Search­ing for the righ

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Paul Monk

THERE is a fa­mous story about US pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy send­ing two ad­vis­ers to South Viet­nam to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion and re­port back to him. One was a civil­ian from the State Depart­ment, Joseph Men­den­hall, the other was a marine of­fi­cer from the Pen­tagon, Vic­tor Kru­lak. They went sep­a­rately and gave JFK such di­ver­gent as­sess­ments on their re­turn that he quipped: ‘‘ The two of you did visit the same coun­try, didn’t you?’’

Read­ing Mo­hamed ElBa­radei’s The Age of De­cep­tion: Nu­clear Diplo­macy in Treach­er­ous Times and Ron Rosen­baum’s How the End Be­gins: The Road to a Nu­clear World War III brought this anec­dote back to me.

ElBa­radei de­picts the US and Is­rael as ag­gres­sive and hyp­o­crit­i­cal. The de­ci­sion by nu­clear non-pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty sig­na­to­ries such as Iraq (be­fore 1991), North Korea (un­til it with­drew from the NPT) and Iran (up to the present) to de­velop nu­clear weapons un­der the cover of the NPT he views with com­par­a­tive equa­nim­ity. Rosen­baum is not at ease with any­one hav­ing nukes but is es­pe­cially con­cerned about Iran’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram as an ex­is­ten­tial threat to Is­rael and a prob­a­ble trig­ger for cat­a­strophic war in the Mid­dle East.

A well-in­formed Euro­pean friend re­marked to me that Rosen­baum is ‘‘ a shrill alarmist’’ and ElBa­radei ‘‘ a vul­gar apol­o­gist’’.

But it is too easy to say the truth lies some­where in the mid­dle. For one thing, that merely raises the ques­tion, ‘‘ Where, ex­actly, then, does the truth lie?’’

More im­por­tant, it en­cour­ages eva­sion of the dis­turb­ing ques­tions raised by each of these books and also by the fact it is pos­si­ble for two in­tel­li­gent and well-in­formed ob­servers of this ter­ri­fy­ing sub­ject to hold such di­ver­gent views.

How the End Be­gins is an apoc­a­lyp­tic book, but it isn’t a hys­ter­i­cal one and it cer­tainly is not a hawk­ish one. Rosen­baum is a denizen of New York, born in Man­hat­tan and reared on Long Is­land, who, hav­ing grad­u­ated from Yale with a de­gree in English lit­er­a­ture, dropped

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