Hurry to 'The End', for the end is nigh By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Accounts of a February 28 "literary luncheon" at the White House
suggest that US President George W Bush's reading tastes - until now a
remarkably good predictor of his policy views - are moving ever rightward, even
apocalyptic, despite his administration's recent suggestions that it is more
disposed to engage Washington's foes, even in the Middle East.
The luncheon, attended as well by Vice President Dick Cheney and a dozen
hardline neo-conservatives, was held in honor of visiting British historian
Andrew Roberts, whose latest work, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples
Since 1900, Bush reportedly read late last year and subsequently sent
Minister Tony Blair. Cheney took the book with him on his recent trip to
Roberts, an avowed Thatcherite who proudly declared himself "extremely
right-wing" in a recent Financial Times interview, repeatedly advised the
president, according to Irwin Stelzer, one of the neo-conservative attendees,
to ignore rising anti-US sentiment abroad and opposition at home in pursuing
his "war on terrorism" - or what the historian has called "the Manichaean
world-historical struggle" against fascism, of which "totalitarian Islamic
terrorist fascism" is only the latest.
A major lesson of history, Roberts told Bush, is that "will trumps wealth",
according to Stelzer's account of the meeting in The Weekly Standard. He warned
that "the steady drumbeat of media pessimism and television coverage are
sapping the West's will" to fight and defeat the enemy, which in his view
includes Iran as well as Sunni radicals such as al-Qaeda.
History also warns, Roberts reportedly said, against withdrawing US troops from
Iraq according to a pre-set deadline such as that currently being debated in
Congress. He compared the risks of doing so to the slaughter of 700,000 to 1
million people that followed India's independence from British rule in 1947.
In his article, Stelzer, an economist at the Hudson Institute and a London
Sunday Times columnist, disclosed that Bush had also recommended that his staff
and friends read another, even more apocalyptic, analysis of the current "war
on terror", America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It by
Toronto-born neo-conservative columnist Mark Steyn.
Steyn's book, which, unlike Roberts', actually made the New York Times
best-seller list, sees Europe's demographic trends and its multicultural,
"post-nationalist" secularism - of which his native Canada is also guilty - as
leading inevitably to the "Eupocalypse", the "recolonization of Europe by
Islam", the emergence of "Eurabia", and the onset of a "new Dark Ages" in which
the United States will find it difficult to survive as the "lonely candle of
Steyn, who admits that he would have to drive three hours from his home in
thankfully "undiverse" New Hampshire to find a Muslim, sees Islam itself - and
not just "Islamist radicals" or "jihadis", such as al-Qaeda - as a unique
threat that cannot be reconciled with "free societies".
"It's not merely that there's a global jihad lurking within this religion, but
that the religion itself is a political project - and, in fact, an imperial
project - in a way that modern Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism
are not," he writes. "Furthermore, this particular religion is historically a
somewhat bloodthirsty faith in which whatever's your bag violence-wise can
almost certainly be justified."
To deal with the threat, he calls for a familiar recipe of favorite
neo-conservative policies, from "support women's rights in the Muslim world"
and "wage ideological war", to "end the Iranian regime" and "strike militarily
when the opportunity presents itself".
The two books, whose world views and policy prescriptions are remarkably
convergent, are the latest in a series read by Bush (not otherwise known as a
bibliophile) and lavishly promoted by neo-conservatives and their major media
These include the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and various publications
owned by Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black (before his current legal troubles), and
Canada's Asper family, all of which share a deep affinity for Israel's
right-wing Likud Party, a strong belief in the moral superiority of the
so-called "Anglosphere" - Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US
(although Steyn thinks Britain and Canada may already be lost to the forces of
darkness) - and an undeniable nostalgia for the British Empire, particularly
In the summer of 2002, for example, Bush was seen carrying a just-published
copy of Supreme Command by neo-conservative military historian (and
recently appointed State Department counselor) Eliot Cohen. The book argued
that the greatest civilian wartime leaders, notably Abraham Lincoln and
Churchill, had a far better strategic sense than their generals - a
particularly timely message in the months that preceded the Iraq war when a
surprising number of recently retired military brass in the US were voicing
strong reservations about the impending invasion.
Two years later, Bush was given an early copy of right-wing Israeli politician
Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome
Tyranny and Terror, which argued that peace in the Middle East could
only emerge after the region's dictatorial regimes were replaced by
Western-style democracies. Bush was so taken with it that he summoned Sharansky
for a White House tete-a-tete, made the book required reading for his
senior foreign-policy aides, and incorporated its ideas - in some cases word
for word - into his 2005 Inaugural Address.
During the Christmas holiday that year, Bush read Robert Kaplan's just-released Imperial
Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, an unapologetic paean to
US soldiers (who, like Bush's self-image, "hunted, drove pickups, employed
profanities as a matter of dialect and yet had a literal, demonstrable belief
in the Almighty") deployed across the Muslim world, from the southern
Philippines to Mauritania, in what he called a contemporary planetary version
of "Injun Country"; that is, those parts of 19th-century America subdued and
"civilized" thanks to the US Army.
Like the British a century before, it was Washington's "righteous
responsibility to advance the boundaries of free society and good government
into zones of sheer chaos", argued Kaplan, who, like Roberts one year later,
also warned at the time that an early US withdrawal from Iraq would result in a
What is remarkable about all of these books is - much like the cherry-picked
and manipulated intelligence stovepiped to Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war -
both their extraordinary ideological narrowness and their utility in the
pursuit of a neo-conservative agenda, especially in the Middle East.
In one way or another, each affirms core neo-conservative ideas: the essential
beneficence of US (and Anglospheric) power even if the "natives" are
ungrateful, and the supreme importance of both "will" and military might in
wielding that power, particularly against enemies that can never be "appeased"
In Roberts' words, these countries are motivated not so much by legitimate
grievances against US policies as by "loathing of the English-speaking people's
traditions of democratic pluralism"; the evils of "liberalism", "secularism"
and "moral relativism" of Western societies that undermine their will to fight;
and the catastrophic consequences of retreat or defeat.
All of these also play to Bush's own Manichaeism and self-image as a
courageous, often lonely leader in the mold of a Lincoln or Churchill,
determined to pursue what he believes is right regardless of what "Old Europe",
"intellectuals", "elites", or even the electorate thinks about his course and
confident only in the conviction that History or God will vindicate him.
It's an image that Bush's neo-conservative guests - including the Wall Street
Journal's editorial-page editor, Paul Gigot; former Commentary editor Norman
Podhoretz; New York Sun editor Seth Lipsky; and several like-minded columnists
- themselves have also tried hard to propagate, particularly as public
confidence in Bush has fallen to the longest sustained lows for any president
in more than 50 years.
"It is fair to say that the few people I spoke with as we left shared my
impression," wrote the Standard's Stelzer. "Here is a man comfortable in his
own skin; whose religious faith guides him in his search for the good ... who
worries less about his 'legacy' than about his standing with the Almighty,
[and] who is quite well read."