1. Principles and Prudence
During the first term of George W. Bush's presidency, the United States was attacked on its own soil by the radical Islamist group al-Qaida, in the single most destructive terrorist act in history. The Bush administration responded to this unprecedented event with dramatic and sweeping new policies. First, it created an entirely new federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and pushed through Congress the Patriot Act, designed to give domestic law enforcement greater powers to act against would-be terrorists. Second, it invaded Afghanistan, a land-locked country on the other side of the world, and deposed the Taliban regime there that had sheltered al-Qaida. Third, it announced a new strategic doctrine of preemptive action — actually, a doctrine of preventive war — that would take the fight to the enemy, rather than relying on deterrence and containment that were the staples of Cold War policy. And fourth, it invaded and deposed the regime of Saddam Hussein on the grounds that he had or was planning to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The first two of these initiatives were inevitable responses to the September 11 attacks, urged by members of both political parties and supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people. While some have criticized aspects of the Patriot Act as impinging excessively on individual liberties, it is hard to imagine that the nation would have continued in its lackadaisical approach to homeland security after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
The second two initiatives, however — announcement of a broad preemptive doctrine and the invasion of Iraq — were not obvious responses to September 11. Both policies could be justified on a number of grounds. What made them especially controversial, however, was the almost obsessive emphasis that the Bush administration placed on regime change in Iraq and the implicit assertion of American exceptionalism that gave Washington not just the right but the duty to take care of this problem. Various administration officials, beginning with the president himself, made clear that the United States would proceed against Saddam regardless of the views of its allies. This decision had evidently already been made by the summer of 2002, before the reentry of U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq or formal Security Council debate. Although the United States made clear that it would be happy to receive support from the Security Council, it felt in no way constrained by what its allies or the broader international community thought. The Bush administration expected a short war and a quick and relatively painless transition to a post-Saddam Iraq. It gave little thought to the requirements for post-conflict reconstruction and was surprised to find the United States fighting a prolonged insurgency.
Neoconservative intellectuals, in their years out of power before the 2000 election, had proposed a foreign policy agenda involving concepts like regime change, benevolent hegemony, unipolarity, preemption, and American exceptionalism that came to be hallmarks of the Bush administration's foreign policy. Many neoconservatives were strong public advocates of the war and defended the shift in focus from al-Qaida to Iraq. Moreover, the Bush administration has left a relatively rich doctrinal record of its own thinking on grand strategy in the form of speeches and policy statements such as the president's state of the union and inaugural addresses, his West Point and American Enterprise Institute speeches in June 2002 and February 2003, and the National Security Strategy of the United States, published in September 2002. Collectively, these have been informally labeled the Bush Doctrine. These official pronouncements are consistent with what neoconservatives outside the administration were arguing; indeed, in the case of Bush's second inaugural, some outsiders provided ideas directly. Given this record, it is not surprising that many observers saw the Bush administration as being decisively shaped by neoconservatives.
But while there is reason for associating neoconservatism with Bush's first-term policies, a central theme of this book will be that the connection is often overstated and glosses over a much more complex reality. Until memoirs are written and future historians do their work, we will not know the degree to which key figures in the administration were driven by larger ideas, as opposed to muddling through in response to fast-changing events. The administration principals most in favor of the war — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney — were not known as neoconservatives before their tenures, and we do not at this point know the origins of their views.
More important, even if ideas were drivers of policy, the ideas held by neoconservatives were themselves complex and subject to differing interpretations. The administration's foreign policy in particular did not flow ineluctably from the views of earlier generations of people who considered themselves neoconservatives. The neoconservative legacy is complex and diverse, tracing its roots back to the early 1940s. It has generated a coherent body of ideas that informed a wide range of domestic and foreign policy choices.
Four common principles or threads ran through much of this thought up through the end of the Cold War: a concern with democracy, human rights, and more generally the internal politics of states; a belief that U.S. power can be used for moral purposes; a skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems; and finally, a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and often undermines its own ends.
When they are stated in this abstract fashion, most Americans would find little to object to in these principles: Henry Kissinger and his realist disciples would not deny that democracy is important, while supporters of the United Nations will concede that organization's limitations and failings. One is thus inclined to conclude that the Bush administration's mistakes were simply errors of prudential judgment or policy implementation, rather than reflections of underlying principles.
The problem is not that simple, however, because the abstract ideas were interpreted in certain characteristic ways that might better be described as mindsets or worldviews rather than principled positions. The prudential choices that flowed from these mindsets were biased in certain consistent directions that made them, when they proved to be wrong, something more than individual errors of judgment. There were three main areas of what we might call biased judgment that led to mistakes on the part of the Bush administration in its stewardship of U.S. foreign policy in its first term.
The first was threat assessment. The administration overestimated, or perhaps more accurately mischaracterized, the threat facing the United States from radical Islamism. Although the new and ominous possibility of undeterrable terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction did indeed present itself, the administration wrongly conflated this with the threat presented by Iraq and with the rogue state/proliferation problem more generally. . . .
In addition, the Bush administration failed to anticipate the virulently negative global reaction to its exercise of "benevolent hegemony." The administration came into office with a strong ideological bias against the United Nations and other international organizations such as the International Criminal Court. Officials failed to recognize that they were pushing against a strong undertow of anti-Americanism that would be greatly exacerbated by their seemingly contemptuous brush-off of most forms of international cooperation. The emergence of a unipolar post-Cold War world had made the extent of American hegemony, as it turned out, a source of anxiety even to America's closest allies.
Finally, the Bush administration failed to anticipate the requirements for pacifying and reconstructing Iraq, and was wildly overoptimistic in its assessment of the ease with which large-scale social engineering could be accomplished not just in Iraq but in the Middle East as a whole. This could not have been a failure of underlying principle, since a consistent neoconservative theme, as noted above, had been skepticism about the prospects for social engineering. Rather, proponents of the war seem to have forgotten their own principles in the heat of their advocacy of the war.
What its complex roots, neoconservatism has now become inevitably linked to concepts like preemption, regime change, unilateralism, and benevolent hegemony as put into practice by the Bush administration. Rather than attempting the feckless task of reclaiming the meaning of the term, it seems to me better to abandon the label and articulate an altogether distinct foreign policy position.
Neoconservatism is one of four different approaches to American foreign policy today. There are, in addition to neoconservatism, "realists" in the tradition of Henry Kissinger, who respect power and tend to downplay the internal nature of other regimes and human rights concerns; there are liberal internationalists who hope to transcend power politics altogether and move to an international order based on law and institutions; and there are what Walter Russell Mead labels "Jacksonian" American nationalists, who tend to take a narrow, security-related view of American national interests, distrust multilateralism, and in their more extreme manifestations tend toward nativism and isolationism. The Iraq war was promoted by an alliance of neoconservatives and Jacksonian nationalists, who for different reasons accepted the logic of regime change in Baghdad. They sidelined the realists in the Republican Party like Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, who had served in George Herbert Walker Bush's administration and were skeptical about the rationale for the war.
As Operation Iraqi Freedom degenerated from a triumphant liberation to a grinding occupation and guerrilla war, the neoconservatives found themselves on the defensive, and the realists started to gain ground. The neoconservatives regained their position after the January 30, 2005, Iraqi elections but lost it again as the insurgency continued. There will certainly be further ups and downs as the consequences of the war play themselves out that will, once again, change the relative authority of one faction over the other. The problem is that none of these positions — neoconservative, realist, Jacksonian nationalist, or liberal internationalist — properly defines the approach to the world that the United States needs to follow in the aftermath of September 11 and the invasion of Iraq….
This approach begins from certain neoconservative premises: first, that U.S. policy and the international community more broadly need to concern themselves with what goes on inside other countries, not just their external behavior, as realists would have it; and second, that power — specifically American power — is often necessary to bring about moral purposes. It also draws on a neoconservative principle that neoconservatives seemed to have forgotten in the lead-up to the Iraq war: namely, that ambitious social engineering is very difficult and ought always to be approached with care and humility. What we need, in other words, is a more realistic Wilsonianism that better matches means to ends in dealing with other societies.
Realistic Wilsonianism differs from classical realism by taking seriously as an object of U.S. foreign policy what goes on inside states. To say that nation-building or democracy promotion is hard is not to say that it is impossible or that is should be scrupulously avoided. Indeed, weak or failed states are one of the biggest sources of global disorder today, and it is simply impossible, for reasons relating both to security and to morality, for the world's sole superpower to walk away from them. Neither realists nor neoconservatives have paid sufficient attention to the problem of development over the years, nor have they focused on parts of the world like Africa or Latin America where development is most problematic (except, of course, when countries in these regions become security threats).
Realistic Wilsonianism differs from neoconservatism (and Jacksonian nationalism) insofar as it takes international institutions seriously. We do not want to replace national sovereignty with unaccountable international organizations; the United Nations is not now nor will it ever become an effective, legitimate seat of global governance. On the other hand, we do not now have an adequate set of horizontal mechanisms of accountability between the vertical stovepipes we label states—adequate, that is, to match the intense economic and social interpenetration that we characterize today as globalization….
This book suggests a different way for America to relate to the world, one that is neither neoconservative nor realist, Jacksonian nor liberal internationalist. It attempts to define a more realistic way for the United States to promote political and economic development other than through preemptive war, and opens up an agenda of multiple multilateralisms appropriate to the real, existing world of globalization.
Excerpted from America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, by Francis Fukuyama. Copyright (c) 2006 by Francis Fukuyama. Excerpted by permission of Yale University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.