If I repeat what you say, does it prove you're wrong?

An End to Evil, written by former White House speechwriter David Frum and Defense Advisory Board Chairman Richard Perle, may as well be target No. 1 for those decrying the neoconservative hold on the Bush administration.

Both conservative, both hawkish (and both Jewish), Frum and Perle cram a lot of bold — some say, brash — ideas into a svelte, 280-page tract. Most interesting is how the entire book is disdainful of the moderated diplomat-speak that usually permeates discussion of sensitive policy issues, almost reveling in the way it will play into the hands of those looking for “gotcha!” quotes and ideas.

Those who think this approach damns the book do not have to search hard for the most striking quotes; they are laid out right on the book’s back cover. The two chosen for the dust jacket are ripe for the conspiracy theorists to pick, calling Frum possibly “the most influential thinker in the foreign-policy apparatus of the Administration of George W. Bush during its first two years,” and dubbing Perle “the intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement in foreign policy.”

The rest of the cover is dedicated to their thesis on the war on terror, and leftist pamphleteers would probably feel the need to change nothing if they planned to publish a synopsis titled “Everything That’s Wrong With the Right.” Frum and Perle support the overthrow of the mullahs in Iran, want to overhaul the Assad regime in Syria and regard Saudi Arabia and France not as friends but as rivals — and maybe as enemies. They would withdraw U.S. support from the United Nations if it does not reform, tighten immigration and homeland security, radically reorganize the CIA and FBI, blockade North Korea to press it to abandon its nuclear program and “abandon the illusion that a Palestinian state will contribute in any important way to U.S. security.”

The book is an unapologetic policy prescription for America’s war on terror, supposed allies be damned. Reasonable people can disagree with the authors and argue the book’s merits, but in many reviews of An End to Evil, that just hasn’t happened.

Instead, reviewers have taken issue with the book’s directness, criticized it as lacking nuance and sniffed at it for being exceedingly boisterous. To those reviewers, such is the material they expect to find sold at gun shows and survivalist meetings, not at the front entrance to Barnes & Noble.

As such, instead of rebutting the authors’ ideas, they believe they can prove that the book is absurd by merely quoting passages from it, as if the readers, so much better mannered than the authors, will be dissuaded not by what the authors say but that they said it and how.

Such critical laziness passed muster at The New York Times, as reviewer Michiko Kakutani gave a half-hearted review that never really debated any of Perle’s and Frum’s points, sufficing to pit the book against itself. To “prove” her objections to the book, Kakutani utilized 17 direct quotations from An End to Evil; more than one third of the review’s thousand-plus words belong to Perle and Frum, not the reviewer.

Frum pointed this out on his blog the day after the review appeared saying, “There was no argument in the review, only a series of gesticulations: ‘Can you believe they said this? And THIS? And THIS??!!!’ Well we did say it, and we do believe it.” And Frum has expanded on this theme in the latest issue of National Review magazine.

Frum’s and Perle’s views are rightly called unsubtle, but subtlety is not always a virtue. The more difficult the problem, the more direct must be the words that address it. The authors’ take on affairs, whether you agree with it or not, is welcome, as it defies the trend that says you’re only allowed to say harsh things as long as you say them nicely; the sentiment that takes the absurdity out of a statement like “No offense, but you’re an idiot.”

It is always easier not to do difficult things, but it is rarely smarter. If we are not allowed to say what we mean, those tasks become all the more difficult, but no less worth accomplishing. Our greatest problems cannot be shrouded in euphemism or obstructed because of disagreements in phrasing. If they are, it will be as Hamlet says in his famous soliloquy:

And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.


Book reviewed:
An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
David Frum and Richard Perle
Pages: 304; Price: $25.95
Random House, 2003