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Fragments of a Defunct State

Stephen Holmes: Putin’s Russia, 5 January 2012

Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia 
by Luke Harding.
Guardian, 310 pp., £20, September 2011, 978 0 85265 247 3
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... How to characterise the Putin regime, a now shaken and besieged ruling group sometimes said to be the richest in the history of the world? ‘Soft authoritarianism’, ‘hybrid regime’, ‘managed democracy’: the labels reveal less about Russia than about the inability of commentators to loosen the Cold War’s lingering hold on their thinking ...


Stephen Holmes: ‘Bomb Power’, 8 April 2010

Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State 
by Garry Wills.
Penguin Press, 278 pp., $27.95, January 2010, 978 1 59420 240 7
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... The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use, and be authorised to use, in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody, he doesn’t have to call the Congress, he doesn’t have to check with the courts ...


Stephen Holmes: Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia by Stephen Cohen, 19 April 2001

Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia 
by Stephen Cohen.
Norton, 305 pp., £15.95, November 2000, 0 393 04964 7
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... of President Bush’s foreign policy team have even begun echoing those leftist critics, such as Stephen Cohen, who miss no opportunity to denounce ‘the disastrous failure of US policy towards post-Communist Russia’. Best known for his 1973 study of Bukharin, Cohen is presumably well prepared to imagine how Russian history might have gone if events had ...


Stephen Holmes: Naomi Klein, 8 May 2008

The Shock Doctrine 
by Naomi Klein.
Penguin, 558 pp., £8.99, June 2008, 978 0 14 102453 0
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... The anti-globalisation movement suffered a dizzying setback on 9/11. Symbolic gatecrashing into the well-guarded meeting places of the super-rich suddenly seemed a much more sinister activity than before. Busting up branches of Starbucks and other Seattle-style antics became anathema in an atmosphere of injured and vindictive patriotism. But Naomi Klein, the combative theorist and publicist of anti-globalisation, was not about to accept such guilt by association ...

Neo-Con Futurology

Stephen Holmes: The incoherent thinking behind US foreign policy, 5 October 2006

After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads 
by Francis Fukuyama.
Profile, 226 pp., £12.99, March 2006, 1 86197 922 3
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... In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Francis Fukuyama signed an open letter arguing that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was essential to ‘the eradication of terrorism’, even if Saddam were revealed to have had no connection to al-Qaida and no hand in the attack. At that time, in other words, and alongside neo-con celebrities such as Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol, Fukuyama was beating the drum for a ‘shift in focus from al-Qaida to Iraq ...

How the World Works

Stephen Holmes: Alan Greenspan, 22 May 2014

The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature and the Future of Forecasting 
by Alan Greenspan.
Allen Lane, 388 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 0 241 00359 6
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... Among​ the once celebrated triumphs of Alan Greenspan’s eighteen and a half years as chairman of the Federal Reserve, three stand out. First, he responded nimbly and forcefully to a series of dangerous crashes (from Black Monday in October 1987 to the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000), injecting liquidity to calm the markets and arguably fending off recession ...

Give me the man

Stephen Holmes: The pursuit of Clinton, 18 March 1999

Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis 
by Alan Dershowitz.
Basic Books, 275 pp., £15.95, January 1999, 0 465 01628 6
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The Case against Lameduck Impeachment 
by Bruce Ackerman.
Seven Stories, 80 pp., $8, February 1999, 1 58322 004 6
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... How do millenarians explain themselves when the millennium skips by and the imperfect secular world fails to implode? This seemingly frivolous question is suddenly topical in Washington DC, not because Y2K is fast approaching, but because America’s first sexually titillating Constitutional crisis has ended with an embarrassing whimper. A Republican Congress has just been publicly humiliated for trying unsuccessfully to oust a Democratic President in the middle of his second term ...

What’s in it for Obama?

Stephen Holmes: The Drone Presidency, 18 July 2013

The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth 
by Mark Mazzetti.
Penguin, 381 pp., £22.50, April 2013, 978 1 59420 480 7
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... It is not a function of not trying to take people to Guantánamo,’ the US attorney general, Eric Holder, told a Senate subcommittee on 6 June as he struggled to defend President Obama’s targeted killing programme. His ungainly syntax betrayed his acute embarrassment. He is not the only government spokesman who finds it difficult to answer questions about America’s loosing of drones onto the world ...

Looking Away

Stephen Holmes: Questions of Intervention, 14 November 2002

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide 
by Samantha Power.
Basic Books, 640 pp., £21.99, January 2002, 0 465 06150 8
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War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals 
by David Halberstam.
Bloomsbury, 540 pp., £20, April 2002, 0 7475 5946 5
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... Conceived and researched during the 1990s, these two books nevertheless make important contributions to our understanding of today’s international turbulence and uncertainty. Taken together, they help unravel one of the deepest mysteries of American policy towards Iraq: namely, why dissent inside the US has been so tame and equivocal. Why have the keenest protests against Bush’s strategically unnecessary unilateralism come from the internationalist wing of the Republican Party (Brent Scowcroft, James Baker) rather than from the Democrats or the Left? Samantha Power and David Halberstam did not set out to solve this riddle, but they have unintentionally provided an important part of the answer ...

No Grand Strategy and No Ultimate Aim

Stephen Holmes: US policy in Iraq, 6 May 2004

Incoherent Empire 
by Michael Mann.
Verso, 278 pp., £15, October 2003, 1 85984 582 7
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... The defining reality of today’s international order is no longer 11 September but America’s increasingly bloody occupation of a turbulent Iraq. So why did the Bush administration shift its attention from tracking down Osama bin Laden and a limited number of al-Qaida fugitives to reordering the Iraqi political system in line with American interests and values? This diversion of resources from a clandestine war against a proven enemy to the uphill stabilisation of a wretchedly abused and fractured society seems extraordinarily illogical, even self-defeating ...

The End of Idiocy on a Planetary Scale

Stephen Holmes: ‘The Communist Manifesto’, 29 October 1998

The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition 
by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Verso, 82 pp., £8, April 1998, 1 85984 898 2
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... If Communism is only sketchily described, then post-Communism is simply unthinkable in Marx’s philosophy of history. So how can we make sense of his remarkable masterpiece in the 150th anniversary year of its original publication? The Communist Manifesto still feels alive to the touch. But what does a ‘modern edition’ of the work have to teach those inhabiting a world which Marx himself could not conceivably have anticipated? Generations of scholars have sifted the archives to unearth ‘Marx before Marxism ...

In Search of New Enemies

Stephen Holmes, 24 April 1997

The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order 
by Samuel Huntington.
Simon and Schuster, 370 pp., £16.99, February 1997, 0 684 81164 2
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... Samuel Huntington, the Harvard professor and self-styled defender of Western civilisation, has been a dominant voice in American political science for thirty years. Roughly contemporary, as a Harvard graduate student in security studies, with Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Huntington failed to achieve their spectacular level of success in Washington, although he did rise to a second-tier position in the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter ...

By the Roots

Jeremy Waldron, 9 February 1995

The Anatomy of Anti-Liberalism 
by Stephen Holmes.
Harvard, 330 pp., £23.95, November 1993, 0 674 03180 6
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... Catholic and the first of six exemplars of anti-liberal sentiment, past and present, chosen by Stephen Holmes for dissection in his Anatomy. The others are Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, Alasdair MacIntyre, Christopher Lasch and Roberto Unger. To choose Maistre as one’s point of departure is to set a provocative, not to say lurid tone. There are ...

Was it because of the war?

Rogers Brubaker: Building Europe, 15 October 1998

Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe 
by Thomas Ertman.
Cambridge, 379 pp., £45, April 1997, 0 521 48222 4
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... and practical concern. The post-Cold War moment of triumphant anti-statism has passed. As Stephen Holmes has forcefully argued, it is not the omnipotence of the state, but its impotence, that threatens the basic rights and well-being of citizens in Russia today. The ‘withering away of the state’ has meant the withering away of state ...

11 September

LRB Contributors, 4 October 2001

... goings-on is a direct result of that unforgettable, unforgivable, life-shattering Tuesday morning. Stephen Holmes New York Islam was a medieval religion that had managed to stumble on into the 20th century. This was the view held in the 1950s by academic pundits in the West, such as Alfred Guillaume and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who wrote general guides to ...

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