by Steven D. Strauss
Indianapolis, Ind.: Alpha Books, 2002. Pp. 318.
Append, glossary, index. $18.95 . ISBN:0-02-864366-6
The Complete Idiot’s Guide series has been a huge seller when it comes to books about any number of topics under the sun. They often provide people with what they need to know about these topics in simple terms. However, the Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Conflict, while upholding those traditions, tends to be overly dovish and tends to be overly critical of the United States of America.
The book has its good points – it is an up-to-date overview of thepresent conflicts in the world at the time of its publication (the sections on Iraq and Haiti are out of date). It also has a glossary that explains a number of things, and an appendix that at least explains where the author got his information.
That said, the book has some serious flaws. There is a mild-to-moderate “blame America” bias in Chapter 22. In that chapter, Ronald Reagan is described as “bellicose” (the reviewer feels a better way to put it is that Jimmy Carter was extremely passive in his foreign policy), the Vietnam War is called “a mistake from its inception” (the reviewer feels the only mistake the United States made in Vietnam was not fighting to win that war in 1965), and the war on terror as a “double-edged sword” (“a war we must win” would be a much more accurate way to put it). The author’s comments on the War on Drugs (“The War on Drugs hurts the neediest in Colombia”) and about former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (“Aristide tried to restore democracy”) are debatable at best.
Chapter 24 is another section which the reviewer takes strong issue with. In light of the recent revelations about the Oil-for-Food program ($21.3 billion looted by Saddam and used for bribery and re-armament), corruption in general, and the utter failures of peacekeeping in Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, and elsewhere lead the reviewer to a far different conclusion about the UN than Strauss’s. If anything, whether or not the UN should survive is debatable at this point. It is in desperate need of reform, and even then, it is unsure whether or not that organization will be able to regain the trust it once held. It fails to take into account that there are thugs in this world, and that the only thing that will make them leave those who want to live in peace alone is the will to use force against the thugs.
Ultimately, this book does provide decent coverage of some world conflicts. It takes a “moral equivalence” view between Israel and Palestine, which, while better than other outlets, fails to take into account that the Israelis are dealing with the constant threat of terrorist attacks. The reviewer, while normally a fan of other books in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series, feels this book’s negatives outweigh the positives by enough that it cannot be recommended as an initial source for understanding what is going on – particularly when compared to A Quick and Dirty Guide to War.