Synopses & Reviews
America keeps a fine house, Anatol Lieven writes, "but in its cellar there lives a demon, whose name is nationalism."
In this controversial critique of America's role in the world, Lieven contends that U.S. foreign policy since 9/11 has been shaped by the special character of our national identity, which embraces two contradictory features. One, "The American Creed," is a civic nationalism which espouses liberty, democracy, and the rule of law. It is our greatest legacy to the world. But our almost religious belief in the "Creed" creates a tendency toward a dangerously "messianic" element in American nationalism, the desire to extend American values and American democracy to the whole world, irrespective of the needs and desires of others.
The other feature, Jacksonian nationalism, has its roots in the aggrieved, embittered, and defensive White America, centered in the American South. Where the "Creed" is optimistic and triumphalist, Jacksonian nationalism is fed by a profound pessimism and a sense of personal, social, religious, and sectional defeat.
Lieven examines how these two antithetical impulses have played out in recent U.S. policy, especially in the Middle East and in the nature of U.S. support for Israel. He suggests that in this region, the uneasy combination of policies based on two contradictory traditions have gravely undermined U.S. credibility and complicated the war against terrorism. It has never been more vital that Americans understand our national character. This hard-hitting critique directs a spotlight on the American political soul and on the curious mixture of chauvinism and idealism that has driven the Bush administration.
"In this provocative and scholarly work, Lieven, senior associate at Washington's Carnegie Endowment, argues that normative American patriotism an optimistic 'civic creed' rooted in respect for America's institutions, individual freedoms and constitutional law contains a monster in the basement: a jingoistic, militaristic, Jacksonian nationalism that sees America as the bearer of a messianic mission to lead a Manichean struggle against the savages. Since 9/11, the Bush administration and its Christian-fundamentalist 'base' have invoked the nationalist tradition in waging the struggle against the 'evil-doers.' The result, Lieven argues, has been catastrophic for the war on terror. Rather than rally to America as the beacon of liberty, other nations (particular European and Muslim ones) feel repelled and threatened by the cavalier and unilateral superpower. Lieven's provocative final chapter argues that much of U.S. support for Israel is rooted not in the 'civic creed' (e.g., support for a fellow liberal democracy) but in a nationalism that sees the Israelis as heroic cowboys and the Palestinians as savages who must be driven from their land, as Jackson did the Cherokees. Throughout, Lieven takes to task the American liberal intelligentsia for abandoning universalist principles in favor of ethnic chauvinism and nationalist fervor. Cogently argued, this is an important contribution to the discourse on national identity, the war on terror and the nature of political liberalism." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Lieven is relentlessly candid, and has produced a remarkably thought-provoking book.... Tightly written and extensively researched.... A valuable and also a troubling book on a subject that is both crucial and in many ways extremely sensitive."--Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books
"A fascinating and incisive analysis of American nationalism."--London Review of Books
"Cogently argued...an important contribution to the discourse on national identity, the war on terror and the nature of political liberalism."--Publishers Weekly
"America Right or Wrong shows a serious intellectual talent and ambition stretching its wings. In particular, Lieven takes on some of the big questions about American identity, ideology and exceptionalism in ways that yield surprising and provocative results.... At its admirable best America Right or Wrong asks important questions and makes readers review some of their own most cherished convictions."--Walter Russell Mead, Washington Post Book World
"Some of the most trenchant and original criticism of the trajectory of U.S. foreign and military policy that has surfaced since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, 2003."--Inter Press Service
"Skillfully unravels the origins of American nationalism and illuminates its failings and virtues."--Foreword Magazine
"This fighting book digs beneath the trauma of 9-11 to uncover the cultural sources of popular support for a blindly aggressive and self-defeating foreign policy. Dazzling and inspiring."--Stephen Holmes, Professor of Politics and Law, New York University School of Law
"A searching examination of the deep-seated sources of American behavior, Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong takes on what others evade--the topics that, whether for good or ill, make us who we are and provide the engine of U. S. foreign policy. In pungent, muscular prose, Lieven makes a strong case that the neoconservatives have gotten far too much credit for the course of American policy since 9/11. His chapter on the mutually destructive course of U.S.-Israel relations is not only courageous but powerfully illuminating."--Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism
"Anatol Lieven is one of today's most insightful observers of U.S. foreign policy. In this exceptional book he provides an analysis of the virtues and the dangers of American nationalism that is as provocative as it is perceptive." --Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation
"Anatol Lieven is one of the most thought provoking and insightful writers in Washington. This book is very much in the same tradition."--Senator Dick Clark, Director of The Congressional Program, The Aspen Institute
A controversial critique of an American foreign policy driven by a highly destructive nationalism.
In this critique of America's role in the world, Lieven argues that America's unique brand of nationalism, based on an almost religious belief in the universal value of our political system, imperils both our global leadership and our success in the war against terrorism.
America Right or Wrong directs a spotlight on the American political soul and on the curious mixture of chauvinism and idealism that drives America's actions around the globe.
In this controversial critique of American political culture and its historical roots, Anatol Lieven contends that U.S. foreign policy since 9/11 has been shaped by the special character of our nationalism. Within that nationalism, Lieven analyses two very different traditions. One is the "American thesis," a civic nationalism based on the democratic values of what has been called the "American Creed." These values are held to be universal, and anyone can become an American by adopting them. The other tradition, the "American antithesis" is a populist and often chauvinist nationalism, which tends to see America as a closed national culture and civilization threatened by a hostile and barbarous outside world.
With America Right or Wrong, Lieven examines how these two antithetical impulses have played out in U.S. responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and in the nature of U.S. support for Israel. This hard-hitting critique directs a spotlight on the American political soul and on the curious mixture of chauvinism and idealism that has driven the Bush administration.
About the Author
is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, D.C. A journalist, writer, and historian, he is a Contributing Correspondent for the Washington Quarterly
and has written for The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic
, and other publications. He is the author of Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power
and The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Path to Independence
, which was a New York Times
Notable Book for 1993.
Table of Contents
1 An exceptional nationalism? 19
2 Thesis: splendor and tragedy of the American creed 48
3 Antithesis part I: the embittered heartland 88
4 Antithesis part II: fundamentalists and great fears 123
5 The legacy of the Cold War 150
6 American nationalism, Israel and the Middle East 173