Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Recent NYTimes Reviews

A slew of book reviews from the above-mentioned publication:

"Old World Order": ETHICAL REALISM. A Vision for America’s Role in the World. By Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman. 199 pp. Pantheon Books.
You can trace the fortunes of this visionary conception of America’s role in the world through recent books. President Bush’s muscular and militarized response to 9/11 was accompanied by its own 21-gun salute: Robert Kagan’s “Of Paradise and Power”; John Lewis Gaddis’s “Surprise, Security, and the American Experience”; and Walter Russell Mead’s “Power, Terror, Peace, and War,” a celebration of the convergence of Wilsonian idealism, “millennial capitalism” and scorn for multilateral institutions.

Bush’s second term in office has generated even more policy literature than his first. But now that it turns out we have leaned forward into a haymaker, the spirit of these new texts — “The Opportunity,” by Richard N. Haass; “America at the Crossroads,” by Francis Fukuyama; “The Good Fight,” by Peter Beinart; “The New American Militarism,” by Andrew J. Bacevich — has been rueful, weary and often bitter. Traditional conservatives, shocked out of their habitual caution by 9/11, have begun to recoil from the consequences of the campaign they consented to join. We have reached a “breaking ranks” moment; and it’s far from over.

“Ethical Realism” represents yet another turn of the doctrinal wheel. One of the authors, Anatol Lieven, is a brilliant, fiery pamphleteer of the left who has described the neoconservative enterprise as “world hegemony by means of absolute military superiority.” The other, John Hulsman, is a former fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who supported the war in Iraq and applauded Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rhetorical partition of Europe into the anti-American, played-out “old” and the rising, pro-Washington “new.”
"Killing Machines": WAR MADE NEW. Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today. By Max Boot. Gotham Books.
In the history of military technology, new ways of destroying adversaries have presented themselves at irregular, though ever shorter, intervals. Yet technological innovation has a bleak dialectic: advances in warfare usually require adaptive mechanisms purchased at tactical cost. American soldiers of 2006, for example, waddling like armadillos in their unwieldy carapaces of body armor — which improve the odds of surviving wounds otherwise lethal — make excellent targets for ragged insurgents using the weapons of an earlier generation. This is the thesis of “War Made New,” Max Boot’s unusual, and magisterial, survey of technology and war.
"Manifest Destinies": DANGEROUS NATION. By Robert Kagan. 527 pp. Alfred A. Knopf
In his celebrated book “Of Paradise and Power,” Robert Kagan took issue with “the mistaken idea that the American founding generation was utopian, that it genuinely considered power politics ‘alien and repulsive’ and was simply unable to comprehend the importance of the power factor in foreign relations.” Those words might stand as one epigraph for his provocative and deeply absorbing new book. Another could be what a South African historian once said about a book of his own: although its pages told of another time, “they are also about today.”

From the beginning, Americans liked to believe that they were free of Old-Worldly original sin, dwellers in a city on a hill who “cherished an image of themselves as by nature inward-looking and aloof.” And from the beginning, Kagan argues in “Dangerous Nation,” they were wrong.

"War Chronicle": FINDING THE TARGET: The Transformation of American Military Policy, Encounter, by Frederick W. Kagan; THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR: Deciding the Fate of North America, HarperCollins, by Walter R. Borneman; Elizabeth Pond’s ENDGAME IN THE BALKANS: Regime Change, European Style, Brookings Institution; THE OCCUPATION, Verso, by Patric Cockburn; ANNIHILATION FROM WITHIN: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, Columbia University Press, Fred Charles Iklé.
In their various ways, Kagan, Pond and Cockburn all teach us that there are no quick fixes or permanent solutions to the problems we face. But then, if international affairs were easy, we would probably be a lot better at it.

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