Today’s cover article is on Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt, and it’s by Niall Ferguson, who is (according to his reviewer credits) a “professor at Harvard University and Harvard Business School, a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford.” Harvard, Oxford and Stanford. I’ll tell you the honest truth — when I hear that a critic is associated with one of these world-class institutions, I’m impressed. When I hear that a critic is associated with two of them, I’m very impressed and slightly intimidated. But when I hear that a critic is “a professor at Harvard University and Harvard Business School, a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford” I start to think that somebody ought to stop hoarding academic credentials and get in touch with the real world. This guy must have been to so many stuffy cocktail parties, he probably has nightmares involving trays of hors d’oeuvres.
Bobbitt’s book sounds to me like yet another apocalyptic argument for total war against Islamic extremism — the NYTBR is fond of these arguments — and Niall Ferguson has absolutely massive praise for it:
This is quite simply the most profound book to have been written on the subject of American foreign policy since the attacks of 9/11 — indeed, since the end of the cold war.
And what does this incredibly profound book offer? A blank, infinite fear of our enemies, of course:
The rats that transported the lethal fleas that transported the lethal enterobacteria Yersinia pestis did not mean to devastate the populations of Eurasia and Africa. The Black Death was a natural disaster. Al Qaeda is different. Its members seek to undermine the market-state by turning its own technological achievements against it in a protracted worldwide war, the ultimate goal of which is to create a Sharia-based “terror-state” in the form of a new caliphate. Osama bin Laden and his confederates want to acquire nuclear or biological weapons of mass destruction. Precisely because of the nature of the market-state, as well as the actions of rogue nation-states, the key components and knowledge are very close to being available to them — witness the nuclear Wal-Mart run in Pakistan by A. Q. Khan. With such weapons, the terrorists will be able to unleash a super-9/11, with scarcely imaginable human and psychological costs.
Ferguson, enraptured, ends the article like this:
Yet it is striking that, despite being a Democrat, Philip Bobbitt so often echoes the arguments made by John McCain on foreign policy. He sees the terrorist threat as deadly serious. He is willing to fight it. But he wants to fight it within the law, and with our traditional allies.
Perhaps — who knows? — this brilliant book may also be an application for the post of national security adviser. In times of war, stranger bedfellows have been known than a Democratic Texas lawyer and a Republican Arizona soldier.
There is not the slightest suggestion in Ferguson’s article that peaceful problem-solving could ease the tensions that roil our world. Instead … well, as our next President John McCain sang: “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran”. And let’s hope that President John McCain will bomb those Shiites who run Al Qaeda too, right? Bring on more war, better war, smarter war! The New York Times Book Review says Terror and Consent is the most important book about American foreign policy since 1991, and who on earth has the credentials to argue against “a professor at Harvard University and Harvard Business School, a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford”?
This cover article has ruined my aesthetic radar for the weekend, but several of the other pieces I’d like to discuss revolve around political questions too, so let’s keep going. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would read N+1 editor Keith Gessen’s much-anticipated debut novel All the Sad Young Literary Men. I like N+1’s sense of style and I love their inellectual (over-)confidence. But as I wrote when I reviewed the work of Keith Gessen and other N+1 writers a year ago, I am disappointed by Gessen’s passive approach to politics, which seems to amount to a deeply internalized sense of hopelessness (precisely the same kind of hopelessness, I think, that one will feel after reading too many pro-war articles by senior fellows from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford).
Fortunately, according to Andrew O’Hagan in his favorable review of Sad Young Literary men, this novel adopts a bemused and self-critical tone towards the confused politics of modern young literate hipsters, mocking the same lack of conviction I described in my earlier review above. It sounds like Gessen has found the right angle from which to write this novel, and I bet I’ll like the book once I read it.
Richard Brookhiser’s summary of Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith (about the religious beliefs of America’s founding fathers) is satisfying and informative, and so is Jacob Heilbrunn’s angry piece about Philip Shenon’s The Commission, which describes several ways the Bush/Cheney administration manipulated the 9/11 commission to serve their plans for war in Iraq.
I’m excited to learn of a new book about Allen Ginsberg and other Beat writers’ adventures in India, A Blue Hand by Deborah Baker. Critic Celia McGee is a talented writer — several phrasings in this review caused me to pause with admiration — but I regret her attitude of condescension towards Ginsberg and towards Indian religion:
Baker keeps tabs on a certain Asoke Sarkar, whose genie-like materializing in a saffron robe turns out to be somewhat responsible — or, depending on the viewpoint, to blame — for Ginsberg’s loosing the Hare Krishna chant on the United States.
I don’t blame anybody for spreading the ancient practice of praying to Krishna to the United States. I’d rather hear chants of “Hare Krishna” than chants of “let’s bomb those motherfuckers back to the stone age”. Guess which chant I hear more often these days?
Finally, having witnessed countless failed attempts at literary satire in the New York Times Book Review in recent years (particularly within the endpaper essay), I just have to point to Sarah Weinman’s New York Magazine piece on Philip Roth’s 75th Birthday. Why doesn’t the NYTBR ever run a funny piece like this?