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In Defence of America

Bronwen Maddox
Gerald Duckworth, 192pp

In Defence of AmericaGod bless America? Maddox, a Times columnist, argues that the vast majority of the world, including the UK, feels quite the opposite, condemning the USA as anything between disappointment to a criminal nation. In Defence of America presents the other side of the argument. She sketches the anti-US picture and gives as much of a defence of recent actions as she can muster. In between, she digs back into the crucial constitutional positions that defined the states, keeping her eye on these as she argues the rest of the case.

The result is an eye-opening tour of current topography, with reference to underlying strata, demonstrating how features like federalism and states rights impact on the economic liberalism of the country. There's some spirited invocation of the past, not in a slushy, flag saluting manner but more as an explanation of why the US is the way it is now.

The book is also a guide to this huge national machine of global and economic influence. In Maddox's analysis the US comes across as big, not just as a population or land mass, but as a functioning, working unit. This working spans John Adams' balancing states and federal rights, through civil war, and civil rights through to her explanation of the huge features that make the contemporary states so incomprehensible.

I didn't actually recognise the anti-US sentiments that are the starting point for this book. Maddox finds a few chattering columnists to quote, but the UK found something of inspiration in the presidential election campaigns, while still enjoying Batman films and Coke.

Maddox may just be preaching to the converted who can do the same trick she does, of separating this great machine from the rejects of policy it has churned out over the past eight years. Consequently, she could have been spared some of the more strained arguments - invoking the great outdoor life isn't really a defence of Bush's Kyoto policy.

The post 9/11 solidarity may have been squandered, but there is a genuine bond, that led Churchill to believe Roosevelt could be relied on and equally left Lyndon Johnson wondering why Wilson couldn't be similarly supportive in Vietnam. It's an old alliance where the bonds are deeper than the current year's manifestation.

This split between the machine and its product is especially evident in Maddox's proposed solutions for the US future. Revisions of policy on China, Turkey and Guantanomo are still micro-solutions. In the background there is still this mass of history and ideals. In fact Maddox's best arguments are when, as with Iraq, she pits those ideals against current manifestations.

This very human dichotomy between what the US wants to do, and what it does, is the reason why Maddox can defend the US. It's also, in part, the reason why many readers are already there with her, hoping for some recovery of these ideals under a new administration. So, yes, God bless 'em.

Huw Thomas