Present and Future

Brands on global politics

While H.W. Brands' most widely known books are popular treatments of familiar subjects like the Gold Rush and the life of Benjamin Franklin, his scholarly specialty remains U.S. foreign relations. When asked about the United States' potential role in various conflicts around the world, Brands gives quick, cogent answers that reflect his years of study and thought on foreign affairs.

Since he has written a book on U.S. foreign relations in the Middle East, how does he think the Bush administration is handling the situation in Israel? His point-blank response is "Not well," but he follows it up immediately with a pithy analysis: "I'm not sure how well it could do under the best of circumstances. This is a problem that I'm fully convinced is going to be with us, and probably as virulent 50 years from now as it is today. I see no solution to this problem, and certainly none that any external power can impose." (Go figure: Brands often seems to speak in well-crafted paragraphs.)

There have been murmurs of discontent in Washington about the House of Saud. What's his take? "It's entirely possible that a Saudi version of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 will occur, and it will probably take us as much by surprise as that revolution did, and we'll have as little control over it, and we will probably be as ostracized as we were from Iran for 20 years." He adds that there's only so much pressure the U.S. can exert on the House of Saud, not because we desperately need them (they provide us with less than a fifth of our oil), but because too much change in their regime would spell the end of the regime. Besides, the administration needs the Saudis if it is to go ahead with an attempt to topple Saddam Hussein.

And what of Iraq? Brands notes that despite the White House's efforts to talk up war against Iraq and to build public opinion in that direction, other parts of the GOP leadership are against such a move. Even Brent Snowcroft, who was a principal architect of the Gulf War during the senior Bush's administration, came out against an Iraq invasion in the holy conservative precincts of the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page. Where does that leave Bush and his lieutenants? "There will have to be some very clever speechwriting and some fancy footwork on the part of the Defense Department ... to back away from this," Brands says. The key question will be "how do they gracefully back away at this point?"

Apropos of the conflicts in Israel and Kashmir, Brands offers this bit of pragmatic wisdom: "I think very many of the world's problems are simply a manifestation of the fact that people have gripes. If they have something concrete to argue over, it channels their complaints in a direction that is at least marginally acceptable. ... There are a lot of people who want the issues rather than the solutions."

  • More of the Story

  • The World as He Knows It

    H.W. Brands? The Age of Gold is just the latest in a long line of well-crafted history.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

H.W. Brands, Gold Rush, Benjamin Franklin, U.S. foreign relationships, Iraq, Kashmir, Israel, GOP, Brent Snowcroft, House of Saud, Middle East, Gulf War

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