Miscellanea and Ephemeron
06/27/2004 Archived Entry: "Book review: "The Bubble of American Supremacy""
The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power
Reviewed by Daniel Drennan
There is something gratifying in the arrival of this book from George Soros, who has made no bones about his desire to see George W. Bush out of office. Along with any number of other books that are currently targeting the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq, Soros's book tries to put into perspective the players, events, and the stage of our current foreign policy, comparing the crisis of our foreign policy to a stock market bubble, which, when its reality surpasses the ability of people to believe otherwise, causes it to burst. Coming from a market capitalist, his words carry a certain weight, and are not as easily dismissed as those from the Left. This, however, is also a weakness of the book, in the sense that if you disagree with the idea that the free market is a workable idea, then you are going to have problems with some of Soros's solutions. Likewise, in encapsulating certain topics in order to prove points, Soros leaves much out. Granted, a lot of the topics are extremely complicated, but at certain points while reading the book I felt as if there should have been a note added: "Read Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics; "Read Alain Ménargues's Les secrets de la guerre du Liban ; this book by Edward Said; this book by Noam Chomsky; etc. That said, The Bubble of American Supremacy spells out Soros's basic tenets: George Bush is a danger to "open" societies and must be put out of office, and Bush is a theocrat who was waiting for an event of major proportions to put into play his Party's platform--that has its origins in Ronald Reagan and before him, Barry Goldwater--of American supremacy. Whether you agree with his market-based methods is another point; but the very fact that he has been targeted (and I mean targeted) by the Right in this country points up how much he is seen as dangerous, and therefore needs to be listened to.
Soros understands the politics of the world; first, historically, as a survivor of the Nazi occupation of Budapest as well as the Communists' arrival in his native country of Hungary, and second, in terms of globalization--economics are indeed politics today--and he is able to connect dots that go back through various other crises, political and economical, that America has dealt with. It is interesting to read his thoughts on some of these crises, as they reflect a refreshing non-American point of view that you read in the foreign press, but rarely here. For example, he states that the Republican party has come under "the domination of a curious alliance between religious fundamentalists and market fundamentalists", pointing out that the religious fundamentalists provide a "cover" for the "amorality of the market". How often does a capitalist say something like that? His use of words such as "fundamentalist", "radical", and "extremist" to describe the Republican Party mindset is refreshing if only because it points back the rhetorical gun at those who use those words against others. He describes Bush's disengagement with foreign policy that doesn't concern our economic interests. (I'd argue that that has been American policy throughout history). He discusses lucidly the history of Israel, and the power that country holds--eschatalogically speaking--over evangelical Christians in this country. He also discusses Israel in terms of "victims turning perpetrators", which is refreshing in and of its own; interestingly enough, Robert Fisk's book Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon starts out with a similar discussion. He then describes America as the same post September 11, 2001: "That comparison is rarely made at home: American lives are valued differently than the lives of foreigners, but the distinction is less obvious to people abroad."
The book moves from the historical precedence for our current supremacist bent, to a history of Iraq and the region, and then on to discussions of sovereignty, nationalisms, the United Nations, international treaties, etc.; as I read these chapters I felt as if I were reading a history book, but the Cliffs Notes version. This is perhaps more a function of my veracity for historical exegeses than anything that will be considered by the general reader, which I had to continually remind myself of.
I do have a few bones to pick with Soros. He states that "under the prodding of the pop star Bono, President Bush has been very forthcoming in fighting HIV/AIDS." That Soros doesn't get the Bush/Orwell doublespeak of such pledges and promises is disturbing compared to how he sees through the other deceits of this president. Likewise, I'm not so sure that De Beers is an "excellent example of [a] poacher turned gamekeeper". That this is pointed out as a positive development in Africa, and not, for example, the returning of vineyards and farmlands in South Africa to black and other-race control, shows, I think, Soros's desire to believe in the market as a valid system. Again, if your beliefs run counter to his, you'll find the second half of this book a bit bothersome. He also cites Henry Kissinger as someone who believes that the United States "comes closer to basing its foreign policy on principles than do most other countries." Hmmm. I'd like to ask any random person from Asia, the Middle East, or South America what they think of Mr. Kissinger's statement. On the other hand, he does point out Jean Kirkpatrick's bizarre differentiation between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, and why the former were our enemies, and the latter our friends. Then again, he describes Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as being on the "political left"--depending on where you see yourself on the political spectrum, this ping-ponging back and forth might pose a problem
The book starts to fall apart again slightly at the end; Soros brings up Karl Popper, social Darwinism, scientific determinism, Marxism. He starts to cite himself a little too much, almost as if to say that it's his plan that needs to be put in place, not George Bush's, which would reduce this book to a merely bitter polemic. Which it isn't. It's a challenging book that needs to be viewed in terms of the middle-roaders who might read it and be swayed by the arguments within; it's not a dangerous book, it doesn't challenge our prevailing system, and so is more accessible and acceptable. It does go a very long way in pointing out the lies, lies, and more lies of this administration, and how their support at home, along with the disbelief therein abroad, and the difference between these two belief systems, is going a long way to tarnishing our name, ruining our ability to govern ourselves, and destroying our credibility and sway with others. Sticking to this premise, this is a much needed book; the disagreements with some of his statements are reduced to quibbles.
Soros summed it up best in an interview with the French socialist daily newspaper Libération: "When reality is interpreted falsely, the perception of that reality is at first reinforced, but at a certain point the bubble bursts..." The problem is defining that reality; George Soros gives us his version--much of which I agree with--here. The solution? I would beg to differ with him on that. The result? Instability and a great push in the other direction, so says Soros. One can only hope.
The Wapshott Press
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