December 30, 2008

Richard Cohen - the intellectually insulated man

I'm a bit bugged by this piece by Richard Cohen - George W. Bush as an Avid Reader:

....The list Rove provides is long, but it is narrow. It lacks whole shelves of books on how and why the Iraq war was a mistake, one that metastasized into a debacle. Absent is Rajiv Chandrasekaran's 'Imperial Life in the Emerald City,' Tom Ricks's 'Fiasco,' George Packer's 'The Assassins' Gate' or, on a related topic, Jane Mayer's 'The Dark Side' about 'extraordinary rendition' and other riffs on the Constitution. Absent too is Barton Gellman's 'Angler,' about Dick Cheney, the waterboarder in chief.

Bush read David Halberstam's 'The Coldest Winter,' which is about the Korean War, but not on the list is Halberstam's 'The Best and the Brightest,' which is about the Vietnam War. Bush read some novels, but they are mostly pre-movies, plotted not written, and lacking the beauty of worldly cynicism. I recommend Giuseppe di Lampedusa's 'The Leopard.' Delicious.

My hat is off to Bush for the sheer volume and, often, high quality of his reading. But his books reflect a man who is seeking to learn what he already knows. The caricature of Bush as unread died today -- or was it yesterday? But the reality of the intellectually insulated man endures.

The "intellectually insulated man" here is Cohen. Things haven't turned out the way he expected, but does he re-think? Does he question his own assumptions?

If he would do a bit of reading himself, he would find out that it is normal in war for things to get tough. Americans always get tougher, and win in the end. You can't expect to win all the battles.

He would see American war leaders such as Pershing, Lincoln, or Marshall trying out various generals and different tactics, until they find what's needed--often after tens or even hundreds-of-thousands of casualties!

He might discover that Americans have liberated captive peoples from fascist and communist dictators before, and that the Iraq Campaign has been very cheap and easy on a historical scale. Korea was worse by an order of magnitude. And we've fought guerilla and terrorist enemies before, and many have been harder nuts to crack than al-Qaeda. And that, in fact, the Iraq Campaign has now moved into conditions that should be described not as "debacle," but by an old-fashioned word that leftists hate--victory.

And there have been plentiful signs that Bush was smart and intellectually curious from the beginning. I remember arguing the subject with various lefties back in 2001--and discovering that they were "intellectually insulated," and absolutely did not want to hear anything that might shake their world-view.

Posted by John Weidner at December 30, 2008 1:03 PM
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