22.214.171.124 ‘Neoconservatism’: Promoting a Political System
Neoconservatives believe in promoting a political system which they are confident will bring benefits and peace to the whole world
Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man, 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. This is a coercive foreign policy, as described later (126.96.36.199).
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.
Robert Kaplan, in his article Anarchy Unbound, exposed the flawed nature of what he called ‘democratic universalism’ when applied to troubled countries like Mali and Niger:
“The American foreign policy elite, with some notable exceptions, believes it has the best answer: democracy. If West African countries would only hold elections and abide by civilian rule they would gradually get on their feet and build governing institutions throughout their territories. The American elite defines successful countries in the developing world as those that hold elections and unsuccessful ones as those that fail to do so. This is not logic, nor a belief grounded in history or even political science. It is pure ideology. And missionary ideology at that. Look at the Arab Spring’s failure! Of course, people in the developing world want democracy, but that doesn’t mean it will automatically bring good results in the face of vast poverty, ethnic and sectarian cleavages and so forth. Democracy has worked in places such as South Korea and Taiwan because it came after industrialisation and the creation of middle classes, not before.”
There are echoes of colonialism in America promoting its political system. As pointed out in a Review of Amitai Etzioni, Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy though, an insistence on western liberal democracy appears to other countries like a desire to overthrow their governments. This has led to numerous problems since the 1980s:
● It was one of the reasons for the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 20-year attempt to install a democracy in Afghanistan. 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 (188.8.131.52).
● 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. NATO’s members are all democracies – it is a condition of membership – and it is a military alliance. President Putin has persuaded the Russian people that the West is spreading democracy by the use of force (even though its role is primarily defensive). 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, which is a common problem described earlier (184.108.40.206). They treat other countries in ways that they themselves would find unacceptable, provoking hostility and conflict. They are all a threat to world peace.
 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/edition04/6244b.htm.