From Publishers Weekly
The experts we trust to provide guidance to our elected officials have failed us, seduced by the lure of cable television fame and popular book sales, argue Halper and Clarke (coauthors of America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order). Abandoning scholarship, too many have instead set off in search of the next Big Idea in foreign policy that purports to explain the world in five words or less. This phenomenon is not new—the authors identify Big Ideas from manifest destiny through the domino theory to the clash of civilizations—but the tendency to simplify a complex reality has become especially pernicious in the Iraq war debate. Finding targets on the right and left, the authors excoriate the Heritage Foundation as much as Noam Chomsky for lowering the level of public discourse. Though sometimes overblown (e.g., calling a public intellectual's decision to pen a regular op-ed column for a major daily newspaper a âFaustian arrangement with the mediaâ), they paint a picture familiar to anyone who follows politics. Ironically, for a work that praises dispassionate, in-depth investigation, this book would have been better as a short essay.
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These conservative foreign-policy experts are frustrated with the failure of experienced foreign-policy experts (i.e., their peers) to remain pragmatic, calm, and effectively influential in the face of novel and complicated foreign-policy challenges. They blame this failure on a dysfunctional relationship between the decision makers, the experts, and the media during times of national stress, such as the Vietnam War and the present day. According to them, Americans' unique susceptibility to Big Idea mythologies of national purpose combines with the 24/7 media's need for highly opinionated, quotable experts, creating a toxic symbiosis in which the uninformed attract more attention than they deserve and rational experts are either seduced into jingoism or drowned out. A more rational foreign policy, they argue, would be less ideologically motivated and more effective in dealing with impending challenges, namely, an increasingly strong China. Aimed at fellow think-tankers as well as their enablers, the general public, this account is a follow-up to the authors' recent America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order
(2004), which ventilated a similar set of frustrations about failed national conversations. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved