Courtesy Reuters

Bye Bye Bush

What History Will Make of 43

In This Review

Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power

By Fred Kaplan
Wiley, 2008
256 pp. $25.95

They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons

By Jacob Heilbrunn
Doubleday, 2008
319 pp. $26.00

The Bush Tragedy

By Jacob Weisberg
Random House, 2008
271 pp. $26.00

If newspaper reports constitute the first draft of history, then books by magazine journalists may constitute the second. That second-drafting process never abates these days, and it accelerates as an election looms, particularly at the end of an administration widely thought to be scandalous or incompetent. It is therefore no surprise that critical postmortems of George W. Bush's administration are already pouring forth. Recent books by Fred Kaplan, Jacob Heilbrunn, and Jacob Weisberg are cases in point: all three were written by political journalists and published by commercial houses that know well their customers' political profiles, and all are critical of Bush and what his two administrations have wrought.

These books will not satisfy true Bush haters, however. None, for example, claims that administration principals lied deliberately about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in prewar Iraq or about anything else of significance. But none will satisfy scholars either, for they do not follow the strict rules of social science sourcing, and they have structural flaws. Kaplan and Heilbrunn both propose plausible and interesting theses but do not develop them sufficiently. Weisberg carries his through, but it is hopelessly speculative. Still, despite these shortcomings, later drafters of the Bush legacy will find all three books useful -- Kaplan's and Heilbrunn's mainly as historical background to the Bush presidency, Weisberg's as an insightful and nuanced account of what has happened since January 2001.


Kaplan argues that the cardinal error of the Bush administration was a compound misreading of the end of the Cold War and of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Contrary to the reigning assumptions of the American political class, Kaplan claims, the end of the Cold War did not enhance America's relative power but reduced it, and contrary to the administration's assumptions, 9/11 did not "change everything." The administration's overwrought reaction to 9/11, combined with its "inclination to devise policies based on the premise of omnipotence, made America weaker still."

Kaplan's thesis bears the unmistakably musky scent of realism. This

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