The Only Superbad Power
Published: January 25, 2004
It is difficult to believe that George W. Bush has been in the White House for only three years. It seems ages now that we have been living in a new world, in which his administration is closely identified with new passions, new fears, new enemies. Sept. 11, of course, is the dominant reason; it has effectively divided our life into a ''before'' and an ''after,'' pushing the 20th century with its hot and cold wars, its thickets of nuclear missiles and its arguments into a foggy past. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton managed the immediate consequences of the collapse of Communism, but they did so when the presumption was still that the main threat to the world had been lifted, when there seemed no pressing need to define a new, post-Communist order.
For better or for worse, it was left to George W. Bush to propose that new order, and it hasn't worked out the way many had expected -- a world in which arsenals would be sharply reduced and democracies would cooperate in resolving conflicts, ensuring human rights and protecting the environment. Instead, Bush and his team disdainfully chucked out containment and deterrence and declared that America had the right to ensure its security any way it deemed proper, including pre-emptive war. The triumphant America of the 21st century would use multilateral institutions only when it suited American aims. Not only that; guaranteeing its safety required that America impose its democratic values, starting in the Middle East.
Someday Bush may be proven right, and a harmonious chain of friendly democracies may stretch from Central Asia to the Mediterranean. For the time being, the new American order has generated a tsunami of anti-Americanism, with the United States perceived in some quarters as a greater threat to world peace than Al Qaeda. Deep fissures have developed between the United States and its allies; American policies have threatened to undermine Europe's drive toward unity; Muslims around the globe have turned against the United States; many leaders in Asia now look to China for their economic and political security; and Americans themselves have become polarized in their attitude toward the rest of the world. The ''war on terrorism'' has gotten mired in an anarchic Iraq; Guantanamo has come to represent a willful violation of civil rights; and tyrants have seized on the concept of pre-emptive war to justify their own suppression of opponents, now labeled terrorists.
Not unexpectedly, the rise of so contentious a new order, and the man who so unexpectedly launched it, have hatched a considerable library of condemnation, all the more as his re-election campaign gets under way. Of the books reviewed here, two -- "America Unbound'' and ''Crisis on the Korean Peninsula'' -- can be classified as reasonably evenhanded, though the first is broadly critical of the Bush approach and the second implicitly so. The others leave no doubt of what they think, ranging from George Soros's declared hope that his book will contribute to sweeping Bush out of office to Robert Jay Lifton's image of a ''malignant synergy'' between the United States and Al Qaeda ''when, in their mutual zealotry, Islamist and American leaders seem to act in concert.'' From across the Atlantic, Emmanuel Todd contributes the wistful notion that the United States, the true empire and axis of evil in his view, is already near collapse. These are only a portion of a swelling anti-Bush literature, for now only partly offset by equally ardent pro-Bush books.
However we may feel about the new order, Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay -- two veterans of the Clinton National Security Council now at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations respectively -- pronounce what Bush has done as nothing less than a ''revolution.'' ''America Unbound'' is the most ambitious and important study in this batch, not least because the authors painstakingly develop the provocative thesis that the president is not the Dubya of cartoonists, a dim puppet of a cabal of old-guard hawks and neocons, but the master puppeteer himself. ''George W. Bush led his own revolution,'' they declare.
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