The mistakes of the Iraq war are largely the result of fundamental misjudgments about the global role of the United States and the Bush administration’s misapplication of neoconservative principles, neoconservative commentator Francis Fukuyama told an overflow crowd in Luce Auditorium on Monday.
Fukuyama — who garnered international fame with “The End of History?” an article about universalized Western democratic values that he published in 1989 — spoke for more than an hour about President George W. Bush ’68’s management of the war, the threat to the United States posed by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and the potential for democracy building in the Middle East.
The formation of preemptive and preventive war doctrines was a logical reaction to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Fukuyama said, but he said Bush deceptively conflated the threats from Al Qaida with those from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As a state actor, Iraq could have been contained with traditional theories of deterrence, he said.
“Iraq had a return address and therefore should have been as deterrable as any other country,” Fukuyama said. “The problem is that in order to launch this kind of war successfully, you have to be able to predict the future. You have to have good intelligence about what is going on in the world.”
In addition, the current administration’s “in-your-face” attitude toward U.S. allies during the beginning of Bush’s presidency has exacerbated latent antagonism directed at the United States and made other countries less willing to cooperate in the war effort, Fukuyama said.
“It is structurally built into the world system,” he said. “There is a lot of anti-Americanism that arises naturally from the predominance the United States enjoys economically, militarily, politically etc. Other societies don’t have a comparable ability to affect us.”
Fukuyama cited Bush’s refusal to agree to the Kyoto Protocol and to sign onto the International Criminal Court as examples of high-handedness that cost the United States goodwill with allies.
But Fukuyama said Bush’s greatest mistake was inflated optimism about the ease with which Iraq — after enduring dictatorial rule for decades — would transition into a liberal democracy.
“I do believe that there is a feeling in the administration that democracy was a default condition that societies would arrive at if only you did the heavy lifting of getting the totalitarian regime out of the way,” he said. “It was that excessive sense of optimism about how these institutions would come about that was at the root of this great misjudgment regarding Iraq.”
Although the U.S. experience in Iraq has made Fukuyama more skeptical of efforts to export democracy to other parts of the world, he said he remains dedicated to a “realistic Wilsonianism” and the possibility of spreading Western political institutions.
Fukuyama said he thinks the rise of Islamic terrorists can be attributed in large part to the difficulty many Muslims have had in integrating into modern Western societies.
“Particularly in Western Europe, it is very hard to integrate into the surrounding society,” he said. “In that kind of a situation you typically have the identity problem of modernity, where people do not know where they are. You breed a certain kind of alienation that makes you susceptible to somebody like Osama bin Laden.”
Regardless of their political leanings, students at the talk said they found Fukuyama’s remarks stimulating and provocative.
“While I don’t subscribe to his neoconservative principles, I thought he presented his ideas in an articulate manner,” Josh Garcia ’09 said. “It’s always good to hear intelligent arguments against your own opinions. I especially thought his comments on the combination of morality and power, which make up the core of neoconservatism, in American foreign policy were insightful.”
But some students said Fukuyama offered few solutions to the problems he outlined.
Ben Shaffer ’09, who describes himself as politically liberal, said he was impressed with Fukuyama’s intellectual honesty in admitting some of the shortcomings in neoconservative thinking.
“I thought what he said made a lot of sense in light of his reinterpretation of what neoconservatism should be,” Shaffer said. “But at the same time, I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t talk more about what changes he would make in American foreign policy.”
Fukuyama’s most recent book, “America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy,” was published in February.