Book Review

An End To Evil ?

With the Dollar struggling against the Pound while I was in the Washington DC I went a bit mad in the Georgetown branch of Barnes & Noble.

After splashing the plastic to pay for it and other books I read this on the plane back to London. It’s essentially a blueprint for American foreign policy if George Bush gets re-elected as written by a pair of important neocon insiders. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know how US policy has been shaped since 9/11 and, more importantly, could develop further in the future.

David Frum is a former Bush speechwriter and Richard Perle has been described as the intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement in foreign policy and a man with a lot of influence over George Bush and Condoleeza Rice.

It’s a weighty book and well written. It sets out the authors thoughts on how the US should deal with (inter alia) Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel/Palestine, France, Syria, and North Korea. There is also useful material on how, in the authors opinions, the CIA became hopelessly inefficient prior to 9/11 and also some thoughts on neocon attitudes to the United Nations.

Regular readers of Harry’s Place may be familiar with the ideas expressed in the book as much of the debate at this site over the last year has had a substantial American foreign policy dimension, but it’s still useful to see such thinking on so many aspects of policy distilled into one book. It has the further advantages of being direct from the horses mouths and not subject to distorting third party spin.

The authors advocate US withdrawal from the UN unless it reforms itself, support for the overthrow of the Syrian and Iranian regimes and a blockade of North Korea. All very radical but how likely is implementation of these proposals ? The honest answer is -I don’t know. It might depend on whether the Democrats can come up with someone to beat George Bush in November. On the other hand it might be observed that any Democrat capable of beating Bush will need to adopt a hardnosed foreign policy too. I’d be interested to hear other’s thoughts on this as I didn’t get much of an idea of how the leading Democratic candidates would approach foreign policy from the US newspapers I read.

At the heart of this book is a missionary zeal for democracy and a disdain for those third world despots who have preferred to watch their subjects lose out culturally and financially rather than modernise their regimes or open their economies. That zeal is infectious and I finished the book long before we landed at Heathrow despite my struggling eyelids.

Despite the book passing the matchstick test I think there are serious flaws in the blueprint contained within it. The authors seem to accept it as axiomatic that the masses who suffer under tyranny are neccessarily pro-American. The evidence they adduce for that conclusion is worryingly thin and anecdotal and I for one am not convinced that Iranian students carrying American flags on demonstrations is enough proof that this is motivated by factors (which possibly owe more to realpolitic) other than a desire for American-style democracy. I’m not neccessarily arguing the contrary, merely that there is an evidence gap which, given the political ambition of the blueprint, does cause some concern.

Robert Burns observed that “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” That’s worth remembering as you read this book. Events could easily overtake the proposed policies displayed in its pages. Remind yourself of books setting out foreign policy objectives from the past and what actually happened historically for evidence of the truth of that statement.

Despite that caveat this book is well worth buying as a demonstration of the intellectual rough work behind recent US foreign policy. Whether you feel empathy with the aims of the authors or worry their proposals could cause all sorts of unforseen consequences (and I admit to both) it’s a book which is right at the centre of the debate this and other blogs like it have been encouraging over the last year or so. Essential reading.