It’s all Nixon’s fault: If he hadn’t gone to China, we wouldn’t have Dubya.
Longtime political journalist Scheer (Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan, and Clinton—and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush, 2006, etc.)—former editor of the long-defunct but much missed Ramparts magazine and proud owner of a thick FBI file—doesn’t quite formulate the problem that way. Yet, as he notes, having discussed the matter with Nixon himself, the Nixonian policy of détente in the waning days of the Cold War gave the neocons of today their raison d’être, a policy to revile and undermine. Those neocons, gathered around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, “the hawkish Democrat in thrall to the Boeing Company,” took their Cold War very seriously and, by Scheer’s account, were at a loss to know what to do with themselves once the Berlin Wall fell. Many, such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, wrapped themselves in the flag of the so-called Project for a New American Century, one of whose fundamental tenets was overthrowing the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Before 9/11, writes Scheer, they labored quietly in various Bush administration sinecures, while Donald Rumsfeld talked about streamlining the Pentagon and reducing the military budget. Afterward, they had the run of things, led and unleashed by the president and vice president, and they went on an “uncontrollable” spending spree. Scheer allows for nonpecuniary motives, but he also observes that the foreign-policy machine was run by those, “like Dick Cheney, who made a huge bundle while claiming to be primarily interested in the security of their country.” Scheer mostly argues along Michael Moorish lines, stopping here and there to cite sources but generally running with an anti-administration jeremiad that seems about right—but also seems very much like preaching to the choir.
For those who have donned those robes, Scheer’s book will be an affirmation. Those who have not may prefer more evenhanded approaches that offer the same conclusion, such as Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier’s America Between the Wars (2008).