What If…?

If Al Gore had become president in place of George W. Bush, we would have wound up with Joe Lieberman in Dick Cheney’s stead. Plus ca change

Don’t say the neocons don’t keep their bases covered.


The New Buchanan Book

With a title like Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, Pat Buchanan’s new book might seem designed to court controversy. But that’s not the case, at least not as far as I have been able to tell from the first 100 pages. For one thing, “Unnecessary War” is not Buchanan’s phrase, it’s Churchill’s. Buchanan was spurred to write the book by a letter he received from George Kennan after he sent Kennan a copy of A Republic, Not an Empire. Kennan agreed with Buchanan’s view in the earlier book that the British guarantee of Poland’s security “was neither necessary nor wise” (in Kennan’s words). The new book expands on that idea, among many others.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, alongside volumes by John Lukacs, Nicholson Baker, and Lynne Olson, here. Wheatcroft is critical of Buchanan (“Although Buchanan’s argument isn’t stupid, it requires something like a historiographical sleight of hand, and is conducted backward, as it were”), but he isn’t romantic about Churchill:

Churchill led the way in cruel, brutish, and exterminatory war-making against women and children partly thanks to his uncompromising personality, partly thanks to what was seen as the logic of the situation. Three years after he hoped for “devastating, exterminating” attacks on civilians, he was shown blazing German towns filmed from the air, and exclaimed, “Are we beasts? Have we taken this too far?” And two years after that he tried (not very creditably) to dissociate himself from the destruction of Dresden by Bomber Command.

There’s much more of a Churchill cult in America than in his (and Wheatcroft’s) home country. A reconsideration of him is long overdue.

Peter Hitchens Rethinks the Good War

Peter Hitchens has recently read Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke and Patrick Buchanan’s forthcoming Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. The two books, particularly Buchanan’s, have compelled him to reconsider some of his assumptions about the Good War. Be sure to read the whole thing, but here’s a sample:

On a recent visit to the USA I picked up two new books that are going to make a lot of people in Britain very angry.

I read them, unable to look away, much as it is hard to look away from a scene of disaster, in a sort of cloud of dispirited darkness.

They are a reaction to the use – in my view, abuse – of the Second World War to justify the Iraq War.

We were told that the 1939-45 war was a good war, fought to overthrow a wicked tyrant, that the war in Iraq would be the same, and that those who opposed it were like the discredited appeasers of 1938.

Well, I didn’t feel much like Neville Chamberlain (a man I still despise) when I argued against the Iraq War. And I still don’t.

Some of those who opposed the Iraq War ask a very disturbing question.

The people who sold us Iraq did so as if they were today’s Churchills. They were wrong.

In that case, how can we be sure that Churchill’s war was a good war?

What if the Men of Glory didn’t need to die or risk their lives? What if the whole thing was a miscalculated waste of life and wealth that destroyed Britain as a major power and turned her into a bankrupt pensioner of the USA?

Funnily enough, these questions echo equally uncomfortable ones I’m often asked by readers here.

The milder version is: “Who really won the war, since Britain is now subject to a German-run European Union?”

The other is one I hear from an ever-growing number of war veterans contemplating modern Britain’s landscape of loutishness and disorder and recalling the sacrifices they made for it: “Why did we bother?”

Don’t read on if these questions rock your universe.

“It makes me feel like a traitor to write this,” Hitchens says, “The Second World War was my religion for most of my life.” See the rest of his thoughtful post here. Hitchens will have a full review of both books in a forthcoming edition of the Mail on Sunday. I’ll post a link when the review is up.

And if you’d like to see some more of the Good Hitchens, here’s footage of him recently debating his brother, Christopher:

Notes on Nationalism

Here’s the link to my piece at Taki’s Magazine on nationalism and patriotism. There’s quite a bit of back-and-forth in the comments section.

In a nutshell, I say that patriotism has been taken to excess, particularly by conservatives, and nationalism (which is not simply excessive patriotism, but a distinct idea) is actually something that the United States could use a little more of. At least one commenter thinks my goal is to rehabilitate the word “nationalist,” but that’s not the case: I don’t like the word, and as I say in the piece, I’m not a nationalist. But nationalism, of the sort I describe and of the sort advocated by Samuel Huntington and Pat Buchanan, is much to be preferred over democratic imperialism (which is what patriotic sentiment has lately been annexed to) and anti-Western multiculturalism.

Most of all, though, I’m agitated by what I think is a dishonest use of language — the idea that patriotism can never be in error and that nationalism must always be a great evil. It seems to me that some truly nice, patriotic people can be driven by their patriotism to support folly. The Iraq War was not made possible just by the deceits of a handful of neocons. It was made possible because ordinary Americans thought that America could do no wrong from noble motives.

Five Years In and Ten Unpleasant Truths

All of Stephen Walt’s 10 unpleasant truths about the Iraq War are important, but I’ll single out the tenth point for quoting:

10. The Iraq debacle reflects a broader pattern of failure among key American institutions. Although primary responsibility for the war rests with Bush, Cheney, and the neoconservatives who conceived and sold it, other important U.S. institutions performed poorly as well. Congress never debated the war in a serious way and it continued to back Bush’s policies long after their failure was apparent. Mainstream media institutions like the New York Times and Washington Post smoothed the path to war by parroting the administration’s sales pitch and giving abundant space to pro-war cheerleaders. Even more remarkably, mainstream media organizations continue to rely on the same “talking heads” and inside-the-Beltway pundits whose judgment has proven consistently wrong since 2002. The implication is deeply troubling: if Americans do not learn from this experience and hold those responsible accountable, the Iraq debacle will not be our last.

We would all be in a much better position if the neocons and the Bush administration really did bear sole responsibility for the Iraq debacle. But Walt is right to point to the complicity not only of Congress but also of the supposedly “liberal” mainstream media, which showed no skepticism toward the war at all. Quite the contrary: the New York Times‘ Judith Miller was indispensable in whooping up the case for war, and the Washington Post did not exactly acquit itself honorably, either. The rot in American institutions goes beyond the neocons and the Bushies — though they’re quite bad enough. And in John McCain — a longtime favorite of the mainstream media — Republicans have found a candidate who will be even worse than Bush.

The Chickenhawks’ Candidate

Gee, guess who it is?

Then again, all of the top-tier Republicans are neocon favorites, as Bill Kristol says:

“I would say, as a card-carrying member of the neoconservative conspiracy,” said William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, “that I think Giuliani, McCain and Thompson are all getting really good advice — and Romney.” Mr. Kristol said that none of the leading Republican candidates “buy any of these fundamental criticisms that Bush took us on a radically wrong path, and we have to go to a pre-9/11 foreign policy.”

President Alden Pyle

Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher comments on George W. Bush’s rather surprising invocation of Graham Greene in his speech earlier this month to the VFW in Kansas City:

Greene’s novel, in any case, pits the cynical, apolitical newspaperman (who has a Vietnamese girlfriend and an opium habit) against the Pyle character, who seems to be a U.S. aid official linked to the CIA (and purportedly based on the legendary Edward Lansdale). Pyle is attempting to find a “third force, ” a democratic alternative to the French-backed puppet government and the Communist insurgents. With brilliant writing, biting humor and keen insight on local politics and customs (based on Greene’s research there), the novel perfectly anticipates the massive U.S. urge to intervene deeply and then escalate. 

… Pyle ultimately assists an urban bombing to be blamed on Viet Minh insurgents, and many civilians die. Greene observes that “a woman sat on the ground with what was left of her baby in her lap; with a kind of modesty she had covered it with her straw peasant hat.” Fowler asks Pyle how many such deaths he would accept in “building a national democratic front.” Pyle responds: “Anyway, they died in the right cause. … They died for democracy.” 

Bush would never say something like that but plenty of Greene’s comments about Pyle would apply to him. (Philip Noyce, director of the recent film based on the book, has said “Bush is the ultimate Alden Pyle.”) Greene’s description of the character even sounds like the young Bush, with a crew cut and a “wide campus gaze.” If only he was merely “reading the Sunday supplements at home and following the baseball” instead of mucking around in foreign lands.