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U.S. Versus Them: How a Half-Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This cogent first book from the executive editor of the New Republic forcefully argues that 50 years of American conservatism have undermined U.S. security and pushed the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. Scoblic charts the course of American conservatism, from its development by William F. Buckley Jr. through the disastrous Cold War to Bush's failure to safeguard the United States after 9/11: in stark, often frightening detail, Scoblic examines how Bush embraced regime change as a means of fighting evil and neglected to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, failed to prevent North Korea from reprocessing plutonium, rebuffed requests for negotiations from an Iranian regime that was, in 2003, willing to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency, repeatedly ignored U.S. intelligence and pursued the war in Iraq. Scoblic illustrates how and why conservatism shaped the current administration and explains how it guided Bush's good vs. evil morality. This is an important book, well researched and well reasoned in its assessment of conservatism and mandatory reading for anyone concerned with America's security and future. (May)
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The threat of nuclear attack is too critical and present to be held prisoner to political ideology, asserts Scoblic, executive editor of the New Republic. Yet the Bush administration’s belief in the moral virtue of the U.S. and the contrasting evil of its geopolitical enemies has distorted foreign policy, leading to a unilateral war on Iraq and shunning diplomatic approaches to the nuclear threats of Iran and North Korea. Scoblic traces the administration’s foreign policy to a long tradition of an “us versus them” perspective on the world, based on American exceptionalism rooted in the founding of the nation. In the first half of his book, Scoblic analyzes that history, tracing conservative ideology espoused by William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan and how it has evolved into the Bush administration. In the second half, Scoblic explores the consequences of the unilateral worldview that has heightened the need for diplomacy in the post-9/11 world. Scoblic’s analysis is sweeping in scope and is both detailed and accessible in explaining the complexities of the nuclear threat and foreign policy. --Vanessa Bush
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Now, after reading them, you'll have a clue what this book is about. The conservative movement, as described by this book, is one where the only choices are black or white, hot or cold, up or down, us vs them. This is the underlying problem with the ideology. There is no in between. And since there is no in between, facts must either fit into the world view, or facts must be discarded when they do not fit. In addition, since the desired outcome is already known, facts may not even be needed. Sure, that may be fine if you are the guy who shopped at Costo, picked up the book, flipped to the middle, read one page, and then decided to post a one star review of the book here. Unfortunately it is not fine if you are in a position on world leadership. Ignorance never is.
The negative reviews from this book are actually a bit startling. They are basically attacks at on opposing view. The book, however, is fairly straight forward, and does little to attack the conservative mindset itself. Quite often, it rationalized the behavior and applied praise for a necessary political voice. I found myself a bit more open and understanding as to the how's and why's of the mindset. I actually read portions to my conservative co-workers, and they agreed with much of the author's points. This is a book that conservatives should read, to be honest. It gives understanding and insight, without the typical drama seen in right wing vs left wing literature.
Unfortunately, one of the points made in the book is that education and understanding are needed to return to rational discourse. After seeing the reviews of others here... I'm again forced to come to the conclusion that conservative people will never find value in education, nor will they ever appreciate those who have taken on the difficult task of understanding.
"In foreign policy, 'conservative' describes a distinct attitude in which the world is conceived in terms of 'us versus them' or 'good versus evil,' with the United States assuming the role of a righteous protagonist facing a monolithic enemy. It is often an explicitly religious vision, with frequent allusions not only to good and evil, but also to God, Satan and Armageddon." - from the introduction, xv.
He intends to show us why the Bush Administration went into Iraq and left North Korea and Iran alone, while allowing relations with Russia and (to a lesser extent) China to deteriorate. While the book is a good analysis of what went wrong during many past administrations, especially under GOP leadership, he fails to make a strong argument for this initial premise.
For most people who are not gormandizers of liberal propaganda, this over the top definition of foreign policy conservatism will be hard to stomach. First of all, the worldview that some conservative opinion leaders push as a justification for jingoism does not usually come from the top conservative leadership but from the extreme religious right and certain agitating (i.e. sheep-herding), in other words, paranoid factions of the GOP. Although this myopic worldview does influence the decisions made by conservative leaders (by reining them in from more pragmatic pursuits), it mainly holds sway over the voters who poorly understand the world and must be given such a broader vision to get them excited over national pride and psyched up for war.
Scoblic fails to properly develop the role of the profit motive and U.S. economic hegemony as the real motives for a conservative foreign policy. When conservatives wage war or otherwise assert U.S. military power, it tends to be to maintain climbing GDP figures and to expand access to the world's natural resources (oil, precious minerals, trade routes and low tarriffs, among other aspects of classical fiscal policy which many Republicans follow).
By starting with a bad premise Scoblic intends to demonize the right and make liberals feel smug as if they are somehow ahead of conservatives on the evolutionary curve. I suppose some people may accept his argument on good faith, even though it is severely flawed.
By considering conservative leaders' ulterior motives - going beyond the general justifications (national pride, moral conflict, etc.) he could have made room for a few other books to criticize the mistakes of conservative foreign policy, but by limiting himself to only one very naive assumption, he cordons himself to a position that is barely tenable.
Conservatives advocated regime change, unilateral measures, and the ideology that good and evil couldn't co-exist.
He contrasts the conservative positions with the neocon positions which were much more extreme during G.W. Bush's presidency.
Another valid point was that in the myopic pursuit of invading Iraq, the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran and North Korea were virtually ignored by the second Bush administration. A major Bush failure was ignoring the issue of loose nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. This could be a threat in the future.
The zero-sum game thinking that Bush exhibited is now equally apparent in current politics with the GOP following that same disastrous mind-set.
This is a well-written book documenting the conservative approach to everything from the Cold War to the invasion of Iraq.
It doesn't address the effect oil played on the invasion, but it is a clear explanation of conservative foreign policy and the source of neo-conservatism.