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Book Review: Empire's Workshop

Book by Greg Gandin

Review by Barry Stoner, Steering Committee

Think what's been happening in Iraq under President Bush is an aberration?  That up until Iraq, the United States stood solidly for international law and human rights?  Think again, says Greg Grandin in this important book--because what's been occurring in Iraq has happened again and again in Latin America over the past 40-50 years.

Some of the ground Grandin covers is familiar.  Many of us remember well the scorched earth policies that killed tens of thousands of civilians in Central America in the 1980's while President Reagan talked glowingly of freedom fighters and democracy.  Grandin does a nice job of detailing these massive human rights abuses, along with the neo-liberal economic policies and the war on the domestic opposition that backed them up.  The section on Reagan's Office of Public Diplomacy is particularly strong in laying out the cynical manipulation of public opinion so typical of this period.  Grandin reminds us that a number of the actors in Reagan's Central American policy have reappeared to guide President Bush's war in Iraq and seem to be playing from the same script.

One small criticism: in spite of its subtitle, the book mostly focuses on events in Central America and might have been strengthened by including more material on U.S. policy in the Southern Cone countries of Latin America, where massive human rights abuses in the 1960's and '70's, including from Operation Condor, also occurred.  

Grandin's book closes with a warning.  In the 1980's conservatives unleashed American military and economic might on the Central American Left in order to exact revenge for the defeat in Vietnam.  Don't discount the possibility of something similar happening again, he says, if the U.S. loses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This book can be either a nice review for activists or an introduction to the dark side of U.S. foreign policy for those who need it.  I highly recommend it.