Probably the more appropriate photos for the dust jacket would have been those that appear facing page 215: George H.W. Bush breaking down into sobs while discussing his son. Ostensibly meaning son Jeb, although no one watching could help believe his anguish was with son Dubya.
How did George W. turn out so differently from his father? How did he go from drunken, failure-prone frat boy to a "born again" self-styled "compassionate conservative" and twice-elected President of the United States? Author Unger lays out his case, starting with a brief history of American-style evangelicism, especially the "Rapture"-based theology and fundamentalism, and follows with a chapter on the origins and philosophy of the neoconservative movement. The two seemingly disparate groups provided the ideological underpinings of the George W. Bush administration, as well as the reliance on purity of faith over rational and objective analysis.
Much of the background material has been long available, but there are some curious new revelations. In spite of what Bush (or his ghost-writer) wrote in "A Charge to Keep", Bush was "born again" not under the guidance of Billy Graham, but by a far sketchier character named Arthur Blessitt. (Blessitt once ran a "Jesus coffeehouse" on the Sunset Strip, until he was evicted in 1969.) When Bush senior came in behind Pat Robertson in the 1988 Iowa caucuses, he had Dubya act as his liason to the growing grass-roots evangelical vote. In that role, he took delight in denying "access" to his father and got his first taste of power. Although his parents had long counted on brother Jeb to be the political heir, Dubya had other plans.
This isn't a biography, and certainly isn't a military history - only 55 pages from the start of the war in Iraq to the last page. It IS very well researched, with 49 pages of footnotes and a 9-page bibliography. I can't say how much overlap there is with Draper's book "Dead Certain", the book it is most likely to be compared with. Unger does go into detail on the Bush-Cheney relationship that Draper seems to have skimmed past. (Unger includes "Dead Certain" in the footnotes and bibliography.)
With so many books out on the Bush presidency and the Iraq war, what does this contribute? Most of all, it traces the alliances of the forces behind the scenes, and provides new insight into the motivations of the key players. It really is fairly objective in its assessments, but I was surprised (and disappointed) in the petty visciousness displayed by both Bush and Cheney towards subordinates and critics in example after example. (One of the better lines comes from Bob Strauss, who said, "Bush senior finds it impossible to strut, and Bush junior finds it impossible not to.") It also makes it easier to understand how the events so well documented in "Fiasco" and "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" came about. It is very disconcerting to see that George W. was holding secret, "no press allowed" meetings with assorted Christian Zionist/ evangelical groups before and during his 2000 campaign. The catch-phrase "compassionate conservatism" takes on an entirely different meaning when it is shown to be part of the agenda to smash down the church-state barrier. There's some pretty interesting background on a particularly skeezy schlub (Michael Ledeen) whose fingerprints seem to be all over the infamous Italian "Niger yellowcake" forgery. (This character also asserts that "my mother was the model for (Disney's) Snow White".) Unger makes it abundantly clear why the current Republican "base" will never, ever allow Israel to establish anything like a Palestinian state, at least not on land on the West Bank. (That would effectively block their end-time Rapture fantasies.)
I'd recommend the book to those who haven't followed the rise of the evangelical (and most especially the Christian Zionist and "Dominionist") voting bloc, the move of the neoconservatives (or "the crazies", as Bush senior referred to them) from the margins to hands on the levers of power, or the direction they may take next. This administration has larded every conceivable federal agency with these kinds of people, and it will take many years to repair their damage.
Craig Unger masterfully tells the story of how two sets of odd "bedfellows" came together in the late 1990's, creating an alliance to elect George W Bush president and begin this country's downfall.
This is one of the best books I've read on Bush and Iraq, and the first one that goes into depth about the "players" who influenced aging frat boy Bush into taking our once-great country into the debacle called the "Iraq War".
My main thought, while reading the book, is that the neo-cons and the evangelists who united in their joint desire to remake the Middle-East must have given very little thought to how the war was going to actually "work", since the results, from the very first day after "mission" was declared "accomplished" have been one scene of horror after another.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Now, go buy it and read it.
"The Fall of the House of Bush" tells of the birth of the neocon movement, how it linked up with the Christian evangelist movement, why Bush 43 is uninterested in facts, and how V.P. Cheney became the hidden head of American government.
Unger begins by telling us that the most significant "clash of civilizations" today is between religious fundamentalists - Islamists, Christian, and Jewish, vs. the modern world. He then reports on the rise of religious fervor within the U.S. Puritans saw American as the New Jerusalem, but were not the dominant force colonizing America - church membership during this period never exceeded 20%. Nonetheless, it became quite strong in some areas - eg. the South.
In the years after the Scopes Monkey Trial (won by the religious side), Christian colleges and Bible institutes, magazines, broadcast outlets, crusades to convert the unsaved, and thousands of new churches were founded. These included Bob Jones University (the largest producer of fundamentalist preachers in the U.S.), Billy Graham and his Crusades, Pat Robertson (Christian Broadcasting System, Trinity Broadcasting Network), Jerry Falwell (The Moral Majority and Liberty University), and James Dobson (Focus on the Family).
Switching topics, we read that the first neoconservatives were mostly 2nd-generation Jews in America. Senator Jackson (D-Wa) became leader of the fight against "faces of darkness" (communism) and a grandiose missionary belief that American values and principles were both virtuous and universal that could save the rest of the world from communism - and had the moral duty to do so. Coming from the age of Stalin and Hitler, it was easy for Jackson and neocons to push military action as a first resort. Richard Perle, Daniel Pipes, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby, John Bolton and others shared common mentors, and an attitude that the Soviet Union could not be trusted - we had to have zero margin of error. An early neocon tactic was building up strength through creating an alphabet soup of committees, organizations, and think tanks.
Meanwhile the evangelicals were motivated by Genesis 13:15 where God tells Abraham about the Holy Land: "I will give it to you and your descendants forever." Thus, Israel's existence and success became seen by fundamentalists as a prelude to the return of the Messiah. Strength grew as a result of Roe v. Wade - Falwell's "Moral Majority" registered 8.5 million voters in five years and "born-agains" went on from 26% in 1976 to 39% in 1988, were boosted again through the Lewinsky scandal, and now represent roughly 10X the number of Jews in America.
Reagan fused the neocon and evangelical movements together with his calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire," and dropping Carter's efforts to end the Palestine-Israel conflict. (Neocons saw the benefits and actively encouraged uniting with the evangelicals.) Evangelicals went 2:1 for Reagan in the 1980 election.
Forward in time to Bush I. Saddam was seen by his administration as an increasingly dangerous monster that the U.S. helped create - providing pathogenic material and intelligence vs. Iran. During the Bush I and Clinton years neocons went back to their earlier standby positions - a sort of government in exile. At the same time, Chalabi gained strength with the neocons via promises to draw Iraq closer to Israel - if he was made leader.
After Rabin's assassination in 1995, neocon Israeli leader Netanyahu received from American neocon Richard Perle a guidance paper proposing to junk the Oslo Accords (trading land for peace), and substituting "peace through strength" through preemptive actions to establish a larger Israel via wars against Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to bring democracy ("democracies don't launch wars") to the region.
As 2000 approached, neocons quickly realized the Bush II was different from his father, and began "educating" him. Unger reports Bush II making statements about taking out Saddam in early 2000. Unger also cites a 2/1/2001 memo circulated by Bush II officials titled "Plan for post-Saddam Iraq" and that there were discussions about what to do with Iraq's oil wealth. In addition, Cheney's Energy Task Force posted a map of Iraq's oil deposits on the wall, along with a list of foreign companies vying for them. Bush II's first National Security Council meeting brought his declaration that he was withdrawing from the Palestinian peace process, and intended to tilt towards Israel.
Fanatical emphasis on false information from Iraqi defector and fabricator "Curveball," the Niger yellow-cake story (eventually attributed to Britain), Chalabi (seeking to further inflame matters), Judith Miller at the New York Times, the supposed Prague meeting with Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi agent, the mobile biowar weapons labs (per Curveball), Cheney's meeting with (leaning on) CIA analysts, and Tenet trying to maintain favor, along with low-ball estimates of the cost ($50-60 billion, self-funding reconstruction, soldiers greeted with flowers), and a purge of naysayers assured that Bush II's predilection came true.
Meanwhile, Bush also served evangelicals through numerous appointments at high levels of government, "faith-based initiatives" (funding), banning federal support for stem-cell research from discarded eggs, contraception, etc.
Unger ends asserting that Jeb Bush sees his political future as finished - courtesy of George, and that we'll be paying the price for Bush and the neocons' folly for years.
on November 21, 2007
This book encompasses the information in many recent best-sellers like Fiasco, Hubris, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, and A Tragic legacy. So if you want to get an update of the last seven years in one book, read this one. This book reads at a quick-pace, and gets right to the point of the tragic sequence of events of Bush's presidency. Unger knows how to highlight the main points of our recent history to illustrate how we have been hoodwinked into our current state of affairs. Unfortunately it's too late to change our situation. There is also a deep sense of foreboding for the next 12 months with Bush in charge. There is no doubt that Bush and Co. are using the same rationale to start a war with Iran, as they did with Iraq. Shame on all of us .... citizens, the press, congress ... for letting the neocons do what they have done to the world, and what they have in store for the world.
The fall of the house of Bush, unfortunatley, will bring down the rest of us with it.