Daniel Goldhagen: The Guilt of the Church (January 31, 2003)
Daniel Goldhagen, the author of A Moral Reckoning, calls upon the Catholic Church to face its legacy of anti-Semitism and its role in the Holocaust.
David Cannadine: A Certain Kind of Greatness (January 22, 2003)
David Cannadine, the author of In Churchill's Shadow, talks about Britain's reaction to its own decline.
Ted Halstead: A More Perfect Union (January 14, 2003)
Ted Halstead, the founder and CEO of the New America Foundation, argues that the time has come for Americans to devise a new social contract.
Language Makes the Senses One (January 8, 2003)
Peter Davison talks with the poet Stanley Plumly, who believes that "language, at its best, is not easy."
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead:
In Search of Mr. Right (December 18, 2002)
The author of Why There Are No Good Men Left discusses the challenges facing today's single women, and argues that the contemporary courtship system needs to be transformed.
More interviews in Atlantic Unbound.
More on books from The Atlantic and Atlantic Unbound.
Atlantic Unbound | February 12, 2003
The Real George Bush
David Frum, a former presidential speechwriter and the author of The Right Man, gives an inside look at the character of George W. Bush.
hen Michael Gerson, President Bush's chief speechwriter, invited the journalist David Frum to join the White House staff in January 2001, Frum's first instinct was to turn him down. He was no great fan of the President's. In fact, he had written several articles criticizing Bush during his campaign. As an ardent economic conservative, whose influential 1994 book, Dead Right, urged Republicans to get serious about fighting big government, Frum was put off by the mantra of "compassionate conservatism." And from his television appearances, it seemed to Frum, "Bush did not look like a man ready to be president."
When Frum finally accepted the job as presidential speechwriter, it was with a journalist's detachment rather than conviction: "My faith in Bush was not deep. But my curiosity was," Frum recalls in his new book, The Right Man. "I had been looking in from the outside for a very long time. If only for a little while, I would like to look out from the inside."
Frum didn't feel much like an insider during his first months on the job. He was a Canadian, Jewish intellectual in an Administration heavily influenced by the President's born-again Christianity. (The first words Frum overheard in the White House were, "Missed you at Bible study.") And he found himself in a milieu where "conspicuous intelligence seemed actively unwelcome." Determined to be the "Un-Clinton," Bush was relentlessly formal and punctual, insisted that every White House rule, however archaic, be enforced, and seemed constantly to be "keeping a tight grip on himself." He also had what Frum refers to as a "Holden Caulfield streak"—an aversion to the niceties and white lies of the politician that, while perhaps refreshing, was unwise for a President starting out with minority support.
But from the very beginning, Frum was surprised at how different Bush was from the caricature depicted in the media. Hardly a jovial simpleton or a puppet of Dick Cheney, Bush was "a man of fierce anger," "tart rather than sweet," deft at maintaining the personal loyalty of his staff, unequivocally in charge, and supremely confident, in spite of the weakness of his political position. A candid remark he made during a visit to an elementary school in the summer of 2001 speaks volumes. Asked by a student whether he found it hard to make decisions, he replied:
"If you're one of these types of people that are always trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, decision making can be difficult. But I find that I know who I am. I know what I believe in, and I know where I want to lead the country. And most of the time, decisions come pretty easily for me, to be frank with you. I realize sometimes people don't like the decisions. That's okay. I've never been one to try to please everybody all the time. I just do what I think is right."
His confidence notwithstanding, Bush was floundering throughout the first half of 2001. He was losing face on environmental issues, losing ground on education, and his much-anticipated energy policy was unpopular. By August, Frum's pessimism was such that he decided to resign. "I had come to like Bush too much to want to be a tourist inside his White House as his administration unraveled." September 11, of course, changed everything.
The attacks on America filled Frum with a new sense of loyalty and duty to his adopted country: "I don't know what I was ready to do—whatever it is that speechwriters do in times of war. Type, I suppose—but type with renewed patriotism and zeal." He decided to stay on at the White House, and watched closely as the man whom many viewed as a verbally challenged frat-boy-cum-cowboy became America's pillar of moral self-confidence. Frum left his job in February 2002 convinced that the President, unlikely as it once would have seemed, was precisely the person for the job. In The Right Man he attempts to separate truth from myth in the tale of Bush's transformation.
Bush's emergence as "the right man" for post-9/11 America was not instantaneous, however. His speech to the country from the Oval Office on the evening after the attacks was weak and noncommittal—some White House insiders dubbed it the "Awful Office Address." But in subsequent days, his style and temperament proved to be uniquely well-suited to the mood of the country. His emotion was clearly genuine, yet he showed remarkable calm and self-restraint. As Frum wrote,
He seemed to feel not the rage that the rest of the country felt, but the quiet determination he knew it ought to feel. He made it clear to his writers that he would pronounce no words of vengeance or anger. When he spoke off-the-cuff, he again and again paraphrased the commandment of Romans 12:21: 'Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.'
As his popularity soared, Bush increasingly revealed his inclination toward what he called "bipartisanship." His campaign to promote Islam as a religion of peace was denounced by conservatives as a dangerous form of denial and by liberals as a hypocritical distraction from the systematic persecution of American Muslims. But Frum sees it as an example of Bush's instinct to honor the concerns of his political opponents, without losing sight of his main goal. A particularly wise move, according to Frum, was Bush's refusal to take the "sucker bait" of racial profiling in airports—a policy that would have given priceless fodder to his opponents while doing little to improve security.
The following January, Bush told his writers that the domestic agenda was on hold indefinitely. There was only one agenda, as Frum sums it up: "Win the war—then we'll see."
The climax of Frum's White House career, and of The Right Man, came during the preparations for the 2002 State of the Union address. One day a few weeks before the speech, Michael Gerson came into Frum's office with an assignment: "Can you sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq?" In examining the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the terror masters of the Middle East, Frum was reminded of the combined menace of Japan and the Fascist powers on the eve of the Second World War. "Together," Frum realized, "the terror states and the terror organizations formed an axis of hatred against the United States." He included this thought in his memo to Gerson. In Bush's State of the Union, Frum's "axis of hatred" became the "axis of evil," the most potent—and controversial—phrase of the war on terror.
Many skeptics, at home and abroad, still harbor suspicions about Bush's competence, his intentions, and even his sanity. Some believe that the President is a puppet of a small cadre of neo-conservative hawks and Israel-defenders; others, that he is a power-mad evangelist leading America on a reckless crusade. Attacks on his character are central to the anti-war argument. Frum concedes that Bush has many significant flaws, but insists that his vision and his competence as a leader are no longer in doubt. If America must be led into a greater war—and Frum believes it must— then Bush is the man for the job.
I spoke with David Frum earlier this month.
You're doing an enormous amount of publicity for this book, and I notice you're taking direct e-mail feedback from readers. You must be learning a lot about popular views of the President.
|David Frum |
I think it is always a surprise to discover how mysterious the most famous man in the world can remain even in an age of instant mass communications. I have been surprised by how little people feel they know this President, how much they want to know about him. And I'm surprised at how much traction all of the myths about him still have, two years into his term.
Any myths in particular?
The usual ones. One example: the cover story of The New York Times Magazine two weeks ago, the headline—I'm not going to quote it exactly—said something like, he's not a fool. The idea that two years into a presidency "he's not a fool" is a headline is pretty remarkable.
Several reviewers have accused you of writing a starry-eyed ode to Bush, but in fact you reaffirm a lot of common misgivings about him. You portray him as a leader who often operates on gut feeling rather than logic. One of the most often quoted passages of the book is your description of him as "impatient and quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill informed." How hard a time did you have reconciling your desire to give your honest opinion with your desire to convince readers that Bush is indeed the right man?
I did not. I think the assessment of anybody is a blend of judgment about that person's tally of virtues and vices. If I were to write a book about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a great leader of the United States, I'd have to reckon with the fact that he was an appalling liar. That's part of who he was. If I were to do a book about Abraham Lincoln, I'd have to reckon with what his racial attitudes really were, and how by modern standards they were really not enlightened. And if you're writing about President Bush, you have to reckon with who he is, all of who he is, and then you make your judgment. And my judgment is, taken all in all, he's a pretty impressive character, the right character for now. That doesn't make him faultless. And it doesn't mean that people should dismiss his faults as unimportant.
You wrote this book almost immediately after leaving the White House, before Bush's first term was even halfway up. That's fairly unusual, and probably not easy to do. Why did you move so quickly?
It's not as unusual as you might think. I can cite you plenty of examples. But in any case, this is a particularly important time. This is a particularly mysterious President. And misunderstanding about his character has become a very important part of the political debate. A lot of the objections to this war rest on personal opposition to this man. When you lay out the case for war—here's what we know about terrorism; here's what we know about the relationship between terror organizations and Iraq; here's what we know about the weapons Iraq is trying to acquire, why wouldn't we want to stop it?—people will often say, especially abroad, Well, maybe we would want to stop it if the United States weren't led by this bellicose moron. So it is very important for the people of the United States and the world to know that he is not a bellicose moron. He is a man of powerful intellect and a man of great restraint. Knowing that is an important contribution to huge decisions that the world has to make.
A man of powerful intellect, but definitely not an intellectual. You make that clear in the book. Do you think that this was part of his appeal after 9/11, when the intellectual elite came to be blamed for a lot of the ideas—multiculturalism, relativism, aversion to the military—that seemed to have weakened America's defenses? Did his anti-intellectualism make Bush seem somehow stronger?
Intellectuality is a good thing. People should think. It's also true, however, that interest in ideas can become an excuse for inaction. I've criticized Bush for sometimes not being as curious as he should be. Sometimes he would ask one or two questions when he should have asked four or five. But a President who, when he should ask four or five questions, asks seventeen or nineteen or twenty-three can often be looking for an excuse to do nothing. The job of a President is to make decisions. And ultimately he has to rely on information provided to him by other people, because no human being can possibly know about all of the things a human being might need to know about in order to be President.
I'm for intellectuality. My criticism of the intellectual class before 9/11 is for their failure of intellectuality. It's remarkable, for example, that the academics who study the Middle East seem to have had no interest in the phenomenon of Islamic extremism or terrorism at all. That's not an excess of intellectuality. That's a failure of intellectuality.
That said, I think Bush's popularity since 9/11 comes not from what he isn't, but what he is. It comes from the confidence that America has that he feels the right things, and that he will do the right things.
You claim in The Right Man that under Bush the GOP is on its way to becoming a party defined by faith, rather than region or class. You have argued often and strongly in the past that liberals and Christians alike vastly overestimate the influence of the religious right. Have you changed your mind?
No. Those are separate issues. The religious right was a pretty small faction, a self-consciously ideological faction who organized to fight political battles against things like abortion and gay rights and tended to lose almost every single one. Two candidates in the past dozen years have run for President explicitly as candidates of the religious right— Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer—and in both cases have failed to make any substantial inroads into the Republican Party.
From the archives:
"Blue Movie" (January/February 2003)
The "morality gap" is becoming the key variable in American politics. By Thomas Byrne Edsall
That said, there are lots and lots of Americans who do not see themselves as belonging to a right wing, or who do not see religion as having necessarily political implications, but for whom religion is a central element of their lives. And those millions of people are becoming a more and more reliable Republican group. They may be very conservative, they may be not so conservative, but they are religious as opposed to secular. The Democratic Party is becoming a more secular party, and the Republican Party is becoming more and more a party defined by religion. If you want to identify in advance who's going to be a Republican and who isn't, it used to be that you'd want to know, does he work with his hands, or in an office? Does he live in the North or the South, the Midwest or New England? Those questions don't tell us very much anymore. Even the question how much money does he make doesn't tell us as much as it did. The two questions that most powerfully answer the question of how someone is going to vote are: Does he or she go to church? And is he or she married with children?
Do American liberals overreact in expressing their fear of devout Christians? Do you think that, for example on the issue of abortion, secular people's fear of the influence of religion and of Christian groups on Bush is warranted?
Let me put it this way. One of the problems that American liberals have, and it's going to be a big problem in 2004, is that they find George Bush to be a scary figure. And because of that, they have convinced themselves that there's a big audience out there for arguments based on the claim that he's a scary figure. E. J. Dionne, a columnist for The Washington Post, a very smart observer of American life, recently wrote a column saying that the Democrats' plan for 2004 is to take advantage of the fact that George Bush is a polarizing figure. Well, the problem with that plan is that he is not in fact a polarizing figure. This isn't just my say-so—you can see it in all kinds of data. Even when Americans disagree with him, they do not resent or dislike or fear him. He is much more like Dwight D. Eisenhower than he is like Ronald Reagan. Plenty of Americans opposed Eisenhower's domestic politics, but they still trusted Ike.
There is a belief among some libertarian-leaning conservatives in Washington that Bush is shaping up to be as radically conservative on economics as Reagan was, if not more so. You seem to hold the opposite view, that that type of conservatism is in the past.
On domestic issues, and specifically on domestic economic issues, Bush is conservative, and he's certainly advancing a lot of conservative economic goals. But I think it's hard to make the case that he is as consistently conservative on as many issues with as much energy as Ronald Reagan was. I think that's partly a difference in him. I think he's just not as economically libertarian in his innermost core as Reagan was. It's also a difference of the time. The country just isn't as open to conservative messages today as it was in, say, 1984-85.
You make a pretty convincing case that the image of Bush as a callous anti-environmentalist is false. Your most embarrassing moment with him seemed to be when you suggested that he insert a promise of "cheap energy" into one of his speeches and he reacted with disgust. And you describe his ranch in Crawford as a "showcase of enviro technology." But he doesn't like the Kyoto treaty and has fairly ill-concealed contempt for the activists he calls "green, green lima beans." What is the Bush philosophy on environmental issues?
I would say that he certainly is not impressed by a lot of the environmental radicals. He has no use for environmentalism as a substitute religion, and he's a technologically minded person. He thinks that many environmentalists believe that the solution to the problems created by technology is to retreat from technology. He believes the solution to problems created by technology is even more sophisticated technology. So in that sense I think that many in the environmental movement would not recognize him as one of their own. For many in the movement environmentalism is a form of faith rather than a way of dealing with real and specific human-created problems.
That said, on environmental issues, yes, he has done some deregulation—though not much. But he has also done a lot of regulation. The most notorious environmental fight of his presidency, the debate over acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water, really has to be seen as a fight about regional interests. The arsenic regulations fell extremely hard on people in one section of the country. That is, if you live in New Jersey, it wasn't going to cost you much, but if you live in New Mexico, in the Southwest, it was going to cost you hundreds of extra dollars a year. So a party that draws a lot of support from the Southwest has to listen to what people out there say when they're threatened with that kind of assessment for pretty moderate environmental benefit. But this President has been issuing all kinds of environmental regulations, from very stringent new standards for diesel engines to all kinds of new fuel-efficiency standards for domestic appliances.
Do you think he's improved his image in the eyes of environmentalists?
No, because environmentalists are an unappeasable interest group. And they're highly partisan, so they have no interest in finding anything good to say about a Republican President.
I want to ask you about "compassionate conservatism." You didn't like the phrase during Bush's campaign—you thought it sounded like a weak marketing slogan. Who was Bush targeting with that phrase? Was it an attempt to reach out to liberals? Did it have a real, specific meaning?
That phrase, which actually originated during the first Bush Administration, had two problems. The first was this marketing element, and the second was that many conservatives found it insulting. Because the question was, What was it implying about everybody else? The comparison I use is that it would be like a Democrat running for President on a promise that he was going to be a "patriotic liberal." When I talk to liberals and they say, Why would you find this offensive? I say, well, what if Joe Lieberman were to run for President saying, "I'm a patriotic liberal?" That they get!
But I think the slogan was part of an attempt not to reach out to liberals, but to reach out to religious people as a group. When you look at the large bulk of religious Americans, many of them Roman Catholic, you find that many of them are actually put off by the libertarian economics of the Republican Party. They're Christians. They want an answer to the question, What happens to the poor and helpless? The answer may not be welfare or gigantic social programs, but they want an answer. By not seeming interested in those questions the Republicans hurt their standing with those religious voters and especially Catholic religious voters. I suspect that part of it also reflects Bush's own deeper convictions, but to the extent that that phrase had a political purpose, it was an expression of this new religiosity in politics. And I guess that this furthers my answer to the question, How is the Republican Party becoming more religious without this being a takeover by the religious right? Because the issues that Bush has been emphasizing in order to win over religious people are not abortion and not gay rights. They are his faith-based initiatives, mentoring programs, anti-addiction. These are the kinds of topics that socially active Christian churches have been dealing with on their own for a long time. And it appeals to them to have a President who cares about the same things they do.
Some commentators are saying, What happened to the David Frum who wrote Dead Right—the David Frum who urged conservatives to get away from hollow debates over culture and values and economic nationalism and get back to the fight against big government? It seems that this new phase in American foreign policy is inevitably going to result in a bigger and more intrusive government. What is your answer to that?
I don't think I've had any kind of change of heart. But it is true that there's a war on. And if people ask me how my views have changed, I mean, 9/11 had a big impact on me. I take the idea of a war on terrorism very seriously. Iraq is a theatre and a front in that war. But it's only part of that war. It's not a separate war, and it's no more separate from the war on terrorism than the war in the Pacific was separate from the war in Europe in the 1940s.
So, yeah, I continue to care a lot about Medicare reform, I continue to care a lot about Social Security reform. I hope they happen. I'll continue to support President Bush if they do happen. I'll be disappointed if they don't happen. But when there's a war on, everything has to be subordinated to winning the war. Adam Smith agreed with that. He said that national defense was the supreme concern of the state. And by the way, I don't think it's true that the war on terrorism is necessarily leading to a bigger and more intrusive government. Mitch Daniels, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has mapped out a lot of scenarios in which if there is some moderation and care at home, the war could be fought without increasing the government's total demand on the economy in the form of taxes. And certainly I find the claim that the things the government is doing in the name of homeland security are infringements on important civil liberties to be false. Not just false, but often absurd.
You're probably getting tired of being introduced as the guy who came up with "axis of evil." A lot has been made of that phrase. What do you think its real influence was, particularly in Europe and in North Korea? And why haven't we heard it repeated lately?
It's not that I'm tired of it. It's that I do have a strong conviction, one I tried to make clear in the book, that what speechwriters do is make suggestions to the President about what he might want to say. I've come up with a lot of phrases in my life. When the President says something, it's the President.
We haven't heard it lately because when Presidents use good phrases they also tend to retire them. Franklin Roosevelt did not go on calling the United States "the arsenal of democracy" in speech after speech. You have to come up with something new. And in this most recent State of the Union the President reaffirmed, in probably the most dramatic sentence of his speech, that good and evil are valid concepts by which to evaluate what goes on in the world. He described what this regime in Iraq had done, and said that if that is not evil, then evil has no meaning.
Certainly there are many people in Europe who affected to be offended by the language of good and evil in Presidential discourse. I find that a little hard to take seriously. It's not like European foreign policy is unmoralistic. I think that things like the land-mine treaty, Kyoto, their campaign against completely harmless genetically modified foods—these are highly moralistic crusades. They have no problem calling genetically modified corn evil. What they have a problem with is calling the torture of children by Saddam Hussein's regime evil.
The other point that is often made is that the phrase somehow provoked North Korea into reneging on the 1994 agreement with the United States, or that it provoked North Korea into the round of flagrant misconduct they've been engaged in since October. I don't think either of those passes the test of chronology. It's pretty clear that the North Koreans were cheating on the treaty at the latest since 1998, probably from the very beginning. And the trigger for this latest round of outrageous behavior by the North Koreans was being confronted by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly with the evidence that they were cheating.
You mention Bush's response to the Hainan Island dispute with China, and specifically his reversal of America's policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Taiwan as a display of "imagination backed by courage." How significant was this event in the scheme of things, and what did it signal about Bush's approach to foreign policy?
It's a huge event, because in diplomacy the most dangerous situation you can be in is to be committed and not have people know that you're committed. As an example, Dean Acheson is often blamed, probably unfairly, for inviting the Korean War, because he gave this famous speech in which he listed the Asian countries the U.S. would defend from aggression, and he did not mention Korea. And many people say he left the Russians and the Chinese and the North Koreans the impression that they could attack South Korea with impunity. By making clear the commitment to defending Taiwan, Bush has made it extremely unlikely that this commitment would be tested by the Chinese. This incident indicated that this man who did not have much of a track-record in foreign policy had very robust foreign-policy views and very great strength of character.
You make an analogy in your book, comparing the division in the Bush Administration between those who want to wage a limited war on terror and those who want to radically reshape the Middle East to the dispute between Generals McClellan and Grant during the Civil War over how radical that war's aims ought to be. That is pretty provocative—you seem to be implying that, just as the state of the Union is inherently the White House's business, so is the state of the world.
No—what I intended to say with that analogy is that the United States has a foreign-policy problem in a specific part of the world, and there are many smart people who think that problem should be solved with a minimum amount of change for a variety of reasons, and those reasons are not stupid. But I think that point of view is mistaken, just as I think it was mistaken in 1862. George McClellan was not a stupid man. I mean, because we're all so completely in favor of it now we tend to minimize the magnitude of the social revolution that was wrought by the Civil War. But if you were a white American looking at that social revolution in advance, it looked pretty daunting. The Civil War made a vaster change in the daily structure of American life than the American Revolution had done.
The United States did not choose the war on terrorism. This war was thrust on us in as dramatic a way as possible. So the question of whether the United States should be concerned with radicalism and extremism in the Middle East is no longer open to be asked. That question has been decided. We must be concerned with it, and now the question is, What do we do? And when people say, the future of Islam is none of your business, the only reply to that is, Well, the people who speak in the name of Islam should not have blown up our office buildings. It is now our business. Just as after Pearl Harbor the structure and shape of Japanese society became our business. We didn't interest ourselves in Japanese society gratuitously. Ditto for the Middle East.
How much of a role did Middle East scholars play in shaping official policy after 9/11? You mention that Bernard Lewis was invited to the White House in November of 2001. Was he particularly influential?
From the archives:
"The Roots of Muslim Rage" (September 1990)
Why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified. By Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis' role is very large, both directly and indirectly, through his students and through the students of his students. War is a great test of the truth of propositions. And this war has happened to corroborate the Bernard Lewis view of the world and to discredit a lot of other views of the world. And the result is that people who have been educated by Lewis at Princeton, many of whom are working in Washington now, carry a lot of weight.
Bush caught some flak for his campaign to promote Islam as a religion of peace—a lot of people thought he went overboard. How genuine do you think it was, and why did he put so much energy into it?
First of all, it was very genuine. Remember in the first hours after September 11 there were three hate murders, two of them committed by a man from Texas. There were rumors at first of about half a dozen, so it looked like there were more, but there turned out to be three unequivocal ones. Bush was really worried about that. There have been a lot of cases in the past where foreign-policy trouble has led to violent acts at home. And that's the kind of thing that weighs very heavily on Bush's mind. He's a post-sixties person, someone who attaches a lot of importance to issues of racial and religious tolerance. Also, he's a religious person and he tends to think that sincere religious faith always tends toward good. You can criticize that point of view, but he's got it. And then there are some important geopolitical considerations that are not to be dismissed. The United States was going to need a lot of help from a lot of Muslim people, and the United States had to change the minds of a lot of Muslim people. And you don't change people's minds by starting off with an insult. You have to start off by expressing sympathy and solidarity.
And was it effective?
I think a lot of it was effective. I mean, just look at the FBI annual report on hate crimes in 2002. After 9/11, the quality of reporting was going up all the time, so even if there were no increase in hate crimes, you would see an increase in the FBI report. But in 2002, there were half as many anti-Muslim hate crimes as there were anti-Semitic hate crimes. Not that you want to see more anti-Semitic hate crimes, but it's a sign that the President's words were very successful in discouraging people from taking out resentment and rage against their neighbors who wore a turban or a hijab. That's good. I also think it helped America wage this war with a good conscience. One of the criticisms from conservatives was Bush's quick and immediate dismissal of the idea of any kind of profiling in conjunction with airline safety, which I think was exactly right. I think it would be just mad to say, We're undertaking this enormous military operation and before we do we're going to begin by finding the oldest and deepest and most painful scar in American life, which is race, and we're just going to give it a good scratch. And as people now know, people who commit this kind of crime can look like anything. They can be from Marin county, they can be from Jamaica.
Jewish Americans were not big Bush fans before 9/11. There's a revealing anecdote in your book about his speaking engagement at a function held by the American Jewish Committee in the spring of 2001. The speech bombed, partly because of his references to God, which offended what you call the "intense devout secularism" of American Jews, and in part because of his vague position on Israel at the time. Has the Jewish public warmed up to him as a result of his support of Israel over the past year?
I hope it has, a lot. Israel is in terrible danger. And this President has been a very good friend to Israel in a time of terrible danger. You'd have to look pretty far back to find a President who was as staunch a friend in as dark a time, and I think American Jews need to be concerned about the state of Israel as an important part of American Jewish identity. What we're concerned about is not just the question of where the boundary line crosses some sand dune in Gaza. What we're concerned about is the potentiality of Iraq or Iran getting nuclear weapons, the potentiality of a second Holocaust. This President's foreign policy is directed first and foremost toward the interests of the United States. But it's also true that if he can create a more peaceful and democratic Middle East, he's going to make the lives of millions of Jews in Israel safer and more secure. So the American Jewish community, I think, owes him some thanks.
What is your response to people who say, we're being dragged into a war because of Israel, because of the undue influence of the pro-Israel lobby in America?
I would be fascinated to know the mechanism by which the pro-Jewish lobby has all this influence over this Administration. I think you'd have to go to the Eisenhower Administration to find an Administration with fewer influential Jews in it than this one. It's not zero. But it's very, very few.
Why has Bush changed his position on Israel so dramatically?
It's 9/11 there again. We are fighting a war on terror. Let me try an analogy. Why did World War II have such an impact on American race relations? And the answer is, when you're fighting an enemy whose ideology is white supremacy, you discover you can have no truck with white supremacy as a part of the ideology of your society. If you're fighting terrorism, you find you can have no sympathy with people who use terrorism. In the spring and summer of 2001, when Americans turned on the television and saw Israeli mothers and fathers weeping over the shattered bodies of their children felled by some terrorist bomb, it all looked very far away. In the fall of 2001 we realized that these people are bleeding in just the same way for just the same reasons that we are bleeding. You discover a feeling of kinship.
The lack of clarity within the Administration about how the post-war situation in Iraq is going to be handled has led a lot of critics to say that we're "muddling" into this war. Is that a weak spot in the Iraq campaign?
From the archives:
"The Fifty-first State" (November 2002)
Going to war with Iraq would mean shouldering all the responsibilities of an occupying power the moment victory was achieved. These would include running the economy, keeping domestic peace, and protecting Iraq's borders—and doing it all for years, or perhaps decades. Are we ready for this long-term relationship? By James Fallows
If it were just the other way around, if the Administration had a completely unanimous account of what we were going to do after the war, one that everybody in the Administration publicly discussed, you'd hear exactly the opposite argument—they're vain, they're conceited, they're arrogant, they think they can impose their will on fate. Yeah, there's a lot of uncertainty about what's going to happen after the war. That's true about any war. But unfortunately, there's no uncertainty about what will happen if there's not a war. If there's not a war within a year or two, sanctions and inspections will collapse entirely, and within a short time after that Iraq will have a nuclear weapon, and it will then immediately use that weapon either for war or intimidation. So even if the future after war is uncertain, unfortunately the future after no war is very predictable and very frightening—much more frightening.
After 9/11, according to a story that Bob Woodward tells in his book Bush at War, when Paul Wolfowitz first suggested that the U.S. go after Iraq, Dick Cheney's initial response was, "If we go after Saddam Hussein, we lose our rightful place as a good guy." You write in your book that President Bush demonstrated in last year's State of the Union that he "was a lot less eager to be perceived as a good fellow than he was to stand up to the bad fellows." How concerned should the Administration be about the loss of America's good guy image?
I think public diplomacy is something that the United States in general has not done well for probably fifteen years. And I think this Administration has made some effort to do better, Radio Sawa being the outstanding example. There's probably still a lot more it could do. But I don't think it ever makes sense to try to win the image of a good guy by doing things that you believe are not in your nation's interest. You win your image as a good guy by making the best case you can for what you need to do. It's a mistake to trade image for reality.
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Elizabeth Wasserman is a writer based in Montreal.
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