Bryan Caplan  

After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001-)

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If you want a quick, painless, reasonable, graphic history of America's War on Terror, I recommend After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001-).  It's too mainstream for my taste, and I would have preferred more of an international perspective.  But it's a good primer on the #1 issue of the Naughts.

I learned a lot of details.  But the one big insight I gathered is that for the first two years of the War on Terror, Democrats and moderate Republicans took it for granted that the usual rules of politics would not apply to the War on Terror.  They assumed that on this One Special Issue, Bush would:

1. Not tell lies.
2. Try hard to do a good job.
3. Think long term.
4. Value success over popularity.

Then ever-so-gradually, it dawned on Democrats and moderate Republicans: Bush was treating the War on Terror as if it were a normal issue!  Leading politicians were stunned.  The various members of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission actually sound hurt.  The President and his inner circle are being as venal and irresponsible about terrorism as politicians routinely are about everything else?  Horrors!

Of course, the critics' reactions might just be grandstanding.  But somehow hearing the story chronologically makes their disillusion more credible.  For most, After 9/11 will probably just confirm their worst fears about Bush.  For me, though, After 9/11 confirms my worst fears about politics-as-usual.


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
david writes:

The US seems to have a whole mythology built around what Presidents would do, regardless of the short-term incentives.

The hope seems to be that Presidents buy into it too.

MernaMoose writes:

The US lives in Fairy Land (inside its own collective mind), where democratically elected politicians are not influenced by the incentives that all democratically elected politicians in The Real World actually are.

Someone on another thread around here recently tried to claim that monarchs actually treat The People better than democratic and republican forms of government. Let's just say that historically that's a highly debatable thesis.

But I'd buy the idea that democratic and republican forms of government are not much better on net average, if at all, compared to monarchs.

The Myth is in the whole idea of "The Will of the People". I will never understand why people are so awe-struck by the whole idea of democracy.

I suppose it's because, there's no reason to be awe-struck by any of the alternatives. And not many people are interested in concluding that we just don't have any decent options on the table.

Totally confused writes:

I'm looking forward to reading this book. It really is an amazing story. Somehow the bad guys didn't take over Iraq. How did that happen? If it was just another fiction, you'd expect it to work it out in the end. But for the gangsters who were hacking off everyone's head in Iraq just a few years ago, for these guys (not libertarians, to put it mildly) to lose in real life, is amazing, and worth writing about. So the book explains how a politician eventually redeemed himself and somehow bucked the pressure to abandon Iraq? How Bush chose success over popularity? No, wait, it's about the opposite? Wait, so, what was the popular thing? What?

Daublin writes:

There's more to the story when it's a president. Presidents are people, and people are strongly motivated to get a favorable place in history.

It's like Arnold's posts about why CEOs do what they do. It's true they don't always follow the money. However, they appear to be strongly motivated to make their company rich and powerful.

From what I've read so far, I'd put my money on Bush honestly hoping to sweep past the baloney and clean out a cesspool.

Tom writes:

2. Try hard to do a good job. Check
3. Think long term. Check
4. Value success over popularity. Check

1. Not tell lies.
As for this I think he didn't directly lie, but only give us the optimist's view.

Loof writes:

With an international perspective I believe not only America, but the world, wanted Bush to be a presidential statesmen; not a political hack. Instead, he became a benevolent despot, a Big Brother, in his homeland; and a malevolent tyrant, torturous and cruel, abroad. As such, it appears that the demented terrorism the world faces has a backside of deranged tyranny.

Paul writes:

I think Bryan is misguided here. To get to the truth, we just have to make a few substitutions to his original post:

...for the first two years of the War on Terror, the Bush administration took it for granted that the usual rules of politics would not apply to the War on Terror. They assumed that on this One Special Issue, the Democrats would:

1. Not tell lies.
2. Try hard to do a good job.
3. Think long term.
4. Value success over popularity.

Then ever-so-gradually, it dawned on the Bush administration: the Democrats were treating the War on Terror as if it were a normal issue!

So, we got the destructive and politically motivated charge that the Bush administration lied because no weapons of mass destruction were found. The truth, as John McCain said, is that it was a lie to say that Bush lied. We got the lying liar Joe Wilson, lying about his trip to Niger in an attempt to further his political career. We got the pusillanimous Democratic leadership, casting their vote to approve the use of force, and then turning around and saying that they only meant the use of force if things went smoothly, their eyes clearly on the diminishing support for the war. They thought short-term, and valued popularity over success. We got a cadre of liberal intellectuals, who supported the war until the first sign of trouble, and then said that they didn't support this war, they supported the war that was supposed to happen. We got the politically motivated witch hunt of Lewis Libby by nasty leftists, supposedly outraged by the "outing" of Valerie Plame. They got their scalp, and when it was revealed that the actual leaker was Armitage, they suddenly didn't seem to care about this supposed breach of our national security. And this seem miserable lot of political hacks didn't make a peep when the New York Times did real damage to our national security by revealing the existence of our programs to track the phone calls of suspected terrorists and the movement of their finances.

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