WHERE THE RIGHT WENT WRONGHow Neoconservatives Subverted the ReaganRevolution and Hijacked the Bush PresidencyBy Patrick J. BuchananThomas Dunne/St. Martin's -- 264pp -- $24.95
When you walk out of the revival tent of old-time conservatism that is Where the Right Went Wrong, you may find yourself feeling: 1. Stimulated (after viewing the world through night goggles that see the underbelly of free trade and the folly of American empire); 2. Fearful (about America's future in the hands of ideological zealots); 3. Bleary (after being bombarded with so many predictions and opinions); 4. All of the above.
You also may have the nagging sensation that the fast-talking preacher who just filled your ear was ultimately being dishonest -- not only to the faithful but also to himself.
The election-year sell of Pat Buchanan's new book is all in the subtitle: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency. And in his usual full-metal-jacket style, Buchanan goes after what he describes as a cabal of former liberals out to impose a secular democracy on the world -- especially the Islamic Middle East -- safeguard Israel at all costs, and promote a benevolent American hegemony around the planet.
Tight in Buchanan's sights are all the usual neocon suspects. These include individuals such as William Kristol and publications such as The National Review and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. But it is Administration insiders, led by former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard N. Perle and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who come in for the heaviest of Buchanan's friendly fire. He charges that they took George W. Bush, "a tabula rasa" on foreign policy, and led him into a war they had plotted for a decade. Three years after September 11, Buchanan writes, the U.S. is "mired in a guerrilla war in a nation that had nothing to do with that terror attack."
Buchanan has never been a fan of the Bushes. In the New Hampshire primary of 1992, his shoestring campaign took 37% of the Republican vote and foreshadowed the vulnerability of George H.W. Bush. In 2000, as the Reform Party candidate for President, he mocked George W. as "a bellhop for Corporate America."
But Buchanan the pundit seems genuinely horrified by the Bush Doctrine: that we are in a war of good vs. evil; that the U.S. claims the right of preemptive strike against any regime seeking weapons of mass destruction; that Afghanistan and Iraq are the beginning of a world democratic revolution; that no nation will ever challenge the preeminence of the U.S. "This is democratic imperialism," he says. "This will bleed, bankrupt, and isolate this republic."
Buchanan makes the case that a war against terror is unwinnable because terror -- however horrible -- is a tactic, not a movement, and is often successful. It was used by the powerful against Dresden and Hiroshima, he writes, and most effectively by the weak, including the IRA against the British, the Zionists against the Brits and Arabs in Palestine, and the African National Congress against apartheid South Africa.
While he wants the terrorists of September 11 hunted down, he rejects simplistic explanations of their motives. We were attacked, he maintains, because Arab and Islamic people resent U.S. domination, abhor America's bias toward Israel, and were incensed that thousands of our troops were defiling Saudi Arabia's "sacred soil." "The terrorists were over here because we were over there," he writes. "Terrorism is the price of empire."
Why listen to Buchanan, whose word sometimes sounds like a live feed from Chicken Little in a fallout shelter? Consider this: In 2000, he asked: "Will it take some cataclysmic atrocity on U.S. soil to awaken our global gamesmen to the going price of empire? America today faces a choice of destinies. We can choose to be peacemaker of the world, or its policeman who goes about night-sticking troublemakers until we, too, find ourselves in some bloody brawl we cannot handle."
Other than ramming through supersize tax cuts, Buchanan says, Bush is acting more like LBJ, running up massive deficits and running through other people's money with abandon. He calls a proposal to spend $1.5 billion to promote marriage "God's pork."
Yet after scores of pages devoted to ranting about neoconservative creeps who have turned the Reagan Revolution into a failed movement, Buchanan concludes that alienated traditionalists must "come home" to Bush on Nov. 2. Two big reasons: The next President is likely to decide the composition of the Supreme Court for a generation, and traditional conservatives must cling to a place at the Republican table.
Still, it's painful to watch Preacher Buchanan throw logic to the wind, lay down his assault weapon, line up beside the apostates at the altar of Bushism, and genuflect before the golden calf. By Ciro Scotti