Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic by Chalmers Johnson Metropolitan, HK$234 'Fire, Aim, Ready.' Those words, applied by a scientist to President George W. Bush's Star Wars drive to militarise space, convey the outlook of the US administration, as Chalmers Johnson sees it. The critic casts the government as a loose cannon defined by a gung-ho human rights attitude that endangers the future of the country and rampant military expenditure. The US supposedly spends more on its armed forces than the rest of the world combined. Johnson compares the belligerent, overstretched empire to those lost by Britain and ancient Rome. Curiously, the comparison proves to have a statistical basis: whereas America has 38 military bases scattered around the globe, at its 1898 imperial peak Britain boasted 36. Likewise, at its AD117 zenith Rome had 37 to police its realm, which ran from Britain to Armenia. Johnson also likens Congress to the Roman senate, which became 'a social club' for aristocrats determined to toady to the autocrat Augustus Caesar. He even claims that, like Augustus, Bush might eventually declare a dictatorship. Bush would do better to embrace the British empire model of devolution and so give democracy a chance to survive, the author writes. He warns that democracy is already tottering, pointing to the abuses conducted by American troops at Camp Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Cementing America's woes, GI malice is generating mounting revulsion smartly expressed by the young woman behind the blog Baghdad Burning. Quoted voicing bafflement about the shock triggered by lurid Abu Ghraib pictures, she points out that we have all seen footage of troops kicking down doors and terrifying women and children with curses, screams, shoves and the boot over the head. 'I sometimes get e-mails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions,' the blogger writes. 'Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can - while it still looks like you have a choice ... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We'll take our chances - just take your puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.' Some chance. Along with his team of 'desk murderers', the head of the ailing, occupying 'hyperpower' propped up by China is apparently too stubborn to listen to anyone. In one episode, Bush tells his team: 'I want you all to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters.' When then secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld suggests that the war might be illegal, Bush bites his head off - his screamed 'no' echoes around the conference room's cramped confines. Adding that he's not interested in the dictates of lawyers, Bush says it's time 'to kick some ass'. Much of the impetus comes from the CIA, which he has apparently made into a private army with no conscience, as evinced by the practice of 'extraordinary rendition' - kidnapping terrorist suspects around the globe and whisking them to states such as Egypt for torture. Johnson understands how the mechanics of the CIA have changed - he worked for the agency during the cold war. Now president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, he has 17 books under his belt, Nemesis being the third and last volume of his 'inadvertent trilogy' about the sorrows of empire. What makes Nemesis stand out from the rash of Bush empire books is Johnson's gift for dramatisation embodied by the title: the name of the Greek goddess of retribution. The question is whether he's a touch too pessimistic in his modern-day Greek tragedy. Perhaps, because, for one thing, even if Bush seriously plans to impose a dictatorship, the hunt for his successor is already in full swing. For another, the very fact that Nemesis made it to print suggests the Republic is by no means on its last legs.