Tame look at unipolar world
Rajinder Puri

The World According to Washington: An Asian View
by Patwant Singh. Rupa. Pages 224. Rs 395.

The World According to Washington: An Asian ViewPatwant Singh’s The World According to Washington is a historical appraisal of America’s interaction with Asia leading up to 9/11. His writing is flawless. In barely 200 pages he has masterfully condensed the salient points of US relations with most Asian countries. The facts are peppered with a running commentary that exposes America’s hypocrisy and ruthlessness in pursuing its hegemonic ambitions.

The scholarship displayed is spectacular. The wide array of sources, historical and current, quoted by the author to reinforce his view make the book a treasure for any researcher. That by itself makes it a worthwhile acquisition.

But in the end the book disappoints. After cataloguing the trees Patwant seems to miss the wood. If it was his intention to expose America’s exploitation of Asia, he has done it convincingly. But so have many others. After his masterful roundup of recent history one expected him to rise above conventional wisdom. One expected an innovative approach to the paradigm shift that has occurred in world affairs. The book emphasises how America and the West display the might-is-right syndrome. In fact, America is merely symptomatic of the present-day world’s political mindset. Asian countries are as brutal and unjust towards each other as is the West.

In a work recording all the important events in the US-Asian relationship, two omissions are glaring. Firstly, there is no mention of China’s help to North Korea during the Korean War. China’s assault by human waves earned it world attention. Secondly, omitting reference to the assassination of President Diem of South Vietnam was, to say the least, odd. An American hand was suspected in the murder plot. Madam Nhu, Diem’s powerful sister-in-law, correctly prophesied that Kennedy would be killed next.

With these omissions it is not surprising that Patwant overlooks the powerful transnational lobbies that overwhelm nations and governments. When America attacks Iraq, which has no weapons of mass destruction, but treats with kid gloves nuclear-proliferating nations like China, Pakistan and North Korea, some questions need to be asked and answered.

The information age has made vulnerable the existing transnational lobbies exploiting the rest of mankind. Voices in the West and elsewhere are being raised against them. By not attempting to identify these lobbies and their role in subverting governments, the author fails to anticipate the future. He simply swims with the current. The book’s exciting start has a tame end.