By Conrad Black With an introductory note by Henry Kissinger Encounter, $35.99, 746 pages

Washington Times on July 16, 2013, published a review by Victor Fic on a new book by Conrad Black on how America’s grand strategies brought it to world leadership… Benjamin Franklin accurately foresaw the new nation’s move to continental and global power.

Conrad Black, controversial Canadian media mogul turned prolific and confident historian, recalls that ascent in “Flight of the Eagle” — and is justifiably impressed. He examines American leaders across the full sweep of the nation’s history, starting with those who presided over the 1754-63 French and Indian War.

Mr. Black’s judgments return time and again to the achievements of Franklin, whose bespectacled “everyman” persona disguised a wily diplomat who aligned the 13 Colonies with England to expel France from Canada in 1763. Franklin then manipulated Paris into helping the republican Americans trump London. However, he was not operating in a leadership vacuum. Mr. Black rightly asserts that during this period, George Washington’s generalship shined, James Madison’s push for checks and balances afforded the country a stable but dynamic start, and Thomas Jefferson added “purse power” to statecraft by purchasing expansive Louisiana on the cheap.

The author depicts Woodrow Wilson, a preacher’s son, as breathing the soul of high principle into the muscled body of U.S. power, saving French and English democracy from Germany,…

Jumping ahead to Vietnam, Mr. Black criticizes Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy for not stopping Hanoi from infiltrating guerrilla invaders along the Ho Chi Minh trail into South Vietnam.

Mr. Black is correct that the Pentagon’s failure regarding the Ho Chi Minh trail undermined its justifiable war. But he insists that Washington should have sent in Southeast Asia Treaty Organization troops, yet omits that the Laos treaty proscribed these.

Although the focus of the book is America’s role in the world, a short review cannot address all the hot spots that Mr. Black revisits in often convoluted fashion. Regarding Iran, Mr. Black suggests that President Carter and the shah should have used more force against Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini.

Next, Mr. Black defends President George W. Bush’s decision to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The author remembers how the cheating dictator draped himself in a blanket of suspicion with his defiance of the 17 U.N. resolutions mandating disarmament.

How does a reader assess Mr. Black’s overall analytic perspective across such a broad swath of history? Sometimes, as an example of strategy, the author cites men who carefully selected means to achieve limited ends, e.g., the revolutionaries who pulled triggers for freedom. But he also awards points to President Andrew Jackson for compromises on slavery that postponed a martial showdown until the growing North could vanquish the South.

The book’s conclusion canvasses America’s parlous present, disfavoring its faltering schools and national debt. He castigates its present leaders as “mediocre strivers,” but he realizes the American people are resilient and inventive. He predicts they will again water their living tradition’s seeds of renewal to become “sensible” and even “exemplary.”

Victor Fic is a freelance writer in Toronto.


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