- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004


John Podhoretz

St. Martin’s, $24.95, 276 pages

John Podhoretz is politically partisan. He is an unabashed admirer of George W. Bush. That’s dicey territory to occupy when in the vocabulary of “news-speak” right now, “partisan” is a word of opprobrium — if one’s tent is pitched right of center.

“Taken together, all of Bush’s presidential qualities mark him as a genuine leader and a transformative figure on the American and world stages. Love him or hate him, respect him or revile him, George W. Bush has made extraordinary use of the powers of the presidency and has changed the United States, its government, and the world in ways that have made an indelible mark on the new century,” he writes.

Mr. Podhoretz tartly rebuts the characterizations of Dubya that are standard with Bush bashers, particularly those roiled at his supposed electoral illegitimacy.

There is the standard assertion that he is intellectually deficient, a “moron,” in fact; that he is a puppet of his father and a mere tool of powerful interests and ideological alliances; that George W. Bush is a reactionary intent on a religious takeover of this country; that he is a) not serious about homeland security, and, contradictorily, b) that he is severely eroding civil liberties to prevent further terrorist outrages. That’s the silly short-list.

Americanpolitical polemic from the beginning has been nasty, brutish and long. But there’s a dire change in recent decades. Some of those ripping Mr. Bush contend that it’s quid pro quo for Clinton opponents. A more probable modern genesis, however, was the contemptuous “amiable dunce” label hung on Ronald Reagan, and especially the vicious and dishonest confirmation hearings on Robert H. Bork’s Supreme Court nomination.

Mr. Podhoretz is a columnist for the New York Post. He was a speech writer for President Reagan and has filled senior editor jobs at, among other publications, the Weekly Standard, The Washington Times (where, in the dance of disclosure, he was hired with my enthusiastic endorsement) and Insight magazine.

Even before September 11 changed this country profoundly, Mr. Podhoretz emphasizes the tenacity of Mr. Bush in premising his electoral campaign on a tax cut and presiding over a massive reduction.

Once in office, he unequivocally announced U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and dumped the liberally hallowed Kyoto accords in the round file.

In the arduous chore of a son forging his own political identity, Dubya came “to see the totality of his father’s failure clearly and mercilessly,” writes the author. Lovely man that Bush 41 is, he was a “disaster as a president and party leader,” and Bush 43 embraced audacity in policy as a girder of his administration — in a town where commitment is considered eccentric.

Then George W. Bush became a war president. The Afghanistan campaign was relatively uncontentious. But “regime change” in Iraq was Dubya’s greatest gamble — with the stakes still on the table.

However, one of the aspects of the invasion of Iraq and Mr. Bush’s doctrine of “pre-emption” that most ignites Mr. Podhoretz is the insinuation of a “neo-conservative cabal.” In its most blatant expression, usually implicit but not always, this insinuates a conspiracy in the Middle East to support unconditionally the Israeli right wing.

Prominent members of this conspiratorial cell are Jews, and Mr. Bush has come under its control, according to this dark notion. The purpose is not the defense of the United States but “the furtherance of Israel’s security interests,” writes Mr. Podhoretz.

The conspirators’ “secret purpose in compelling Bush to go to war with Iraq” was to force Americans to serve Jewish interests. This is “a classic canard of hate,” he writes, correctly, and anti-Semitic at its core.

Mr. Podhoretz eviscerates this calumny effectively. However, his demolition does not credit those who have opposed the Iraq campaign on quite arguable geo-strategic grounds.

But “Bush Country” is not a paper to be delivered before the Council on Foreign Relations. From now to November as the presidential campaign becomes more bitter, heaven help us all, Mr. Podhoretz in chapter and verse has provided a firewall to the nastiest of the salvoes against the president.

The book is carefully and urgently reasoned, with a number of deserved “dope slaps” administered along the way. It has the potential to preach to more than the converted.

Woody West is associate editor of The Washington Times.

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