(updated below - updated again)
On February 28, George Bush hosted what he called "a literary luncheon" to honor "historian" Andrew Roberts. Accounts of that luncheon -- which describe the "lessons" the guests taught the President (and they call them "lessons") -- really provide an amazing glimpse into the Bush mindset and his relationship with neoconservatives.
Roberts recently wrote the right-wing historical revisionism tract entitled History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. The book, as Roberts himself described it in an interview with Front Page Magazine, "does not consider British imperialism to have been a Bad Thing, argues that the Versailles Treaty was not harsh enough on Germany, [and] defends the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki . . . . " A central theme is that "Intellectuals of the Left bear a heavy responsibility for the cruelties and savagery of the 20th century," and Roberts' world-view is filled with banalities like this:
I fear, in the light of Congress's recent nonbinding (and utterly self-contradictory) resolution opposing the surge, the gross bias of much of the Left-Liberal media, and the present poll ratings of Sen Hillary Clinton, that the US will lose the will to fight the War against Terror in any manner that might hold out the hope of ultimate victory.
So one can see why Roberts was chosen to be honored as the President's new favorite historian, and why his "history" book, which affirms George Bush's imperial worldview in every way, has become one of the President's favorites.
The White House invited a tiny cast (total: 15 guests) of standard neoconservatives and other Bush followers to the luncheon, including Norman Podhoretz (father-in-law of White House convict Eliot Abrams), Gertrude Himmelfarb (wife of Irving Kristol and mother of Bill), Mona Charen, Kate O'Beirne, Wall St. Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot, etc. etc. The Weekly Standard's Irwin Stelzer was also invited and wrote about the luncheon in the most glowing terms.
Stelzer's account provides truly illuminating insight into what neoconservatives have been filling the President's head with for years now, and demonstrates how they have managed to keep him firmly on board with their agenda. The most critical priority is to convince the President to continue to ignore the will of the American people and to maintain full-fledged loyalty to the neoconservative agenda, no matter how unpopular it becomes.
To do this, they have convinced the President that he has tapped into a much higher authority than the American people -- namely, God-mandated, objective morality -- and as long as he adheres to that (which is achieved by continuing his militaristic policies in the Middle East, whereby he is fighting Evil and defending Good), God and history will vindicate him:
On one subject the president needed no lessons from Roberts or anyone else in the room: how to handle pressure. "I just don't feel any," he says with the calm conviction of a man who believes the constituency to which he must ultimately answer is the Divine Presence. Don't misunderstand: God didn't tell him to put troops in harm's way in Iraq; belief in Him only goes so far as to inform the president that there is good and evil. It is then his job to figure out how to promote the former and destroy the latter. And he is confident that his policies are doing just that.
Or, as luncheon attendee Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute recalled (also in The Weekly Standard) the President saying: "I want to have my conscience clear with Him. Then it doesn't matter so much what others think." (Novak also revealingly marveled that "The President was not at all intimidated by his fifteen or so guests" even though the guests included Podhoretz, Himmelfarb and "Irwin Stelzer himself" -- in Novak's world, one expects the President to be intimidated to be in the presence of such powerful neoconservative luminaries, not the other way around).
Stelzer recounts what he calls the multiple "lessons" they taught Bush at this luncheon. One of the key lessons is Roberts' view that the U.S. should be most concerned with its relationships with the other "English-speaking countries in the world," and not worry nearly as much about all those countries where they speak in foreign tongues ("Lesson Four: Cling to the alliance of the English-speaking peoples").
But that "lesson" led Bush to bewilderingly wonder why there was such rising anti-Americanism all over the world, even in English-speaking countries such as England ("'Is it due simply to my personality?' he wondered, half-seriously. 'Is it confined to intellectuals?' asked a guest"). Anti-Americanism, the neoconservatives instructed Bush, is something he should just ignore. As long as he continues to follow neoconservatism, that is all that matters:
The combined Roberts-Stelzer response: The causes of rampant anti-Americanism do indeed include dislike of Bush. But there are others: the war in Iraq; anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sentiment, laced with some covert anti-Semitism; and resentment of American power. Roberts urged the president not to concern himself with these anti-American feelings, since in a unipolar world the lone superpower cannot be loved. His advice: "Get your policies right and history will prove a kind muse."
Nothing matters -- not the disapproval of the American people of the President's actions nor rising anti-Americanism around the world. He should simply ignore all of that and continue to obey the mandates of neoconservatism because that is what is Good and his God will be pleased.
Other lessons that Bush was taught that day: "First: Do not set a deadline for withdrawal. That led to the slaughter of 700,000 to 1 million people in India, with the killing beginning one minute after the midnight deadline." They also told the President to ignore the fact that other powerful countries and even empires that tried to dominate the world have all collapsed. Those incidents are irrelevant and teach us nothing because -- unlike the Glorious Leader today -- those people simply lacked the Will to Power. Thus:
Second lesson: Will trumps wealth. The Romans, the tsars, and other rich world powers fell to poorer ones because they lacked the will to fight and survive. Whereas World War II was almost over before Americans saw the first picture of a dead soldier, today the steady drumbeat of media pessimism and television coverage are sapping the West's will.
They also instructed the President to continue his policies of indefinite imprisonment without charges: "Third lesson: Don't hesitate to intern our enemies for long, indefinite periods of time. That policy worked in Ireland and during World War II. Release should only follow victory." "Victory," of course is decades away -- it's a Permanent War -- so the "lesson" they are teaching is to imprison people forever with no charges and not to worry about all those whiny French complaints that doing so is un-American. American values are no competition for the imperatives of neoconservative glory.
The lessons continued. "Appeasement," of course, is the Ultimate Evil, the Great French Sin. Hence: "Fifth lesson: We are fighting an enemy that cannot be appeased; were that possible, the French would already have done it--a Roberts quip that elicited a loud chuckle from the president."
Finally, the neoconservatives left Bush with the overarching instruction -- namely, the only thing that he should concern himself with, the only thing that really matters, is Iran. Forget every other issue -- the welfare of the American people, every other region around the world -- except the one that matters most:
The closing note was a more serious one. Roberts said that history would judge the president on whether he had prevented the nuclearization of the Middle East. If Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries will follow. "That is why I am so pleased to be sitting here rather than in your chair, Mr. President." There was no response, other than a serious frown and a nod.
The President, concluded Stelzer with great satisfaction, "worries less about his 'legacy' than about his standing with the Almighty." And as a result of this luncheon, the President's standing with the Almightys in the neoconservative circle was as secure as ever. Another luncheon is likely planned soon, since Stelzer also noted that "Bush has circulated copies of Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy to his staff, and recommended Mark Steyn's America Alone."
Irving Kristol (Himmelfarb's husband) has written in the past about the need to exploit religious and moral concepts in order to manipulate the masses, and his intellectual North Star, Leo Strauss, has advocated -- as Strauss scholar Shadia Drury documented -- that "those in power must invent noble lies and pious frauds to keep the people in the stupor for which they are supremely fit" -- a view Kristol has endorsed. One can see that dynamic powerfully at work in the interaction between these neoconservatives and the President. They have seized upon the President's evangelical fervor and equated his "calling" to wage war for Good in the world with the neoconservative agenda of endless wars in the Middle East.
And the more unpopular the President becomes as a result, the more of a failure these policies are, the more strongly they tell him to ignore all of that, that none of it matters, that his God and history will conclude that he did The Right Thing, provided that he continues steadfastly to pursue their agenda. And the President believes that. That is why nothing will stop him in pursuing the path he created years ago when, in January, 2002, he became convinced to name not only Iraq, but also Iran, as standing members of the "Axis of Evil" (even though our relations with Iran were rapidly improving at the time) and cited the 9/11 attacks in order to all but vow war on those countries, despite their having nothing to do with those attacks. The President's "lessons" at the feet of neoconservatives continue, and he is as faithful a student as ever.
The subject of Winston Churchill inspired Bush's self-reflection. The president confided to Roberts that he believes he has an advantage over Churchill, a reliable source with access to the conversation told me. He has faith in God, Bush explained, but Churchill, an agnostic, did not. Because he believes in God, it is easier for him to make decisions and stick to them than it was for Churchill. Bush said he doesn't worry, or feel alone, or care if he is unpopular. He has God.
We have long known that Bush Is Churchill (along with all the chest-besting neoconservatives who cheer on wars), but now we learn (from Bush) that he has become convinced that he is stronger than Churchill because Bush "has God" and Churchill didn't.
UPDATE II: I will likely write more about this later, but for the moment, I will simply highly recommend this new article by American Conservative Editor Scott McConnell, which focuses on the role of the blogosphere in expanding the scope of permissible debate over Israel and, specifically, the role played by right-wing Israeli groups in influencing American foreign policy.
Entitled "Bloggers v. the Lobby," McConnell argues that "the blogosphere is playing a role in bringing to the fore these kinds of dissenting views -- though they may be majority views -- letting them circulate and evolve under the test of critical argument." He focuses on some recent writings on AIPAC, Wes Clark, Iran, and domestic politics by Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and this post written by me.
Ezra adds some worthwhile thoughts on this article both here and here, including a reference to Barack Obama's highly commendable (and startlingly rare) discussion of Palestinian suffering
in front of the AIPAC crowd, the day before he addressed AIPAC.