ActivePaper Archive BOOKS IN BRIEF - Foreign Policy, 2018-04-01

BOOKS IN BRIEF

Picture

The Wealth of a Nation: A History of Trade Politics in America

C. DONALD JOHNSON, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 664 PP., $34.95, APRIL 2018

DURING THE U.S. CIVIL WAR, in the midst of one of the country’s many protectionist benders, a man named Joseph Wharton successfully lobbied for high tariffs on imported nickel. It made sense for him: He owned the nation’s only working nickel mine. He also got Congress to mandate a new 5-cent coin so there’d be a market for his monopoly. But Wharton is perhaps best known for endowing the world’s first business school, to which he assigned a clear mission: “to advocate economic protectionism unequivocally,” writes C. Donald Johnson in The Wealth of a Nation.

Perhaps it’s due to a certain Wharton graduate that protectionism has stomped back so noisily into the center of American politics. Or perhaps it’s a national design flaw. After all, American colonists initially rebelled because of British mercantilism and then turned around and did the mother country one better by becoming masters of the tariff wall and government coddling of industry, nearly starting their own civil war decades ahead of schedule.

Johnson, who worked as a trade official in President Bill Clinton’s administration and then as a lawyer, set out to chronicle the central role trade politics have always played in the United States. He largely succeeds, bringing the historical debates to life with a cast of characters from Henry Clay to Cordell Hull, though at times he wades too deeply into the minutiae of congressional horse-trading and international trade talks.

From the outset, Johnson stresses, U.S. politics have been a variation on a theme. Economic nationalists such as Alexander Hamilton wanted high tariffs to shield certain domestic industries. Free traders warned that farmers and workers would end up paying the price of that protection. Time and again, most memorably with the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, Republican Congresses gleefully ignored the cries of farmers, merchants, big exporters, and laborers and gave a few well-connected firms steep tariffs to hide behind. Now, thanks to expanded presidential trade authority, Republican presidents get to do the same thing.

With the Trump administration starting trade wars and bringing protectionism back, the book couldn’t be timelier. But then, as The Wealth of a Nation makes clear, the wonder isn’t that protectionism returned—it’s that free traders ever won a few rounds along the way.

KEITH JOHNSON (@KFJ_FP) is a senior staff writer at FOREIGN POLICY.

Our Time Has Come: How India Is Making Its Place in the World

ALYSSA AYRES, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 360 PP., $27.95, JANUARY 2018

IT SEEMS INDIA has been about to take its place in the sun ever since independence. In the early 1950s, the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said he sensed a “certain leadership is thrust upon India.” India’s first attempt to build a blue-water navy in the 1970s led many, at least inside the country, to herald its emergence as a great world power. And when it tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, India gatecrashed a very exclusive club.

But decades of closed-door economics, endemic poverty, and ambivalence about exercising military muscle always kept India from truly reaching great-power status—until, perhaps, now. Our Time Has Come is a sweeping analysis of India’s remarkable recent transformation into one of the world’s biggest economies and militaries and an increasingly confident player on the global stage.

Alyssa Ayres, a former State Department official now at the Council on Foreign Relations, spent decades tracking India, from a college study abroad program to her service in President Barack Obama’s administration. She ably charts the country’s emergence from the straitjacket of socialist policies, which helped breed a fetish for self-reliance and stifled Indian firms’ ability to compete in the global economy.

While there is still plenty left to do—labor market and land reform, for starters—India is finally unleashing the economic potential of its largely young population of 1.3 billion. “The long road from Nehru’s ‘socialistic pattern of society’ to [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s ‘business runs in my blood’ captures the epic scale of change in India,” Ayres writes.

That economic foundation is midwifing another equally important change for India: a chance to finally assume its “rightful place” in the world. China is a spur in more ways than one. Like China, India is seeking to revise a Western-dominated global order in institutions such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, and the two countries are creating new institutions to supplant the old, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

But China’s eruption into India’s neighborhood—including increased border incursions in the north and especially a growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean—has pushed New Delhi to assume a more prominent security role and nudged it closer to Washington.

That doesn’t mean India and the United States are allies, or will be anytime soon, Ayres takes pains to stress. India may have formally shaken off its “nonaligned” stance of decades past, but it still cherishes its strategic autonomy—especially as it charts its newfound place in the world.—KJ

War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century

DAVID PATRIKARAKOS, BASIC BOOKS, 320 PP., $17.99, NOVEMBER 2017

MANY COMMENTATORS THESE DAYS like to proclaim that conventional military strategy is passé and war is now waged via smartphones and Facebook feeds. But what does that actually mean in practice? Journalist David Patrikarakos’s new book chronicles in granular detail exactly how social media has transformed the way that modern wars are fought.

Patrikarakos argues that narrative war has become more important than physical war as a result of new technologies. Crucially, the spread of social media has brought about a “virtual mass enlistment” that gives civilians as much—and sometimes more—power as state propaganda machines. He is clear-eyed about this leveling of the playing field. “The state will always fight back,” he writes—and it has.

Patrikarakos goes to great lengths to show both sides of each conflict he covers. His chapter on Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas in Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge, first brings us into the home of Farah Baker, a 16-year-old Twitter activist who became the voice of Gaza during the Israeli bombing campaign. We then follow the author into the inner sanctum of the Israel military and see how the defense establishment adjusted, slowly, to fighting a new enemy and a narrative war.

In Ukraine, Patrikarakos meets a middle-aged mother and former public relations executive who uses Facebook to source boots and body armor and then drives them to the front line in subzero temperatures. The author joins her there, under threat of artillery fire, as she delivers the supplies. On the other side of the battlefield, Russia’s state-sponsored trolls wage a concerted counterpropaganda effort. Rather than simply justifying its actions, Patrikarakos writes, the Kremlin’s online army aimed to flood the zone with conflicting information and “sow as much confusion as possible.”

Virtual mass enlistment can strike a blow at even technologically savvy states such as Russia. It was a group of obsessive internet sleuths who proved that a Russian-made missile likely shot down a Malaysia Airlines jet in Ukraine in 2014. What is most remarkable about this episode, he writes, is that “the Russian government was forced to publicly battle a group of mostly unpaid civilian volunteers … a battle that would have been both unnecessary and unthinkable just ten years ago.”

As Patrikarakos is well aware, the social media weapons described in War in 140 Characters may soon be out of date, just like the book’s title (Twitter went to 280 characters soon after the book went to press). But the profound questions this book raises about the future of warfare will remain relevant for years to come.

SASHA POLAKOW-SURANSKY (@sasha_p_s) is a deputy editor at FOREIGN POLICY.