In This Review

At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention
At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention
By David Rieff
Simon & Schuster, 2005, 288 pp

In the last decade, Rieff has been one of the most engaging observers of war and humanitarian emergencies in such troubled places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This collection of essays charts the predicament of liberal internationalism, chronicling the author's intellectual path from cautious supporter of armed action to disillusioned skeptic. Rieff is clearly inspired by Washington's global moral ambitions and finds it difficult to resist British Prime Minister Tony Blair's dictum--championed by both liberal activists and neoconservatives--that if the West can "establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights, and an open society," it should do so. The caution and misgivings that creep into these essays appear to reflect the accumulated experience from a decade of world-weary reporting from the field, capped by journalistic forays into the chaos of postwar Iraq. One set of essays focuses on the struggles of the United Nations and Western states to cope with humanitarian emergencies. Another offers fascinating reporting from postinvasion Iraq and reflections on the odd Bush-era "marriage" of liberal Wilsonians and conservative hawks. The most compelling is Rieff's lamentation for what he sees as a growing gap between the violence, oppression, and misery that lie outside the gates of the Western world and the tough realities that prevent marshaling the force and moral authority to do anything about them.