The End of History…
About 20 years back a historian, Francis Fukuyama, wrote a book after the collapse of the Soviet Union called The End of History and the Last Man. He roughly argued that this signalled the ultimate triumph of western secular liberal democracy, and that the world would proceed down the democratic path until every country was a liberal western democracy. It was a remarkably optimistic view, if controversial for any number of reasons, and the book made a modest impact in its time.
Wandering around the Internet, I noticed an article where the esteemed Mr Fukuyama has revised his opinion. Always a good sign when someone can change their opinion, anyone who does not modify their opinions when presented with logical arguments and/or new facts is pretty much insane. However, I digress. He now says that he underestimated the ways in which the US would basically blow it, and list four areas where the US went wrong.
I can’t argue with the man, the US was presented with possibly the greatest opportunity in history at the end of the Cold War, we could have led the world forward into a new era of international peace and prosperity. Instead somehow we managed to get from the end of the cold war to the mess we are in now, where only someone with a severe case of tunnel vision would claim that the world is inexorably headed down the liberal western democratic road.
What are Mr Fukuyama’s four points? America’s new policy of preventative war, America misunderstanding how its exercise of hegemonic power would be perceived, an unrealistic belief in the ability of conventional military forces to achieve strategic goals, and finally our administrations general all-around incompetence and lack of vision. Read his arguments here if desired, but they are all points I have been thinking about and writing about for years so I will discuss them from my perspective.
The first would be America’s policy of preventative war, the idea that we can prevent people we don’t like from developing weapons we don’t want them to have. Its one great “success,” Iraq, has come at such a great price that it is hard to imagine continuing along this path. The world is simply too large and our enemies too clever to simply disarm them as we please. Or as someone once put it, I am paraphrasing here, if we try to be the world’s policeman on every corner…we are going to find out there are far too many corners in the world.
His second point would be how the world reacted to US attempts at global leadership, for the most part reacting with suspicion and caution. This is a point that has been making me rend my garments since we adopted the “New American Century” as the centre point of American Foreign policy. The New American Century basically states that we are going to be the world’s only superpower, second to none. And that we aren’t going to allow anyone to challenge our position and authority as such. I don’t have a problem with ruling the world per se, but telling people you are going to rule the world whether they like it or not isn’t going to make friends and influence people. The secret to getting people to do what you want…is to convince them its their idea. Simply assuming they will do so because you’re number one is a recipe for disaster. There’s a big difference between leadership and bossing people around.
His third point is how we underestimated the power of conventional military forces to achieve geopolitical goals. Again, more hair ripping and rending of garments here. America seems stuck in the golden age of nation states and liberating armies…World War Two. Yes, that was a great time, the arsenal of democracy and all that good stuff, yadda yadda yadda. But the forces that made World War Two the golden era for liberating armies were already waning by 1945. World War Two was more than five decades ago, no matter how much we would like to relive “the greatest generation” there isn’t going to be a “VE or VP day” and celebrations in the streets in the War on Terror. The world has changed since 1945, the lessons of World War Two are not very applicable to the modern world, and can even be counterproductive.
Lastly we come to just general incompetence. The manifest failures of the administration in planning and conducting the invasion and occupation of Iraq are so obvious at this point they are moot. Let me recap: There was no plan for the occupation of Iraq. I like how Mr Fukuyama sums the implications of this up:
“Incompetence in implementation has strategic consequences. Many of the voices that called for, and then bungled, military intervention in Iraq are now calling for war with Iran. Why should the rest of the world think that conflict with a larger and more resolute enemy would be handled any more capably?”
And here we are today, still trying to fit the threats the modern world faces us into the glorious World War Two model. Sadly calling our enemies “islamofascists” will not magically transform them into a nation state that we can bomb or nuke into oblivion, no matter how much we wish it were true. I won’t insult anyone by saying that the world has grown more complicated than Hitler’s days, but it has certainly changed. We face a far greater array of threats to our great nation, most of them dwarf the basically minor danger posed by terrorism.
In fact tomorrow I am going to expound on just how trivial and unrealistic our fears about terrorism are. That should be good for some fun comments.
(The above image is from the National Archives and is public domain under US copyright law. Credit: “Jubilant American soldier hugs motherly English woman and victory smiles light the faces of happy service men and civilians at Piccadilly Circus, London, celebrating Germany’s unconditional surrender.” Pfc. Melvin Weiss, England, May 7, 1945. 111-SC-205398.)