What we’re reading

by Martin Krieger

Alan Blinder, When the Music Stopped 

Richard Haass, Wars of Necessity, Wars of Choice

How did we end up in the meltdown of 2008? How did we end up fighting in Iraq in 2003? These are for me the big questions of the first decade of the 21st century. Blinder gives the story step by step, without seeking any single cause, with a keen sense of the dilemmas and situation of the public policy actors. Surely he tells us his own judgments, but as far as I can tell he is a straight-talker. We learn almost nothing about personalities, but I am told this often played an important role. X would not play with Y, having been at odds for years before.

As for Iraq, what I want to know is what did they know, what was in their minds, and why now? Haass compared the 1991 war with the 2003 war (necessity and choice) and gives us the nitty gritty bureaucratic interactions in detail. Feith and others have provided alternative accounts. There is not Blinder yet in this story, no account that is less interested in blame than in giving an account. As I have indicated in earlier reviews, we need to assume good will and decent intentions on the parts of the policy actors.