Chief Washington correspondent David Sanger's new book, "The Inheritance - The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power," was reviewed Tuesday by Princeton professor Gary Bass, who relished the fact that even conservatives who seethe over Sanger's book must nonetheless bow to Sanger's anti-Bush foreign policy acuity:
Rarely will a president enter office so thoroughly challenged on Day 1 as Mr. Obama. This dazzling and mordantly hilarious book is a history of how we got into this particular ditch. Mr. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, drops the strict detachment of a daily reporter and lets rip, delivering a withering indictment of his longtime subject: President George W. Bush's foreign policy, which he writes "has left us less admired by our allies, less feared by our enemies and less capable of convincing the rest of the world that our economic and political model is worthy of emulation."
Sanger wasn't exactly awalking emblem of"strict detachment" when he was covering foreign policy for the Times, making anti-Bush commentaryan integral part ofhis reporting. Here's Sanger portraying the president as an incurious George in Canberra, Australia in October 2003, duringthe president'sAsia tour.
Yet for his part, Mr. Bush seemed determined to show that Iraq was a special case and to dispel the impression held in many parts of the world that he is impatient, trigger-happy and uninterested in building alliances. He sounds like a man who believes himself genuinely misunderstood....But even some of Mr. Bush's aides concede that Mr. Bush has only begun to discover the gap between the picture of a benign superpower that he sees, and the far more calculating, self-interested, anti-Muslim America the world perceives as he speeds by behind dark windows.
Such a reporter is unlikely to surprise with a book sympathetic to Bush's perspective, and indeed, Bass's delightfully described Sanger's book as one sure to infuriate conservatives:
After seven years covering Mr. Bush, Mr. Sanger, a shrewd and insightful strategic thinker, is left stunned by "the president's inexplicable resistance, until the final quarter of his term in office, to changing course." Mr. Bush, he says, saw strategic change and negotiation as signs of weakness. This is a Nixon who never went to China.
These unvarnished conclusions by Mr. Sanger will of course confirm the perfidy that Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly presume lies in the black hearts of Times reporters. But Mr. Sanger's criticism, the product of extraordinarily diligent reporting, is too hawkish to be easily dismissed by conservatives. He believes in putting brute military power behind diplomacy, wants to win the war in Afghanistan and hates the thought of a nuclear-armed Iran and North Korea.
Wanting to win in Afghanistan makes you a hawk at the Times? That seems a pretty low bar. And how about winning in Iraq?