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Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power [Hardcover]

Fred Kaplan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1, 2008 0470121181 978-0470121184 1
America's power is in decline, its allies alienated, its soldiers trapped in a war that even generals regard as unwinnable. What has happened these past few years is well known. Why it happened continues to puzzle. Celebrated Slate columnist Fred Kaplan explains the grave misconceptions that enabled George W. Bush and his aides to get so far off track, and traces the genesis and evolution of these ideas from the era of Nixon through Reagan to the present day.

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Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power + Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

America's leaders have gone from hubris to waking fantasy, according to this caustic critique of the Bush administration's foreign policy. Kaplan (The Wizards of Armageddon) argues that the Cold War's end and 9/11 persuaded President Bush and his advisers to unilaterally impose America's political will on the world, while remaining blind to the military and diplomatic fiascoes that followed. Rumsfeld's Revolution in Military Affairs, a doctrine touting supposedly omnipotent mobile forces and high-tech smart weapons, convinced Pentagon officials that Iraq could be pacified without a large force or a reconstruction plan. Bush abandoned Clinton's diplomatic rapprochement with North Korea, then stood by as Kim Jong-Il built nuclear weapons. And imbued with a mix of neo-conservatism and evangelism that was peddled most flamboyantly by Israeli ideologue Natan Sharansky, Bush backed clumsy pro democracy initiatives that backfired by bringing anti-American and sectarian groups to power in the Middle East. Eschewing Kaplan's favored approach of fostering international security through alliances and consensus building, Bush assumed that by virtue of American power, saying something was tantamount to making it so. The particulars of Kaplan's indictment aren't new, but his detailed, illuminating (if occasionally disjointed) accounts of the evolution of the Bush administration's strategic doctrines add up to a cogent brief for soft realism over truculent idealism. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


* Regular Swampland readers know how much I respect the Pentagon analysis filed by Fred Kaplan of Slate. Kaplan's new book Daydream Believers is excellent and devastating, not just on the Iraq war, but also on the Bush Administration's fantastic devotion to anti-missile defense and its first term refusal to negotiate with the North Koreans. Kaplan is also terrific on the depredations of former Rumsfeld assistant Douglas Feith, who also has a new, rather obese book out trying to justify his lethal foolishness. I'd love to see Kaplan review it somewhere--a Cliff's Notes version of Feith's greatest whoppers would be a small, but essential, public service. But go, please, and buy Kaplan's book. His great work deserves attention and reward.
Patrick Cockburn's Iraq obsession puts my tiny 5-year jones to shame. He's been out there for two decades and really knows the place and the players, which makes his new biography of Muqtada Sadr essential reading, especially now. I haven't finished it yet--last few chapters to go--but it seems eminently fair and very well-informed so far and I decided to include here and now because of the events on the ground in Mesopotamia.
Speaking of which, I agree with Kevin Drum's assessment of today's New York Times piece about the mysterious Mr. Sadr...especially the part where Kevin confesses that he's not quite sure what's going on. My suspicion is that Sadr sees more hope in the October elections than in a military confrontation with the U.S. and Badr Corps right now. Also fascinating that the Iran seems, for the moment, to be taking sides with its more tradition partner--the Hakim Shi'ite faction--and against the militias that Crocker and Petraeus, Bush and McCain were so convinced were Iran's cat's paw in Iraq. It's always good to remember that while the Sadr family stayed in Iraq during Saddam's reign, the Hakims lived in Iran and their militia--the Badr Corps, now melted into the Iraqi Army, were organized and served as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
It's a classic policy conundrum: Sadr is more anti-American, but Hakim is more pro-Iranian. Short-term Sadr is a real problem--especially those Sadrist elements that are lobbing mortars into the Green Zone and setting bombs to kill American troops. Long term, though, the Hakim faction may be crucial in the further empowerment of Iran in the region. (, April 20, 2008)

""Author Fred Kaplan offers an insightful analysis of what he sees as the unrealistic hopes at the root of President George W. Bush's problematic foreign policy in the Mideast"" [and calls his arguments] ""strong."" (Boston Globe, April 12, 2008)

""[Kaplan] sheds new light on the important part played by certain advisers within the Bush White House, while explicating several pivotal and perplexing matters concerning the administration’s decision-making process.... illuminating... incisive."" (The New York Times, March 18, 2008)

""A lively and entertaining -- if occasionally horrifying -- read, it offers a cautionary tale for any administration and for the men and women who hope to serve in one...master archaeologist who can see through the shards and stones of a dig to reconstruct the culture of the city below."" (Washington Post, March 16, 2008)

America’s leaders have gone from hubris to waking fantasy, according to this caustic critique of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Kaplan (The Wizards of Armageddon) argues that the Cold War’s end and 9/11 persuaded President Bush and his advisers to unilaterally impose America’s political will on the world, while remaining blind to the military and diplomatic fiascoes that followed. Rumsfeld’s ""Revolution in Military Affairs,"" a doctrine touting supposedly omnipotent mobile forces and high-tech smart weapons, convinced Pentagon officials that Iraq could be pacified without a large force or a reconstruction plan. Bush abandoned Clinto

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (January 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470121181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470121184
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,322,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written critique of current American policy February 9, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The point of this book is illustrated by a handful of quotations at the outset. From T. E. Lawrence (Of Arabia): "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." And a couple quotations from author Fred Kaplan. Page 1: "Nearly all of America's blunders in war and peace these past few years stem from a single grand misconception: that the world changed after September 11, when in fact it didn't." And (Pages 1-2): "But in fact, the end of the Cold War made America weaker, less capable of exerting its will on others. And its leaders' failure to recognize this, their inclination to devise policies based on the premise of omnipotence, made America weaker still."

This is a pretty well-written book. Its impact is diminished to some extent because others have raised many of the same points. The blindness to what would happen after the Iraqi invasion by American troops and their allies by Rumsfeld and others has been dissected many times and in many other books.

The discussion of the history of trying to develop an anti-ballistic missile system, quite fairly, traces the idea back to its early beginnings under President Eisenhower (I must confess that I am getting numbed by many books that focus just on the Bush II Administration, whether positively or negatively, without considering historical context). The theme raised by the author is that experts from start to now have noted that the system is not likely to work; there are too many ways that an aggressor can confound the system.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
The author is kinder to the protagonists than they merit.

I give the author high marks for making the case early on in the book that the world did NOT change after 9-11, and that what really happened was that the coincidence of neo-conservative back-stabbing and Bush's well-intentioned evangelical village idiot view of freedom and democracy.

The author does a fine job of reviewing how after 9-11 we were faced with two choices, the first, going for empire ("we make our own reality") or revitalizing alliances. The neocons in their ignorance called for regime changes, but the author fails us here by not understanding that both political parties love 42 of the 44 dictators, those that "our" dictators.

The author has many gifted turns of phrase. One talks about how their "vision" turned into a "dream" that then met "reality" and was instantly converted into a "nightmare."

The author adds to our knowledge of how Rumsfeld empowered Andy Marshall, and how the inner circle quickly grew enamored of the delusion that they could achieve total situational awareness with total accuracy in a system of systems no intelligent person would ever believe in.

The author highlights two major intelligence failures that contributed to the policy bubble:

1. Soviet Union was way behind the US during the Cold War, not ahead.
2. Soviet economy was vastly worse and more vulnerable that CIA ever understood.

The author helps us understand that the 1989 collapse of the Berlin War created a furor over the "peace dividend" and the "end of history" that were mistaken, but sufficient to bury with noise any concerns about Bin Laden and Saudi Arabian spread of virulent anti-Shi'ite Wahabibism from 1988 onwards.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than meets the news January 10, 2008
By calmly
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Reading this book reminded me of how little analysis one gets from the major news outlets. I learned quite a bit from this book all of which unsettles me.

I was aware of the extent of the nuclear threats in the world as a general problem from having read Douglas Mattern's Looking for Square Two: Moving from War and Organized Violence to Global Community. But that book, although alarming in itself, didn't give me the "day by day" sense of how such threats may have seemed to our and other nations political and military leadership. That anti-ballistic efforts seemed highly unlikely to be feasible doesn't seem surprising: what does seem surprising was that so much was spent to confirm that. Perhaps it is understandable in light of the lack of alternatives.

I hadn't been aware of the technological advances in the accuracy and cost of bombs that made the U.S. plans for invading Iraq seem plausible. It is appalling, however, to read (as one can see) just how unprepared the administration was for the days after "Mission Accomplished". That Germany, Japan and allies were enabled to rebuild after World War II yet the U.S. is still bogged down in "little" Iraq and spending so much seems unfathomable evidence of plans gone badly awry: this book gives good background and hypotheses as to why.

Bush appears sharper (but not sharp enough) and more engaged in decision-making than I would have expected. Unfortunately more rigid. How could he not realize that elections might be won by one's enemies, including those who would eliminate future elections if at all possible? Does he himself really believe what he spouts about freedom and democracy while all the while the U.S.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars How fervant righteousness fails to prevail.
After finishing this most excellent book I then went on to read about the earlier blunders - Vietnam through at least four presidents. Read more
Published 6 months ago by D. J. Leedham
5.0 out of 5 stars Pragmatic review of U.S. foreign policy since WWII
When I saw the title of this book, I expected the book to be an entertaining but all-too-common tirade of colorful PG-rated language against an almost universally despised... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Michael R. Airhart
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a Paper Alarm Clock
Author Kaplan takes a hard, objective look at Amerca's foreign policy, particularly that of the Bush administration. Read more
Published 22 months ago by R. Mix
2.0 out of 5 stars Dream On
The subtitle to Slate columnist Fred Kaplan's DAYDREAM BELIEVERS is "How A Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power. Read more
Published on June 4, 2012 by Melanie Gilbert
Fred Kaplan begins by stating "Nearly all of America's blunders in war and peace these past few years stem from a single grand misconception: that the world changed after September... Read more
Published on May 18, 2011 by Alan D. Cranford
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but overly cynical.
The author doesn't seem to understand the validity of the GOOD reasons for going to war. The argument is too one-sided.
Published on January 24, 2010 by Adam Khan
5.0 out of 5 stars No "homecoming queens"
The "few grand ideas" that "wrecked American power"--the "daydreams" of our leaders-- include the Anti-Ballistic Missile defense fantasy, the idea that America can install... Read more
Published on December 29, 2009 by Dennis Littrell
5.0 out of 5 stars Kaplan shows how "grand ideas" go wrong...
... and horribly awry, in the examples he provides. Kaplan's measured tone gives this reader the impression that the motivations of the members of the George W. Read more
Published on August 20, 2009 by L Goodman-Malamuth
5.0 out of 5 stars This Just In! Fred Kaplan is a Smart Guy and Bush Isn't
I got this book through the Amazon Vine program and then put it on my shelf where it stayed so long that the book was published like nine months ago! Read more
Published on January 30, 2009 by Douglas S. Wood
Four and a half INCISIVE Stars!! Highly informative, deeply revealing!! If I could recommend one book to the new President-elect or the current President, this would be it!! Read more
Published on November 20, 2008 by RBSProds
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A webpage called "Saddam's WMD: Discovery and Denial" (find that webpage...
Ha Ha. That has to be the funniest article that I've ever read. Here's the real truth: The shrub lied!!!! He needs to be in jail. You wise one should change your name to foolish one. There were no wmd and that is the truth. But, you keep believing. Maybe some day it will all be... Read More
Mar 7, 2008 by nightrider5169 |  See all 5 posts
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