Two American Presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, failed to perceive the nature of this conflict — leading to what Merry paints as blundering, arrogant interventionism. “Moralistic impulses” by Clinton led to favoring the Muslims in the Balkans with a bombing campaign. Merry accuses Bush’s Iraqi intervention of “taking his military into the heart of Islam and planting his country’s flag into the soil of a foreign culture based on flimsy perceptions of a national threat.”

Merry is hard on neo-conservatives generally and fellow journalist William Kristol in particular. He accuses Kristol of “agitations on behalf of American hegemony and the export of Western democracy throughout the world.”

Merry is not a liberal who denies the United States is at war beyond Iraq, and in fact describes our position as hazardous. “The West is in decline,” he writes. Masked though that decline is by U.S. economic and military power, he adds, “no longer can the West dictate the course of world events as in days of yore.”

As a good reporter, Merry knows neo-conservatives want the government to target Syria and Iran. He says attempted destabilization of the Iranian theocracy would be a “disaster,” thwarting the country’s internal impulses toward democracy. “America has neither the troop strength nor the will to carry out any reckless plan to take on nations such as Syria and Iran,” Merry contends.

Bob Merry’s closely argued thesis does not fit either Republican or Democratic talking points. His calls for Western unity and protection of unpopular regimes in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan from Islamist insurgents do not fit any American political agenda. But his thesis is worth consideration by ordinary citizens when he concludes that America, in assuming its “heady new role as Crusader State . . . would no longer be the nation our founders created and that has thrived so brilliantly and wonderfully upon the earth for the past 200 years.” ~Robert Novak, New Hampshire Union-Leader

Whatever else I might say about Robert Novak, I am grateful for his review of this book. It does not sound as if Mr. Merry has offered anything new or especially insightful here, but I don’t mean this as a criticism. It is in the calm reiteration of the dire warnings uttered by members of the Old Right that will make this book an important contribution to delivering the country from the dangerous ambitions of unsound men who feign patriotism and mouth words of loyalty to mask their true intentions. From the looks of it, Sands of Empire may be just the vehicle to translate intense, genuinely conservative criticisms of neoconservatism and its lunatic interventionist policies to a broader audience.

Both Robert Merry’s professional reputation and Republican affiliations should help blunt the attacks of the hatchet-men who are undoubtedly already preparing to savage the man for speaking the truth, and they should also make the claims in the book that much harder for the interventionists to dismiss. The interventionists will dismiss the book with their usual scurrilous attacks, but those attacks will become less and less credible as they target not controversialists and paleoconservatives, who have few sympathisers, but mainstream, solid journalists.

Mr. Novak is, of course, mistaken when he claims that “calls for Western unity and protection of unpopular regimes in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan from Islamist insurgents do not fit any American political agenda.” Certainly, no “mainstream” political agenda proposes policy in terms of civilisational unity or realist foreign policy in the American interest, but there are those out there who do advocate much the same view as what Mr. Merry appears to be proposing. As Mr. Novak ought to know, Pat Buchanan, Thomas Fleming and Srdja Trifkovic, among others, have regularly argued for uniting the West (including Russia) against its civilisational enemy of Islam (though each may phrase it differently), balanced with a realistic understanding of the dangers to American interests if the current Saudi or Pakistani regimes were to fall to even more Islamist forces. This is not to pretend that the Saudi or Pakistani governments are doing anything other than working against the best interests of the United States, but that they are the unavoidable evils that must be tolerated to avoid worse evils.

Finally, I would just add that Mr. Merry is being far too generous to attribute “moralistic impulses” to the Clinton administration for its Balkan interventionism. I realise the phrase “moralistic impulses” in the context of Mr. Merry’s foreign policy discussion is intended as an insult, but even to credit Clinton with a sort of simply foolish moral idealism here is to be gravely mistaken about the causes and larger significance of the Balkan interventions. On a very basic level, they were a way to give NATO new life and help clear the road for its ever-eastward expansion. Those interventions, not unlike Iraq, spring in part from the same deluded assumption that Muslims generally are potentially friends of the West and just need demonstrations of good faith to secure their cooperation. Thus support for Muslim causes by Western nations and eventually support for the “liberation” of Muslims from oppressive rule will win the West some sort of credit with the Islamic world, as if it were either monolithic or as if it would be grateful to the fools selling them the proverbial rope. The Balkan interventions also sprang from a reflexive contempt for Christian nations that is shared by secular liberal and neoconservative alike, aggravated by a narrowly Western prejudice against the Orthodox world that is as ingrained as it is inexplicable and short-sighted.