Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Confident Prescription For Foiling the Terrorists

How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum and Richard Perle
284 pages. Random House. $25.95.

The title of this new book by David Frum and Richard Perle, ''An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror,'' says it all. It captures the authors' absolutist, Manichaean language and worldview; their cocky know-it-all tone; their swaggering insinuation that they know ''how to win the war on terror'' and that readers, the Bush administration and the rest of the world had better listen to them.

The book takes the instructive, prescriptive stance assumed by many conservative theorists in recent books, but it turns out to be less a reasoned effort to convince the unconvinced than a furious manifesto aimed at true believers. It is a screed that expends as much energy denouncing the State Department, Europe, the C.I.A., the F.B.I., Democrats, the foreign-policy establishment and even former President George H. W. Bush (the authors accuse him of trying ''to prevent the Soviet Union from disintegrating''), as it does on denouncing terrorists and terror-minded states.

Making its points with all the subtlety of a pit bull on steroids, ''An End to Evil'' is smug, shrill and deliberately provocative. Which might not be so surprising given the authors' track records. Mr. Frum, a former White House speechwriter who helped coin the ''axis of evil'' phrase that President George W. Bush used in his 2002 State of the Union address, adopted a similarly bellicose manner in his 2003 book ''The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush.'' Mr. Perle, a hawkish member of the Defense Policy Board and an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, acquired the Washington nicknames Prince of Darkness and Darth Vader in the 1980's for his combative, take-no-prisoners pronouncements.

The authors make some persuasive points about the disturbing role the Saudis have played in fomenting radical Islamist doctrine, the persecution of women in some Muslim countries and the intelligence failures leading up to 9/11. But these points tend to be drowned out by their triumphalist boasts (''the United States has become the greatest of all great powers in world history''), their macho posturing and their willful, flame-throwing language. ''There is no middle way for Americans,'' they write in the opening chapter. ''It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.''

Discussing rulers like Fidel Castro and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, they declare that ''when it is in our power and our interest, we should toss dictators aside with no more compunction than a police sharpshooter feels when he downs a hostage-taker.'' Of the United Nations, another one of their nemeses, they write, ''The U.N. regularly broadcasts a spectacle as dishonest and morally deadening as a Stalinist show trial, a televised ritual of condemnation that inflames hatreds and sustains quarrels that might otherwise fade away.''

Mr. Perle and Mr. Frum argue that America ''should force European governments to choose between Paris and Washington,'' and they assert that Iran is ''the world's least trustworthy regime,'' ominously adding, ''The regime must go.''

Throughout ''An End to Evil'' they purvey a worldview of us-versus-them, all-or-nothing, either-or, and this outlook results in a refusal to countenance the possibility that people who do not share the authors' views about the war in Iraq or their faith in a pre-emptive, unilateralist foreign policy might have legitimate reasons for doing so. Instead, Mr. Frum and Mr. Perle accuse those who differ with their foreign-policy beliefs of failing to support the war against terrorism: of being cowardly, delusional or defeatist.

They write, ''The determination of the State Department to reconcile the irreconcilable, to negotiate the unnegotiable, and to appease the unappeasable is an obstacle to victory.'' They argue that the C.I.A. is ''an agency with very strong, mostly liberal policy views,'' and that those views have ''again and again distorted its analysis and presentation of its own information.'' Of critics of the Patriot Act, they warn, ''We may be so eager to protect the right to dissent that we lose sight of the difference between dissent and subversion; so determined to defend the right of privacy that we refuse to acknowledge even the most blatant warnings of danger.'' In some cases the authors serve up questionable assertions with little or no effort to back them up. They write, for instance, that ''a visitor who walked through Baghdad in June would scarcely know that the city had been bombed in March.''

Neither the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that might have posed an imminent threat to America, nor the failure to establish a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 seems to have given the authors pause. They argue that ''even in the absence of stockpiles of weapons Saddam was known to have created, the threat from his programs was undeniable.'' And they claim that ''Saddam expected to share'' in Osama bin Laden's success in hitting the World Trade Center. In other cases the authors use selective anecdotes or redacted illustrations to try to make their points. The myriad problems America continues to face in Iraq -- as well as a mounting death toll -- are conveniently skirted, as are the continuing difficulties in Afghanistan.

The authors' canned summary of recent Middle East history barely mentions the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and later in the book they cavalierly dismiss suggestions that the creation of a Palestinian state might help calm passions in the Muslim world and strengthen friendly Arab governments. ''This thinking is not completely wrong,'' they sarcastically comment. ''If the United States were to denounce Israel as an illegal occupier of Muslim land, attack it, deport the Jewish population, and turn over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians, we might well enjoy some of the benefits listed above.''

The Palestinian state envisioned by President Bush, they suggest, would be undermined by extremists, who ''will denounce the ministate as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause'' or ''find some other pretext for refusing ever to make peace with Israel.''

But while Mr. Perle and Mr. Frum are unrelentingly pessimistic about a prospective Palestinian state, they are downright Pollyanna-ish about the prospects for a democratic Iraq: ''We liberated an entire nation, opening the way to a humane, decent civil society in Iraq -- and to reform of the ideological and moral climate of the whole Middle East.''

Such contradictions, combined with the volume's bullying tone and often specious reasoning, make for a strident, sophistical book, one unlikely to persuade anyone who doesn't already share the authors' super-hawkish views and self-righteous braggadocio.