Whether fought for commercial or strategic concessions or even moral reasons, whether little-known or well-publicized, America's "small wars"--against, say, the Barbary pirates and the rebellious Boxers--played a large part in the development of what historian Max Boot does not hesitate to call an American empire. All arguments to the contrary, Boot insists, America has never been an isolationist power; it has "been involved in other countries' internal affairs since at least 1805," when American marines landed on the shores of Tripoli, and it has "never confined the use of force to those situations that meet the narrow definition of American interests preferred by realpolitikers and isolationists." Closely examining the record of those small wars, which far outnumber major conflicts, Boot argues that Americans have a historic duty to deliver foreign nations from aggression, even to intervene in civil wars abroad, especially if the product is greater freedom--for, he writes, "a world of liberal democracies would be a world much more amenable to American interests than any conceivable alternative." Readers may take issue with some of Boot's conclusions, but they merit wide discussion, especially in a time when small--and perhaps large--wars are looming. Boot's book is thus timely, and most instructive. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
As editorial features editor of the Wall Street Journal, Boot (Out of Order: Arrogance, Corruption, and Incompetence on the Bench) has a reputation as a fire-breathing polemicist and unabashed imperialist. This book addresses America's "small wars" in chronological order, dividing the action from 1801 to the present into three sections ("Commercial Power," "Great Power" and "Superpower") to argue that "small war missions are militarily doable" and are now in fact a necessity. Beginning with a description of going to work on September 11 as the World Trade Center tragedy displaced the WSJ newsroom, Boot quickly gets down to some historical detail: from the U.S. expedition against the Barbary pirates to violent squabbles in Panama, Samoa, the Philippines, China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Mexico, Beirut, Grenada, Somalia and Bosnia. Examples of wars "that were fought less than `wholeheartedly,' " of wars "without exit strategies" and wars "in which U.S. soldiers act as `social workers' " are decried. Each of the 15 short chapters might have been the focus of a separate in-depth book, so Boot's take is once over very lightly indeed. While America's and the world's small wars certainly seem more and more related, Boot's historical descriptions are too thin to provide a solid foundation for relating one war to another.