<preform>America Alone: the neo-conservatives and the global order, by Stefan Halper & Jonathan Clarke</preform>

The sect that captured the United States
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The Independent Culture

Here is something new: a criticism of the neo-conservatives who have so much influence on Bush's America that comes, if not from the right, at least from an American who is a traditional Republican conservative, and an English diplomat who now works for the "libertarian" (though predominantly conservative) Cato Institute in Washington.

Here is something new: a criticism of the neo-conservatives who have so much influence on Bush's America that comes, if not from the right, at least from an American who is a traditional Republican conservative, and an English diplomat who now works for the "libertarian" (though predominantly conservative) Cato Institute in Washington.

Stefan Halper served in the White House and the State Department during the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, and now teaches at Cambridge; he is even a "contributing editor" at the American Spectator, the neo-conservatives' Murdoch-owned house magazine.

So much the more remarkable, then, that America Alone pulls no punches. It argues forcefully, though in a temperate tone and with compelling documentation, that a small sect of unelected "scholars", journalists and political operators, backed with massive funding and promoted by biased media, used 11 September as an opportunity to put into effect a preconceived design for bringing democracy to the Middle East by force of arms. With this aim they conned the US public that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was in cahoots with al-Qa'ida.

The book further argues that the consequences of this bureaucratic coup d'état have been catastrophic for the US, not to mention the rest of us. The neo-cons, or the Bush administration they sustain, have threatened civil liberties. They have thrown away the benefits of 50 years of American alliances and international institutions. They are close to economic illiteracy. And they poison the wells of public discourse by charging anyone who dares to disagree with disloyalty.

The authors distinguish between two generations of neo-conservatives. The fathers were ex-liberals, pessimistic about American society. The sons - and in a startling number of cases, the princes of the second generation are literally the sons of the founders - are hardly concerned with domestic issues. They take for granted their duty to impose American democracy and the "free" market, by force if necessary, on lesser breeds.

Halper and Clarke distinguish carefully between the neo-cons and the powerful allies, including Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, to whom they attached themselves. They even dare suggest that the US should address the root cause of Middle Eastern radicalism, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And they believe "coarse-grained unilateralism" has tarnished America's moral authority.

Given the authors' credentials, there are too many small slips. Reinhold Niebuhr was not a Catholic. The Friedrichstrasse is not spelled with a K, nor is the former British diplomat Robin Renwick the son of an earl. But these are minor defects in a fine book. It deserves to be read by all who are puzzled by the reckless damage an arrogant coterie of ideologues has done to the greatest country in the world.

The reviewer's book 'More Equal than Others' is published by Princeton

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