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In Praise Of Anatol Lieven

Most writers on foreign policy offer up the usual cant. One notable exception to this is Anatol Lieven, who writes fairly regularly for The National Interest, The Financial Times, and The London Review Of Books. I had a chance last year to pick up his book, America Right Or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, and found it to be the best analysis yet on the recent tumult in American politics. He has a new book coming out this fall, written with John Hulsman, called Ethical Realism and American Foreign Policy. It should be worth reading closely. Lieven has emerged as the best analyst of the potent combination of American idealism, religious fervor, and nationalist sentiment.

In the Summer 2006 issue of The National Interest, Lieven reviews the career of Francis Fukuyama, the apostate from neoconservativism. I can't recommend the article enough, not only for its discussion of Fukuyama's interesting career, but also for Lieven's casual apercus on American life -- observations that are worth fleshing out at great length. One example:

"Truly deep and radical thought in the foreign-policy-oriented sections of U.S. academia and think tanks is deadened both by the hegemony of American civic-nationalist ideology and by the interlacing of these institutions with the organs of government. As a result, too many formally independent American experts in fact tailor their every statement so that it can never be held against them by a possible political patron or at a Senate confirmation hearing. As a retired U.S. ambassador put it to me recently, 'in terms of free debate and moral courage, there is nothing worse than a permanent campaign for unelected office.'"

That observation goes a long way to explain how the United States found itself in its current agonizing position.