Andrew Roberts: George Bush's Favorite Historian





President Bush is sometimes a boastful anti-intellectual, but in the past year he has been touting his reading lists and engaging in who-can-read-more contests with his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. (Bush claimed to have read 60 books in just the first seven and a half months of last year, the pace of a full-time reviewer.) There even seems to be a White House book club.

The most recent selection was A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 by conservative British writer Andrew Roberts. Bush invited Roberts for a discussion over lunch at the White House earlier this month. ...

Roberts' book picks up in 1900, shortly before the point where Winston Churchill's four volumes of similar title leave off. It also takes up Churchill's idea that the Anglo-American alliance is responsible for the survival of liberty.....

As a historian, Roberts is present-minded in the extreme, returning at every stage of his narrative to justifications for Bush's actions in Iraq. The neoconservatives who want to spread democracy in the Middle East are the heirs to compassionate Victorians who sought to civilize India, China, and Africa. While the reader is still choking on the casting of Richard Perle as Lord Macaulay, Roberts is hard at work grafting Bush's head onto Winston Churchill's body. The president's prosecution of the war on terror is "vigorous" and "absolutely unwavering." His and Tony Blair's Iraq war has provided "excellent value for money" to the taxpayer. That Bush has brought "full democracy" to Iraq is stated as unequivocal fact....

oberts is as sloppy as he is snobbish. I am seldom bothered by minor errors from a good writer, but Roberts' mistakes are so extensive, foolish, and revealing of his basic ignorance about the United States in particular, that it may be worth noting a few of those I caught in a fast read. The San Francisco earthquake did considerably more than $400,000 in damage. Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in 1941, did not write for Encounter, which began publication in 1953. The Proposition 13 Tax Revolt took place in the 1970s, not the 1980s—an important distinction because it presaged Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. Michael Milken was not a "takeover arbitrageur," whatever that is. Roberts cannot know that there were 500 registered lobbyists in Washington during World War II because lobbyists weren't forced to register until 1946. Gregg Easterbrook is not the editor of the New Republic. "No man gets left behind" is a line from the film Black Hawk Down, not the motto of the U.S. Army Rangers; their actual motto is "Rangers Lead the Way." In a breathtaking peroration, Roberts point out that "as a proportion of the total number of Americans, only 0.008 percent died bringing democracy to important parts of the Middle East in 2003-5." Leaving aside the question of whether those deaths have brought anything like democracy to Iraq, 0.008 percent of 300 million people is 24,000—off by a factor of 10, which is typical of his arithmetic....




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