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Interview with Francis Fukuyama

An interview with Francis Fukuyama conducted by Ezzat Ibrahim, in Al-Ahram (April 29-May 5, 2004):

You support the "preventive war" doctrine as a way to defend US national interests, but at the same time you believe ideological hostility to multilateralism within the US is a problem. Is there an inconsistency here?

It is impossible to rule out the occasional need for preventive action. But I think it was a big mistake for the United States not to establish the parameters of the doctrine, giving the rest of the world the impression that it was going to be, somehow, a routine element of American foreign policy.

It is something that really should be done very, very carefully, and only under very restricted circumstances. It is really something I am in favour of. It was a mistake in Iraq, but it is too late now. We have to try to make things work, but I would prefer a different policy.

The American administration has mixed its rhyme and reason at will. Officials used the scare of "weapons of mass destruction" as a springboard, turning later to concerns about democracy and human rights. How do you assess such an unstable policy?

I criticised the Bush administration for promoting the preventive war doctrine while calling for democracy and confronting the "axis of evil". I think you cannot bring about democracy through the use of military force.

True, there is a time when power is an important element. But in this case -- Iraq -- it was wrongly applied.

Anger on 'the Arab street' against the US Middle East policy has reached unprecedented levels, especially following Sharon's visit to the White House earlier this month. Should that policy be altered to reflect the "moral responsibility" of being the world's sole superpower in the midst of such a protracted conflict?

The discussion of anger in the Middle East has gotten very confusing because I think there are many different sources of anger against the United States.

When we talk about individuals like Osama Bin Laden, there is a deeper hostility towards Western values and institutions, not just Americans. But I think when you look at the reasons why there is such negative public opinion -- among ordinary Jordanians, Egyptians and so on -- it is right that hostility is very much centred on the way we have dealt with the whole Palestinian issue.

It is not an anger against the United States as a society, or against American institutions, or the West more generally. It is over American foreign policy.

In your new book, Nation Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, you argue that bad governance or not enough government is the reason why Third World countries outside East Asia are unable to develop. Does this mean you want competent governments in the Middle East before full democracies?

The two are so much related. Normally, you cannot have good governance without democracy. Singapore is an example that everybody points to -- a very efficient bureaucracy, government by technocrats, without democracy so far. That is one possible model, but in practice very few countries are able to achieve Singapore's level of good governance.

And I think that democracy is a component of good governance because in many cases it is really impossible to have a government that is responsible to the needs of the people it is trying to serve without participation, feedback and the ability to hold officials accountable. So, I think in some level you cannot separate the two.

To progress in the Middle East towards more accountable governments is probably going to take a while because authoritarian governments are very deeply embedded in many Middle Eastern countries. It might take one or two generations to recognise that kind of change.

In the aftermath of Iraq war, it seems many Americans no longer believe in "the universalism of American values and institutions". You once said that such a belief led Americans often to confuse narrow national interests with those of the world community. Can you explain?

Concerning values and institutions that are universal, I think the US is one example of a broader universal pattern. Europeans have another version, the Japanese and the Koreans another still, and so on.

America is just one example of a broader pattern of democratic government. The reason, in the 20th century, that the American model prevailed is that it corresponded to the aspirations of a lot of people all over the world. I would not say that the American version is necessarily the right one.

Truly, the Americans tend to make a mistake, which is to confuse there own narrow self-interests with the promotion of broader universal values. I think that part of American exceptionalism is that we tend not to see that our narrower self- interests get mixed up with the broader universalism.

Many of your ideas are by and large different from the ideas of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). As a founding member of PNAC, what do you see in common between you and the hard-liners of the American conservative movement? And do you consider yourself a "Neo-con"?

Well, I have been very close to people in the Project, and most people would consider me part of that movement, but I think that I am really different from them.

For example, the whole approach to Iraq, the whole relation to democracy and dealing with the Palestinian issue is a kind of severance, because many of them feel that there is really no way to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict right now.

And in some sense, I am afraid they are using democracy as a kind of excuse for not dealing with it. They argue that you cannot have a settlement with the Palestinians until you have genuine democracy within the Palestinian Authority, and you have not really dealt with the broader Middle East problems until you have democracy.

That is such a long-term project, and in a way it is not an excuse for not doing anything. I think, in fact, we have all along needed to put a greater effort to pull the Palestinian issue ahead of that.

And if you have to wait until you have democracy, we will wait forever. It is too urgent, really, to have that kind of sequencing....