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U. S. vs. Them: How a Half-Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security

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For nearly eight years, the American people have struggled to understand George W. Bush's approach to the world. Many analysts, lacking a frame of reference, have simply dubbed it revolutionary. But in U.S. Vs. Them, J. Peter Scoblic provocatively argues that the best way to understand Bush's foreign policy is to recognize that it is not radical, but rather the most recent expression of conservatism, an often misunderstood ideology whose national security instincts are rooted in America's eighteenth-century view ...

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Overview

For nearly eight years, the American people have struggled to understand George W. Bush's approach to the world. Many analysts, lacking a frame of reference, have simply dubbed it revolutionary. But in U.S. Vs. Them, J. Peter Scoblic provocatively argues that the best way to understand Bush's foreign policy is to recognize that it is not radical, but rather the most recent expression of conservatism, an often misunderstood ideology whose national security instincts are rooted in America's eighteenth-century view of itself and whose modern form has percolated for more than a half century, reaching full strength in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Scoblic persuasively shows that the foreign policy of the American Right has been stuck for decades on a binary setting that allows it to see the world only in terms of us versus them or good versus evil. During the Cold War, that approach fostered an unwillingness to negotiate with the Soviet Union, a distrust of apolitical intelligence, and an insistence on military dominance— even as the advent of nuclear weapons rendered the traditional notion of victory in war obsolete. Today, what conservatives often present as moral clarity is in fact nothing more than a continued failure to recognize that American security depends on our ability to think outside our borders—to stop seeing the United States in unavoidable opposition to the rest of the world.

Tracing the history of Cold War conservatism from its development by William F. Buckley to its manifestation in Barry Goldwater through its implementation by Ronald Reagan and its culmination in the Bush administration, Scoblic weaves an intellectual history that reveals how the Right's belligerence, intransigence, and disinclination for diplomacy not only brought us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, but also failed to meet the grave post-9/11 challenges posed by Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and especially by the most serious danger that looms before us: that of nuclear terrorism. What's more, although the Bush administration is nearing its end, conservatism is certainly not, as this year's Republican presidential candidates clearly demonstrated.

U.S. Vs. Them is a revealing and sometimes alarming analysis, but in diagnosing the origins of Bush's foreign policy, it illuminates the path to renewed American leadership in the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

Nicholas Confessore
In U.S. vs. Them, Scoblic, the executive editor of The New Republic, argues persuasively that neoconservatism isn't the problem—plain old conservatism is. For Scoblic, the Bush administration's habits of foreign affairs—its distrust of international institutions, its conviction that "good" and "evil" nations cannot coexist in the world—are part of an inglorious tradition of bad ideas that dates to the years of the cold war, when Barry Goldwater lobbied against building a Moscow-Washington hot line.
—The New York Times
Robert Wright
J. Peter Scoblic is one of the freshest voices on U.S. foreign policy, and he's addressing a subject of existential importance. His distinctive take on the origins of George Bush's arms control policies—and why they've produced catastrophic results—belongs on the reading list of anyone trying to understand why a zero-sum approach to the world won't work in the twenty-first century. (Robert Wright, author of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny)
James Mann
In U.S. Vs. Them, Peter Scoblic challenges the assumptions and policies of the Bush administration on nuclear strategy. The book describes the contrasting views of conservatives and liberals on arms control as they have evolved over the past several decades. To understand today's news stories about North Korea and Iran, one must understand the policy battles and the history that Scoblic lays out in this book. (James Mann, author of Rise of the Vulcans: A History of Bush's War Cabinet and The China Fantasy)
Sean Wilentz
J. Peter Scoblic's new book superbly dispels nostalgia in favor of history. Since 1989, pernicious myths have abounded about how cranky, right-wing ideas on foreign policy and nuclear supremacy won the Cold War. In fact, those ideas came all too close to destroying the world—which makes their comeback in recent years extremely alarming. Scoblic's unpolemical, deeply informed account offers urgent warnings about the present as well as a reasoned and persuasive rendering of the past. (Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln)
Kai Bird
J. Peter Scoblic's rollicking indictment of how conservatives have undermined America's security since the dawn of the nuclear era is intellectual history at its best. Scoblic shows us that a ship of fools is afloat, still navigating us all toward catastrophe. It is a shocking and even sordid tale told with calm logic and clear prose. Every informed citizen should pick up this book—but the next president should not occupy the Oval Office without first reading U.S. Vs. Them. (Kai Bird, coauthor with Martin J. Sherwin of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer )
Richard Rhodes
In this highly original study, part history, part current analysis, J. Peter Scoblic reveals the deep fear disguised as uncompromising idealism that has propelled the American conservative movement to promote its disastrous foreign policies. Us Vs. Them is a clear, succinct guidebook to the troubled first decade of the twenty-first century. (Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb and author of Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Atomic Arms Race)
Strobe Talbott
A penetrating and provocative critique of a worldview that has brought the United States a world of trouble. (Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state, and author of The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation)
Fred Kaplan
The shelves are already bulging with books about George W. Bush's disastrous foreign policy—where it went wrong, how to steer things right. Yet space should be made for J. Peter Scoblic's U.S. vs. Them, if only because it points out that there's nothing "neo" about the neoconservatives.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This cogent first book from the executive editor of the New Republic forcefully argues that 50 years of American conservatism have undermined U.S. security and pushed the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. Scoblic charts the course of American conservatism, from its development by William F. Buckley Jr. through the disastrous Cold War to Bush's failure to safeguard the United States after 9/11: in stark, often frightening detail, Scoblic examines how Bush embraced "regime change" as a means of fighting "evil" and neglected to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, failed to prevent North Korea from reprocessing plutonium, rebuffed requests for negotiations from an Iranian regime that was, in 2003, willing to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency, repeatedly ignored U.S. intelligence and pursued the war in Iraq. Scoblic illustrates how and why conservatism shaped the current administration and explains how it guided Bush's "good vs. evil" morality. This is an important book, well researched and well reasoned in its assessment of conservatism and mandatory reading for anyone concerned with America's security and future. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A learned and lively political harangue insists that America's recent foreign-policy failures are the result of conservative principles. New Republic executive editor Scoblic begins in the 1940s when conservatism seemed a spent force, devastated by the Depression, isolationism and FDR's charisma. In the book's most stimulating pages, the author describes the ideology's rebirth in the '50s, sparked by a few academics and one brilliant journalist: William F. Buckley Jr. In the National Review, Buckley laid out the modern conservative creed: Free enterprise is good, government is bad, communists are evil. Morality, not politics, must guide our leaders, Buckley averred. One does not negotiate with evil; treaties and even cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union were shameful. This philosophy thrived, but not at the highest levels. Republican presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford were not modern conservatives; they believed preventing nuclear war was more important than overthrowing the Soviet Union. (Buckley and colleagues disagreed.) President Reagan seemed ideal, vilifying communism and beefing up U.S. forces. However, halfway through his term he reversed his policy and launched negotiations that dramatically improved U.S.-Soviet relations. Scoblic reminds readers that Reagan left office under a torrent of conservative denunciation. In the second half, the author characterizes President George W. Bush as the apotheosis of modern conservatism to whom 9/11 appeared as a godsend, providing an evil enemy to replace the defunct Soviet Union. But the Bush administration has been distracted from fighting terrorism, the author argues, by its eagerness to smite rogue states like Iraq as ademonstration of American righteousness. Since modern conservatives have no objection to using nuclear weapons to fight evil, the current administration has dropped efforts to prevent their spread (except to evil nations), thereby making the world more dangerous than at any time during the Cold War. Readers must plow through a torrent of government position papers, speeches, editorials and intelligence reports, but many will find Scoblic's acerbic analysis worth the slog. A well-delineated albeit depressing portrait of America's present guiding political philosophy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670018826
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/29/2000
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

J. Peter Scoblic is the executive editor of The New Republic. Formerly the editor of Arms Control Today, he wrote this book while a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a visiting researcher at Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Ideas 1

Ch. 1 Worldview 3

Ch. 2 Candidates 37

Ch. 3 Movement 72

Ch. 4 President 112

Pt. 2 Consequences 155

Ch. 5 Hibernation 157

Ch. 6 Apotheosis 192

Ch. 7 Catastrophe 232

Ch. 8 Future 263

Acknowledgments 291

Notes 295

Index 337

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