At the Point of a Gun
At the Point of a Gun
Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention
By David Rieff
Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9780684808673, 288pp.
Publication Date: March 9, 2005
At the Point of a Gun raises critical questions we cannot ignore in this era of gunboat democracy. When, if ever, is it appropriate to intervene militarily in the domestic affairs of other nations? Are human rights and humanitarian concerns legitimate reasons for intervening, or is the assault on sovereignty -- sovereignty that is as much an article of faith at the UN as it is in Washington -- a flag of convenience for the recolonization of part of the world? What role should the United Nations play in alleviating humanitarian crises? And, above all, can democracy be imposed through the barrel of an M16?
Collected here for the first time, Rieff's essays draw a searing portrait of what happens when the grandiose schemes of policymakers and the grandiose ethical ambitions of human rights activists go horribly wrong in the field. Again and again, they ask the question: Do these moral ambitions of ours to protect people from massacre and want match either our means or our wisdom?
Rieff's articles appear as they were written. Some, however, are accompanied by brief reconsiderations in which the author describes how and why his thinking has changed both as he has reflected on what it means, as in Iraq, to impose democracy by force, and as he has witnessed, firsthand, what that redemptive project actually looks like in practice.
This is not an optimistic report. To the contrary, it is the chastened conclusion of a writer who was once one of the leading advocates of such interventions. But the questions Rieff raises are of the essence as the United States grapples with the harsh consequences of what it has wrought on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"David Rieff's ongoing examination of international events and their protagonists is often colored by a deep skepticism, and there is indeed much to be skeptical about nowadays. His analysis, based on his firsthand observation, is stimulating and clear-eyed. His book is important for those who believe that ability to cope with the future starts with frank criticism and self-analysis, and that in human affairs and institutions one of the prerequisites for progress is a relentless examination of past events, mistakes, and illusions."
-- Brian Urquhart, former Undersecretary General of the United Nations