RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The President made decisions about Iraq with the advice of a small group of intellectuals. They spent years demanding a different American approach to the world--they're known as neo-conservatives.
Now, a man who once counted himself among that group says their philosophy is discredited.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Francis Fukuyama is an influential writer whose past books include, "The End of History." In a new book, Fukuyama tries to explain what went wrong in the Bush Administration.
He says that in places like Iraq, the neo-conservatives overlooked a contradiction in their own ideas. One of those ideas was a skepticism about how much government can change the world.
Mr. FRANCIS FUKUYAMA (Author/Philosopher): By and large, the message that they had was that the attempt to end poverty, to remake American social policy in the kind of ambitious ways that began in the New Deal and continued through Johnson's Great Society, always produced unanticipated consequences. And so, we couldn't end poverty in Washington, D.C., you know, here in Anacostia. And it meant that there's a limit to the power of political action.
INSKEEP: And I suppose if you extend that overseas, you end up with a person who perhaps is skeptical of nation-building.
Mr. FUKUYAMA: Well, I think that would've been the implication that, you know, if you can't end poverty in Anacostia, then you're not going to end it, you know, you're not going to democratize a part of the world that's culturally very unfamiliar to you, where your levers are much less direct, where your resources are going to be more limited, and so forth.
INSKEEP: So that's one principle of neo-conservatism, as you see it, and what's the other that conflicts with that?
Mr. FUKUYAMA: Well the other one that conflicts is really the, you know, the prospect of using American power for moral purposes--the kind of benevolent hegemony over the rest of the world--and I think that was also an important dimension to the way that neo-conservatives thought about the world. In the 1990s, the power side of the equation really won out over the prudential, you know, strictures about ambitious social engineering.
INSKEEP: Now, you have said that for several years now, you can no longer consider yourself a neo-conservative. Why?
Mr. FUKUYAMA: I think that neo-conservatism has become indelibly associated with concepts like benevolent hegemony, like the unilateralism, you know, the sort of contemptuous attitude towards the international cooperation and international institutions. I believe that the United States ought to promote democracy, but the means were, I think, much too over-militarized.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that. You still say that the United States ought to promote democracy. It is certainly something that feels very good to say, but given the skepticism that you, yourself have voiced and the problems that you've seen in the last few years, should the U.S. really be spending a lot of effort promoting democracy?
Mr. FUKUYAMA: Well, first of all, it's not up to the United States to decide where and when countries become democratic, because I think the truth of the matter is that democracy, unless it's driven by a demand inside each society, is simply not gonna take place. It really requires a kind of internal ripening of circumstances.
INSKEEP: But you obviously think that the model of Iraq--trying to invade a country and impose democracy just isn't going to work.
Mr. FUKUYAMA: Well, look, that was actually a case of bait and switch. I mean, nobody--the Bush administration didn't come to the American people and say, look, we're going to invade this country to make it democratic because obviously nobody would have bought that. You're never gonna persuade Americans to sink blood and treasure in a military invasion of another country simply to bring human rights and democracy there.
INSKEEP: There have been some published responses from neo-conservatives to your views here. William Kristol, the son of Irving Kristol who's seen as the founding father, in a sense, of neo-conservatism, has basically said this is what's happening, this is the way the world is moving, this is the way we're moving the world and you can't stop now; you have to push forward.
Mr. FUKUYAMA: Mm hmm. Well, that's, you know, that's true to a limited extent. I think that getting out quickly from Iraq is gonna be a big mistake now that we've committed ourselves to this project, so I think he's right there and I think he's right that democracy, you know, we are on this track, you know, to promote democracy in the Middle East and I don't think that we can pull back from that either. But, there are other parts of his earlier agenda which has to do with the use of American military power and the, you know, the exercise of benevolent hegemony that I think need to be dramatically rethought because the United States has succeeded in isolating itself.
I mean, the degree of anti-Americanism in the world, if you travel outside the United States today, it is, you know, unbelievable. And I don't think that it's, in my lifetime, ever been, you know, as intense as it is and I think a lot of Americans do not understand the degree to which the United States has become the object of, you know, a lot of active hatred, not just from traditional enemies but from people that really ought to be our friends. And, so I think there's a lot of things in America's relationship to the world that really need to be revisited and rethought.
INSKEEP: We've been talking to Francis Fukuyama. He's the author of the forthcoming book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neo-Conservative Legacy. Thanks for coming by.
Mr. FUKUYAMA: Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.