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The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubrisby Peter Beinart
Synopses & Reviews
In The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart tells a tale as old as the Greeks — a story about the seductions of success. Beinart describes Washington on the eve of three wars — World War One, Vietnam, and Iraq — three moments when American leaders decided they could remake the world in their image. Each time, leading intellectuals declared that history was over, and the spread of democracy was inevitable. Each time, a president held the nation in the palm of his hand. And each time, a war conceived in arrogance brought untold tragedy.
In dazzling color, Beinart portrays three extraordinary generations: the progressives who took America into World War I, led by Woodrow Wilson, the lonely preacher's son who became the closest thing to a political messiah the world had ever seen. The Camelot intellectuals who took America into Vietnam, led by Lyndon Johnson, who lay awake at night after night shaking with fear that his countrymen considered him weak. And George W. Bush and the post-cold war neoconservatives, the romantic bullies who believed they could bludgeon the Middle East and liberate it at the same time. Like Icarus, each of these generations crafted "wings" — a theory about America's relationship to the world. They flapped carefully at first, but gradually lost their inhibitions until, giddy with success, they flew into the sun.
But every era also brought new leaders and thinkers who found wisdom in pain. They reconciled American optimism — our belief that anything is possible — with the realities of a world that will never fully bend to our will. In their struggles lie the seeds of American renewal today. Based on years of research, The Icarus Syndrome is a provocative and strikingly original account of hubris in the American century — and how we learn from the tragedies that result.
"A century of unwise American military adventures is probed in this perceptive study of foreign policy over-reach. Daily Beast and Time 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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“Why do we succumb to hubris? Peter Beinart has written a highly intelligent and wonderfully readable book that answers the question by looking at a century of American foreign policy. As with everything Beinart writes, it is lucid, thoughtful and strikingly honest.” — Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World
“Peter Beinart has written a vivid, empathetic, and convincing history of the men and ideas that have shaped the ambitions of American foreign policy during the last century—a story in which human fallibility and idealism flow together. The story continues, of course, and so his book is not only timely; it is indispensible.” — Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars
Peter Beinart, one of the nations leading political writers, offers a provocative and strikingly original account of American hubris throughout history—and how we learn from the tragedies that result.
About the Author
Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast and a contributor to Time. Beinart is a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Good Fight. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General