America at the Crossroads Analysis

America at the Crossroads (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

In America at the Crossroads, Francis Fukuyama reexamines issues raised in his best-known work, The End of History and the Last Man (1992), in light of developments in American foreign policy following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda. The End of History and the Last Man established Fukuyama as a noted “public intellectual,” a term used to describe (more or less) scholarly authors who attempt to get their message out to significant portions of the general public as well as influential elites. Public intellectuals vary greatly both in the rigor of their work and in their political orientation. What they have in common is an interest in bringing the knowledge they have accumulated to bear upon crucial decisions made by those in power. In order to do this, public intellectuals must be able to render the findings of scholars, which tend to be esoteric and highly specialized, into accessible form for those who wield power. This, in turn, means melding disparate scholarly findings from a daunting variety of disciplines (and subdisciplines) into a coherent view of the world, one that gives fruitful guidance as public policies are formed and implemented.

In The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama proved himself to be profound and provocative. He demonstrated great breadth of learning, drawing on a rich array of scholarly works in political science, political theory, economics, sociology, and history. In addition, Fukuyama wrote with great clarity, addressing complex issues and carefully weighing alternative viewpoints without becoming obtuse or simplistically one-sided. Fukuyama’s findings, like those of other public intellectuals, were controversial. According to Fukuyama, the end of the “Cold War” signaled the long-term historical triumph of liberal democracy over alternative political visions stemming from “the left” (such as socialism and communism) as well as from “the right” (such as theocratic and other forms of authoritarianism). It follows that the goal of American foreign policy should be to do everything possible to facilitate this development globally, leading to a tolerant, enlightened, and peaceful future. Fukuyama’s projection of the future put him squarely into the camp of “neoconservative” thinkers who, seeing no other path to national or global stability, wished to use American power to transform the world. Some of these neoconservatives would ride into power with President George W. Bush in 2000, coming to be seen as prime architects of both the Bush administration’s War on Terror and the war in Iraq.

In America at the Crossroads, Fukuyama passes judgment on the performance of neoconservative policy makers as well as the overall Bush administration, finding both to be severely wanting. Putting it most bluntly, Fukuyama suggests that neoconservatives not only failed in their goal of uniting wisdom and power but actually set the cause back by launching an ultimately self-defeating war in Iraq, one that he argues is based on a deeply flawed principle of “preventive war.” Because neoconservatism now is closely identified with the latter principle (and other related misconceptions), Fukuyama sheds the neoconservative label and proclaims the need for a new and better approach to American foreign policy, which he calls “realistic Wilsonianism.”

Derived from a series of lectures Fukuyama delivered at Yale University in April of 2005, America at the Crossroads opens with a brief preface in which the author outlines his previous self-identification as a neoconservative and points to the start of the war in Iraq as a juncture at which he and other neoconservatives parted ways. In his opinion, the Bush administration pursued a disastrous policy in Iraq. Fukuyama’s goal in this book is to explain where the Bush administration went wrong, why, and what can be done to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

In the first chapter, “Principles and Prudence,” Fukuyama begins by summarizing the responses of the Bush administration to September 11, which he breaks down as follows: first, passage of the Patriot Act and establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (in order to be better prepared to ward off such attacks); second, the war in Afghanistan (in order to hit back at the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks); third, articulation of the Bush doctrine defending the use of preventive war (presented as a proactive step to reduce the chances of future attacks); and fourth, implementation of preventive war in Iraq.

Fukuyama believes that the third and fourth responses presented above have been...

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America at the Crossroads Bibliography (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The Chronicle of Higher Education 52, no. 32 (April 14, 2006): B15.

The Economist 378 (March 18, 2006): 79-80.

The National Interest, no. 84 (Summer, 2006): 123-130.

National Review 58, no. 7 (April 24, 2006): 54-56.

New Statesman 135 (March 27, 2006): 48-49.

The New York Times Book Review 155 (March 26, 2006): 1-9.

Washington Monthly 38, no. 5 (May, 2006): 44-45.