Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best Book Review of the Aughts?

Kaplan’s real and growingly evident problem is not his Parkinson’s grip on history, or that he is a bonehead or a warmonger, but rather that he is an incompetent thinker and a miserable writer.
One of my proudest duties on the Joint Staff was re-writing the reading list of the Central and East European Division, removing Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts.  Tom Bissell takes Kaplan to task and deservedly so.  Kaplan, along with Huntingon, proved that bad ideas spread further than good ones and can do a whole lot of damage.
He writes that Samarkand is a “would-be Bangkok,” with its “army of whores.” I asked a friend who lived in Samarkand for years if that description at all rang true to him. My friend was still laughing when I hung up the phone.
Another delightfully nasty quote:
Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the extension of politics by other means. Bush and Kaplan, on the other hand, appear to advocate war as cultural politics by other means. This has resulted in a collision of second-rate minds with third-rate policies. While one man attempts to make the world as simple as he is able to comprehend it, the other whispers in his various adjutants’ ears that they are on the side of History itself.
Yet another:
Kaplan’s take on Taras Bulba is so absurd it is amazing that when his introduction arrived at the Modern Library’s offices, the pages were not locked in a lead-walled time capsule.
 And on Balkan Ghosts, a book I reluctantly read, knowing it was going to be bad:
In Kaplan’s telling, Balkan mass-murder was inevitable and unsurprising, given the region’s history. One wonders why, then, those who were slaughtered didn’t see it coming and get out. “Nevertheless,” Kaplan writes in Balkan Ghosts’s new foreword, “nothing I write should be taken as a justification, however mild, for the war crimes committed by ethnic Serb troops in Bosnia, which I heartily condemn.” Here is a writer reassuring us that he does not think genocide is justifiable, and that he condemns it. Any book written in a way to require such a statement is on thin moral ice.
It takes a special kind of man to waltz into a foreign city, tar the entire populace as recessive Nazis, and then refer to them as animals.
And finally, the devastating assessment:
When he reaches Greece, where he lived for several years, Kaplan chides scholars for ignoring “the most recent 2,000 years of Greek history . . . in favor of an idealized version of ancient Greece, a civilization that had already died before Jesus’ birth.” But this is precisely Kaplan’s technique in looking upon the rest of the world: Find one epoch, fixate upon it, project outward in the most intellectually irresponsible method imaginable.
 Ok, one more:
Or it may indicate Robert D. Kaplan’s racism as he thoughtlessly compares perspiring black Americans to barbarians.
 Ok, yet one more:
Imperial Grunts .... is not merely an account of twenty-first-century soldiering; it is also Kaplan’s attempt to define, defend, and justify American “imperialism.” On this point Grunts is a thesaurus of incoherencies.
 Ok, yet one more still:

Kaplan is equally coldhearted about civilians’ lives. When a Marine kills an Iraqi civilian, Kaplan writes, “I felt bad for the marine who had fired the shot—any civilian would have felt bad for him, if he or she had experienced the complexity and confusion of this urban battle space.” As for the dead Iraqi—tough luck, Ali. Next time don’t be so pretentious.
The summary of the review:
Kaplan is worse than a bad writer or thinker. He is a dangerous writer made ever more dangerous by the fact that he is taken seriously. Even his most hostile reviews have treated him as though his arguments are still within the pale.

I have taken great delight in this take down of Kaplan because I so much concur with this last quote of the book--that Kaplan is not just wrong, but wrongfully relevant.  I usually spend about 45 minutes each year trying to do to Huntington what this reviewer did in this piece to Kaplan.  Is it scholarly to vent one's spleen at those spewers of bad ideas?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it does make one feel good.

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