AT THE POINT OF A GUN by David Rieff


Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention
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Political power is won, quoth Mao, at the barrel of a gun. But political stability is another matter, and Rieff (A Bed for the Night, 2002, etc.) finds much to criticize in the neoconservative credo that democracy can be forced on unwilling nations.

The neocons, Rieff notes, “have been far less enamored by President Bush than American liberals imagine; Vice President Cheney and, above all, Paul Wolfowitz have been their men.” That’s because Wolfowitz and Cheney subscribe to the notion that, as Wolfowitz once put it, “if people are set free to run their countries as they see fit, we will be dealing with a world very favorable to American interests.” If that sounds like the Johnson-era officials who insisted that inside every Vietcong an American screamed to get out, well, it should. Rieff dissects the assumption that it’s up to us to save the world from itself—and expedient for us to mingle military and humanitarian missions. It doesn’t help, Rieff provocatively adds, that the UN is useless: “There is nothing in its founding documents or institutional structures that are relevant to the current crisis” anywhere but Africa, where a junkyard of failed states provides a setting in which “a derelict institution like the United Nations . . . could be viewed as a power center.” What, under such dire circumstances, is to be done? Well, Rieff insists, the neocons will move on to some other big idea and stop trying to convince us that we’re doing anything meaningful in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And what is to be done on a more humanitarian note? Perhaps nothing. After decrying the West’s failure to act on Bosnia and Rwanda, Rieff now holds that he’s “no longer an interventionist,” not in a time when the human-rights left calls for intervention in Darfur and the human-rights right for intervention in Iran.

Guaranteed to irritate UNICEF, but useful reading for those advocating an end to America’s imperial ambitions.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-684-80867-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2005


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