Books: Some Unconventional Wisdom

A review of The J Curve by Ian Bremmer and Winning the Un-War by Charles Peña.  Two authors turn their critical, discerning eye on the foibles of U.S. counter-terror and nation-building strategy. Just one offers a constructive course

Issue: Sept-Oct 2006

Ian Bremmer, The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 320 pp., $26.00.

Charles Peña, Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2006), 272 pp., $27.95.

Given current events--the disappointing lack of progress (if not backsliding) in Afghanistan, the de facto sectarian and ethnic civil war in Iraq, and the difficulties the United States faces in obtaining an international consensus on how to deal with the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea--it is rather ironic that it is realism, rather than other schools of international relations, which labors under something of a cloud. Nonetheless, it is realists--succinctly defined by Eliot Cohen in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last December as those who "believe that in foreign policy what matters is the national interest coolly calculated, the relationships of power, and the incurable nastiness of the human condition" (N.B. the good professor did not intend this characterization to be viewed favorably)--who find themselves assailed by both cosmopolitans on the left and neoconservatives on the right, both accusing them of varying types of amorality, if not worse.

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