Further to James’s post, Bush’s invocation of The Quiet American in his speech was either compellingly smart or astonishingly foolhardy:
The argument that America’s presence in Indochina was dangerous had a long pedigree. In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called, "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism — and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."
Now, the President’s point is that, whatever the troubles America caused, Pyle’s motives in Indochina (the spread of freedom, by force if necessary) were essentially right and what he goes on to call “the Graham Greene argument” for withdrawal was essentially wrong. But – talk about walking into a literary and philosophical snake-pit! Bush could not have selected a text more suitable to the purposes of his foes, for The Quiet American is, above all else, a debate about the folly of soi-disant idealism in foreign policy, in which the world-weary British journalist Thomas Fowler and the covert US operator Pyle fight symbolically for the heart of the young Vietnamese girl Phuong. No book better describes the threatened masculinity of post-war Britain in imperial decline, and the growing contempt for the rising US superpower and its Cold War verities.
The spirit of Fowler now looms once more over the British political landscape in the wake of Iraq and the derision routinely heaped upon US neo-cons. “Innocence always calls mutely for protection,” the book warns, “when we could be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.” In quoting The Quiet American, the President was trying to turn the ur-text of his enemies against them. Dumb – or audacious?