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Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power 1st Edition

87 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470422816
ISBN-10: 0470422815
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Bush administration's military and foreign policy stems from the concept that the world fundamentally changed on September 11, 2001. Kaplan's critical assessment argues that it didn't and that the growing disdain, discord and destruction of foreign relations is in large part due to the administration's failure to adopt a more realistic approach to the post-Cold-War era. Tracing the different debacles over the years from Israeli-Palestinian relations to North Korea's attainment of nuclear power and the continual mess in Iraq, Kaplan reveals how the Bush administrations' idle fantasies have put the U.S. in a more vulnerable position. Rudnicki's deep, foreboding voice perfectly matches the tone of this book, giving the true gravitas of the situation. With such a stern and commanding presence, Rudnicki emulates the military atmosphere that much of this book entails. His voice adds a level of immanency that a reader might not deduce from reading it alone. A John Wiley hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 12, 2007).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


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 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.) (Publishers Weekly, November 12, 2007) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470422815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470422816
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Steven Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on November 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Kaplan has written a dispassionate, persuasive book about the complete, total, absolute, across the board and without exception failure of George Bush's foreign policy. Moreover the learning curve of this Administration has been nearly flat on the axis of zero.

Kaplan explains that Bush came to power at the head of a group of transformation theorists who set out to remedy the failings of past Presidents with a policy of confronting America's enemies with military muscle. Kaplan takes up back to the 1950s to explain the currents of military philosphy leading up to Bush. Drawing on the development of neo-conservative philosophy, Bush and the neo-cons wanted to throw out the dirty bath water of co-existence with obnoxious regimes such as Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.

Unfortunately, it didn't work and Kaplan details the reasons. The principal one is that the United States did not get stronger as a result of the end of the Cold War, but rather weaker -- more dependent on other countries in a multi-polar world and less able to go it alone with a policy that most countries found obnoxious or downright evil. The end of the Cold War, Kaplan states, didn't leave America in control of the world, it left most of the world out of control of anyone.

We seem some glimmerings of hope in Kaplan's book. Condaleeza Rice occasionally shows cognizance of reality. And after six years of Bush we seem to have worked our way back to where the Clinton Administration had progressed in eliminating the nuclear threat of North Korea. Kaplan's conclusion is that you have to deal with the world as it is -- not as how you want it to be. The U.S. has influence, but it can't abandon "statecraft" and diplomacy in favor of bullying and preaching.

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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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