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on August 13, 2010
Foreigners, from de Tocqueville and Lord Bryce to Hugh Brogan and The Economist's John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodridge, often see America more clearly than do Americans. In the post-World War II period, R. L. Bruckberger's IMAGES OF AMERICA (1958) and Jean -Jacques Servan-Schreiber's THE AMERICAN CHALLENGE (1967) presented an uplifting picture of America. Two generations later, Englishman Anatol Lieven paints a troubling picture of a country that is a far cry from John Winthrop's' "city upon a hill."

Has America changed so profoundly over the past fifty years or is Mr. Lieven simply highlighting historical cycles that, at least for the moment, had resulted in a near `perfect storm?' His 2004 book has prompted both praise [see Brian Urquhart's Extreme Makeover in the New York Review of Books (February 24, 2005)] and brick bats. This book is not a polemic. Rather, it is a scholarly analysis by a highly regarded author and former The Times (London) correspondent who has lived in various American locales. He has a journalist's acquaintance of many prominent Americans and his source materials are excellent.

I applaud his courage for exploring the dark cross currents in modern-day America. In the tradition of the Delphic oracle and Socrates, he urges that Americans `know thy self.' The picture he paints should cause thoughtful Americans to shudder. Personally, I found his book of a genre similar to Cullen Murphy's ARE WE ROME? THE FALL OF AN EMPIRE AND THE FATE OF AMERICA.

I do not consider Mr. Lieven anti-American in his extensive critique of American cross currents. That he wrote this in the full flush of the Bush/Cheney post-9/11 era suggests that he might temper some of his assessments after the course corrections of the Obama administration. My sense is that Mr. Lieven admires many of America's core qualities and that this `tough love' essay is his effort to guide Americans back to their more admirable qualities.

Mr. Lieven boldly sets forth his book's message in a broad-ranging introduction:

* "The [U. S.] conduct of the war against terrorism looks more like a baroque apotheosis of political stupidity;"
* "Aspects of American nationalism imperil both the nation's global leadership and its success in the struggle against Islamic terror and revolution;"
* "Insofar as American nationalism has become mixed up with a chauvinist version of Israeli nationalism, it also plays an absolutely disastrous role in U. S. relations with the Muslim world and in fueling terrorism;"
* "American imperialists trail America's coat across the whole world while most ordinary Americans are not looking and rely on those same Americans to react with `don't tread on me' nationalist fury when the coat is trodden on;"
* "One strand of American nationalism is radical...because it continually looks backward at a vanished and idealized national past;"
* "America is the home of by far the most deep, widespread and conservative religious belief in the Western world;"
* "The relationship between the traditional White Protestant world on one hand and the forces of American economic, demographic, social and cultural change on the other may be compared to the genesis of a hurricane;"
* "The religious Right has allied itself solidly with extreme free market forces in the Republican Party although it is precisely the workings of unrestricted American capitalism which are eroding the world the religious conservatives wish to defend;"
* "American nationalism is beginning to conflict very seriously with any enlightened, viable or even rational version of American imperialism;"
* "[George W.] Bush, his leading officials, and his intellectual and media supporters..., as nationalists, [are] absolutely contemptuous of any global order involving any check whatsoever on American behavior and interests;"
* "Nationalism therefore risks undermining precisely those American values which make the nation most admired in the world;" and
* "This book...is intended as a reminder of the catastrophes into which nationalism and national messianism led other great countries in the past."

Mr. Lieven addressed the above points in six well-crafted and thought-provoking chapters that I find persuasive. For some readers Chapter 6, Nationalism, Israel, and the Middle East, may be the most controversial. I am the only living person who has lunched with Gamal Abdel Nasser and David Ben-Gurion in the same week. I have maintained an interest in Arab-Israeli matters ever since. I find that Mr. Lieven's assessment of both the United States' and Israel's role rings true. While he does not excuse Arab leaders for their misdeeds, he clearly documents a history in which the United States has repeatedly subordinated vital U. S. regional interests in favor of accepting whatever Israel chooses to do.

In 1955 American historian Richard Hofstadter wrote, "The most prominent and persuasive failing [of political culture] is a certain proneness to fits of moral crusading that would be fatal if they were not sooner or later tempered with a measure of apathy and common sense." I am confident that Professor Hofstadter would agree with me that AMERICA RIGHT OR WRONG is a timely and important book.
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on February 10, 2017
This book is worth a slow read, he has a great deal of knowledge and connects the dots, not just rambling. I wanted this to help understand why so much divisiveness in our country, and it does the job. I read about his background, a bit scary, I had to force myself to not be influenced by his admiration for Russia as it is today, including Putin. Maybe I do not understand his views or am brainwashed, regardless, I found his writings to be objective and stimulating. His depth of history is incredible.
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on March 21, 2006
Once every five or ten years a brilliant synthesis of the published literature comes along and mixes it with profound analyses and insights to describe courageously diplomatic and political realities in such manner that its truth becomes a work of aesthetics and self-sustaining persuasion. Lieven's book bids for this accolade.

Starting with an excellent summary of America's nationalistic mood resulting from 9/11, Lieven summarizes the nature and types of nationalisms and then rapidly connects many of the negative aspects of America's nationalism to the ones pulsating through Europe before World War I. While doing so, he never loses balance and does not neglect the commendable civilizing aspects of America's Creed. Balance and proportion are quite well sustained throughout the book. Weaving smoothly back and forth between current events and the positions of pundits and politicians and historical ones, even beyond Europe, he brilliantly connects disparate events into a meaningful whole and then extracts meaning. As only one of many examples, Jacksonian nationalism and its brutal manifestations of the ethnic cleansing of the Creeks, etc. is presumably derived from the religio-ethnically inspired Scot-Irish "extermination" of the Gaelic-Irish. While there are incontestable civilizing elements to America's nationalism, there are also dangerous and destructive ingredients, a sort of Hegelian thesis and antithesis theme which places a strong question mark in America's historical theme of exceptionalism.

Unlike in other post-World War II nations, America's nationalism is permeated by values and religious elements derived mostly from the South and the Southern Baptists, though the fears and panics of the embittered heartland provide additional fuel.

While discussing "Jacobin Internationalism", "Wolfy Wilsonians", Nativism, racism in the South, Irish Catholics, the Christian Right, Fundamentalists, Millenarians, etc. Lieven expertly brings historical facts and figures into contact with current ones to illuminate and paint the grand tapestry of America's contemporary nationalism.

Lieven's book, among other elements, is also a summation of lots of minor observations--even personal ones he made as a student in the small town of Troy, Alabama--and historical details which reflect the grand evolution of America's nationalism. When he says that "an unwillingness or inability among Americans to question the country's sinlessness feeds a culture of public conformism," then he has the support of Mark Twain who said something to the effect that we are blessed with three things in this country, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and, thirdly, the common sense to practice neither one! Ditto when he daringly points out America's "hypocrisy," which also is corroborated by other scholars, among them James Hillman in his recent book "A Terrible Love of War" in which he characterizes hypocrisy as quintessentially American.

Lieven continues with the impact of the Cold War on America's nationalism and then, having always expanded the theme of Bush's foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, examines with commendable perspective the complex and very much unadmitted current aspects of the U.S.'s relationships with the Moslems, the Iraq War and the impact of the pro-Israeli lobby. It is the sort of assessment one rarely finds in the U.S. media. He exposes the alienation the U.S. caused among allies and, in particular, the Arabs and the EU.

Lieven wrote this book with passion and commendable sincerity. Though it comes from a foreigner, its advice would without question serve not only America's interest but also provide a substantial basis for a detached and objective approach to solving the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the satisfaction of all involved before worse deeds and more burdens materialize.
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on February 29, 2012
All aspects of this product are brilliant; Lieven generates an incredibly concise and accurate claim against America, in such an engaging way, which in many cases resulted in laughing out loud. He uses excellent sources and lines that really show that he has maticulously researched around this whole subject, as it is in itself, and incredibly broad subject. I personally found it incredibly insightful, with some very shrewd observations about American's foreign policy, and contradictions within its own nation. Something that truly makes this publication great is the sheer fact that despite the intention of my individual use was purely academic, I found it to be very accessible and despite why I used it, anybody could easily justify reading this book if you simply had a passing interest in regards to the notion of America. Finally, it is clearly laid out, with sub headings that make it even easier to navigate the pages to reach the information that is needed. This for me, and I would be as bold as to say for other readers too, makes this book and incredible addition to the world of literature and fundamentally excels American study into a completely new league of its own, opening up to new demographics and proving that the study of history/politics really is interesting after all!
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On international treaties right wing pundit Phyllis Schlafly wrote:

"The principles of life, liberty and property must not be joined with the principles of genocide, totalitarianism, socialism and religious persecution. We cannot trust agreements or treaties with infidels".

Here Phyllis borrows the language of Muslim extremists but the sentiment is pure American Conservativism for the new century. The message is fueled by a belief in a messianic roll for America in world affairs and an exceptionalism of its people. The only good foreigner is one who accepts, without question, the American system of free-market Capitalism. Believing in the superiority of the United States lends itself to a belief in the inferiority of the rest of the world. On this level the author draws a frightening parallel between America today and Europe circa 1914 prior to World War I. It is out of control nationalism.

History shows observable signs of growing imperialism. There is a heightened level of nationalism and a belief in the superiority of the people as well as a feeling of persecution and emphasis on ignorance over knowledge. The author traces the anger back to the civil war and southern states humiliation after their defeat at the hands of the north. The Cold War only served to briefly constrain the seething anger towards Communists and perceived sympathizers but with the fall of the Soviet Union the floodgates of hatred crashed open. The anger has broadened to include all but the most subservient foreign nations while the core hatred is aimed directly at other Americans who are seen as illegitimate or abnormal. The feelings are amplified and justified by religious fundamentalism and its inherent intolerance towards diversity. Phyllis Schlafly is a perfect example of the rage that Conservatives feel towards everyone outside their narrow spectrum. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is the right wings hatred of government combined with extreme nationalism.

The match that ignites it all is our own government gleefully throwing gasoline on the fire of intolerance. Conservatives have been working to foment a hatred of foreigners for decades (see `Freedom Fries') and now Americans are being encouraged to support imperialism under the guise of preemptive strikes and spreading Democracy. There is a tradition, in Conservativism, of venerating authority and a belief that often the `Truth' must be protected by a `Bodyguard of Lies'. The WMD argument in Iraq was the initial smokescreen followed by the tale of spreading Democracy. Meanwhile, Republican's lace their speeches with what the author calls `Black Magic' words like `Traitor' and `Freedom' with the intention of chilling debate.

The quality that has traditionally restrained the United States is a strong loathing of imperialism across the political spectrum. Morality maven William Bennett has advocated complete subservience to conservative leadership. As the author points out, people like Bennett move beyond even `my country right or wrong' into `my country is always right'. This kind of thinking creates a complete chill on international negotiations.

I wouldn't say I found anything completely new in `America: Right or Wrong' but I found it to be an engaging synthesis of the direction America has been moving. The author even suggests that some areas of the world like the Middle East could use more nationalism in order to bind the disparate groups and ethnicities within countries. The problem is when a fully mature and militarily powerful country like the U.S. gets in its collective mind a desire to reshape the world. In the end the author is betting on the self correcting nature of American democracy to regain balance. Hopefully he is correct.
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on November 24, 2010
America Right or Wrong is by far the best analysis that I have read on the present day United States. It should be required reading for all Americans who are interested in understanding the complex and Janus headed nature of their identity. Shades of Toqueville.
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on November 29, 2008
Lieven's dissection of the cultural and historical antecedents of present-day America is always brilliant, often original, and extremely enlightening. I understand my country now as never before, and have a much clearer idea of how to move forward. It is the best analysis since Tocqueville, and should occupy a place next to it on every serious library.
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on December 5, 2004
I really liked this book a lot. Of course, I am not a nationalist and am just trying to learn to survive in a US dominated by nationalists. If you're a nationalist or a Zionist, you probably wouldn't like it.

I have read some other books on this topic, but I think Lieven writes with more clarity. The only thing I didn't like about my copy was that it was finished before the 2004 elections, so that the author didn't know Bush was going to be reelected. (He expresses skepticism, in any case, that Democratic policies on Israel would be much different.)

Unfortunately I have marked my copy up so much that I can't sell it to you. I plan to reread parts of it later anyway.
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on December 2, 2016
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VINE VOICEon January 2, 2005
Anatol Lieven has written an exceptional book that should be read by anyone concerned with the direction this country is going in, and more importantly, why it is going in such a radically conservative one.

Lieven focuses his book on the American Thesis and Antithesis. The American Thesis, also called the American Creed, is the quasi-religious belief in democracy, freedom and individuality, and the universality of those beliefs. In other words, America is a special country, the shining "City on the Hill," and the "New Israel." And anyone who wants to come to this country, works hard, and strives to succeed will almost certainly be able to.

The Antithesis is just that, the opposite of the American Creed. The Antithesis is the irrational fear of others, paranoia, and overt aggression and violence that grip many Americans when they are under attack, real or perceived. This view is often viewed through the lense of an idealized, often mythic, American past, before foreigners were allowed to come into the country and pollute its land. Whether it was Irish Catholics 100 years ago or Muslim American today, the paranoid fear of others could have ugly manifestations.

The one weakness of this book, in his discussion of Israel's place in America, Lieven spends too much time discussing the details of the Israel/Palestine conflict. While valuable, it does not fit with the flow of the rest of the book.

This book should be read by all who are curious about American nationalism and its relation to the rest of the world. This is an important book, and should be widely read.
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