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The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama Hardcover – December 8, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Neoconservative ideologues battle pragmatists by fair means and foul in this scattershot history of American foreign policy. Colodny (Silent Coup) and Schachtman (Decade) hang their study on the figure of Fritz Kraemer, an obscure Pentagon analyst, whose championing of a militarized, moralistic foreign policy allegedly inspired two generations of neoconservatives. The book's first half follows the departure of Richard Nixon and erstwhile Kraemer-ite Henry Kissinger from conservative orthodoxy in seeking a rapprochement with Communist powers. In a voluminous rehash of Watergate, the authors insinuate that White House chief of staff and Kraemer protégé Alexander Haig, abetted by reporter Bob Woodward (a sinister mouthpiece), undermined the Nixon presidency for this apostasy. The second half treats ensuing decades as a seesaw struggle in which neocon policy makers' adventurism, from the Iran-Contra affair to the Iraq War, periodically self-destructs and generates a realist backlash. The authors' sharp narrative of factional infighting exhausts itself in flogging the Haig-Woodward conspiracy theory. Kraemer is an ill-chosen central character, more figurehead than intellectual godfather; his sketchily elaborated ideas shed little light on this serviceable but mundane account of the conflict between hawks and doves. (Dec.)
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“Absorbing…a must read….illuminating and deeply provocative….The Forty Years War is a book that deserves to have a much higher public profile as Colodny and Shachtman are marshalling new evidence to challenge conventional interpretations of late Cold War political history and foreign policy.” (

“[Colodny and Shachtman] tell the story from Nixon to now, and they do it in meticulous and interesting detail.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

“A rigorous and critical examination of the neoconservative movement and the bureaucratic, ideological battles over American foreign policy from 1969 to 2009.…[A] captivating chronicle. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal)

“A well-reported, fast-paced history lesson on the eternal conflict between ideologues and policymakers and the hubris that always accompanies success.” (Kirkus Reviews)

NIxon's Foreign Policy Dreams
Read the first chapter of The Forty Years War by Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061253898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061253898
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,463,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By RBSProds TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Four and a half ENGROSSING Stars! "The Forty Years War" is an enjoyable investigative work of recent history and political machinations concerning "neo-conservatives", their philosophy, and events they influenced at the highest levels of government. They are one of the most distinctive political camps in America and therefore should get our attention, whether we agree with them or not. This book by authors Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman covers events and key personnel from Nixon to Obama seen in a different light. Neocons are more complex than simply being militaristic 'hawks' and some originate from an unexpected source. They adhere to the political philosophy of author, scholar, military educator, and political advisor Dr. Fritz G. A. Kraemer (1908-2003), a alluring man "with two doctorates [law and economics] and a rapier of an intellect". Born in Germany, he fought the Nazis and communists before emigrating to the USA and joining the Army, receiving a battlefield commission and a Bronze Star at the WW-II's Battle of the Bulge. Neocons include the likes of Kraemer protégés Henry Kissinger (who evolved in a direction explained in the book) & Alexander Haig, former Democrats Paul Wolfowitz & Richard Perle, diplomat Vernon Walters, James Schlesinger, William Kristol, Eliot Abrams, Democrat "Scoop" Jackson, and Douglas Feith, and many others. And what these Neocons have been up to over the last 7 presidential administrations may amaze some and disturb others, as they have waged 40 years of political war with opposing forces.Read more ›
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Frederick J. Graboske on December 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I must preface my comments with the admission that I played a small role in the development of this book, offering comments to the authors based on my 12 years as supervisory archivist for the Nixon tapes.

There are many reasons to read, and to write, history. One of those reasons is to aid our understanding of how we as a nation got to where we are today. By elucidating the role of Fritz Kraemer's philosophy on policy-makers over the past 40 years, the authors have added to this understanding.

Richard Nixon admired men with strong personalities (John Connally and Bob Haldeman, for example) and people with strong beliefs (Catholics, for example). Nixon was so interested in Kraemer's beliefs, although he did not share them, that he asked Kissinger to bring him in for a conversation. This was a signal mark of respect by Nixon, who accorded it to very few other people. It marks Kraemer as a first-rate intellect.

Colodny & Schachtman demonstrate the influence that Kraemer and his ideas had on two generations of policy-makers at the highest echelons of the government. Of course, the concept of projecting strength is not new; in a sense, it lay behind the creation and implementation of the Cold War containment strategy of surrounding the communist states with American-led military alliances with their forward bases. It lies behind the strategic concept of the aircraft carrier and airborne divisions. The Soviets used the same concept in building the Cuban missile bases that led to the 1962 crisis.

So, Kraemer was not an original thinker, but he was an influential one. He contrasted Nixon's foreign policy pragmatism with his own philosophical idealism.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ray Locker on December 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman break new ground in modern history by fully exploring the influential role played by longtime military adviser Fritz Kraemer, the man who discovered Henry Kissinger and brought Alexander Haig into the Nixon administration's National Security Council. Kraemer's influence continues to this day, as former vice president Dick Cheney echoes Kraemer's belief in the dangers of provocative weakness. Many books have explored the relationship between Kissinger and Richard Nixon. Few have mentioned Kraemer more than briefly. The Forty Years War more than makes up for that omission, and for this alone, it should be considered a groundbreaking work of history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Earth that Was on October 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman's "The Forty Years War" is a welcome addition to the growing literature of "neoconology". Where some (see Justin Raimondo) have focused on the social democratic - and indeed Trotskyite roots of the "classic neocons", others have focused on the Cheney - Rumsfeld "Vulcans" (see James Mann) - the hawks of the Bush cabinet. In the later case the "neocon" label is usually applied with loose fit. This book fills a gap by bringing the two streams together.

Where others have focused on Irving Kristol or Leo Strauss as "the neocon godfather", Colodny and Shachtman find another contender, Fritz Kraemer, a German American defense policy wonk. As portrayed, Kraemer emerges as a kind of old school Prussian militarist, who came to give his fealty to Democracy (with a capital D) not the Kaiser. He was an in house Pentagon guru and a mentor to Kissinger before they fell out. Numerous Washington hawks fell under Kraemer's spell, including Alexander Haig, Ford's Secretary of Defense- James Schelsinger and most of the later day neocons. Kraemer wanted Democracy to pursue aggressive military superiority versus totalitarian foreign enemies, and saw diplomacy, loss of focus and 'weakness' as the domestic enemy. You get the impression Kraemer loved Democracy in abstracto, it was just real world democratic politics he couldn't understand.

Although subtitled the rise and fall of the neocons, "The Forty Years War" really focuses on the Nixon-Ford era. This comproses at least two thirds of a book that is more Nixon history than neocon history. I was surprised to learn that it was Nixon, not Kissinger, who was the real father of detente.
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