Allies: The U.S., Britain, Europe and the War in Iraq by William Shawcross, Public Affairs, 261 pages, $20
February 18, 2004
by Ronald Radosh
William Shawcross, a man most well know in this country for Sideshow (1979), his attack on Henry Kissinger for his policy during the Cambodia incursion in the years of the Vietnam War, now stands among those coming from the Western leftwing who has reevaluated the position of the United States in the world since 9/11.
Like Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman, Shawcross has joined the ranks of those who not only support the U.S. war on Saddam Hussein, but who understand the essential and positive role played by American power in today's world.
In this clearly written, concise, and sharply argued book, Shawcross guides the reader through the events of the past decade. In doing so, he skillfully presents the strongest case possible for both the necessity and moral imperative for waging war to free Iraq from the reign of the Hitler-like Hussein. The need was, he argues, for regime change—on both humanitarian grounds and because of the stark danger that Saddam held for the world if he was free to pursue his goals.
Those of today's critics who scream about the Bush administration's violation of sovereignty will find Shawcross responding in two ways. First, regimes that are evil have no absolute right to sovereignty, and second, the threat posed by Saddam's regime did in fact pose a threat to world order that was the equivalent of that posed by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Shawcross acknowledges the mistakes made by the United States. WMDs were an inevitable rather than immediate threat, and as current events reveal, our nation was not prepared adequately for the giant task of postwar administration and rehabilitation of Iraq.
But these mistakes, which he says he too laments, do not contradict his essential point: In the new century, as in the old, "only America has both the power and the optimism to defend the international community against what really are forces of darkness."
In making this case, Shawcross demolishes the complaints and theories of the legion of left-wing intellectuals—like Gore Vidal in our country, Tony Benn in Britain, and a whole slew of French intellectuals.
Their "reflexive anti-Americanism," he writes, with its "hate-America-first view of the world," ends up preferring maintenance of the brutality of a Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and they see "no saving grace . . . in the deposition of Saddam and the attempt to bring the rules of civil society to the Middle East." Their arguments, he shows, have reached the level of complete farce.
Because it was so important to take military action against Iraq, Shawcross breaks new ground in his defense of what most critics have centered on: the charge that the Bush administration veered from traditional American policy by its reliance on a new doctrine, "pre-emptive war" rather than war to defend the nation.
He notes that what the critics see as morally wrong and unconstitutional stems not from the imperialist goals of our nation's leaders, but from the very real need to formulate a policy for our modern world—in which terrorism produces a very different and frightening set of realities than that of countering a nation's aggression.
Moreover, he shows that the previous administration of Bill Clinton shared George W. Bush's understanding that Saddam had to be stopped, or as Clinton said in 1998, "he will conclude that the international community has lost its will," and he would go on undeterred in trying to "rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction." Clinton's words were strong, but as Shawcross puts it, "he failed to follow through. That was left to Bush."
Only the United States, he reiterates, has the power needed to liberate today's oppressed peoples. When it does, the people like those in Afghanistan and Iraq are better off. "American participation," Shawcross says, "is essential to the world." We should be grateful to William Shawcross for making this necessary case.
This review appeared in the New York Post on February 15, 2004.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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