Sunday, January 25, 2004

Reading List

I normally leave the book reviews to Keith – after all, books are his life – but I always read the New York Times Book Review just to see if there’s anything I would like to read.

In today’s edition the lead story is a review by Serge Schmemann, the editorial page editor of The International Herald Tribune, of seven new books that study how America is seen in terms of foreign policy under the guidance of the Bush administration. These are seven different viewpoints from widely-scattered sources, but all of them agree on one thing: for better or worse, George W. Bush has re-defined how the world sees America.

It is difficult to believe that George W. Bush has been in the White House for only three years. It seems ages now that we have been living in a new world, in which his administration is closely identified with new passions, new fears, new enemies. Sept. 11, of course, is the dominant reason; it has effectively divided our life into a ”before” and an ”after,” pushing the 20th century with its hot and cold wars, its thickets of nuclear missiles and its arguments into a foggy past. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton managed the immediate consequences of the collapse of Communism, but they did so when the presumption was still that the main threat to the world had been lifted, when there seemed no pressing need to define a new, post-Communist order.

For better or for worse, it was left to George W. Bush to propose that new order, and it hasn’t worked out the way many had expected — a world in which arsenals would be sharply reduced and democracies would cooperate in resolving conflicts, ensuring human rights and protecting the environment. Instead, Bush and his team disdainfully chucked out containment and deterrence and declared that America had the right to ensure its security any way it deemed proper, including pre-emptive war. The triumphant America of the 21st century would use multilateral institutions only when it suited American aims. Not only that; guaranteeing its safety required that America impose its democratic values, starting in the Middle East.

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Not unexpectedly, the rise of so contentious a new order, and the man who so unexpectedly launched it, have hatched a considerable library of condemnation, all the more as his re-election campaign gets under way. Of the books reviewed here, two — “America Unbound” and ”Crisis on the Korean Peninsula” — can be classified as reasonably evenhanded, though the first is broadly critical of the Bush approach and the second implicitly so. The others leave no doubt of what they think, ranging from George Soros’s declared hope that his book will contribute to sweeping Bush out of office to Robert Jay Lifton’s image of a ”malignant synergy” between the United States and Al Qaeda ”when, in their mutual zealotry, Islamist and American leaders seem to act in concert.” From across the Atlantic, Emmanuel Todd contributes the wistful notion that the United States, the true empire and axis of evil in his view, is already near collapse. These are only a portion of a swelling anti-Bush literature, for now only partly offset by equally ardent pro-Bush books.

Read the rest of the review here.

Here’s the list of books in the review.

AMERICA UNBOUND

The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy.


By Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay.

246 pp. Washington: Brookings Institution Press. $22.95.

THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE

Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
.

By Chalmers Johnson.

389 pp. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company. $25.

THE BUBBLE OF AMERICAN SUPREMACY

Correcting the Misuse of American Power
.

By George Soros.

207 pp. New York: PublicAffairs. $22.

BUSH IN BABYLON

The Recolonisation of Iraq
.

By Tariq Ali.

Illustrated. 214 pp. New York: Verso. $20.

SUPERPOWER SYNDROME

America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World
.

By Robert Jay Lifton.

211 pp. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books. Paper, $12.95.

CRISIS ON THE KOREAN PENINSULA

How to Deal With a Nuclear North Korea
.

By Michael O’Hanlon and Mike Mochizuki.

230 pp. New York: A Brookings Institution Book/ McGraw-Hill. $19.95.

AFTER THE EMPIRE

The Breakdown of the American Order
.

By Emmanuel Todd. Translated by C. Jon Delogu. Foreword by Michael Lind.

233 pp. New York: Columbia University Press. $29.95.

Mr. Schmemann concludes his review with this sobering thought: “Though I have lived abroad for many years and regard myself as hardened to anti-Americanism, I confess I was taken aback to have my country depicted, page after page, book after book, as a dangerous empire in its last throes, as a failure of democracy, as militaristic, violent, hegemonic, evil, callous, arrogant, imperial and cruel. Daalder and Lindsay may be constrained by an American sense of respect for the White House, but they too proclaim Bush’s foreign policy fundamentally wrong. It is not only Bush’s ‘imperious style,’ they write; ‘The deeper problem was that the fundamental premise of the Bush revolution — that America’s security rested on an America unbound — was mistaken.’ The more moving judgment comes from Soros, a Jew from Hungary who lived through both German and Soviet occupation: ‘This is not the America I chose as my home.”’