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Magic and Mayhem: Book summary and reviews of Magic and Mayhem by Derek Leebaert

Magic and Mayhem

The Delusions of American Foreign Policy From Korea to Afghanistan

by Derek Leebaert

Magic and Mayhem by Derek Leebaert X
Magic and Mayhem by Derek Leebaert
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About this book

Book Summary

Afghanistan and Iraq are the latest in a string of blunders that includes Vietnam and an unintended war with China from 1950 to '53, those four fiascoes being just the worst moments in nearly a lifetime of false urgencies, intelligence failures, grandiose designs, and stereotyping of enemies and allies alike. America brought down the Soviet empire at the cold war's most dangerous juncture, but even that victory was surrounded by myths, such as the conviction that we can easily shape the destinies of other people.

Magic and Mayhem is a strikingly original, closely informed investigation of two generations of America’s avoidable failures. In a perfectly timed narrative, Derek Leebaert reveals the common threads in these serial letdowns and in the consequences that await. He demonstrates why the most enterprising and innovative nation in history keeps mishandling its gravest politico-military dealings abroad and why well-credentialed men and women, deemed brilliant when they arrive in Washington, consistently end up leading the country into folly. Misjudgments of this scale arise from a pattern of self-deception best described as "magical thinking." When we think magically, we conjure up beliefs that everyone wants to be like us, that America can accomplish anything out of sheer righteousness, and that our own wizardly policymakers will enable gigantic desires like "transforming the Middle East" to happen fast. Mantras of "stability" or "democracy" get substituted for reasoned reflection. Faith is placed in high-tech silver bullets, whether drones over Pakistan or helicopters in Vietnam. Leebaert exposes these magical notions by using new archival material, exclusive interviews, his own insider experiences, and portraits of the men and women who have succumbed: George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Presidents Kennedy, Carter, and George W. Bush all appear differently in the light of magic, as do wise men from Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford, and think tanks such as RAND and Brookings, as well as influential players from the media and, occasionally, the military, including General David Petraeus as he personifies the nation’s latest forays into counterinsurgency.

Magic and Mayhem offers vital insights as to how Americans imagine, confront, and even invite danger. Only by understanding the power of illusion can we break the spell, and then better apply America’s enduring strengths in a world that will long need them.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Leebart's stinging critique of American hubris and wishful thinking is a must-read for concerned citizens and policy-makers alike." - Publishers Weekly

"A brilliant, blistering indictment of the quackery that passes for statecraft in Washington and of the glib, opinionated mediocrities inhabiting the inner circles of American power." - Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War

"Derek Leebaert artfully portrays the "many grand delusions about America’s role in the world" that have arisen from "a heady brew of magical thinking going back generations". Leebeart writes with exceptional verve and his book is a real pleasure to read." - Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst and author of Holy War, Inc.

"People of left and right will find much insight in this expose of the national security magicians and their delusions, fantasies, pretenses and misuses of history. Leebaert gives us not the usual fairy godmother list of solutions, but some basic advice grounded in playing to our country's strengths. Hear him!" - John F. Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy and member of the 9/11 Commission

"Leebaert provides a superb story of America's global engagements and of the 'magic' that caused various ones to go astray. Here is also superb insight as to how our nation should capitalize on her strengths while we come to better understand our vulnerabilities." - General John H. Tilelli, Jr., USA (Ret), former Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, and Commander, U.S. Army Forces Command

"This book is a bombshell." - Walter A. McDougall, Alloy-Ansin Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania, author of Promised Land, Crusader State

"Why do national security professionals, despite all evidence, keep promising quick and nearly bloodless victory when committing U.S. forces overseas? The answers are chilling. Anyone concerned about how America decides to go to war must read Magic and Mayhem." - F. Whitten Peters, former Secretary of the Air Force; member, Defense Science Board

This information about Magic and Mayhem was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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