6.2.4.4 ‘Neoconservatism’: Exporting a System of Government

Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man,[1] argued that Western liberal democracy was inevitably the form of government that people would choose – and that the world would then be stable, because democracies haven’t made war on each other in the past.  Neoconservatives, taking their cue from this belief, thought that they could bring peace to the world by converting the governments of other countries into liberal democracies.  They also wanted to gain access to new markets.

Condoleezza Rice’s article, Rethinking the National Interest, argued that “[w]e recognize that democratic state building is now an urgent component of our national interest.”  This philosophy is also known as ‘liberal interventionism’ and was espoused by both Republicans and Democrats. A Project for a New American Century article in 2000, REBUILDING AMERICA’S DEFENSES: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century, stated its requirement for:

“…a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities”.

This assumes that America’s “principles” – such as its belief in democracy and individual freedom – would benefit every country, but this is not how everyone sees it.  It is true that people often want democracy if they are asked, but they might place a higher value on stability if they were presented with a choice.

There are echoes of colonialism in America trying to expand its sphere of influence.  As pointed out in a Review of Amitai Etzioni, Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy, an insistence on western liberal democracy appears to other countries like a desire to overthrow their governments.  This is a coercive foreign policy which has led to numerous problems since the 1980s:

●  It was one of the reasons for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 20-year attempt to install a democracy in Afghanistan, as described later (6.6.7.5).  These attempts at forcible regime change were very costly in terms of money and lives, were seen as illegitimate in the target countries, and resulted in regional instability.

●  America encouraged the ‘Arab Spring’ from its inception in December 2010 – yet an Economist article, The Arab spring at ten, noted that “Egypt’s brief experiment with democracy failed. Libya, Syria and Yemen plunged into civil war and became playgrounds for foreign powers. Wealthy Gulf states spent heavily to placate their own people and bolster anti-democratic forces elsewhere. The region is less free than it was in 2010—and worse off by most other measures, too.”

●  Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush enthusiastically promoted NATO expansion, which Russia saw as threatening – especially in Ukraine.  Patrick Wintour’s scholarly article, Russia’s belief in NATO ‘betrayal’ – and why it matters today, points out that the “idea that the Soviet Union was tricked in 1989-90 [when Russia agreed to German reunification, giving up its control of East Germany] is at the heart of Russia’s confrontation with the west”.

American neoconservatives are not the only people who enthusiastically try to promote their own ideas.  Some Islamic extremists want to establish a ‘universal caliphate’, and communism had global ambitions in the 20th century.  Such movements fail to respect the rights of others to hold different views: they treat other countries in ways that they themselves would find unacceptable, provoking hostility and conflict.  They are all a threat to world peace.

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[1] A review of Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History and the Last Man, appeared in the London Review of Books in July 1992; it was available in March 2020 at https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v14/n14/m.f.-burnyeat/happily-ever-after

This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6244.htm.