FEAR’S EMPIRE by Benjamin R. Barber


War, Terrorism, and Democracy
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Should “postwar” Iraq evolve from shooting gallery to mother of all quagmires, Bush & Co. will be able to ponder ornately posited reasons why in this latest from liberal political scientist Barber.

Abundantly sourced and annotated—note Harry Truman’s haunting aphorism that “the only thing you prevent by going to war is peace”—this volume aims to expose all the traps in the administration’s concept of unilateralism as applied to the once and possibly future Saddam Hussein, including familiar ones now being given increased airplay: compounded unpredictability; the shedding of allies and loss of world esteem as a result of flouting international law and democratic principle; and the pinning of a target on the US as an imperialistic aggressor. These traps are all endemic, Barber (Jihad vs. McWorld, 1995) reminds us, in parts of the world where lines already form at terrorism’s door. The author characterizes President Bush as decisive but tragically intolerant of complexity. Further, he asserts, by basing both domestic and foreign policies primarily on fear (including threat of war) we let terrorists “whose only weapon is fear win without firing a shot.” The more original parts here examine the variations in extant democracies to support the author’s claim that exporting instant “American democracy” is futile and will inevitably be perceived as a threat to embedded religious cultures. Rooted democratic governments need to evolve from within and, crucially, over time, Barber argues, but the idea that Islam cannot tolerate them is simply false, as witness Turkey, Indonesia, etc. (Hardly great democratic examples, but no worse than most of Latin America.) While this is largely a statement of problems, Barber devotes a section to wishfully extolling a policy of “preventive democracy” based firmly on multilateralism in this “age of interdependence” and on international law as the best way to avoid potential future entanglements in Iran, North Korea, Syria, ad infinitum.

Provocative work from an incisive critic who occasionally waxes unblushingly utopian.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-393-05836-0
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2003


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