Highly recommended for aficionados of foreign-policy and national-security issues.

AMERICAN FORCE

DANGERS, DELUSIONS, AND DILEMMAS IN NATIONAL SECURITY

Betts (Enemies of Intelligence: Knowledge and Power in American National Security, 2009, etc.), the director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, surveys the landscape of American national security with a dispassionate and analytical eye.

Placing current issues in their historical context, the author begins with the evolution of NATO from a mutual defense pact into a new political club and a means of extending American power into the “New Europe.” The end of the Cold War freed America to use force "on behalf of the so-called international community," but too often its poorly conceived interventions prolonged suffering instead of relieving it. Betts criticizes a "profoundly confused" policy that "abetted slow-motion savagery" in Bosnia, for example, and recommends a set of standards by which to determine when military intervention for humanitarian purposes is likely to be a worthwhile option. The author also explores the nature of the changing threat from WMD, appropriate responses to terrorism and insurgency, serious concerns about the possibility of military conflict with China, appropriate levels of defense funding and whether the entire concept of strategy in military affairs has any meaning. “The expansive concept of national security carried over from the Cold War, when it was necessary, to the unipolar world, when it was tempting,” writes Betts, who advocates for “less ambitious uses of force for world ordering in the near term, present concentration on forceful counterterrorism and nonforcible counterproliferation.” While he recognizes the ongoing need for military force as a foreign-policy option, he cautions that America should avoid bluffs and either go all in or stay out. Betts does not shill for any particular ideology; he presents closely, sometimes densely reasoned arguments for his conclusions.

Highly recommended for aficionados of foreign-policy and national-security issues.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-231-15122-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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