I have just read an article that suggests that our President does in fact read books. Not very many, but when he does read one he carries it around, passes it to others and recommends it. It is therefore proper to assume he is influenced by these books. My problem is not that he reads relatively few, but in his choices.
Here is a quote from an article by Jim Lobe published March 16, 2007 by the Inter Press Service: “In the summer of 2002…Bush was seen carrying a just-published copy of “Supreme Command” by neo-conservative military historian (and recently appointed State Department counselor) Eliot Cohen. The book argued that the greatest civilian wartime leaders, notably Abraham Lincoln and Churchill, had a far better strategic sense than their generals — a particularly timely message in the months that preceded the Iraq war when a surprising number of recently retired military brass here were voicing strong reservations about the impending invasion.” (op. cit.).
Coincidentally, the same batch of email comment that brought me the foregoing also brought a scathing comment on Eliot Cohen’s scholarship by the respected author Anatol Lieven. Lieven destroys Cohen’s arguments, eg that Churchill outguessed the generals in purely military matters. (“The great majority of Churchill’s personal military decisions, often forced through against the advice of his military commanders, ranged from the bad to the disastrous.”) He adds: “Dr. Cohen…used these arguments to help defeat and silence objections by sections of the U.S. uniformed military to the planning of the Iraq War which have since been proved beyond doubt to have been entirely correct.”
Cohen was recently rewarded for his bad judgment and wrong history by being given one of the most important posts in the State Department. As Counselor, he sits at Secretary Rice’s right hand, presumably to keep her from straying very far from the neocon line.
More recently, according to Lobe, the President fixated on a book by an author who if possible is intellectually even less reputable than Cohen, Natan Sharansky. “…Sharansky’s “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror”…argued that peace in the Middle East could only emerge after the region’s dictatorial regimes were replaced by western-style democracies. Bush was so taken with it that he summoned Sharansky for a White House tete-a-tete, made the book required reading for his senior foreign policy aides, and incorporated its ideas — in some cases, word for word — into his 2005 inaugural address.” (op.cit.)
Uri Avneri is an Israeli peacenik with a pen worthy of Voltaire. Two years ago he wrote an essay about Sharansky that described the latter’s questionable role as a dissident in Russia and his subsequent evolution as an opportunistic right-wing demagogue in Israel. Avnery concludes: “For years now, he has peddled the idea that peace with the Arabs is impossible until they become democratic. In Israel, this was dismissed as just another propaganda gimmick serving the Israeli government’s opposition to any peace that would mean an end to the occupation. Since Sharansky is totally ignorant of Arab affairs and has probably never had a serious conversation with an Arab, it is hard for Israelis to take him seriously. As far as I know, nobody does, not even among Rightists…The idea that the teachings of this particular political philosopher are the guiding star of the mightiest leader in the world, the commander of the biggest military machine in history, is rather frightening.”
Yes, Uri, I am frightened too. If I were an Iranian I would be even more frightened. For that matter, just about everyone in the world, except perhaps for some surviving neolithic tribesmen in places like the Andaman Islands, ought to be frightened.
Carl Coon March 20, 2007