Wednesday, September 20, 2006


PA BOOK ROUND UP #9: Notes and Previews on New Works by Thomas Barnett and Robert Fisk
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 reviews). If any of our readers are inspired to read one of these books and wishes to write a full review, please contact The previous eight book round ups are archived on our website.

BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION: A FUTURE WORTH CREATING by Thomas P.M. Barnett, G.P/ Putnam’s Sons, 2005, 440 pp., reviewed by Phyllis Eckhaus, IN THESE TIMES, November 21, 2005.

This is a book dedicated to glorifying the Pentagon and the waging of war, especially in the Third World. This war-mongering cheerleader for crimes against humanity is quoted as follows with respect to the military forces of US imperialism-- they constitute “a force for global good that has no equal.” This force for global good is mostly known for the inordinate number of women and children it has slaughtered from Vietnam to Baghdad(with many stops in between). Eckhaus explains why Barnett thinks, as she says, “the invasion of Iraq was a wonderful thing.” It is because it “flushed” out “terrorists”. “In the end,” Barnett is quoted, “it was almost impossible for the Iraq occupation to go to badly, because the worse it became, the more it transformed the region.” It transformed the region all right-- into a hotbed of anti-Americanism that has been destabilized and cost over a hundred thousand lives just so a corrupt cabal of Bush-Cheney cronies can profit through non-competitive war contracts-- some “force for good”! Eckhaus further writes that according to the book “American power and privilege are intrinsically beneficent.” Barnett also thinks “It would be ‘misguided in the extreme’ for Americans to give up our gas guzzling because reducing our dependence on foreign oil would diminish our influence on the Middle East, to that region’s great detriment.” It is not just Iraq that benefits from being bombed by the US-- some South American countries would benefit as well. He “cites Venezuela as a ‘rogue state’ ripe for American invasion,” according to the review. This looks like a fun book to read to understand the depth of depravity the neocon imperialist mentality can sink to but you will have to keep in mind that Barnett is writing in the US in 2005-- not Berlin in 1933.

THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION: THE CONQUEST OF THE MIDDLE EAST by Robert Fisk, Alfred A. Knopf, 1107 pp., reviewed by Ethan Bronner, THE NEW YORK TIMES Saturday, November 19, 2005.
Ethan Bronner is not to happy with Fisk’s book. I think because Fisk tells it like it is about the Middle East and this doesn’t sit very well with the preconceptions of the pro US policies of the Times. The title of Bronner’s review is “A Foreign Correspondent Who Does More Than Report.” We are told that Fisk is Britain’s most famous foreign correspondent and that he been covering the Middle East for three decades. He reports for “The Independent”-- and is a little too independent for the Times reviewer. He admits that Fisk, who has had three interviews with Osama bin Laden, is “a writer of exceptional power” and has many awards for his reportage, yet he “has become something of a caricature of himself.” And why is that? It is due to his “railing” [read “criticizing”] US and Israeli policies. It seems you cannot criticize Israel, only “rail” against it. The title of the book is taken from an inscription on a medal his father was awarded for fighting in the Middle East in World War I.
At over 1100 pages this is a very long book-- but it details the history of the Middle East for the last quarter century or so. Bonner is upset because he thinks Fisk seeks “to expose the West’s self-satisfied hypocrisy nearly to the exclusion of the pursuit of straight journalism” [such as can be found in Judith Miller’s articles in the Times about WMDs in the lead up to the Iraq invasion.] And then “there is Mr. Fisk’s belief that Western treatment of the Muslim world-- through the [so-called] war on terror and the occupation of Iraq-- is today’s version of the Great War [i.e., WW1].” Bonner can find only three, quite minor, criticisms of “fact” to bring to our attention-- all having to do with Israel and seemingly having more to do with interpretation rather than actual facts. He apparently objects to Fisk’s approval of a quote from the Israeli journalist Amira Hass who says the job of the journalist is “to monitor power and the centers of power.” Well, that certainly is not the task that Times journalists set for themselves. Bonner is forced to admit that the “West’s sins of ignorance and aggression in the Middle East are real” but Fisk’s “many legitimate points are sometimes warped by his perspective.” Anyone who has seen or heard any of the interviews that Amy Goodman has had with Robert Fisk on her program “Democracy Now” will know what that perspective is-- a deeply humanistic awareness of the cruelty and injustices of war and oppression from whatever source, and the ability to rise up against one’s own cultural prejudices and attempt to understand the viewpoints of others. I’ll take the reportage of Robert Fisk over that of the New York Times any day of the week.

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

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