John Gray is one of my guilty pleasures. He is prolific author, highly knowledgeable and writes engagingly. He is, however, a life long contrarian helplessly fleeing mainstream political positions he once enthusiastically embraced at their infancy. He was a socialist in the 60's, a rising star of neo-liberal Thatcherism in the 70's and a conservative opponent of neo-liberal ideology in the 90's. By the turn of the century he was found pronouncing conservatism dead and advocating new age environmentalism sprinkled with Asian mysticism. Catching early trends only to later condemn them in the most pejorative terms possible is a good strategy for selling books because it causes outrage and outrage is a peculiar form of pleasure that drives us to read authors like Gray.
When reading Gray it's essential to grab him after one of his numerous paradigm shifts. His criticisms are usually insightful and worth reading, while his solutions can be safely ignored; his next book will explain why they were all nonsense.
Take for example his prediction of the Iraq debacle, first published in 2003 when people still spoke of bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq :
The hawks now fully in charge of Washington policy spurn multinational institutions and scorn the traditional arts of diplomacy. They have turned their backs on the policies of deterrence and containment that preserved the world from disaster in the Cold War. Instead, applying the new doctrine of preventive war, they are determined to eradicate threats to American power wherever they perceive them; but their objectives go far beyond simply defending the US from attack. They aim to entrench American global hegemony against any potential challenge. In their view, this demands more than disabling rogue stats (such as Saddam's Iraq) and putting friendly regimes in place. It requires reshaping post-war Iraq and much of the rest of the Middle East in an American image. After Iraq, Iran and Syria are in line for regime change. The entire region is to be reshaped to reflect American values.
As events in the Balkans have shown, when an authoritarian multinational state collapses, the result is not federalism. It is war and ethnic cleansing. The threat that Turkish forces will move into zones claimed by the Kurds is just the first sign of the bloody fragmentation that may lie in store for Iraq. To think that democracy can be established under such conditions is not just-fetched, it is imbecilic. -Being usually proved correct is one of the joys of contrarians everywhere.
The Jacobin's of Washington