As I write I am sitting in the state where Bush's lead over Kerry in the polls is greater than anywhere else; over the course of today I am to give two lectures on the European Union to local university students; my personal knowledge of the Church of Latter Day Saints comes mainly from A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle, not exactly the most reliable (let alone up-to-date) of sources. Reading Anatol Lieven's book on America (he kindly gave me a pre-publication copy two days ago) has been a much more useful preparation. His analysis is basically that the driving force of American politics is nationalism; that this has a good side and a bad side; and that at the moment under Bush the bad side is prevailing. I finished the book with a much better understanding of what is going on here than I had before.
I found his second chapter, analysing the "splendour and tragedy of the American Creed", particularly compelling. There are some wonderful things in American political culture and history. The words of Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, or of Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, are moving for anyone who cares about big political ideas like freedom and equality - however flawed they may have been in implementation, the rest of the English-speaking world hasn't really come up with anything as powerful.
Writing a book that attacks the dark side of American nationalism does carry the risk of drifting into polemic, but he manages to leaven this with shafts of sympathy, compassion and even admiration for America. I found most of it utterly convincing. His last chapter, which addresses the US/Israel relationship as a special case where American nationalism has overridden any sensible policy on the Middle East ("what use is a strategic ally when you actually have to ask them not to help you in a war in a nearby country?") has made me reconsider my own thoughts on the Palestinian issue; on the whole his analysis is pretty sympathetic to Israel (though I doubt if everyone will see it that way) and he makes a good point that Israel's actions in 1948 should be judged by comparison with what Europeans were doing in Europe in 1948, rather than by later standards.
Anyway, this book is excellent. I hope it sells well.