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The Dust Of Empire: The Race For Mastery In The Asian Heartland Hardcover – International Edition, May 6, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Meyer, editor of World Policy Journal and a longtime member of the New York Times editorial board, draws on his extensive knowledge to trace the histories of several south, central and west Asian countries that are now of critical importance to the U.S. At a time when powerless nations can have profound impact on international affairs, his work serves as a powerful introduction to this poorly understood region-valued for its oil and location yet feared for its extremism-and simultaneously offers instructive lessons to American policy makers as the U.S. forges relationships with these states. Meyer combines scholarly expertise with journalistic detail in a rich account relaying formative events through extensive research and poignant personal anecdotes. Skillfully weaving in his perceptive reflections on American imperialism, Meyer strongly argues, "Washington is the seat of an empire, if of a special kind," which must cultivate substantive relationships rather than shortsighted alliances if it hopes to win the war on terror. But Meyer's treatment of the countries under discussion is inconsistent. In some cases, he offers a succinct summary of relevant political events, whereas other histories are more arbitrary and less structured. A work of such scope also has little room for nuances. Together, these characteristics may leave readers with superficial understanding. However, Meyer intends to "sharpen" the reader's appetite, and interested readers will take the book for what it is-a compelling yet cursory introduction to a fascinating region-and continue to build a deeper understanding of the region.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Since the late nineteenth century, geopolitical strategists have emphasized the value of controlling the "world island" of Eurasia; the key to mastery of that island is control, directly or indirectly, of the Central Asian heartland that stretches from the Causasus to the Chinese border. Meyer, the editor of World Policy Journal, traces the various struggles by outside powers to control this vital region, illuminating the culture and history of the various peoples that have invaded, conquered, and settled in these diverse lands. His analysis of the efforts of Russia first to resist the onslaught of central Asian nomads and then to subdue and pacify them is both astute and essential to understanding the complex relationships that have followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The description of the frustrations and humiliations that sowed the seeds of the Islamic revolution in Iran should be essential reading for those who continue to find Iranian hostility to outsiders baffling. A timely analysis of an area likely to be the focus of American concerns for a long time. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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While providing pocket histories and some cultural background, Meyer's chapters focus overall on the pitfalls of "indirect rule" and the legacies of imperialism. He uses Cuba as a classic example in his first chapter. The USA kicked out the Spaniards and set up a Cuban government, but maintained indirect control over that island for decades until Fidel Castro finally put a stop to it. This kind of rule from afar is what Meyer is referring to. Most empires have resorted to it over the centuries--the British in India and Africa, the French in Africa and Indochina, the Dutch in Indonesia and so on. Meyer criticizes this form of imperialism and says that it delegitimizes local leaders and creates a class of collaborators. In his very useful first chapter on Imperialism, Meyer warns against this sort of rule. Nobody listened. The US has set up that very sort of control again in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some of the chapters are better organized and conceived than others, perhaps due to better knowledge on the author's part. I thought that the sections on Russia, Iran and Pakistan outshone the others. If you want really in depth information, you might be better served reading separate books on the different areas. Meyer has bitten off a lot here, and one might quarrel with certain directions he took, but the result is readable and will hold your interest. The bibliography is excellent and very useful; some better maps should have been included. Reading this book in conjunction with one of Robert Kaplan's works could give an interesting comparative perspective.
The style is more of a Cook's tour with chapters dedicated to each of the states in Central Asia.
I found however that Meyer offers enough to tease and entice on each country, but not quite enough to satify... just when the going got more in-depth and intriguing, it was time to move to another country. For those liking imperial 19th Century "Great Game" narratives, there is precious little in this volume. History is only a prop to put the country into its current context of understanding in the realm of power politics -- which it should be said, Meyer utlises both classical power politics and liberal theories in his explaination of how the world relates to central asia.
The one good thing I would add is this: instead of the current fashion of American historians and currrent events commentators concentrating on American interpretations -- American Oil, beltway politics, and the endless citing of each Presidential Administration's response to the politics of the region -- there is a general eagle-eye view that keeps the general interests and threats of all major actors in mind. He does this while reminding us of the human cost in terms of lives and lost rights, most often taken by states from their own people. As such morality looms large in his descriptions, though not necessarily proscriptions for the region.
For those who are interested in real analysis of world affairs and sick of the usual talking head suspects on the left or right, then this is a very intelligent, considered, and interesting overview.
* on p.xxvii (not indexed), segueing into a chilling evocation of Caligula that uncannily foreshadows the famous resignation letter of John Bradey Kiesling that same year: 'Has our motto really become: 'Let them hate so long as they fear'?' The words are Caligula's