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At the Point of a Gun


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About the Author

David Rieff is the author of eight previous books, including Swimming in a Sea of Death, At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis; and Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. He lives in New York City.


Democracy and human rights have become the rallying cry for American military adventures-or, to critics, an excuse for a new imperialism. New York Times Magazine regular Rieff, author of A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (and the son of the late Susan Sontag), was once a partisan of humanitarian military intervention; these essays, written and published in the years after Bosnia, chart his disillusionment. Rieff analyzes the doctrine of interventionism from its origins in the human rights movement and outrage over the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides, to its reluctant deployment by the Clinton administration in Kosovo and its embrace by Bush administration neocons. From the guarded "yes" of his early "A New Age of Liberal Imperialism?" Rieff's misgivings grow as he ponders what he sees as the cynicism of Western powers, the appalling ease with which victims become postintervention victimizers and, especially in Iraq, the failure of military intervention to deliver on its promises. Chastened, Rieff rejects both the grandiose projects of Pentagon planners and the isolationism of the Chomskyite left; he allows that intervention may be necessary, but only as an exceptional last resort. Mixing reportage and gloomy reflection, Rieff views history as unending tragedy-he titles one piece "In Defense of Afro-Pessimism," and the book's last words are "the future seems very bleak... and growing bleaker by the day." But his aversion to easy answers makes this a timely, probing response to contemporary geopolitics. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

In the last decade, Rieff has been one of the most engaging observers of war and humanitarian emergencies in such troubled places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At the Point of a Gun charts the predicament of liberal internationalism. . . . Offers fascinating reporting from post-invasion Iraq and reflections on the odd Bush-era 'marriage' of liberal Wilsonians and conservative hawks. -- G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs
Provocative. . . . Brutally articulate. . . . Intriguing. -- The New York Times
Rieff's lucid, fair-minded, and provocative essays should be mandatory reading for anybody who is trying to make sense out of our ever-more-troubling, post-September 11 world. -- Sanford D. Horwitt, San Francisco Chronicle

Journalist Rieff (A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis) has been a nuanced analyst of world affairs. In this current book, however, consisting of his collected articles, he seems to despair. The earlier pieces show that he was largely supportive of American and UN limited armed intervention in Kosovo and Africa, but his later pieces question his own endorsement of American military force against the backdrop of the American experience in the Iraq war. Quoting John Quincy Adams's warning that American attempts to impose democracy in foreign lands "would insensibly change from liberty to force," he questions the wisdom of American intervention because he has seen American "altruism" turned into "barbarism" in Iraq. Though no supporter of Saddam Hussein's reign of terror in Iraq and opposed to the isolationism of both the Right (Buchanan) and the Left (Chomsky), he believes that the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department did not prepare adequately for the realities on the ground in Iraq and have made things worse. Now viewing the genocide in the Sudan and the increasing dangers of rogue states, Rieff has little to offer except a vague notion of international diplomacy. A thought-provoking, very personal analysis-this former interventionist has become almost fatalistic-this book is recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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