This book deals with US foreign policy since 1950, especially focusing on the period after 2000. Kolko argues that the United States has failed to take a lesson from its mistakes in the past and still finds it difficult to accept a conclusion to a conflict, short of military victory. He adds that the US has over-stretched itself and has involved itself in many countries which had problems of political instability. Even in its neighborhood, intervention in the affairs of nations was an established practice, even before the cold war.
Kolko says, that the ‘preemptive war’ doctrine of Bush was nothing new, but consistent with the Carter Doctrine which made clear that the US would do everything to secure US control over the Middle East. America today is facing the consequences of these decisions. Interestingly, the most significant problem, the United States confronted in the Middle East was not the Soviet Union but relations with the United Kingdom. The US slowly and cleverly replaced the UK in the Middle East. Its military intervened in the region a total of 39 times from the 1946 through 1975 (p. 44), thereby destabilizing the region. Its actions in the region demonstrated its inability to understand the world, it wanted to control.
The limitations of military power slowly got exposed. The crisis of military technology and their non-military consequences, ranging from economic dislocations to the massive destruction of civilian population and the transformation of their political attitudes – had defined the political outcome of conflicts far more than the position of armies (p. 19). After the Vietnam War, in the accepted military sense, war was increasingly becoming obsolete. It could no longer produce victories in the conventional sense.
Kolko maintains that after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the American leaders have tended to regard events in some countries as finite ones, without long-term supercussions. Cases like Afghanistan and Iraq, illustrate “how symbolism and simplifications in world affairs can lead to protracted commitments and disasters” (p. 38).
The author dismisses the challenge of communism derisively. He concludes, without subjecting his contention to any analysis, that “communism had neither vitality, not intellectual coherence, nor justification” (p. 57). The author’s contention as regards the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that the “administration of George H.W. Bush was utterly surprised; it had never conceived such a war was possible………” has no basis in facts. It is no more a secret that the then American Ambassador in Iraq, Ms. April Glespie gave the green signal to Saddam Hussain to invade Kuwait.
Arguing that NATO is gradually becoming irrelevant, especially after the 1999 war in former Yugoslavia, he says that building the Antiballistic Missile Shield, created further dissensions within NATO. Such a system was a bad idea, economically, technically as well as politically. However, it was extremely beneficial to the American contractors who were politically very powerful.
Discussing terrorism, Kolko traces its roots, in the history of American foreign policy and believes that the September 11, 2001, attacks on America were “virtually inevitable” (p. 83). The surprising fact was not that the US was “finally massively attacked on its own soil but that it took so long to occur” (p. 83). He adds that, today people “who turn to Islamic extremism do so for the same economic reasons that people once became secular revolutionaries” (p. 86). He believes that the blame should lie with capitalism and the uneven spread of the benefits of globalization.
Kolko is concerned that the US has failed to learn from the dismal fate of other imperial powers and it is America’s global pretensions which have brought war to American shores. The global mission and fascination with military power have put a heary strain on America in the last fifty years. However, there has been a difference of style and not of content in the US administrations all these years. About the much hyped role of neoconservatives in the Bush Administration, Kolko argues that even if the neo cons did not exist, the policy would have been essentially the same. He adds that there is nothing new in neo con ideas and whatever views they hold, they have always been there in US governments.
The war in Iraq revealed quite clearly that accurate intelligence is ignored, if it conflicts with preconceived policies. The president even conjured up the image of Iraqis throwing flowers at US troops. The assumption was that Islamic masses, were like East Europeans, before the fall of communism, waiting to be liberated (p. 142).
In Iraq, the US realized once more after Vietnam that proxies cannot save it from failure. Moreover, it will be by far the most expensive war in US history. However, the advantages have been non-existent. Even at home, the cynical falsehoods with which the public was fed have backfired causing a ‘credibility gap’. This war has only reiterated the truism that wars do not resolve problems between nations.
The author concludes that the real danger today for any nation, especially the US is the belief that it is strong when it is not and faith in the effectiveness of weapons, when they are actually irrelevant. The US has power without wisdom and cannot, despite its repeated experiences, recognize the limits of its ultra-sophisticated military technology. The result has been folly and hatred, which is a recipe for disaster (p. 176).
Ultimately, there will not be peace in the world unless all nations relinquish war as an instrument of policy, not only because of ethical and moral reasoning but because wars have become deadlier and more destructive of social institutions. A precondition of peace is for nations not to attempt to impose their visions on others (p. 176).
Overall, this book is an honest analysis of American foreign policy and its ambitions to run the world with the help of its military machine. On the basis of principles and experience, it makes a good case for the US to keep off troubled spots around the world and let the rest of the world find its own way.