The Magazine

Reader of the Free World

A literary luncheon with the president.

Mar 12, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 25 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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But the president did want to know more about the extent and reasons for the rise of anti-American feeling in Britain. "Is it due simply to my personality?" he wondered, half-seriously. "Is it confined to intellectuals?" asked a guest. Roberts led with a reminder that no British intellectual would style himself an "intellectual," prompting the president to add, "Neither would a Texas politician." The combined Roberts-Stelzer response: The causes of rampant anti-Americanism do indeed include dislike of Bush. But there are others: the war in Iraq; anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sentiment, laced with some covert anti-Semitism; and resentment of American power. Roberts urged the president not to concern himself with these anti-American feelings, since in a unipolar world the lone superpower cannot be loved. His advice: "Get your policies right and history will prove a kind muse."

I added an anecdote, recalling that my wife, Cita, and I abruptly left a posh London dinner party when the guests began attacking Bush and the United States. "Many thanks for that, but you'd better not move to New York City or you will starve to death," advised the president, bringing a hardy "Amen" from the New Yorkers.

On to the lessons of history, as taught by Andrew Roberts. First: Do not set a deadline for withdrawal. That led to the slaughter of 700,000 to 1 million people in India, with the killing beginning one minute after the midnight deadline. Bush wondered if there are examples of occupying forces remaining for long periods of time, other than in Korea. Malaysia, said Roberts, where it took nine years to defeat the Communists, after which the occupying troops remained for several years. And Algeria, added Bush, citing Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace for the proposition that more Algerians were killed after the French withdrawal than during the French occupation.

Second lesson: Will trumps wealth. The Romans, the tsars, and other rich world powers fell to poorer ones because they lacked the will to fight and survive. Whereas World War II was almost over before Americans saw the first picture of a dead soldier, today the steady drumbeat of media pessimism and television coverage are sapping the West's will.

Third lesson: Don't hesitate to intern our enemies for long, indefinite periods of time. That policy worked in Ireland and during World War II. Release should only follow victory.

Lesson four: Cling to the alliance of the English-speaking peoples. Although many nations have joined the coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops from Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are doing the heavy lifting. U.S. policy supporting the European constitution, and closer involvement of Britain in the E.U., should be reversed. Had there been a European constitution, Britain "would have been unable to help you in Iraq."

Fifth lesson: We are fighting an enemy that cannot be appeased; were that possible, the French would already have done it--a Roberts quip that elicited a loud chuckle from the president.

The closing note was a more serious one. Roberts said that history would judge the president on whether he had prevented the nuclearization of the Middle East. If Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries will follow. "That is why I am so pleased to be sitting here rather than in your chair, Mr. President." There was no response, other than a serious frown and a nod.

Exactly one hour after we had taken our seats, the president announced that he has to work for a living, and adjourned the luncheon seminar. It is fair to say that the few people I spoke with as we left shared my impression. Here is a man who is comfortable in his own skin; whose religious faith guides him in his search for the good, without leading him to think he has a private line to God to find out just what policies will serve that purpose; who worries less about his "legacy" than about his standing with the Almighty; who is quite well read (in addition to Roberts's monumental history, Bush has circulated copies of Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy to his staff, and recommended Mark Steyn's America Alone); and who believes that the president of the United States must be, to use his much-derided coinage, "the decider.

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).