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How To Keep 'Political Order': Make Modest Promises, And Deliver


Francis Fukuyama has written another door stopper, a big sweeping book that's the second volume in a set that strived to describe how political order - people forming nations and living by laws - came to be widely proliferated and the ways in which they're now being rocked. Professor Fukuyama may always be best known for his essay "The End Of History," written just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the pro-democracy uprising in Tiananmen Square. His new book is "Political Order And Political Decay." And Francis Fukuyama, who's a senior fellow at Stanford University, he's also worked at RAND, Johns Hopkins and at the U.S. Department of State. He joins us now from London. Thanks much for being with us.

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: If we've learned nothing else over the past few years, from Iraq and Russia to China, Thailand, Egypt and Libya, hasn't it been that democracy isn't a kind of broccoli you can get everyone to eat for their own good?

FUKUYAMA: Well, I think that's right. I think the aspiration to live in a free society is pretty widely shared. But the actual ability to create a democracy is actually quite difficult because you need institutions and those are hard to create.

SIMON: Does democracy even look so good at the moment?

FUKUYAMA: Well, I think that it kind of depends on what you mean by democracy. The problem with holding elections in a place without stronger institutions, like political parties and the rule of law, is that you get very weird results, like the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Or you get this kind of gangster society that rose in Russia in the 1990s. And that's really not democracy.

SIMON: Seems to me over the past few years, we've heard of a lot of instances around the world where a government comes in heralding democratic values, and a few years later the population that voted them into office complains that they're so corrupt. And then they become vulnerable to the appeals of groups that have a harder ideological edge, and are certainly not democratic. But to the people who are living in that democratic state, they hold the promise of being honest brokers.

FUKUYAMA: Well, I think the single biggest political deficit in many countries around the world today is actually a deficit of a effective governance, meaning a government that can actually deliver the basic things that people want out of government - personal security, education, infrastructure. And I think you're right that many of the failures in new democracies are very much related to this. So if you look at Ukraine, you had an orange revolution all the way back in 2004 that was supposed to herald a new democratic age. The orange coalition that came to power in the wake of that proved to be incompetent. And as a result, Viktor Yanukovych was reelected in 2010. And he himself turned out to be so corrupt that he required a second revolution earlier this year to oust him a second time. And so it's really that failure of governance I think that is the key problem.

SIMON: Professor Fukuyama, you've been writing some op-eds recently. You seem to think that the U.S. might be biting off too much in the Middle East right now.

FUKUYAMA: Well, that's right. I think President Obama has gone from a posture of complete passivity, vis-a-vis ISIS and the things going on in Iraq and Syria, to promising more than he can deliver. So I think it was a mistake to actually say that he was going to degrade and then ultimately destroy ISIS. You know, we have not destroyed al-Qaida in 13 years of trying. But, you know, the main point is I don't think it's necessary. I think that the U.S. ought to adopt a more modest goal of actually not trying to dictate a certain outcome in the Middle East but one of balancing to prevent the really bad guys, like ISIS or like the Assad regime, from dominating their neighbors.

SIMON: You see British history as some kind of parallel.

FUKUYAMA: Well, the classic posture of Britain towards the continent was simply align with those that were opposing the hegemonic power, whether that was Napoleon or Hitler, and I think we ought to do that in the Middle East. We ought to oppose ISIS if they look like they're getting too strong. But I'm not sure that we actually want to destroy them because that may make Assad too strong. And so it's hard for Americans to adopt a posture like that because it doesn't solve the problem, it just contains the problem. But I actually think that if there's one thing we should've learned from our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's that we don't have the wisdom, the resources or the staying power to actually dictate any concrete political solution in that part of the world.

SIMON: You recognize, professor, that gets into some uncomfortable moral ground for people don't you?

FUKUYAMA: Oh, it definitely, you know, it definitely does because what you're saying is you're going to let these groups fight it out at a terrible, terrible human cost. And I think that's correct. But I...

SIMON: It tends to be innocent civilians who suffer.

FUKUYAMA: It is innocent civilians. And I think one way of mitigating that is actually by preventing any of these really bad players from getting too strong and really committing a genocide.

SIMON: Yet in the midst of all this, at least at the end of your book, you still believe that the arc of history bends towards democratic ideal.

FUKUYAMA: Well, I think that as societies become more middle-class, better educated, wealthier, there is a universal human desire to participate in politics. And that's happened in one country after another. I think the problem is that actually getting to democracy is a pretty hard thing because you really need institutions. And that's where we've been falling down over the last few years. But in the long sweep of history, I do think there's a certain reason to expect that.

SIMON: Francis Fukuyama. His new book "Political Order And Political Decay." Thanks so much for being with us.

FUKUYAMA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.