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At War with Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World

3.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195176025
ISBN-10: 0195176022
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

America's profound ambivalence toward stewardship of the international system will be the "permanent quagmire" of the 21st century, argues Hirsh (a senior editor at Newsweek, which excerpted this book in its May 12 issue) in his timely contribution to recent literature on the U.S. role in the post-Cold War world. While America "the "oberpower" dominates the globe by exerting a combination of ideological influence and military and economic power, Hirsh says that successive administrations have failed to grasp the nation's historic mandate as orchestrator of the new world order. Having been a foreign correspondent from Kosovo to Afghanistan, Hirsh reports on the discordant policies of Clinton and Bush, while providing the lay reader with an overview of the conflicts and personalities that have shaped a lackluster U.S. foreign policy over the past decade. Unconventional threats like terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction render the U.S. vulnerable and necessitate, in the author's view, a multilateral approach. In Hirsh's perfect world, Clinton's Wilsonian idealism-marked by economic integration, democratization and multilateral cooperation-would coalesce with Bush's unilateralist view of overwhelming military power to forge a strong and principled American leadership. In the meantime, America must confront the pitfalls of "ideological blowback" caused by the spotty application of its own ideals abroad. Repairing the disconnect in U.S. foreign policy that backs autocratic regimes in places like the Middle East while failing to press democracy in the area, offers, Hirsh says, a good place to start.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

How is it that the same country that gave the world Woodrow Wilson's crusade for a League of Nations to guarantee peace has now also given us George Bush's dismissal of the United Nations as an irrelevance to the waging of war? A longtime diplomatic correspondent, Hirsch has watched closely as America has stumbled into being the only superpower to survive the cold war. The stumbling was apparent during the Clinton administration--which freely deployed the Wilsonian rhetoric of international idealism but botched its handling of the Kosovo crisis and recoiled from the horrors of Rwanda. But Hirsch expresses even deeper skepticism about the go-it-alone assertiveness of Bush conservatives. Our real national interest, Hirsch argues, lies in leading--not abandoning--the international community that the U.S. helped bring into existence. Only a full commitment to international organizations can limit the "ideological blowback" America has incubated by preaching self-determination and free enterprise while denying the claims of Third World separatists. An ideal primer for general readers trying to fathom the promise and peril of global politics. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195176022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195176025
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #656,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Newsweek" editor Hirsch supplies a lucid, readable account of the tensions in US foreign policy between practitioners of "Wilsonian idealism" (multilateralism) and "conservative realism" (unilateralism). He focuses on the Clinton and second Bush administrations as examples of the problems with either worldview: while Clinton, he argues, "staked his foreign policy on negotiation and norms," Bush favored "the assertion of hard power and little else." The unfortunate results, in Clinton's case, were the Bosnian conflict and the massacres in Rwanda and, in Bush's case, the deteriorating debacle in Afghanistan (and possibly in Iraq, although the verdict is still out).
Hirsch proposes a middle way: diplomacy and cooperation with international organizations and agencies, backed by the might of US and regional military force. The world's major powers will "feel both unthreatened and protected by the United States . . . only if Washington itself embraces the international community" while simultanesly projecting its power. The "international community," he convincingly asserts, not only exists but is largely our creation, and it provides the best means for America to affirm its hegemony without seeming arrogant and to encourage democracy and well-being without seeming hypocritical.
He offers as a model the resolution of the 1999 crisis in East Timor, when Indonesian forces began slaughtering thousands of East Timorese residents, who were increasingly clamoring to reestablish the independence they lost in 1975.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edit of 21 Dec 07 to add comment and links.

New Comment: I am distressed to see so many important books no longer available. Even though it makes my summative reviews valuable as a trace, I have tried to get Amazon to realize that it should offer such books electrionically, micro-cash for micro-text, and Jeff Besoz just doesn't want to hear it. I predict that Kindle will fail.

The author has provided a very informed and well-documented view of the competing "axis of thinking" (unilateralism versus multilateral realism) and "axis of feeling" (isolationism versus engagement). The two together create the matrix upon which a multitude of ideological, special interest, and academic or "objective" constituencies may be plotted.

The endorsement of the book by the Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs is a very subtle but telling indictment of the unilateralist bullying that has characterized American foreign policy since 2000--indeed, the author of the book coins the term "ideological blowback" as part of devastatingly disturbing account of all the things that have been done "in our name" on the basis of either blind faith or neo-conservative presumption.

The book received four stars because at the strategic level, Clyde Prestowitz' book, Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions is better in all ways--easier to read, more detailed, more specifics. Historically, I would bracket this book with the collection of Foreign Affairs
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Format: Hardcover
I need not expound too long. But, Hirsh's book presents to us, and to me a Republican, hard truths that have been traditionally hard to accept in the past and are harder, under the present political climate, to accept.
While the writing, at times, can be slow going, overall, the book is easily readable.
It is a book for the times.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Hirsh, the noted Newsweek journalist and author, thinks he sees the future and it would be beautiful if only America would get over itself. In At War with Ourselves, Hirsh nominally argues that America must overcome its sense of exceptionalism and embrace the "international community". Unfortunately, what he has really produced is a highly readable but sometimes unpleasantly partisan summons to utopia, and it is not very convincing.
Hirsh believes that the "international community" is an American creation and that America is its principle beneficiary. He also argues that it is pointless to use history and old notions of sovereignty as guides to discerning the national interest and that these must be discarded in return for the benefits of a new global order. Hirsh believes that, if successful in doing so, America's "children and grandchildren may never have to fire a shot in anger" ever again.
Hirsh has a kernel of a point. There is a tendency of writers to draw overspecific conclusions from history's general lessons, and there is a high degree of integration in the world that is, in part, an outgrowth of American statecraft since the end of World War I. Indeed, he is right to suggest that America benefits in many ways from this integration and ignores it at its peril. However, he overstates his case, and when a writer at the outset excludes the precedents of history and promises a world of peace and harmony, the reader is well advised to be cautious.
Indeed, for a man who discounts the value of historical precedent, Hirsh spends a great deal of his book analyzing it, albeit mostly recent history.
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