Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Us Vs. Them

I am currently reading J. Peter Scoblic's Us Vs. Them: How a Half-Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security, and I'm surprised I have not heard more about it. It one of the most readable, while at the same time intelligent books on modern American foreign policy I have read in quite some time. Even more impressively I think he does a better job of fairly critiquing policy than Richard Rhodes did in his similar recent book Arsenals of Folly.

Scoblic goes back into the Cold War to argue that Bush's foreign policy is not something new under the sun, but is actually the full fruition of a movement that previously had been checked by other foreign policy viewpoints. He argues that Bill Buckley and other writers of the 50s laid the groundwork for a full throated rollback position in the Cold War that sought to defeat communism using military means and believed that nuclear weapons were war fighting rather than political weapons. This viewpoint grew in power when it merged with the neocon stream that believed that US power should be used to spread democracy via violent means.

The title of the book makes it sound both more partisan and less analytically nuanced than it is. Scoblic, who is left in orientation, is fair to many on the right, having many kinds words for Presidents Reagan and Nixon. He also notes that many people that the average reader would consider conservative, including people as diverse as Pat Buchanan and George Schulz adamantly opposed the trends he calls conservative. I wish he had found a term to better differentiate. One of his points is that the neocons didn't so much hijack policy as ally with other flavors of cons, but there are still other flavors that didn't want to play ball.

Still, the book is a pleasure to read and will appeal to those looking for a survey of Cold War policy debates on the right as well as another analysis of the Bush administration foibles. Scoblic's background is arms control, so there is predominance of arms control and other nuclear issues and less about Iraq and Vietnam.

No comments: