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The American art of war: book reviews

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Carl Boggs, The Crimes of Empire: Rogue Superpower and World Domination

Paul Rogers, Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st century

Paul Atwood, War and Empire: The American Way of Life (Pluto Press 2010)

reviews by Eric Walberg http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/998/cu3.htm

Three new publications from the leading radical British press are the tip of a growing iceberg of passionate pleas for sanity in international affairs. Most of us prefer to stick our heads in the sand as the world goes to hell in a hand-basket, but there are works that can fascinate and uplift, perhaps even inspire us to do something before it is too late.

If what you need is a reference book for your own writing, with all the gory details of just how disreputable the world's hegemon is, The Crimes of Empire: Rogue Superpower and World Domination by Carl Boggs is what you pull down from your shelf. He has slogged through all the filth of "collateral damage", "humanitarian warfare", "client-state outlawry", "perpetual war", "biowarfare", "space imperialism", Guantanamo -- the Orwellian list is seemingly endless -- to provide a litany of horrors that will convince even the most sceptical of observers as to who is the real problem in the world.

Not a pretty read, but a commendable labour on the author's part.

More rivetting than Boggs's list of the empire's sins is the justification for them, as revealed by such neocons as Robert Kagan, who sees American force as necessary "to restrain the chaotic tendencies of a Hobbesian world", and who thus rejects any global restraints on US flexibility. "Human rights intervention", the latest buzzword to condone imperial ventures -- it once was called the "white man's burden" -- is for use by the big guns against the little ones. But Boggs's list of crimes is proof in itself that the imperial project actually creates "a comprehensive lawless whole".

This belies the Dawkinsian claim of evolutionary improvement in society's "moral zeitgeist", which sees an upward trajectory from the slavery of yore to racial, gender and political correctness today, as "proved" by post-WWII multilateral treaties signed at the New York UN HQs or in Geneva. The New World Order is based on "sovereignty of nations", though Boggs points out that some nations are more sovereign than others, undermining the whole farce. The Kagans justify this as "US exceptionalism". But a sobre evaluation of today's world reveals that Reagan's "peace through strength" is really nothing but medieval "might makes right".

Anyone with even a smattering of US history can see that the Indian wars and Manifest Destiny of the 18th and 19th centuries were based on the same philosophy of "pre-emptive war" that solemn conferences on security today spout in defence of the indefensible.

This makes for frustrating reading, though it pushes you to make sense of the hypocrisy of world affairs, if nothing else. My own rule of thumb in considering how to resolve social problems is that only when the overwhelming majority wants something and are blessed with a charismatic political leader (take your choice in today's world -- they are there) does a real change for the better have a chance. This has nothing in common with a Darwin/Dawkins rational/natural evolutionary process. It is more like a Kuhnian revolutionary paradigm change, a combination of force majeure and luck, once a point-of-no- return is reached.

Corollary: No number of treaties will make for a just and equitable world order if one country overpowers all the others and seeks to impose its will. Another corollary is that the only evolutionary "moral zeitgeist" is the historic-economic order itself -- in our case, capitalism -- no matter how the dominant "culture" portrays itself for mass consumption. Hurt Locker may be a clever and gripping film by a talented woman director, but it is nonetheless a chauvinistic apologia for a criminal war, with the real victims largely airbrushed out of the picture so as to concentrate on the occupiers' angst. It does nothing to illuminate any possible "moral zeitgeist"apart from the chilling reality of US imperialism itself.

Finally, what the mass of horrors Boggs documents implies is that the only measure of human rights is "How many died?" If that is your rule of thumb, then there can be not one iota of doubt that, despite all the pious words of its leaders, the US is one of the worst offenders that the world has ever witnessed. And that its allies -- accomplices -- are no less to blame for illegal wars, war crimes, genocides. Thus the so-called pariahs -- Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba -- for better or worse, are direct products of US imperial actions, lumped together because they oppose the hegemon. Whatever crimes they may commit pale in comparison to the nobler-than-thou US. This is not to defend mistreatment of people anywhere, but to put things in a just light, so that we can navigate the treacherous tunnel we find ourselves globally rushing down.

***

Here in the Middle East, the US and its "client", spoiled offspring or whatever you want to call Israel have done nothing to lessen the Hobbesian chaos; on the contrary, they are the source of it. This is the message that Paul Rogers sets out calmly and compellingly in the third edition of Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st century, which has become a popular text for those trying to chart a way through the darkness, and is much more a book to be read and to inspire than Boggs, though it too has lots of useful nitty-gritty for aspiring writers of contemporary politics and economics.

As a veteran peacenik, I found eloquent confirmation for what I and millions of others intuit about the deadend approach of writers who function within the dominant paradigm of international relations.

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http://ericwalberg.com/

Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games" and "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" are available at (more...)
 

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