The story of neocons wrangling the Bush Administration's national security establishment is such well-trod territory, it's difficult for writers to find angles as-yet untold.
The schism between George W. Bush and his father over the decision to topple Saddam Hussein has generated much media speculation, with confirmation coming through anonymous sources "close to" the ex- and current presidents.
In an excerpt released last week on Salon.com, Unger advances the untold story by curiously telling what George H.W. Bush felt during the period, though he does not cite sources to explain how he became privy to the elder Bush's private thoughts.
George H.W. Bush was a genial man with few bitter enemies, but his son had managed to appoint, as secretary of defense no less, one of the very few who fit the bill -- Donald Rumsfeld. Once Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney took office, the latter supposedly a loyal friend, they had brought in one neoconservative policy maker after another to the Pentagon, the vice president's office, and the National Security Council. In some cases, these were the same men who had battled the elder Bush when he was head of the CIA in 1976. These were the same men who fought him when he decided not to take down Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War. Their goal in life seemed to be to dismantle his legacy.
Which was exactly what was happening -- with his son playing the starring role....
Bush 41 had always told his son that it was fine to take different political positions than he had held. If you have to run away from me, he said, I'll understand. Few things upset him. But there were limits. He was especially proud of his accomplishments during the 1991 Gulf War, none more so than his decision, after defeating Saddam in Kuwait, to refrain from marching on Baghdad to overthrow the brutal Iraqi dictator. Afterward, he wrote about it with coauthor Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, in "A World Transformed," asserting that taking Baghdad would have incurred "incalculable human and political costs," alienated allies, and transformed Americans from liberators into a hostile occupying power, forced to rule Iraq with no exit strategy. His own son's folly had confirmed his wisdom, he felt.
But now his son had not only reversed his policies, he had taken things a step further. "The stakes are high ..." the younger Bush told reporters on April 21. "And the Iraqi people are looking -- they're looking at America and saying, are we going to cut and run again?"
The unspoken etiquette of the Oval Office was that sitting and former presidents did not attack one another. "Cut and run" was precisely the phrase Bush 43 used to taunt his Democratic foes, but this time he had used it to take a swipe at his old man.
It would not be surprising if the elder Bush privately felt the situation in Iraq had largely confirmed the wisdom of his own prudence during the first Gulf War, but Unger makes a leap in reporting such a thing as fact.
George H.W. Bush often declines to answer questions about his son's presidency, but last week came out in his defense in an interview with USA Today.
"Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics?" the elder Bush told USA TODAY. "Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? I don't know what they are talking about here. Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"
Salon followed the chronicle of the Bush's father-son relationship with two other excerpts of Unger's book last week.
Part 2 covers the inconsistencies in George Bush's description of how he came to be a born again Christian--mostly well-covered territory, though Unger adds the insight of one writer involved in the ghost-writing of Bush's autobiography.
Part 3 finally starts to enter territory of the true believers seizing control of the Executive Branch, addressing Vice-President Cheney's crusade to stack the national security apparatus with his cronies, particularly in order to undermine Colin Powell.
Again, there is nothing new here, so one has to hope the "untold" part of Unger's book remains hidden in the pages not excerpted by Salon.