repeat.

"The ideal will govern the material world in the long run," he wrote more than a decade ago. So how much longer will we have to wait?

"It does seem to me that many Arab leaders have made an effort to begin a kind of superficial liberalisation process," he says. "But they have always maintained control over that. They open up a little bit and the moment it looks dangerous they close it. I hope that is not what is going on in Egypt right now."

Fukuyama is undoubtedly one of America's most respected conservative commentators. He sits on the editorial board of The National Interest and the Journal of Democracy. He is a member of the Council of Foreign relations and book review editor of Foreign Affairs. He is on the board of directors of the New America Foundation. His neo-conservative credentials are impeccable, and yet he is willing to concede that the great neo-conservative cause of the moment, the invasion of Iraq, is likely to be seen as a mistake.

"It is possible that it might trigger democratisation and political reform and broader participation in the Arab world and if it does make it worth it. My own guess is that it won't happen, and we have created a lot new problems for ourselves... Iraq has become the new Afghanistan, a centre for training and exporting terrorists..."

Not that this particular leopard is busy changing all his spots. You are unlikely, say, to hear him come out in favour of the International Criminal Court which, he once wrote, "instead of strengthening democracy on an international level... tends to undermine democracy where it concretely exists, in nation states..."

Yet for a founding member of the Project for the New American Century, he has committed what for many must seem an inconceivable heresy. He voted for Kerry.

"I don't like Kerry particularly as a politician," he reveals, "but it seemed to me that President George Bush had presided over a policy that wasn't very successful -- the Iraq war -- and he shouldn't be rewarded for that... But then I think the accountability mechanism does take a long time to work itself out and if the policy comes to be seen in the next three years as a total failure, then I think that Republicans, not just President Bush himself, but Republicans themselves will pay a very heavy price."

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