Although most Americans regard September 11 as the single event that changed the world, Craig Unger would argue that the 2000 presidential election served as a convergence point of certain groups of people who helped create what he calls “the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history—one that could result in the end of American global supremacy.”
In an eloquent and fascinating study of the Neoconservatives, the Christian Fundamentalists and their presidential candidate, George W. Bush, Unger reveals their policymaking role in the Middle East.
Today’s Neoconservatives were originally New Left intellectuals who came out of the sixties’ antiwar and counterculture movement as angry individuals who either felt rebuffed socially or professionally and/or were attracted to the hawkish anti-communist dogma of Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.
In order to start something new, they imitated the influential left-wing Brookings Institution by organizing think tanks and lobbying groups, developing a fundraising apparatus and recruiting “scholars” and “experts” for the purpose of “overturn[ing] the present power structure of the country,” as Paul Weyrich, founder of the neoconservative Heritage Foundation, asserted.
Meanwhile, both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld racked up White House experience beginning with the Nixon administration where they learned how to navigate government bureaucracy and position themselves for leadership.
In the early nineties at the conclusion of the Cold War, the United States found itself the only remaining superpower. The Neocons formulated a vision of a new American empire that would assert U.S. domination in the Middle East in order to control energy resources (like oil and gas), open up corporate-friendly markets, set up strategic military bases and protect Israel.
The Neocons achieved a platform for their views by writing op-ed pieces and serving as opposing viewpoints for the “liberal press” (i.e., network news, New York Times and Washington Post).
However, the Neocons could not find a president who would adopt their platform. George H.W. Bush, a political realist, aimed to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through diplomacy and Clinton did the same. It wasn’t until the 2000 election that they found a candidate who might be more in tune with their agenda.
The sixties also deeply affected the Fundamentalist Christians who saw modern humanist culture as the scourge on the nation. The public perceived them, however, as clueless rubes and fools. Only half of them even bothered to vote. The Supreme Court’s ruling on school prayer and desegregation provoked the Fundamentalists but it was the legalization of abortion in 1973 that finally galvanized them to action.
Led by evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, they sought political influence and found some support fromh Ronald Reagan. However, it wasn’t until George W. Bush became president in 2000 that they gained a foothold not only to government policy, political appointments but to the Oval Office itself, according to Unger.
One of the Fundamentalists’ particular issues of concern was Israel. At the core of this tinderbox were the 4,000-year-old biblical myths of Abraham and his claim on the lands of Israel. Also at issue were such topics as human existence, salvation and redemption, the End Times and Armageddon. As a result, the Fundamentalist Christians had come to support right-wing Israelis because they believed that the re-establishment of Israel as a state in 1948 signaled the Last Days.
By the 2000 election, especially after the scandals of the Clinton administration, the Fundamentalists were anxious to find a candidate of sound moral character who would promote their issues and concerns. George W. Bush, a “born-again Christian,” looked like a good prospect.
The Neoconservatives recognized that the Fundamentalist Christians could be used to support their aims in the Middle East so they struck an alliance with them by endorsing Bush as their presidential candidate, according to Unger.
Before George W. Bush entered the national stage, he gave up drinking, found the Lord and became more serious about politics. He greatly helped his father’s presidential campaigns by appealing to the same Fundamentalist Christians who would later help him in his own bid for the presidency. However, he first had to prove that he deserved to be his family’s favored son. He did that in 1994 by winning the governorship of Texas by a wide margin while his brother, Jeb, lost the Florida governorship. (In 1998, Jeb won the governorship but only by a slim margin.)
According to Unger, the tense father-son relationship all came down to Bush’s inability to live up the reputation and accomplishments of his father, as illustrated in the first chapter titled “Oedipus Tex.” Such family dramas are common, but this one would be played out on the world stage.
For example, Bush deliberately did the opposite of what his father would do, said Unger, and he rejected most of his father’s advisers. He did, however, accept Colin Powell, as Secretary of State but that was only to trot out the distinguished general’s good name for the 2000 and 2004 elections. Bush rarely consulted Powell and then had him dumped in 2005 after Powell sold his soul for his president in February 2003 when he delivered his United Nations speech that “justified” a war with Iraq.
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