Two Books

Charles A. Kohlhaas | July 3, 2024

Two books. Two visions of the world. One influenced American foreign policy for 30 years. The wrong one.

In the late 1980s the Iron Curtain was becoming quite rusty. Premier Gorbachev of the Soviet Union confirmed the situation with a speech to the UN on December 7, 1988, that the Soviet Union was releasing the countries of eastern Europe from Soviet control. With that, 1989 became a year in which major political and economic changes were initiated.

Shortly thereafter, in February 1989, anticipating the end of the US-Soviet Cold War, a newly-appointed Deputy Director of Policy Planning for the State Department, Francis Fukuyama, gave a speech at the University of Chicago in which he proposed democracy would be the dominant future world governing system without significant future challenge. The speech attracted enough attention to be published in the Summer 1989 Issue of The National Interest, a small journal of foreign policy, with the catchy title “The End of History?.”  With that publication, it attracted more attention in foreign policy circles of academia and government. It portrayed a future everyone could wish for as a desirable outcome for winning the Cold War.

Fukuyama believed what was happening was “not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Fukuyama thought this was “evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.”

He cited a nascent market economy in China, small businesses showing up in Russia and the early beginnings of a middle class in each.

In late 1988, after Gorbachev’s UN speech, borders in Eastern Europe started to open and in 1989 east Europeans were flooding across into western Europe. On November 9, crossing points in the Berlin Wall opened; people danced on its top and battered it down. In 1990, east European Communist governments were replaced, Germany was re-unified under the West German democratic government, and it was more and more apparent the Cold War was over. These events and a failed coup in Moscow led to the end of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. The non-Russian Republics of the Soviet Union quickly declared independence under their own governments. Russia and many of the former Soviet Republics ostensibly formed democratic governments.

All this was much as Fukuyama anticipated and seemed to validate his thesis.  Moreover, Fukuyama moved back and forth between the State Department and as a RAND Corporation consultant which gave him considerable influence on policy.

In 1992 he expanded his ideas into a book: The End of History and the Last Man. The idea that democracy would spread throughout the world creating a harmonious, benign, worldwide society was so attractive the US set out to implement it.

The US:

  • Encouraged and supported democracy in Russia and former Soviet Republics.  This led to chaotic transfers of natural resources, rising crime, and consolidation of political and economic power in a wealthy elite which led to Putin’s leadership in a desire for order.   
  • Imposed various sanctions on Saddam Hussien’s Iraq government and eventually invaded Iraq, removed Saddam, and forced elections for a “democratic” government. This removed the only government in the region strong enough to counter Iran and led to the rise of ISIS, internal Iraqi conflicts, and increased Iranian influence and presence in Iraq, and generally de-stabilized the Middle East. 
  • Followed a similar policy to remove Qaddafi in Libya, with similar results. Libya is mired in decades-long civil war. 
  • Tried to impose democracies across the Sahel, in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, etc., etc., without a single success.
  • In the greatest delusion of all, and despite China’s own declarations of intent to replace the United States as the world’s dominant power, the US believed trade and economic relationships and the indisputable attractions of democracy would reform Communist China and make it a benign, cooperative member of the world community. The United States sponsored China as a member of the World Trade Organization, expanded trade with China, and moved much of the US supply chain and manufacturing to China. Europe followed. The US led the way to make China rich and powerful; all trusting in the appeal of democracy.     


In 1993, Foreign Affairs published a response to Fukuyama. The Clash of Civilizations? The Next Pattern of Conflict by Samuel P. Huntington proposed that, without the overwhelming conflict between the West and the Soviet Union, dormant conflicts between various civilizations would re-activate and the world would become a much more unstable place. He famously and presciently noted “Islam has bloody borders.” In 1996 he expanded the paper to a book: The Clash of Civilizations. Remaking of World Order. I picked up a copy of the book at the Brentano’s bookstore in the San Francisco airport (one of the best airport bookstores) and read it while winging across the Pacific to Indonesia.

Huntington’s view of the world was far more consistent with the world I observed. The oil business is a worldwide business – it operates on all continents (except Antarctica – so far) and deals with every culture, political system. religion, economic structure, and financial system on earth. I wandered the world in the oil business for several decades and saw a world more consistent with Huntington’s description than Fukuyama’s hopes.  But, American foreign policy operated on Fukuyama’s hopes –  lurching from one disaster to another at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives - all the while espousing the benefits of democracy for one and all and leaving a trail of death and destruction without a single foreign policy success in 30 years.

Madison enumerated (Federalist Articles 10, 14, 19, 39) why United States governance was not designed as a democracy. Democracies are weak and can easily be taken over by a faction. It seems to me they are inherently unstable. They do not seem to last very long. In a democracy the population will figure out, sooner or later, that it can vote for more and more benefits for themselves. With no check on this process, it will continue until the debt overwhelms the treasury, the currency is ruined, and the government disintegrates. Democracies will eventually vote for their own destruction. Biden goes on and on about “saving” democracy; but it cannot be saved from itself. Fukuyama’s prediction of universal and unending democracy was flawed from the start; a disastrous basis for foreign policy.