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Imperial Hubris: Early Thoughts

I've finally started reading Imperial Hubris and I can tell you that I don't think this book has gotten the attention it deserves. I wouldn't want to endorse all of the author's ideas (indeed, I haven't even finished the book!) but there's a lot of analysis in there coming from a very alien perspective to the prevailing debate that ought to be at least thought about. Some examples over the coming days....

July 31, 2004 | Permalink


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Tracked on Oct 6, 2005 8:08:05 PM


I've seen/heard interviews with "anonymous" (no longer, as he's been outed), on NPR (Diane Rehm for an hour, IIRC, and several other shows), MSNBC, CNN, ABC Nightline. And I'm sure I've missed several. So he's getting plenty of media exposure. Of course, who's to say what's sufficient.

But if you mean that there's no sign that important people in the federal government are giving the book the proper attention, I have no idea.

His points about Israel, more specifically the U.S. relationship with Israel, are getting the most media attention. But from the interviews I've heard, the larger point he's making is that the U.S. government often does not act in the best national security interests of America, or what he considers the best national security interests of the U.S.

And he's no dove, either. He's made the point that if you go to war, do it "right," meaning with maximum force, so you don't leave a situation like we have now in Iraq, where our soldiers are getting picked off routinely.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jul 31, 2004 6:19:48 PM

Certainly it hasn't gotten no attention, but I think it deserves a lot of attention. What's more, I haven't seen it argued about. No one is adopting his point of view, but no one is grappling with it honestly and saying why it's wrong, either. He, of course, suffers from some of the same flaws -- the book doesn't consider contrary points of view and counterarguments seriously and is prone to simply casting aspersions on the motives and/or intelligence of those who disagree.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jul 31, 2004 6:29:29 PM

Just to add to the first post, I think I should have said the larger point that he's making is a rather obvious one, that it's U.S. policies, not U.S. values (as in "they hate us for our freedoms"), that's causing all the anti-U.S. sentiment in the Islamic world, and that we are throwing red meat to the extremists for which they can use to recruit people who would do us harm.

He also says that some of our policies are unchangeable, and because of that (and I may have misunderstood this in the interviews he's given, but he repeats the same point), our choices are between "war" and "unlimited or never ending war," meaning we either totally wipe out the enemies with a show of maximum force (which will never happen) or that we will always be engaged in a back and forth struggle with these forces, unless we can figure out a way to change many U.S. policies that give rise to anti-American sentiment.

And I think that's true to some extent, perhaps a large extent. But I also believe that al-Qaeda will never be satisfied with U.S. policies, no matter what we do. Forgetting Israel/Palestine for the time being, are we going to overthrow the Saudi Royal Family and hand over the keys to al-Qaeda, or are we going to continue our strained but necessary "alliance" with a country that sits on 25% of the world's oil supply, and controls the world market?

I've heard "anonymous" speak to the problems, and I don't know if he lays out the solutions in his book, but in his interviews he didn't really give any practical overarching solutions, other than being "evenhanded" on the Israel/Palestine conflict, and if we don't do anything, then we're in for "war" or "unlimited war." But I'm sure the book is much more detailed than any interview he's given.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jul 31, 2004 6:34:24 PM

MY: I can't argue at all with that post.

All the interviews I've seen are with him and the host, and the host just asking him to explain the premise of his book.

I've never seen him on with another guest, with a contrary, or similar, point of view, and I haven't really seen the book discussed on tv, or on the radio, outside the context of his interviews.

It's being treated as just another one of the big non-fiction books being rolled out, one after another. Richard Clarke, Joe Wilson, Bill Clinton, "Anonymous," etc...

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jul 31, 2004 6:42:36 PM

Another hour-long interview here: 'Anonymous' Speaks, Tom Ashbrook, WBUR.

What's the big deal, though? Everyone knows that the foreign policy is the reason and all that. Everyone understands that if you keep pursuing these policies you'll need to accept the "the only good indian is a dead indian" approach eventually. I haven't read the book, but the synopsis seems very trivial, it's only famous because of this "anonymous" hype.

Posted by: abb1 | Jul 31, 2004 7:19:33 PM


Just finished the book today.

Initial observations-

1. He's a little bit of an oddball.

2. The book is sprinkled with odd expressions of religiousity -- toward the end we find he's a Catholic. One presumes he's a devout catholic.

3. He doesn't give a rat's ass for Israel. He wouldn't give a shit if it were wiped off the map.

4. He makes a very credible argument that we are totally fucked in Afghanistan.

5. He seems to suffer from a bit of Stockholm Syndrome or whatever it's called -- it's almost as if he agrees with Bin Laden's arguments. He contends that Bin Laden's brand of Islam is the true Islam, and that Bin Laden is just waging a defensive jihad that is the duty of all muslims.

6. He contradicts himself in numerous places.

7. He makes a credible case that we're fighting insurgents rather than terrorists, which calls for sterner measures. He thinks there are potentially 100,000 Islamist insurgents spread around the globe.

8. His influences show few signs of philosophical coherence -- Victor Davis Hanson, Samuel P. Huntington, Genieve Abdo, Bernard Lewis, Ralph Peters, Stephen Biddle, David Hackworth, Richard Betts, John Adams, and Robert D. Kaplan.

9. He holds to the "perfect democracy at home" school rather than the "foster democracy abroad" school.

10. He seems to think that drilling in ANWR will solve our energy problems.

11. He thinks in order to win a war you have to really, really kick someone's ass until a lot of people are dead.

12. He thinks multilateralism is a bunch of bullshit unless it's used in situations where there is no vital US interest.

13. He thinks we're fucked if we continue on our present course, and recommends we change our policies or pave over much of the Middle East.

Read the book. It's either bonkers or completely right. Or wrong in places and right in others. Or something.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 31, 2004 9:47:31 PM

I like his idea for "barbeque bombs," which are like old fashioned incendiary bombs, but they combust at a lower temperature, so that way when we level the whole of the Arab and Muslim world like Anonymous suggests we can eat them afterwards.

Posted by: Snarkasaurus Rex | Aug 1, 2004 2:01:43 AM

I think I'd enjoy this book. He sounds eccentric, which is rather welcome in a genre of books so dominated by dullards. You buy a book by a neocon and you can pretty much guess what it says (democratization, liberalization, creative destruction blah blah blah). You buy a book by an internationalist, and you can pretty much guess what it's going to say (alliances, multilateralism, stability, blah blah blah). This guy should have a blog.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 1, 2004 2:31:55 AM

Let's discuss it. Start with Praktike's view of it and revise it as people notice to.

3. He doesn't give a rat's ass for Israel. He wouldn't give a shit if it were wiped off the map.

The existence of israel in its present location is of no value to americans or to anybody but zionists. But there are a lot of important zionists and we have to work on that basis. If it was just me, I'd say give israel an offer they can't refuse. Give them, say, alabama as their own nation. It has one good port and access to the mississippi river. Coal, iron, plenty of water, forests, plains, a green fertile land with americans for neighbors.

Start a big archeology project, take Jerusalem apart stone by stone, number the stones, and send half the stones to alabama. Make copies of each stone and send half the copies to alabama. When you reach bedrock start reconstructing two Jerusalems. Let them rebuild the temple in alabama if they want to, I'm sure the fundies will be thrilled.

What it would cost us to compensate the former alabamans, and excavate Jerusalem, and transport all of israel to alabama, would be a lot less than israel in israel will cost us. But I've found very little support for the idea among americans so far. They act like they think I'm not serious. And then they say the israelis would never go along with it. Like it's supposed to be the israelis who decide....

Posted by: J Thomas | Aug 1, 2004 9:01:01 AM

I wonder if we could learn anything from the fact that Hitler unintentionally made the Jews the most important influence in American foreign policy for the past 50 years.....

Posted by: serial catowner | Aug 1, 2004 9:50:31 AM

I would also like to plug Robert Byrd's "Losing America" and Dr. Justin Frank's (of George Washington University) "Bush on the Couch". I especially fail to understand why the latter, a very disturbing psychiatric deconstruction of Bush, has not received more attention.

In our local B&N, you find the "New Fiction", "New Non-fiction" tables as you walk in, and there is also a very large on that ought to be called "Bush Bashing".

Posted by: Bob H | Aug 1, 2004 10:20:32 AM

i've read both books by anonymous. i think his analysis is strongest when he describes the al qaeda organization and dispels some of the myths surrounding its aims and its effectiveness. while he criticizes a particular kind of career officer in the cia, he tends to believe that things would be better if other aspects of the federal government would just get out of the way and let the cia do its job. i like a lot of what he says about al qaeda and about the effect of our policies on their appeal. i don't think his analysis of the clinton administration is very intelligent (he often times refers to the moral cowardice of the clinton administration). at one point he refers to reagan as a great, great man and president. from what i remember, though, reagan's terrorism policy was confused to say the least. having said all this, i do believe anonymous makes a very strong consistent argument about what we're up against. it is well worth the read, especially if you sift out his "political analysis."

Posted by: workingclass | Aug 1, 2004 2:18:20 PM

I'm mystified as to what Reagan supposedly did against terrorism. Negotiate with it? Give it weapons?

In any case, Anonymous even spelled Bremer's name wrong (Bremer was in charge of something related to terrorism under Reagan) in the book, which is a bit odd.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 1, 2004 4:15:49 PM

Bob H, perhaps the reason nobody's discussing "Bush on the Couch" is it's got a very lame premise. Diagnosing someone from public statements seems futile (around the same lines as trying to diagnose yourself with a magazine pop-quiz); if it's not so useless, it's of questionable ethics for a medical doctor to come out with a public diagnosis. It's a clear attempt to shackle science to a political agenda, which is wrong on any side of the aisle.

Posted by: Brian Palmer | Aug 2, 2004 12:16:55 PM

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