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Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy

A-AmericaAtTheCrossroadsFrancis Fukuyama rallied behind the neoconservative belief that the use of American force toward moral ends was justified, if not absolutely necessary. He lobbied former President Bill Clinton to depose Saddam Hussein and initially supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Yet in America at the Crossroads his disenchantment with the current administration’s handling of the conflict in Iraq has him questioning the direction of neocon thought. He believes the collapse of the USSR instilled a false confidence in his peers—namely, that the threat of American force would inevitably yield quasi-democratic institutions. Now, as that same hopeful gambit plays out daily in the Middle East, Fukuyama proposes a strategy of "realistic Wilsonianism," where aid money and American know-how replace guns and jihad.
Yale University Press. 226 pages. $25. ISBN: 0300113994

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"America at the Crossroads serves up a powerful indictment of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and the role that neoconservative ideas—concerning preventive war, benevolent hegemony and unilateral action—played in shaping the decision to go to war, its implementation, and its aftermath." Michiko Kakutani

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Among the most valuable contributions of this book is Fukuyama’s discussion of the complexities of democratization. … [He argues that] democracy must be built gradually; the impetus must be indigenous and it should be helped along by stimulating economic development and sharing prosperity." Philip Seib

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"America at the Crossroads is no screed. Like its author, it is sober, fair-minded, even a bit dry. Its chief interest as a manifesto lies not only in the points it scores against neoconservatism but also in Fukuyama’s curious departures from the arc of his own thinking." Gary Rosen

Miami Herald 2 of 5 Stars
"America at the Crossroads is at least three years too late. And while the postulations that comprise the book are cogent and sensible, there’s really nothing novel about them." Andy Diaz

Wall Street Journal 2 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Fukuyama is a public intellectual of the first rank, with influence and connections at the highest reaches of the Bush administration. … If Mr. Fukuyama now judges the [war in Iraq] a terrible folly, the least he can do is offer an honest account of the part he played cheering it on." Bret Stephens

Critical Summary

Francis Fukuyama has often been more poised and clinical than his neoconservative contemporaries (including William Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz). Perhaps this makes his backflip away from mainline neocon thought understandable, but it doesn’t make it any more forgivable. Many reviewers censure the Johns Hopkins University professor for not providing a personal defense of his defection. All the political lather threatens to obscure the actual book, which contains a concise history of neoconservative thought and a thoughtful, if not totally new, proposal for more peaceful (or "soft power") means of nation building. That might give heart to liberals, but his colleagues feel he has abandoned the convictions of his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, and committed the ultimate political sin: swapping horses at midterm.

Also by the Author

The End of History and the Last Man (1992): With a capitalist liberal democracy the given end point to history’s current direction, will we create a harmonious global order or descend into chaos?