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War and the American Presidency Hardcover – 21 Sep 2004

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"A timely critique of the Bush Administration's foreign policy." Contemporary Review; Mr Schlesinger is the master of the lethal quote. [This book] is a tour de force of historical allusion, analysis, and contempt." The Spectator; "Briskly and elegantly, he covers a lot of ground" The Economist --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr is the author of The Disuniting of America: "The best book I have read this year-and indeed for many years" (The Spectator), a "punchy" (The Sunday Telegraph), "eloquent attack on political correctness" (The Economist).

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Unilateralism? There is no older American tradition in the conduct of foreign affairs. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 16 reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
What We Needed to Know in 2002. 17 Nov 2006
By Edwin C. Pauzer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"In 1998, Donald Rumsfeld, [Paul] Wolfowitz, [Richard] Perle were among the eighteen signers of an open letter to President Clinton arguing that regime change in Iraq 'needs to become the aim of American foreign policy'." This quote from world-respected author and one-man political think tank, Arthur Schesinger shows that these individuals were looking for an excuse that 9/11 gave them, to invade Iraq. They began beating the tocsins of war shortly after to create their vision of a middle eastern democracy under a pax americana.

Arthur Schlesinger points out in detail how the Bush administration pressured the CIA for raw intelligence from which they would make an interpretation, how the reasons for invading Iraq kept changing, and how the White House kept contradicting previous statements. The reader can only come to the conclusion that the Bush Doctrine is an utter failure, the invasion of Iraq was not to fight terrorism but to satisfy a right-wing vision, that we were lied to about an association between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin-Laden, that we lied to about WMD. Even after this collaboration and weapons failed to materialize, Schlesinger states "the Bush administration is left with liberation, which it had once deemed an insufficient justification for putting American lives at risk."

I found the first three chapters captivating, but I gave this four stars because of a need to keep a dictionary by my side. The author's vocabulary far exceeds mine, and those of fewer words may find this annoying or challenging. I was also annoyed by the author's use of French without translation: "Nous Sommes Tous Americains." (We are all Americans.) In some places, I had to stop and absorb his insight--a more worthwhile pursuit.

But, if you are looking for a powerful and persuasive argument against our government and its actions, Arthur Schlesinger gives it to you. Read it, and soak it up. Finally, remember the words of George Bush:

"There was no viable exit strategy....Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish."

That was from George Herbert Walker Bush (41)!
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A critical and timely assessment 24 Sep 2004
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
If the American public is suffering from a lack of information about the history of the presidency and the balance of power, especially prior to a national election, I don't see how a discussion of specific historical incidents can do anything but add to the lively debate in assessing the Bush presidency and the preemptive doctrine that occasioned the invasion of Iraq.

In the current political climate, dissent is under fire, accused of increasing the danger for our troops in Iraq. Recent statements from Washington indicate that such dissent may border on the treasonous. Schlesinger's book is a timely response to such assertions, because the author sites specific incidents in American history, making a strong case for the necessity of open dialog in the service of the democratic process.

The current preemptive doctrine is worthy of careful consideration. Schlesinger posits that military might is no substitute for wisdom and can only accomplish limited goals. Peace through the prevention of war is replaced with peace via preventive war, an entirely different prospect, with its own inherent problems. Even Truman opined the foolhardiness of a concept that war can only be prevented by war, "You can't 'prevent' anything by war except peace."

Preventive war depends upon accurate intelligence; certainly, it is human nature to guess the future from the experiences of the past. But do we use the historic perspective to create insight or justification for our agenda? The future will not yield itself to the vision of one man or one nation; hence, extreme caution is imperative. We must constantly monitor the inherent dangers of power and the arrogance it breeds.

Nixon was the last president to exercise the concept of "imperial presidency", when the balance of power is upset by the executive branch, via foreign policy decisions, with a lack of congressional oversight and the aid of the attorney general. But Osama bin Laden reopened the doors of imperial presidency for our generation, John Ashcroft at the helm, promoting the Patriot Act I and II, which must allow open debate by the Congress before any restrictions are made on the freedoms we enjoy.

Certain question arise, in reading this book and considering the problems at hand; for example, if war does nurture the concept of the imperial presidency, and certainly the events of 9/11 have made the public more vulnerable and willing to take direction from our leaders, do a democratic people have a moral obligation to stop dissent during wartime? Is this the example shown by our forefathers? And, in a nation born of dissent, what is the nature of patriotism? Schlesinger answers all these questions in detail. The answers are surprisingly informative, certainly worth consideration.

Both popular and electoral votes were at issue in the last election and may be again, so the author includes the pros and cons of the arguments as the framers of the constitution grappled with the safest way to preserve the will of the people. There are also issues regarding the uninhibited pursuit of runaway capitalism and its inherent dangers, including the imminence of a complicated global economy.

Religious fanaticism breeds terrorism, yet people are drawn together in the comfort of spiritual identity, searching for meaning in their lives, so how do we achieve a balance that allows belief systems to coexist, without taking advantage of the obvious fear or one "God" trumping another? It is critical that we refuse to allow fanatics to usurp emotion-driven decisions that cause violence in the name of God.

These are difficult times with serious issues confronting the voters and debate is critical if we are to live within the intended framework of our democracy. "The great strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction", whether in the global market, the pressures of race and assimilation or spiritual frustration caused by global anonymity. As citizens, we are intimately invested in a process that has so far been successful in safeguarding our values and democratic ideals, but we cannot avoid personal responsibility when electing those to best represent us.

In the final analysis, history documents the nature of dissent in this country and the fact that no president has been sacrosanct, whether the country is at war or not, is well established. Dissent is viable in a democracy, dialog the lifeblood of citizenship and critical to voters. Schlesinger's book suggests an appreciation of our rich history of dissent and the valuable lessons of experience, positive and negative. Stimulating curiosity in pursuit of lively discussion is never a waste of time. Luan Gaines/2004.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The "imperial presidency," revisited and in perspective 26 Nov 2004
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Avoiding polemic, this simple (but hardly simplistic) and slim book examines the 2000 Bush election and administration through the lens of history.

The first three chapters discuss how Bush's foreign policy adventures are not wholly unprecedented: a unilateral fervor has always formed the core of American diplomacy. Schlesinger first provides a concise overview of how American policy has changed from nineteenth-century isolationism to Wilson's abortive multilateralism through Roosevelt and Truman's success in preparing Americans for a larger world role. He confirms that the United States has always insisted on its right to "preemptive" war but insists that the new Bush Doctrine is more accurately called "preventive" war, which "refers to potential, future, therefore speculative threats." Schlesinger then revisits the thesis he introduced in "The Imperial Presidency," and finds that the most recent executive actions have taken on a new look; "the American Presidency has come to see itself in messianic terms as the appointed savior of a world whose unpredictable dangers call for rapid and incessant deployment of men, arms, and decisions behind a wall of secrecy."

In spite of the book's title, its second half is concerned with matters other than war and broader than the American presidency: the instability caused by the electoral college (he proposes a solution), the future of democracy itself (his verdict is optimistic), and the "use" of history in determining future events. On this last issue, he marshals an array of arguments against the self-defeating prophecies of Marxism and concludes, persuasively, that history is a "negative" model: "It instructs us not, like Marxism, in the things we must do, but in the things we must not do--unless we wish to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors."

Schlesinger's reinforces his political observations with historical anecdotes, trenchant quotes, and a solid grounding in American jurisprudence. A certain old-fashioned quality pervades his opinions, and usually this traditionalism is admirable. I take issue only with his predisposition against the "electronic town hall"; he claims in an aside that the "Internet has done little thus far to foster the reasoned exchanges that in Madison's words 'refine and enlarge the public views.'" One senses that Schlesinger is judging the Internet secondhand by its excesses (on both right and left) rather than by intimate knowledge of the online political community. If anything--regardless of the outcome of any single election and in spite of the blogs that promote rumor over reality--the Internet has, in a remarkably short time, increased citizen participation in and knowledge of politics. Indeed, it is the traditional news media, with its penchant for entertainment and oversimplification, that has failed us.

Yet this quibble is negligible, and this short little book does much to put our current crises in perspective, reminding us that history "supplies an antidote to every generation's illusion that its own problems are uniquely oppressive."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Bush Doctrine and the Future of Democracy 5 July 2006
By Bryan Carey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Schlesinger is a writer and historian who has authored many books and served some time in government. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a person who has earned respect over the years for his insight into government, history, and the important issues of the day.

In this book, Schlesinger spends most of his time talking about the decision to go to war against Iraq and its long term effects on the American people and the democratic way of life. Some of the book's analysis deals with war in general terms but the author spends the bulk of his time talking about the Iraqi conflict and the Bush administration's approach to war. Everyone already knows about the phony "weapons of mass destruction" charge and how it was used to justify the invasion. Schlesinger is a critic of this decision but he actually gives credit to Bush in one respect: He doesn't necessarily think that Bush made up the story. Rather, he thinks the decision was based on faulty information that should have been recognized as faulty but was accepted in its entirety. Bush and his administration were anxious to go after Saddam so they were willing to quickly accept anything that would justify moving the U.S. closer to war. Lost in all of this, of course, was the pursuit of the real enemy: Osama Bin Laden. Bush and his cabinet dismissed the hunt for Osama as soon as they found a reason to go after Iraq.

Even though this book is primarily written about the decision to go to war and how the approach to war has changed over the years, there is also a good deal of talk about democracy in general and how the Bush administration's policies will affect democracy in the future. Schlesinger accurately states that democracy, capitalism, property rights, and personal freedom all go hand in hand and that many of these components of freedom are being diminished gradually by the Bush administration. He also states that the trends in recent history show that the twentieth century ended with more democratic societies than at any other time in the past. But rather than serve as a cause for celebration, this increase in Democratic societies will continue to be tested. Democracy still faces many challenges from different factions who want their idealism forced on the rest of the world. Among these, Schlesinger seems most worried about the problems with religious fundamentalism and extremism. These are, indeed, great threats to democracy not just in Islamic lands but also here in the USA as fundamentalists of various Christian stripes try to blend their interpretation of religion into the law of the land.

Another area of concern that is covered in this book is that of the Electoral College and the election of 2000. Schlesinger, like many other Americans, doesn't want to see the same situation occur where the people's choice- the candidate with the greatest popular vote- didn't win the election. This has now happened four times in America's relatively short history and some type of reform needs to take place to ensure it doesn't happen again. Rather than simply advocate the elimination of the Electoral College and a direct election by popular vote, Schlesinger offers some different alternatives to the problem, some of which I had never heard before.

The Electoral College reform offers some good, original thought but other than this, most of what is contained in "War and the American Presidency" is old news and it's the type of analysis that I have read dozens of times by dozens of different authors. Schlesinger writes well and he expresses himself in a humble yet intelligent way, showing respect to everyone- even those with whom he disagrees. But there is little material in this book that hasn't already been covered by other authors.

This book offers some good reading, even if it does rank low on the originality scale. It is a quick read and because it is so brief (only 141 pages not counting the index- short enough that I read it in one day), it reads like a university lecture. The dialogue in this book seems like it came directly from a lecture series and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it means that the book offers too little depth to be taken as seriously as it should be.

"War and the American Presidency" isn't really long enough to be completely effective. But it does offer some good reading material and some persuasive conclusions. For these reasons, I'm going to give this book a marginal recommendation and a rating of three stars. It could have been much better with more attention to detail and about twice as many pages. But it is still ok and it does offer some good, respectful criticism of the Bush administration and its misguided approach to foreign policy.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Cogent, but rambles at the end. 8 Sep 2004
By RET - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Schlesinger's foray into Bush-bashing comes rather late, but is perhaps the most interesting example yet published. Schlesinger is probably best known for "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House," and it is his reputation as a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and august presidential historian that will attract readers otherwise repelled by the glut of partisan books, pro and con, about the George W. Bush administration. Rather than re-hash ground already well-trodden by other authors, in this collection of essays Schlesinger sticks with his forte and looks at the Bush Administration through the lens of the revived "Imperial Presidency" (a phrase Schlesinger himself coined). The result is a collection of Schlesinger's thoughts, part of which tell a very different story about the Bush Administration emerges from this shift of focus from character and policy to historical place and precedent. This different story is both a new and an old one.

It is an old story, in that "unilateralism" is as old as the Republic. The tradition of unilateralism in American foreign policy is often muddled through the use of the term "isolationism." Schlesinger reminds us that the point of America's original school of foreign policy was never to turn inward and isolate America from the world (as China did in the 15th Century), but to avoid foreign alliances and entanglements. The history of pre-Wilsonian America is not one of a country eschewing foreign affairs altogether, but one of a country avoiding foreign commitments. Even Bush's aggressive twist to unilateralism is not especially new, as the 1846 Mexican War should remind astute students of history. The shift towards internationalism is relatively new, beginning only with and sustained by the Cold War. Schlesinger sees this and places the modern Bush doctrine of unilateralism, and especially preventative war, into this perspective.

Schlesinger reminds us that Bush's enhanced political power is also nothing new. Schlesinger's phrase "the Imperial Presidency" was the title of his book about the Nixon Administration, and has since become a basic concept in American political science: when confronted by a foreign crisis, the Congress dumps enormous power into the hands of the Presidency. The modern twist on this came about through the sustained crisis of the Cold War; prior crises had been of a much shorter duration. This imperial accumulation of Presidential power during the Cold War continued until the abuses of the Nixon Administration caused a backlash and restored some sense of balance in the political system. The threat of global terrorism after 9/11 has brought about the resurgence of the Imperial Presidency.

Although it is a generally sober and often insightful work, the book does suffer from some editorial flaws. In the early chapters of the book, Schlesinger addresses just how important the character of the Attorney General can be during times of crisis in determining how civil liberties are handled. However, he later devotes a whole chapter later to "Patriotism and Dissent in Wartime." His discussion on Attorney Generals and their relative merits would have been much better if it had been consolidated there, in particular his frank disapproval of John Ashcroft.

It is in the last two chapters that the subject matter seriously diverges from the chosen topic. While they sometimes make for interesting reading, "How to Democratize American Democracy," "Has Democracy a Future?" and "The Inscrutability of History" do not really belong in a book entitled "War and the American Presidency." "How to Democratize American Democracy," a brief history of the flawed workings of the Electoral College and consideration of how to reform it, is the best. The other chapters are speculative in nature and are, in a sense, contradictory. One looks at the problems facing the future of democracy, the other points out the limits of using history to speculate on the future. One wonders why the author would place those two side-by-side, let alone in a historical examination of War the Presidency during wartime. These final chapters - especially the latter of the two - have the feel of being hastily tacked on.

While the book comes to a rambling conclusion, there is much merit to the particular approach taken by Schlesinger his criticism the Bush Administration. Unlike the books of Michael Moore, Al Franken or Paul Begala, Schlesinger's work is not a comedy. Nor is it mere angry partisan bile. It is a cogent historical analysis. While the book reads much like a man's musings on a small variety of topics, the musings and the man make them well worth reading.
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