Magic and Mayhem: Why America Failed Three Wars in a Row

Derek Leebaert, Author
Derek Leebaert, Simon & Schuster, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4391-2569-4
Reviewed on: 06/28/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4391-4167-0
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-4391-2571-7
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Washington's "magical thinking" reliably leads the U.S. into catastrophe, argues this unsparing indictment of American foreign policy. Georgetown foreign relations professor Leebaert (To Dare and to Conquer) analyzes the follies and failures of "emergency men," the political appointees, intellectuals, and policy entrepreneurs of the national security establishment, from the Best and Brightest architects of the Vietnam debacle to the neo-con masterminds of the Iraq War. He traces their misadventures to deep-rooted, delusional mental habits: an infatuation with vigor and boldness; an overconfidence in miracle technologies, managerial techniques, and far-fetched historical analogies; a near-total ignorance of foreign cultures coupled with a certainty that they can be fine-tuned to specification. Leebaert combines trenchant analyses of geo-strategic blunders—from military disasters in the Korean War to the morally disastrous use of torture in the fight against terrorism—with acid-etched profiles of the leaders who committed them. (His portrait of Henry Kissinger as a publicity hound who "excelled at putting an intellectual twist on bad ideas" is especially vicious.) Written in a lively, pungent prose that's full of sharp-eyed insights, Leebaert's stinging critique of American hubris and wishful thinking is a must-read for concerned citizens and policy-makers alike. (Sept. 7)
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