These two short books by veteran journalists describe the deep divisions that emerged within the Western alliance over the war in Iraq. Together, the books also embody those divisions: in their contrasting explanations of what went wrong and who is to blame.
Shawcross, a British liberal who has long taken strong moral stands on foreign policy issues, leaves no doubt where he stands: George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and their coalition allies launched a just and necessary war to remove an evil dictator, and those who opposed their efforts were "friends of Saddam" who failed to understand how the world changed on September 11. Shawcross writes compellingly of Saddam Hussein's murderous history and accurately describes the erosion of U.S.-led efforts to "contain" Iraq (not least because of French and Russian unwillingness to support them). He provides an insightful account of the "neoconservatives" who built the intellectual case for war; he also shares their favorite hobbyhorses and polemical style: weak-willed Continentals have little to offer the powerful United States; not attacking Iraq would have been akin to ignoring al Qaeda in 2001 or Germany in 1936; and the only possible explanations for French and German opposition to the war are commercial interests, corruption, and anti-Americanism. The hyperbole sometimes detracts from an otherwise powerful defense of the war.
Pond's book is more descriptive than normative, but her tone makes clear that she has a different view. Impatient with the neoconservatives that Shawcross admires, she worries that Washington's arrogance and unilateralism will destroy the transatlantic alliance. Pond, an American based in Berlin, is also far less suspicious of French and German motives. The transatlantic split over whether to invade Iraq is over; the debate over the causes and consequences of that split has just begun.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.