A strong dose of familiar anger and bitterness without solutions.

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THE TAIL WAGS THE DOG

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AND THE MIDDLE EAST

An Israeli scholar offers a pessimistic rehashing of what he sees as the “endemic malaise” of the Arab states in spite of—or because of—Western acquiescence and retreat.

From the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire to the recent savagery of the Islamic State group, Middle East Quarterly and Israel Affairs editor Karsh (Political Studies/Bar-Ilan Univ.) lays the blame for regional instability and chronic war squarely on the willful intransigence and violent “rejectionism” of the “Middle Eastern actors” themselves—i.e., the Arabs and the new crop of Islamist extremists. For all their talk of democracy and self-determination, from Western leaders ranging from President Woodrow Wilson to President Barack Obama, Karsh sees little to show for it, especially when “the spring that never was” (Arab Spring of 2010-2011) has yielded little in the way of true democracy and rather an all-too-familiar return to what he calls Islam’s “imperialist ambitions.” Arab violence induced the British to renege on the mandate system (promising a homeland in Palestine for the Jews), while the lure of Arab oil deposits almost derailed the American embrace of the nascent Jewish state. (Karsh ignores Israel’s own accomplished network of terrorism.) “Innocents Abroad,” aka the Americans, failed to see the great Islamic tide coming, from the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini to the real threat of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. While Karsh also excoriates the Soviet Union (“the Cautious Bear”) for being played by the Syrians and Afghanis, he saves his bitterest vitriol for the policy of well-intentioned, humble Obama, whose “wishful thinking” in hastily withdrawing from Iraq left the actors to turn viciously on each other, strengthening Iran’s hand and alienating important ally Turkey. Karsh sees the Arabs mired in chronic “internecine strife,” greed, and global expansionism, yet he offers no alternate reality save the status quo.

A strong dose of familiar anger and bitterness without solutions.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63286-118-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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