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Rogue Nation: The America the Rest of the World Knows

by Peter Scowen

Writers who stray from the pro-George W. Bush bandwagon are finding a growing readership eager for analysis that transcends the good/evil dichotomy that marks much media coverage of recent world events. Among those writers is Peter Scowen, a Toronto Star reporter who turns a skeptical eye toward U.S. foreign policy in this study of why the rest of the world is suspicious of American calls for democracy.

Scowen deconstructs the Bush grammar of global evil and concludes that much of the White House rhetoric about bin Laden and his cohorts could just as easily describe the many human rights disasters perpetrated by the U.S. in such places as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Guatemala, Iran, and Chile. Rogue Nation is strongest on this score, unwrapping both recent atrocities (the cruise missile bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan) and such distant events as the forced relocation of the residents of Diego Garcia for a B-52 bomber base in the Indian Ocean.

Midway through the book, though, Scowen’s analysis seems to go off the rails. His portrait of a superpower in decline suffering from obesity, bad films, and a high rate of incarceration is interesting, but it doesn’t quite link up with his primary thesis. And although he admits that his journalistic book should not be confused with the more thorough work of historians on these subjects, this caveat fails to excuse some major fact-checking errors. Scowen swallows wholesale the debunked myths that contra attacks on Nicaragua constituted a “civil war”; that U.N. inspectors were kicked out of Baghdad in 1998; and that Jimmy Carter was a human rights president.

All of this makes Rogue Nation feel like a work-in-progress that needs to be finished by inquiring readers interested in the questions Scowen raises.