In This Review

Six Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How America Can Meet Them

Six Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How America Can Meet Them
By Anthony Lake
318 pp, Little, Brown, 2000

This book by President Bill Clinton's former national security adviser may seem anticlimactic after September 11. Lake did not foresee that particular style of terrorist attack, but he did warn of the possibility of "asymmetric warfare" by states or groups hostile to the United States. Here he sketches hypothetical "nightmares" in the early twenty-first century, ranging from anthrax attacks to civil war in North Korea, that conclude with the true story of how U.S. Senate leaders voted down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without hearings -- even though most Americans supported it. Lake skillfully uses this rhetorical device not only to outline threats but to discuss the lack of U.S. preparedness. He also offers revealing glimpses of the Clinton administration while suggesting organizational improvements, which include a White House office for homeland defense. A rich chapter on Washington's foreign policymaking during the past decade underlines the destructive tendencies of partisan politics and the perverse role of the press, which appears determined to report only bad, preferably character-damning news. He shows that foreign policy is not a sports event, with clear winners and losers; indeed, relations go on for years, even decades. Especially insightful is his discussion of the dangers attending excessive weakness in other countries, whether allies or potential adversaries.