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Open-ended history



   Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

29 April - 5 May 2004 - Issue No. 688 (Interview)

 Francis Fukuyama, of "End of History" renown, speaks to Ezzat Ibrahim, in Washington, of his views on the Bush administration's Middle East policy and the American tendency to confuse universalism with self-interest

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.

Did you work with other scholars or give advice to the US administration on the Greater Middle East Initiative?

Not directly with Bush's administration. I am on the board of The National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Indeed, I am the board member who is responsible for, and oversees, the Middle East programmes.

The Endowment is trying to maintain independence from the Bush administration. The administration obviously wants to use them. It increased NED funding a great deal for all the Middle East programmes during the last year. The Endowment's programmes existed before the Greater Middle East Initiative, and I think they are going to strive to stay independent.

What is your opinion on the Initiative itself?

Well, I think the problem is the US has very low credibility across the Arab world in general, for a couple of reasons. First, the way we treat the Palestinian issue. Second, working with non-democratic regimes throughout the Arab world.

Therefore, when the United States talks about democracy, people cannot listen. And I think unless we solve the credibility problem in a more fundamental way, it is going to be hard to make more progress. I do think that simply raising the issue -- even if it seems hypocritical and not sincere -- it is still a good thing.

The cancelling of the last Arab summit in Tunisia has now set off a lot of political ferments and discussions that might be helpful. I do think that it is difficult for us to be in a position of pushing strongly the democracy agenda until we ourselves figure out how we are going to reconcile our narrow national interests with this larger democracy promotion initiative.

In general, since it is going to be a slow and long-term process, it is still important. The American president has said that we regard democracy in this part of the world as important, because while we have promoted democracy in other regions, the Middle East is an exception until now. It is going to take a long time not only to change the Middle East, but also to change American foreign policy.

You hold a PhD in Soviet foreign policy towards the Middle East, and in 1981-82 were a member of the US delegation to Egyptian-Israeli talks on Palestinian autonomy. From the vantage of experience, how do you read recent developments between Israel and the Palestinians?

In my opinion, under the Clinton administration Palestinians got a deal that actually surprised me from my earlier experience in working on the Arab-Israeli conflict. I think the deal they were presented with in Taba was about as good as anyone can expect. It would be a Palestinian state and 95 per cent of what they lost in 1967, plus a little bit of pre-1967, within the Green Line.

The deal really amazed me because Israel was not willing to give up that much. The Palestinians did not get the right of return but the Israelis were apparently ready to negotiate compensations and other ways to settle that issue. It was a tremendous mistake for the Palestinian leadership to walk away from that. Part of the reason that we have a regression and the rise of Sharon is that the falling apart of that deal convinced many Israelis that there is no Palestinian interlocutor willing to negotiate seriously with them. The whole thing started to escalate after the Temple Mount incident.

Now, people on both sides are digging into much more hard-line positions. I continue to believe that there is a possible settlement out there, and that settlement will not be different from Taba -- the settlement that was reached at the end of Clinton administration. Unfortunately, because of the depth of hatred on both sides it is going to be Taba minus all the economic interdependence envisioned during the Oslo process. Unfortunately, I think this is just the reality, but I continue to think that that is the only conceivable solution for the area.

The Palestinians had extremely poor leadership; not seeing that it is better to accept a realistic settlement. Right now, I do not think the unilateral policy is a particularly good one because, as far as I see, Sharon will give back the whole of Gaza but he is not going to give back as much as Barak was giving back in 2000. I have not seen the precise lines of Sharon's proposal for withdrawal but it is not nearly as good a deal.

On the Israeli side, it is not a good deal either because most of the Israelis are convinced that the majority of the Palestinians agree that whatever the final settlement is, it is not going to stop suicide bombing and violence. The only way to get there is to create a real Palestinian state. A state that will be able to negotiate and will be able to enforce whatever final deal is made.

Also, international enforcement, on the security side, might be desirable. The only sense in which the Sharon plan steps forward is that it does represent a greater realism on the part of the Israeli right; that they simply cannot have the Greater Israel. I just do not think that holding on to Hebron, or specific settlements in the West Bank, is workable when they reach final arrangements.

So the far right is the key mover behind Sharon's recent unilateral actions?

I think they [the Israeli government] killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Rantisi to satisfy the extreme right, and Sharon wanted to prove that it is not a "retreat" when he offers a pullout from Gaza.

In that sense, there is going to be a showdown from the far right also over the West Bank, but I think Sharon will win. It is a stupid idea to talk about keeping or seizing parts of the West Bank, and the Israeli right will come to realise this fact.

You insist that modernisation, as a universal process, sooner or later drags all societies in its wake, and that the modernisation of Islam will be a major factor in engaging Arab nations in a global society. Do you still believe in the possibility of avoiding a schism among the world's civilisations?

First, reconciliation between religion and politics in the Middle East should take place. And when I talk about such reconciliation -- or secular politics -- it does not mean "anti- clerical" politics, or a politics of suppressing religion.

Actually, the Turks are working their way, now, towards a kind of solution. Right now, the biggest party in Turkey is an Islamic one. They take religion seriously and do not want it to disappear. They want to retain Turkey's identity as a Muslim society but they are fully reconciled, as far as I can tell, to acting within the framework of democratic politics.

I would think that is, actually, a model for other Muslim countries: integration with the outer world -- democracy -- but also in keeping with Muslim identity.

I just came back from a conference on Islam and modernisation where I argued that there is certainly ground within the Muslim tradition itself to reconcile that tradition with the most fundamental aspects of modern life.

You have said that the Middle East is waiting for its Martin Luther. Can you explain?

In the Arab and Muslim worlds liberal voices exist but politically they are not listened to. Actually, I think the important struggle is the political struggle.

For instance, if you look at someone like Abdolkarim Soroush, the theorist from Iran, who wants to reconcile Islam and modernity. Probably, there is no single "Luther" but there are voices like that in the Islamic world. Those reformers were waiting for the right time, but they are drowned out by Osama Bin Laden-types.

Anti-Americanism and fundamentalism are spreading, especially after the war in Iraq. Do you still believe that the promise of an "end of History" will prevail over the horror of a "clash of civilisations"?

Not in the Middle East. There is going to be a lot of violence and conflict. The idea of the "end of History" argues that real, legitimate democracy is the only form of governance that people really believe in.

A lot of turmoil in the Middle East is the result of a lack of legitimate democracy, and I believe people of the region really want it.

What are your expectations for the next US presidential elections?

I think George W Bush could lose the November elections because he is going to be faced with a lot of disadvantages.

For example, if Iraq continues to be a big mess by the time of the elections it could cost him the White House.

Do you trust John Kerry?

Not particularly. I do not know for whom I am going to vote this time around.

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