A learned and lively political harangue insists that America’s recent foreign-policy failures are the result of conservative principles.
New Republic executive editor Scoblic begins in the 1940s when conservatism seemed a spent force, devastated by the Depression, isolationism and FDR’s charisma. In the book’s most stimulating pages, the author describes the ideology’s rebirth in the ’50s, sparked by a few academics and one brilliant journalist: William F. Buckley Jr. In the National Review, Buckley laid out the modern conservative creed: Free enterprise is good, government is bad, communists are evil. Morality, not politics, must guide our leaders, Buckley averred. One does not negotiate with evil; treaties and even cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union were shameful. This philosophy thrived, but not at the highest levels. Republican presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford were not modern conservatives; they believed preventing nuclear war was more important than overthrowing the Soviet Union. (Buckley and colleagues disagreed.) President Reagan seemed ideal, vilifying communism and beefing up U.S. forces. However, halfway through his term he reversed his policy and launched negotiations that dramatically improved U.S.-Soviet relations. Scoblic reminds readers that Reagan left office under a torrent of conservative denunciation. In the second half, the author characterizes President George W. Bush as the apotheosis of modern conservatism to whom 9/11 appeared as a godsend, providing an evil enemy to replace the defunct Soviet Union. But the Bush administration has been distracted from fighting terrorism, the author argues, by its eagerness to smite rogue states like Iraq as a demonstration of American righteousness. Since modern conservatives have no objection to using nuclear weapons to fight evil, the current administration has dropped efforts to prevent their spread (except to evil nations), thereby making the world more dangerous than at any time during the Cold War. Readers must plow through a torrent of government position papers, speeches, editorials and intelligence reports, but many will find Scoblic’s acerbic analysis worth the slog.
A well-delineated albeit depressing portrait of America’s present guiding political philosophy.