Once every five or ten years a brilliant synthesis of the published literature comes along and mixes it with profound analyses and insights to describe courageously diplomatic and political realities in such manner that its truth becomes a work of aesthetics and self-sustaining persuasion. Lieven's book bids for this accolade.
Starting with an excellent summary of America's nationalistic mood resulting from 9/11, Lieven summarizes the nature and types of nationalisms and then rapidly connects many of the negative aspects of America's nationalism to the ones pulsating through Europe before World War I. While doing so, he never loses balance and does not neglect the commendable civilizing aspects of America's Creed. Balance and proportion are quite well sustained throughout the book. Weaving smoothly back and forth between current events and the positions of pundits and politicians and historical ones, even beyond Europe, he brilliantly connects disparate events into a meaningful whole and then extracts meaning. As only one of many examples, Jacksonian nationalism and its brutal manifestations of the ethnic cleansing of the Creeks, etc. is presumably derived from the religio-ethnically inspired Scot-Irish "extermination" of the Gaelic-Irish. While there are incontestable civilizing elements to America's nationalism, there are also dangerous and destructive ingredients, a sort of Hegelian thesis and antithesis theme which places a strong question mark in America's historical theme of exceptionalism.
Unlike in other post-World War II nations, America's nationalism is permeated by values and religious elements derived mostly from the South and the Southern Baptists, though the fears and panics of the embittered heartland provide additional fuel.
While discussing "Jacobin Internationalism", "Wolfy Wilsonians", Nativism, racism in the South, Irish Catholics, the Christian Right, Fundamentalists, Millenarians, etc. Lieven expertly brings historical facts and figures into contact with current ones to illuminate and paint the grand tapestry of America's contemporary nationalism.
Lieven's book, among other elements, is also a summation of lots of minor observations--even personal ones he made as a student in the small town of Troy, Alabama--and historical details which reflect the grand evolution of America's nationalism. When he says that "an unwillingness or inability among Americans to question the country's sinlessness feeds a culture of public conformism," then he has the support of Mark Twain who said something to the effect that we are blessed with three things in this country, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and, thirdly, the common sense to practice neither one! Ditto when he daringly points out America's "hypocrisy," which also is corroborated by other scholars, among them James Hillman in his recent book "A Terrible Love of War" in which he characterizes hypocrisy as quintessentially American.
Lieven continues with the impact of the Cold War on America's nationalism and then, having always expanded the theme of Bush's foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, examines with commendable perspective the complex and very much unadmitted current aspects of the U.S.'s relationships with the Moslems, the Iraq War and the impact of the pro-Israeli lobby. It is the sort of assessment one rarely finds in the U.S. media. He exposes the alienation the U.S. caused among allies and, in particular, the Arabs and the EU.
Lieven wrote this book with passion and commendable sincerity. Though it comes from a foreigner, its advice would without question serve not only America's interest but also provide a substantial basis for a detached and objective approach to solving the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the satisfaction of all involved before worse deeds and more burdens materialize.