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Neo-Con Intellectuals Seduce Bush with Leadership Talk


On February 28, 2007, President Bush held a “literary luncheon” in the White House to honor historian Andrew Roberts, author of a book praising British and American imperialism that was titled “History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900”. The guest list of fifteen included prominent neo-cons including Norman Podhoretz, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Michael Novak, Mona Charen, Kate O’Beirne, Paul Gigot, and Irwin Stelzer of the Weekly Standard. A report on this meeting appeared in

It was a time when the President was under increasing pressure as the violence in Iraq continued to escalate. When asked about this, Bush replied: “I don’t feel any” implying that his unshakable faith in God preserved his serenity. “I want to have my conscience clear with Him,” the President said. “Then it doesn’t matter so much what others think.”

That was the tone of the event. All the criticism in the world about his Iraq policy meant nothing to President Bush so long as God remained in his corner. Michael Novak also noted that “the President was not at all intimidated by his fifteen or so guests”, those neo-con luminaries who had done so much to shape administration policy and whose advice he eagerly sought. At the luncheon, they offered him a series of “lessons” from their study of history.

The first lesson was that the U.S. government should be primarily concerned with its relations with governments of other English-speaking nations and not worry what the other nations think. Second, the President should absolutely refuse to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. When the British set a deadline in India, more than 700,000 people were slaughtered. The killers began their evil work one minute after the announced deadline was passed.

The lesson of history is that great empires collapse because, under pressure, they lack the will to power. Democracies are especially prone to this weakness. When war casualties mount, the public clamors for an end to the war. A great leader can avert catastrophe by remaining steadfast under pressure.

Another thing: The administration should not “hesitate to intern our enemies for long, indefinite periods of time. That policy worked in Ireland and during World War II. Release should only follow victory.” If victory is years or decades away, so be it.

“Appeasement” is the main trap that the President should avoid. In the minds of neo-cons, the French are notable appeasers today. “We’re fighting an enemy that cannot be appeased; were that possible, the French would already have done it,” quipped historian Andrew Roberts. The President chuckled at this witticism.

On a more serious note, “the neoconservatives left Bush with an overarching instruction - namely, the only thing that he should concern himself with, the only thing that really matters, is Iran. Forget every other issue - the welfare of the American people, every other region around the world - except the one that matters most.

“Roberts said that history would judge the president on whether he had prevented the nuclearization of the Middle East. If Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries will follow. ‘That is why I am so pleased to be sitting here rather than in your chair, Mr. President.’” All appeared somber in reflecting on that fact.

History, then, had given the President his marching orders. Yet, Mr. Bush expressed an all-too-human regret that it seemed America, and he himself, were widely disliked. Why such anti-American sentiment throughout the world? “Is it due simply to my personality?”, the President asked. “Is it confined to intellectuals?”, asked another.

The neo-con teachers urged Bush simply to ignore the noise. “Nothing matters - not the disapproval of the American people of the President’s actions nor rising anti-Americanism around the world. He should simply ignore all of that and continue to obey the mandates of (neocon-interpreted history) because that is what is Good and his God will be pleased.”

To answer the President’s question: Yes, “the causes of rampant anti-Americanism do indeed include dislike of Bush. But there are others: the war in Iraq; anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sentiment, laced with some covert anti-Semitism; and resentment of American power.” But again, the President should ignore such things because “in a unipolar world the lone superpower cannot be loved ... Get your policies right and history will prove a kind muse.”

The main “lesson”, then, was to persevere. Perseverance in the face of adversity is the true sign of a leader. Fortunately, President Bush’s religious faith gives him an advantage. With some satisfaction, Irwin Stelzer wrote that the President “worries less about his ‘legacy’ than about his standing with the Almighty.”

President Bush did not flinch from confronting his difficulties. In fact, another luncheon was planned. President Bush has circulated copies of Natan Sharansky’s ‘The Case for Democracy” to his staff and has also recommended Mark Steyn’s “America Alone”.

Winston Churchill is one of the neo-cons' principal icons. In Britain’s darkest hour, this great prime minister stood up to Nazi power and, with much grit and determination, prevailed.

A witness to the luncheon told that ‘the president confided to Roberts that he believes he has an advantage over Churchill ... He has faith in God, Bush explained, but Churchill, an agnostic, did not. Because he believes in God, it is easier for him to make decisions and stick to them than it was for Churchill. Bush said he doesn’t worry, or feel alone, or care if he is unpopular. He has God.”

Apart from the “lessons”, the main message coming from this presidential luncheon was not to worry about adverse battle reports or criticism from Congress or the American public. Leo Strauss, godfather of neo-con scholars, is reported to have said: “Those in power must invent noble lies and pious frauds to keep the people in the stupor for which they are supremely fit.” Democracy, apparently, is a sham. Only God’s will matters.

The fact is, the neo-cons said, President Bush has a “calling” to do what he is doing in the Middle East in the name of freedom and democracy. He is the leader of the forces of good in a titanic war against evil, a continuous war which necessarily must spread from Afghanistan and Iraq to Iran and possibly other countries.

It is therefore a time of testing. The Bush administration will be tested on the basis of how firmly the President pursues what he knows to be right. The more difficult the test, the greater the character which must be shown to meet the required challenges. As it is, the President is doing just fine. The view from history’s great height is that President Bush needs to remain steadfast in supporting more of the same policies.

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History will soon reveal how many more U.S. and Iraqi casualties will be claimed by sectarian violence as the President, in his White House bunker, exhibits continued resolve. If, miraculously, the violence subsides and a secure government is established in Iraq, then the President may be hailed as the great genius, or perhaps favorite of God, that he (with neo-con urging) thinks he is. If not, history will paint quite a different story.

To a disinterested observer, the White House “literary luncheon” comes across as a pep rally in the art of denying reality. History or God Himself dictates that one should take a longer view than heeding immediate facts. The neo-con scholars spell out that deeper reality which only a discerning mind can see.

In fact, they are sycophants whispering in the ear of a man who badly wants to be flattered. They are agitators for a particular U.S. government policy which has brought great harm and distress to the American people. If things turn out badly, these neo-cons will scurry back into the wood work and George W. Bush will be left holding the bag, a much ridiculed and reviled figure who should have known better.

In truth, the beleaguered President resembles few historical figures more closely than he does Adolf Hitler in the years of waning Nazi power. Like Hitler, it’s all about George W. Bush’s unshakeable resolve. A miracle on the battlefield is right around the corner. The great leader has a higher vantage point from which he can see what lesser mortals do not understand. As Hitler insisted upon inevitable victory in a Blitzkrieg against France and proved to be right, so President Bush won an improbable election victory in 2004 turning his unwavering leadership into an asset that beat John Kerry’s more authentic wartime credentials. But Hitler’s military judgment wavered in later phases of the war.

Of course, President Bush is a more likable person than Adolf Hitler whose mental intensity and social awkwardness translated into hate against the Jews and other groups. Bush is no anti-Semite. In a gentler way, he does seem to be anti-French. Both Hitler and Bush despised democratic processes preferring instead power exercised by a single leader. Bush’s more privileged background gives him, however, a certain personal comfort, humor, and good cheer that Hitler lacked, softening the hard edge urged by the neo-cons.

I have, or had, some sympathy for George W. Bush as someone who came roughly from the same stratum of society. We both attended prep schools and then attended and graduated from Yale, I four years earlier than the President. In fact, we both lived in the same residential college. Bush’s vice President, Dick Cheney, was also at Yale for a time while I was a student there. Like Cheney, I dropped out of that college. Unlike him, I returned two years later to graduate. Cheney and Bush have subsequently pursued far more illustrious careers than mine; but I can say, at least, that I understand where they came from, as one brought up in the Midwest who attended Yale in the 1960s.

This was a time when the old WASP establishment seemed to be crumbling and Jews and even a few blacks were admitted to prestigious colleges such as Yale. A symbol of that change was the University Chaplain, Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., Artur Rubinstein’s son-in-law and a true pioneer of the Civil Right movement who seemed to enjoy “afflicting the the comfortable” as much as he did “comforting the afflicted.”

George W. Bush was from the old privileged class - his grandfather represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate in those years. He was a middling student who enjoyed fraternity life. There is a story that after Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, lost a close race to Lloyd Bentsen for the U.S. Senate in Texas, Rev. Coffin told the younger Bush that the “better man” - Lloyd Bentsen - had won.

So I can see how George W. Bush would hate political liberals for their disrespectful, arrogant ways. At the time, political conservatives were called “Neanderthals”, meaning that they were persons with antiquated views that would soon become extinct.

This is the climate of opinion that Ronald Reagan faced. President Reagan, though despised by elite opinion makers, pulled off the political miracle of a century. He aimed for victory, not just a stalemate, in the Cold War and achieved this goal by the end of his second term.

To the younger Bush, whose father served as Reagan’s vice president, it must have been a powerful lesson that apparent realities sometimes prove false in the course of history. Political conservativism did not become extinct. Communism was not the inevitable end of history but an experiment that ultimately failed. Ronald Reagan, upbeat and steadfast in his convictions, pointed the way to these truths.

George W. Bush was not an intellectual but neither was he stupid as some critics have suggested. His book learning was limited but he did have an affable, down-to-earth manner. He was a seasoned social performer. He also had an edge of toughness that his father lacked. All it took to be elected President was a certain track record - two terms as Governor of Texas took care of that - plus an attractive, photogenic personality and enough funds to run a full-scale campaign with television ads.

Republicans who felt badly that they had not done enough to reelect the elder George Bush naturally gravitated toward his son. With their genius for political friendships, George and Barbara Bush brought large segments of party support to their son’s first presidential campaign. Even Ralph Nader thought that the most that would happen in electing Bush over Gore would be that America would get a rerun of the first Bush administration.

Little did he know. George W. Bush did a workman-like job as a political front man and, with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court, got elected. Now, unfortunately, he was in a position that required more intellectual depth and life experience. But Bush was essentially a front man - a campaign performer.

Some suggest the die may have been cast when “Paul Wolfowitz got to Bush.” He and other neo-cons had a preconceived agenda to go to war with Iraq and the September 11th attacks, combined with faulty “weapons of mass destruction” intelligence, provided a pretext. Besides Donald Rumsfeld was promising that America’s superior military technology would allow the war to be won with few casualties. Cheney’s Halliburton Corporation was lining up lucrative contracts to provide logistical support for the military.

The occupation of Iraq proved much more difficult than anyone supposed. Domestic criticism of the war mounted, and America was becoming reviled throughout the world. Would the President relent in the face of these pressures or would he stay the course?

If Bush had been an intellectual, his decision might have been made in accordance with factual realities. Instead, the President was a man whose political reputation was based on his “moral clarity” and unwillingness to “flip flop”. This was a disciplined man who kept physically fit from jogging and whose time was tightly scheduled.

Under the circumstances, then, President Bush could not change course. He was trapped in a particular decision - that is, to continue to seek victory in Iraq. I almost feel sorry for the President. He was fast becoming a tragic figure.

It’s one thing to have a bad experience; another, wantonly to repeat the same. For me, what pushes it over the edge is the prospective decision that, despite evident setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. military may soon attack the much larger nation of Iran. And the same people who got us involved in one mistake - the neo-cons - intend to get us into another.

My moral clarity tells me that these people are evil. All the body bags and waste of U.S. treasure mean little to them. They are whispering in President Bush’s ear saying he is a great leader - perhaps even greater than Churchill - and God is on his side. They are flattering the President to get him to do something that would be immensely damaging to his country and to the world.

With his “religious convictions”, George W. Bush seems unable to withstand this kind of argument. He is like a vulnerable adult being preyed upon by people who know what they want and intend to get it.

From a historical perspective, I think it possible that George W. Bush, having left the country in shambles, will go down in history as one of the worst U.S. Presidents. The nation may eventually recover but there may be no recovery to the reputation of people like him and Cheney. Unfortunately, I am one of them. Bush’s horrid legacy will be with me and my posterity for many, many years, assuming I even have a posterity.

By 2050, less than half the U.S. population will be white. Sooner than that there will be a woman president. Demographic politics, being what it is, will point to the example of Cheney and Bush as militaristic and incompetent white males of a certain ethnic identity who held office only because of systematic privilege for their type. And so their type - and mine, too - will be systematically stripped of privilege and esteem. The neo-cons who put them up to these misadventures will be long since vanished while Bush, the front man, collects all the historical blame.

As Bush, the U.S. President, goes over the cliff to another major mistake, so to an extent will the entire nation. The President’s delusional “literary luncheon” will have proved a costly event for us all.

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