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Additional Reviews

How tribalism causes problems at home and abroad.  In a biting critique of American foreign policy and analysis of the nation's divisive culture wars, Chua (Law/Yale Univ.; Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, 2011, etc.) argues that tribal affiliation exerts a crucial, powerful force on individuals' behaviors and identities. Humans' need for "bonds and attachments," she asserts, fulfills an instinct to belong but also to exclude. People "will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their groups." Reprising some ideas from her book World on Fire (2002) on the negative consequences of exporting free market democracy, Chua examines America's failed involvement in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Venezuela as well as responses to terrorist groups. The author blames blindness to tribalism for the disastrous outcomes. That blindness comes, in part, from America's unique success in assimilating diverse populations into its "ethnicity-transcending national identity." Assessing other countries, Americans have failed to recognize tribal affiliations and rivalries or the existence of a repressive "market-dominant minority" that controls major sectors of the economy. Instead, the U.S. has fixated on its mission to foil communism and export democracy. Focused on the Cold War, "U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan never saw the potent anti-American, anti-Western group identity fueling the Islamic fundamentalist fighters." In Iraq, foreign policy was shaped by a belief in "markets and democracy as a universal prescription for the many ills of underdevelopment." In reality, the downfall of Saddam Hussein incited rivalries among tribal groups and the rise of ethnic conflict and fundamentalism. In Trump's America, cohesion has splintered "into ever more specific subgroups created by overlapping racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation categories" that feel threatened by one another. Inclusivity, hailed by the left, has devolved into exclusivity as groups seek to exert "exclusive rights to their own histories, symbols, and traditions." Nevertheless, Chua is heartened by individuals' efforts to bridge divides and to undermine "purveyors of political tribalism" on the left and right. A persuasive call to rethink foreign policy and heal domestic fissures.

— Kirkus Reviews, www.kirkusreviews.com 


The late speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, is credited for coining the phrase, “All politics is local.” Indeed, the human propensity for segregating into groups based on shared cultural, religious, or ethnic commonalities takes this notion to its logical conclusion. An awareness of this most basic tenet of human nature would have benefited American foreign policy during such conflicts as the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan, but because officials tend to think in terms of “big picture” ideologies (e.g., communism versus capitalism), the key to resolving such crises was lost. In each case, a core understanding of tribal identities could have meant the difference between victory and defeat. An expert in the fields of ethnic conflict and globalization, Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, 2011) examines how a different perspective might have led to greater success and applies these same polarizing attitudes to current domestic political discourse. Presented with keen clarity and brimming with definitive insights, Chua’s analysis of identity politics is essential reading for understanding policy challenges both at home and abroad.

— Carol Haggas, BOOKLIST