From Publishers Weekly
A century of unwise American military adventures is probed in this perceptive study of foreign policy over-reach. Daily Beast
contributor Beinart (The Good Fight
) highlights three examples of Washington's overconfidence: Woodrow Wilson's hubris of reason: the belief that reason, not force, could govern the world; the Kennedy-Johnson administrations' hubris of toughness during the Vietnam War; and George W. Bush's hubris of dominance in launching the Iraq War. In each case, Beinart finds a dangerous confluence of misleading experience and untethered ideology; the Iraq War, he contends, was fostered both by a 12-year string of easy military triumphs from Panama to Afghanistan, and a belief that America can impose democracy by force. (The book continues the author's ongoing apology for his early support of the Iraq War.) Beinart's analyses are consistently lucid and provocative—e.g., he calls Ronald Reagan a dove in hawk's feathers, and his final conclusion is that Obama will need to... decouple American optimism from the project of American global mastery. The book amounts to a brief for moderation, good sense, humility, and looking before leaping—virtues that merit Beinart's spirited, cogent defense. (June)
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Citing the mythical Icarus, whose wings melted when he flew too close to the sun, political scientist Peter Beinart uses Icarus' character flaw, hubris, as the basis for his study of three major foreign-policy blunders he says America made over the past century. Woodrow Wilson, Beinart argues, believed he could lay a template of reason upon a seething Europe that was not listening; Lyndon Johnson's hubris was in believing sheer toughness could force other nations to act in our interest; and George W. Bush was guilty of hubris in thinking that, buoyed by military successes for nearly 30 years, America was too dominant globally to lose a war. After laying out these three narratives in compelling detail, Beinart also shows how subsequent administrations learned from these blunders—the first two, at least—to effect changes that would strengthen and stabilize the country for years. As for the third, he suggests that President Obama focus on strengthening the country from within, where we have the most power. A thoughtful book that might spark healthy debate on the use of American power. --Alan Moores