“Night Owl Sessions” with Francis Fukuyama: 5 things worth remembering


“Night Owl Sessions” with Francis Fukuyama: 5 things worth remembering

On the 4th of November, under the roof of the Stamba Hotel in Tbilisi, the Economic Policy Research Center hosted one of the most prominent political scientists of our generation, and a frequent guest in Georgia, Professor Francis Fukuyama. In an hour-long conversation in frames of the “Night Owl Sessions” with the former US Assistant Secretary of State David J. Kramer, Fukuyama has discussed the nuances of the US Foreign Policy and how it impacts the World. The author of the famous books “Identity” and “The Origins of Political Order” has discussed President Trump’s and US foreign policies in relation with Russia, Middle East, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

Without doubt, a lot can be retained from this conversation. Fukuyama has been short and concise. His heterodox opinions were sharp and firm not always conventional.  Fukuyama’s several statements are worth being discussed in more details. Here are the highlights of this insightful conversation.

Text: Viktorya Muradyan


Trump’s foreign policy during the last 3 years

Fukuyama has clarified that according to him, President Trump’s foreign policy is not the same as the US foreign policy. He has described President Trump as an American nationalist and isolationist, who does not want any involvement in foreign regions or conflicts, except for the cases when this involvement can be economically beneficial for the US. This approach was clearly visible when Trump withdrew the troops from the Syria claiming that the US soldiers cannot stay in the Middle East forever. Everyone would be happy if this was the genuine intention behind his decision. But a few days after leaving Syria he sent 3,000 additional troops to Saudi Arabia, just because they were willing to pay. Fukuyama has also stated that the absence of commitment to any kind of set of moral values makes Trump different from all the former US Presidents.

According to Fukuyama, over the years the US approach to Foregn Policy has expressed a lot of bipartisan support for the liberal international world order. The current team of Advisors working with Trump don’t have any exceptional expertise in their respective fields or in US Foreign Policy. The only reason that they are influencing the US Foreign Policy so much is because they have an outstanding level of loyalty to Trump.

Fukuyama concluded, that the fact that Trump is owning more of the American Foreign policy right now is bad news for this part of the world (Europe and Asia). Why? Because he is not overly sympathetic either to traditional allies or to the democratic world order that the US wanted to build over the course of history. Moreover, according to Fukuyama, Trump is a President who seeks short-term advantages. He has a transactional view of the world and he can never be considered as a reliable and consistent partner for any country.


Trump’s views on the world & what Putin has to do with it

Fukuyama voiced an opinion, that all the views and opinions that Trump has on this part of the world come directly from Putin. He brought two examples to prove his point. First, he has talked about Trump’s opinion on Ukraine. As Fukuyama says, Trumps has expressed a viewpoint on many occasions, that Ukraine is not an independent country. The only person, except for him, who has used this narrative constantly over the years is President Putin.

The second case, which proves that Putin directly influences Trump’s opinions is the case of Montenegro. Montenegro has been the last country from the Balkans to join the NATO. Fukuyama claims that Putin, obviously did not like it and even tried to stage a coup against the Government of Montenegro.

And if you think that shading Montenegro’s Prime Minister during the NATO Summit in 2017 was a coincidence, well it’s not even the whole story. In July 2018 during his interview with Fox News, Trump has described this small Balkan nation (600.000 people) "very aggressive" and suggested they could cause a third world war. So where in the world he could get this opinion about Montenegro if not from Putin and Russia?

The same logic, consequently, can be applied to all the countries in the region (including Georgia), with whom Russia and Putin have disagreements.

The most worrisome point that Fukuyama made was that Trump never allows note takers to his one-on-one meetings with Putin, although they usually have very extensive talks. Once Trump has even confiscated the notes of the interpreter who has been present at his meeting with Putin.

And eventually, in this non-conventional friendship & war with Russia, who is the winner and the loser?

Fukuyama claimed that Putin is very good at taking a weak geopolitical position and exploiting it in a brilliant way. The worst damage that Putin has done, surprisingly, is not in Syria: it is in the US and Europe. Fukuyama compared the external policy making of the Soviet Union and Russia. He thinks that during the Soviet Union, the political elite tried to make people like them by proving that the Soviet system was better than the Western Capitalist system. Putin, on the other hand, wants to increase the distrust that the citizens of the democratic countries feel for their own democracies. For example, in the US, Russian internet trolls are provoking white nationalism and foster societal polarization. And this is where the Chinese fall behind Russia.

Another interesting fact that Fukuyama has mentioned is that the Republican party’s views on Russia has drastically changed before and after Trump’s administration. According to Fukuyama, if before Trump, only 6 percent of the Republicans had a positive view on Russia, not this percentage is above 50.


Trump & Obama on the Middle East

Fukuyama’s opinion is that Trump is actually closer to Obama in his stance on the Middle East than we think. Fukuyama assumed that the two Presidents shared the same opinion on the US involvement in the Middle East. They both thought that the US should pull out its troops from the Middle East and they both did it. A lot of prominent newsmakers do think that when Trump pulled out the US troops from the Northeastern Syria, he repeated the mistake that Obama did in 2011 in Iraq.

But Fukuyama clarifies that the problem of Trump’s decision is not in the substance of this policy, but in the manner of doing it. Fukuyama stated that Trump made the decision about the withdrawal on his own while clearly ignoring the official procedure of such kind of decision-making, which includes discussions with the State and Defense Departments. If done in a better way, this decision, that had to be taken sooner or later, would have got a completely different feedback and reaction both in the US and in the world. Fukuyama thinks that the fault of Trump was that the manner of withdrawing the troops from Syria maximised the negative consequences of the decision.


Trump, his friends and foes

China: Fukuyama considers that in a long-run China is going to be the single biggest foreign policy challenger of the US. The reason he thinks this way is that he considers Chinese much more clever and patient in their action than the Russians. They are aware that if they push too hard in their foreign policymaking, they will face a huge backlash from the US and Europe. Putin, on the other hand, is a reckless risk-taker as Fukuyama described him. He does not share the cautiousness of the Soviet leadership, that very often threatened but did not actually act. He threw that cautiousness in the air by introducing Russian forces to Syria, Africa and Latin America. And that is where the Chinese strategy is more apt for the long-run competition.


Iran: Fukuyama thinks that the US withdrew from the Nuclear agreement that Obama had signed thinking that if they restored the sanctions, they could make Iran sign a better agreement. And despite the growing rhetorical threats from Trump’s side, his actions and backpedaling actually prove that he does not want to deploy forces in the Middle East. The US-Iran relations are provocative, as according to Fukuyama Iran is constantly taunting the US. It is highly possible that one day Iran might do something that will require an actual response and it will not be possible anymore for Trump not to act. Hence, the possibility of the real conflict escalation with Iran is very real.


Saudi Arabia: According to Fukuyama, US politics with the Saudi Arabia (“A tribal federation sitting on a lot of oil” as described by him) has never been based on human rights or any other set of moral values. He also thinks that if the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been killed during an Administration of a Democrat President, the US response, most likely, would be similar: the public critics and shaming would be followed by more business deals. Fukuyama thinks that there is another big challenge that the US faces in the Middle East and that is not human rights. As the Saudi and Gulf States want to engage US in the Sunni-Shia conflict, it is important to understand that it is very dangerous to have a stance or to pick a side in this debate. The US should not itself be sucked by the Islamic religious and political conflict.


Georgia & Ukraine: Fukuyama thinks that the political problem in Georgia is the same as the one in Ukraine. The people who actually hold the power are not the same ones who exercise the power. There is a growing unaccountable force of hidden power who manipulates the political processes behind the scenes. It is also visible that there is a growing Russian influence in these countries which can only be handled through the upcoming elections. The upcoming elections in Georgia will be a test for the country’s commitment to the Euro-Atlantic alliance.


Francis Fukuyama


Fukuyama also claimed that even if the Democrats win next year, it is highly possible that everything will not come back to order that was established before Trump. He thinks that there is a long-lasting damage that Trump has caused to the US Foreign and Internal Politics. He has energized a very active and angry base of anti-internationalist Americans, which did not exist before. Hence, any president coming after him will be obliged to deal with this base.