Thursday, July 13, 2006


PA Book Round Up #5: Notes and Previews on New Works [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Here is another of our occasional book round ups consisting of short notices of works we have not been able to fully review. These are essentially meta-reviews (reviews of book reviews). If any of our readers are inspired to read one of these books and wish to write a full review, please contact

RUNNING THE WORLD: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AND THE ARCHITECTS OF AMERICAN POWER by David J. Rothkopf, Public Affairs, 2005, 554pp., reviewed by Evan Thomas, The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, June 26, 2005.

You should read this book if you want an insider’s view on how the N.S.C. works. It is made up of the president, the veep, the secretaries of state and defense (and any other department head the president wants to include), but, as Thomas says, really "consists of the president’s inner circle of foreign policy advisors, served by up to 200 staff members writing papers and proposals." This is the group that consistently messes up the world for us. And no wonder. Rothkopf shows that the "experts" running the show are all Kissinger "acolytes." Thomas says that Rothkopf "plays a game he calls ‘Two Degrees of Henry Kissinger’ to illustrate that every national security advisor since Kissinger, all 13 of them, either worked for Kissinger or worked directly for someone who did." That’s just great. The war criminal's legacy lives on! But, according to Thomas, its not Henry K. that Rothkopf really looks up to -- its Brent Scrowcroft, the national security advisor for Ford and Bush 1.

Scowcroft considers himself a "traditionalist"-- which means the US should rule the world along with its front men (the so-called allies and the UN) and contrasts this view with that of "the true believers in the George W. Bush administration"-- whom he calls the "transfor- mationists"-- who think it is time for the US to rule the world on its own. The Bushites are certainly transforming the world but not, I think, for the better. Condoleezza Rice, by the way, was "Scowcroft’s one-time disciple." She has morphed into a transformationist but told Rothkopf we won’t know for thirty or forty years if Bush 2’s policies were any good! That is with respect to 9/11 if the policies were "disastrous" or "really creative." I don’t think we have to wait such a long time. The only thing "really creative" about the policies are the make believe "facts" dished out to the American people to justify a war of aggression. How can a policy based on lies be anything but "disastrous"?

PERILS OF DOMINANCE: IMBALANCE OF POWER AND THE ROAD TO VIETNAM by Gareth Porter, University of California Press, 2005, 403pp., reviewed by Andrew J. Bacevich in The Nation July, 4, 2005.

The reviewer thinks this is a very important book which "demolishes our most fundamental assumptions about how national security policy is formulated." You think the President formulates it? Wrong! Often the powers on the NSC [see review above] brow beat the President (very subtlety of course) into doing what they want. This book also shows that the ideology (the "Cold War" as a useful construct is undermined) was not the motive force of US policy during the Vietnam Era. [The book is about the road to Vietnam but it is applicable to the entire post WW2 period.] If not ideology, then what was the force behind US foreign policy. It was the concept of "strategic asymmetry". This is what drives the neocons today in the Bush White House! Bacevich quotes the book-- this concept means the US has "something approaching absolute strategic dominance." We have held this dominance since 1953. This means we can basically do what we want and no one can stop us. The "Cold War" was constructed to lie to the American people about the mythical strength of "World Communism" to justify spending so much money on the military-industrial complex. The NSC people (Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, the Bundy brothers, etc.) all peddled the view that we could do as we liked in Vietnam. [This sounds just like Iraq.] They also held that the USSR and China would, as Porter writes, pursue "a conscious policy of appeasement of the United States on Vietnam." Porter maintains that is just what happened-- at first. The US was overly arrogant and along with its South Vietnamese puppet Diem, was so repressive and violent towards the people of South Vietnam that the Vietminh cadres were forced to rise up or face "extinction"-- Khrushchev and Mao were dragged along. Johnson was advised to pour in more and more troops, after all who can stop the US with all its power? McGeorge Bundy and McNamara told Johnson that unless we used our "enormous power" we would end up with "eventual defeat and an invitation to get out in humiliating circumstances." They said the blame would be all Johnson’s. Porter says "the national security bureaucracy acted [and still does I might add] as an independent power center within the US government with the right to pressure the president on matters of war and peace." Ideas about "freedom", "democracy" etc. are strictly for the TV audience because, as Bacevich puts it "values take a back seat to considerations of power." He says Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz [and their ilk] are going down the same road trod by "the odious" McNamara and the Bundy brothers. The US has become a "militarized global hegemon." Now how do we convince the "good Americans" not to follow the same path the "good Germans" went down not too many years ago?

Loretta Napoleoni, Seven Stories Press, 2005, pp. 324, reviewed by Phyllis Eckhaus in In These Times July 11, 2005.

Reading Eckhaus’ review makes me think two things: 1. Why did Seven Stories publish this book? They usually publish solid progressive works. 2. And where is Napoleoni coming from? We are told that she is an Italian economist and that Chomsky is quoted. But she also consults for the Department of Homeland Security, considers Yasser Arafat and the PLO as terrorist organizations, and cites, "as a credible source," the web site of Lyndon LaRouche. Lyndon LaRouche! He is up there in Looney Land with Sun Mung Moon and The Washington Times. Eckhaus says she ends the book "with a rousing endorsement of the Patriot Act. The author struggles to come up with a definition of terrorism that will distinguish the "good" guys from the "bad." Eckhaus says she fails. Here is what she comes up with. Terrorism has three components: "its political nature, the targeting of civilians and the creation of a climate of extreme fear." Eckhaus asks "What was Shock and Awe if not a terror campaign?" It should be noted that Napoleoni doesn’t recognize state sponsored terrorism-- she "grants states an exemption." Going by this review, I don’t think you should waste your time on this book-- but its your call.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at