Many will doubt this, but Bush is a smart and compelling presence in person, and only the whispering voice of Leo Tolstoy holds one back.
Tolstoy had a very different theory of history. Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations — from the bottom up.
According to this view, societies are infinitely complex. They can’t be understood or directed by a group of politicians in the White House or the Green Zone. Societies move and breathe on their own, through the jostling of mentalities and habits. Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture. Political leaders can only play a tiny role in transforming a people, especially when the integral fabric of society has dissolved.
If Bush’s theory of history is correct, the right security plan can lead to safety, the right political compromises to stability. But if Tolstoy is right, then the future of Iraq is beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks and the understanding of any chief executive.
War and Peace has a daunting reputation, but it's a very readable and entertaining book. I've been planning to revisit the Russian novelists soon, leaning toward stuff I haven't read before, but maybe I'll pull W&P off the shelf and read it again.