A Simple Book Review?

Allen Quicke has written a review of Gabriel Kilko’s book The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World and it tells me, essentially, that I must place the book on my “must read” list. However, and to my surprise, I’ve concluded that after my second reading of it, the review itself is a must read. Here are a few extracts:

Stand back. The trickle of books that attempt to analyze “what is wrong” with the administration of US President George W Bush is about to become a torrent. Scriveners from throughout the US mainstream media – the very media that were once Bush’s cheerleaders and helped smooth his road to disaster – are sharpening their pencils (unfortunately not their wits) to stick them into Bush. With Bush’s approval rating at 32%, the “analysts” no doubt figure that they have a potential readership of 68% of Americans.

Almost all of these books are going to miss the point. And for the few that do get it, it’s a point that is probably just too painful for Americans, both leaders and citizens, to accept. The point, in fact, has been staring them in the face for decades, and if they haven’t got it yet, they will not get it until it is too late to make a difference.

Gabriel Kolko, of York University, Toronto, is one who does get it, and to his credit he is not one of those jumping onto the Bush critics’ bandwagon. He is not even a Bush critic per se. His field is US foreign policy in the 20th and 21st centuries, and his critiques have been in print since the 1970s.

The Age of War provides an overview of US foreign policy after World War II, with the first half of the book summarizing the latter part of the 20th century and the lead-up to September 11, 2001, and the second half examining subsequent developments and the Bush administration’s role in them.

The US has not learned anything from 55 years of foreign-policy debacles. Even now, at the same time it is enmeshed in the very trap it laid for the Soviets in Afghanistan, and is bogged down in Iraq in a replay of Vietnam, it is rattling sabers at Iran. One reason Kolko gives for the United States’ failing to heed what history is telling it is that its wealth and military power enable it to continue making the same mistakes – though not indefinitely. It also has a massive military-industrial empire to which it is beholden for domestic political reasons. Kolko has much to say on the latter subject, including the need of successive US administrations to play the fear card to justify staggering military budgets …

In fairness, many of the problems the US is facing today are a legacy of the bungles of previous presidencies. And Bush’s military doctrines – preemption, for example – have been features of US foreign policy throughout the past century. It’s just that Bush is so much more in-your-face about it – or is it?

Not quite, says Kolko. America’s leaders are increasingly dangerous as their ambitions soar ever higher. Their weapons are more potent, but so are those of their enemies and their nuclear-armed fair-weather friends who may be future enemies. They are backed by, and in some cases are members of, powerful religious constituencies – not exactly what is needed to make sober foreign-policy decisions. And they have more power to do as they please, with fewer checks and balances – they can dissemble and still receive bipartisan support from a docile, shell-shocked Congress and a tame press. Well, at least the latter is starting to change, as I mentioned earlier: the “get Bush” bandwagon is gaining momentum. But that, as I mentioned too, is to miss the point.

Bush will be the fall guy for America’s latest mess – indeed, he’s already being tipped for the title of America’s worst-ever president. But all Americans need to reassess their country’s role in the world, both for the world’s and America’s own sake. If they don’t, America’s long addiction to military force as a way of remaking the world to suit itself will slowly but surely ruin it, and this writer, for one, does not want that to happen.

Read up, click the headline for the full review.

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