On the evening of March 19, 2003, shortly before announcing that the United States was about to launch its long-expected invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush sat behind an antique desk in the White House and practiced reading his speech. It struck all the appropriate notes, including a declaration that the purpose of this invasion was "to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger." Some would later point to it as the speech that ripped the United States away from a long tradition of cooperative diplomacy, turning it into an arrogant power that assumed the right to determine which foreign governments could live and which must die. The man who looked down on Busy from a large oil painting on the wall behind him would have understood better than anyone how wrong that was.
Bush rehearsed this speech in the Treaty Room, at the same desk from which he had announced the invasion of Afghanistan seventeen months before. It was one of his favorite rooms in the White House, at least in part because of the imposing painting that is the first thing visitors see when they enter. It depicts President William McKinley, the first great American practitioner of "regime change," watching as diplomats sign the protocol that turned Cuba into a protectorate and Puerto Rico into a colony. . . .
Bush's decision to invade Iraq was no break with history but a faithful reflection of the same forces and beliefs that had motivated McKinley and most of the presidents who would later sit in his shadow beneath Chartran's historic painting.
Read this book. It's fascinating and absorbing, and chances are you will learn a lot.
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I've been disappointed in how little time I make for reading books now. Although I read more books than most people, I also love books more than most people. When I think of what interests have most absorbed me over my entire life, books must be first on the list, even before travel and dogs, and well before baseball and music.* Yet reading books takes up less and less of my time, as I spend more and more of it in front of a keyboard and monitor.
A month ago I determined to make time for a book every day, a modest goal of one hour per day. No matter how busy I am, no matter what I'm doing, I decided I can set aside one hour of uninterrupted reading. So far it's working beautifully. I feel better for it.
Next up, Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland And Labrador, by John Gimlette. I guess I should have read this before we went to Newfoundland, but I'm sure it will still be very enjoyable.
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* Apparently this can be misinterpreted. I'm saying that my interest in books pre-dates my love of dogs, or of anything else in my life - that I have been reading and loving books for more years than I have been loving dogs, travel, music or baseball, my other abiding interests. I am not implying that books are more important to me than my dogs!