Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: Explaining the Iraq War by Frank P. Harvey

A popular what if of the recent decade is the President Gore counterfactual. In these timelines, Al Gore becomes President of the United States in 2000 either because of a different Supreme Court decision or some other point of divergence (POD). A unique circumstance of these timelines is the general assumption that the Gore administration would not have gone to war with Iraq. Frank P. Harvey, however, attacks the plausibility of this assumption in his book: Explaining the Iraq War: Counterfactual Theory, Logic and Evidence.

Through his book Harvey makes a compelling argument against the generally accepted view of history: that President Bush and his neoconservative allies managed the mislead the American public and the rest of the world about the danger of Iraq, thus leading to an unpopular war. This view of history is apparent in Greenfield's 43*, as Andrew Schneider pointed out in his review and even in Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives. Harvey, on the other hand, suggests that the groundwork for the confrontation with Iraq was laid much earlier than 9/11 and that a foreign policy hawk like Gore would have followed a similar route as Bush in dealing with Iraq.

Fair warning, Explaining the Iraq War is not an alternate history book. It is a counterfactual history and yes there is a difference. This is not a traditional narrative most alternate historians are used to, even including the fictional history textbooks or memoirs like When Angels Wept. This book is over 300 pages of facts, figures and quotes from a large variety of sources that Harvey uses to make his argument about the foreign policy of his counterfactual Gore administration. It is a dense tome that counterfactual historians and foreign policy buffs will enjoy for its insightful look at the causes of the Iraq War, but more casual alternate historians will find this book difficult to read.

Although I found Explaining the Iraq War to be a fascinating look at recent history, the relative nearness of the counterfactual's POD means that how much weight you give to Harvey's argument will likely depend on your own personal politics. The Iraq War remains a controversial subject for most of the world and will remain so until sufficient amount of time is allowed to pass to remove it from the present and truly make it history. Nevertheless, Explaining the Iraq War is a good look at another perspective of history besides Great Man theory and an important lesson for why you study all of the factors leading up to important historical events instead of just the people who were in charge.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. His new short story "Road Trip" can be found in Forbidden Future: A Time Travel Anthology. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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