December 3, 2008

SO IF ONE WING THINKS HE'S TOO CONSERVATIVE AND THE OTHER NOT CONSERVATIVE ENOUGH AND THE UR ISN'T CHANGING ANYTHING?:

Reflections from the Right (Jacob Heilbrunn, 10.30.2008, The National Interest)

FOR MUCH of the past eight years, the memoirs of former Bush administration officials have served as a battleground for debates over the true nature of conservatism. Ever since David Frum, one of the most astute observers of conservatism, aired some of his reservations about the Bush administration after serving as a speechwriter, numerous advisers have followed in his path. As they promise a bird’s-eye view into the workings of a White House enmeshed in two wars and entangled in various internal power struggles, their books have seldom failed to garner a good deal of publicity. They represent a school of thought that might be called the tragedians. They see an administration that squandered its potential and tarnished its record by engaging in blatant and systematic deception.

Their efforts include The Price of Loyalty, Ron Suskind’s chronicle of Paul O’Neill’s tenure as treasury secretary, in which O’Neill indicated that planning for the Iraq War had commenced almost as soon as Bush became president; Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, which exposed then–National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s failure to respond to warnings about an al-Qaeda attack; and David Kuo’s Tempting Faith, which suggested that the administration was, in fact, simply paying lip service to evangelical concerns rather than seeking to promote them. More often than not, these books have become vital parts of partisan political warfare in Washington, deployed to show that the administration is as perfidious or inept as its adversaries have always claimed. The most sensational example of this phenomenon, of course, has been Scott McClellan’s What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.

Even as the tragedians have bemoaned the administration’s course, however, a second school of disgruntled and more bellicose officials has emerged to offer a different version of history. They too believe that Bush has gone badly off course. But while their assessments are similar to those of the tragedians’, their reasons are not. Their argument is not that Bush has been too conservative. It’s that he has not been conservative enough. In crumpling before the onslaught of the liberal media and CIA and State Department officials, they suggest, Bush has betrayed his own early promise. Gone is the tough-talking unilateralism of the first term, replaced by feckless kowtowing to Iran and North Korea, while a resurgent Russia invades Georgia with impunity and democratization rhetoric goes by the wayside. This is, essentially, the argument that a cadre of neoconservatives have been making, and it is at the intellectual heart of new books emanating from that camp. The neoconservatives, you might say, have gone to war again—this time against the Bush administration.

So, with the changing of the White House guard, it’s an opportune moment to take stock.


So close to an insight, yet so incapable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 3, 2008 6:26 PM
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