Review: Daydream Believers–How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power

5 Star, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Impeachment & Treason, Insurgency & Revolution, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Iraq, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Religion & Politics of Religion, War & Face of Battle

Daydream BelieversTogether with a Few Other Books, All You Need to Know, March 21, 2008

Fred Kaplan

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.

By 1997 Marshall and Andy Krepinevich were staking everything on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), high speed communications and computing (still not real today), and precision munitions.

The author provides a super discussion of Col John Warden’s “five rings” in priority order: 1) leadership and C4I; 2) infrastructure; 3) transportation; 4) population (again, war crimes); and finally, 5) the enemy. The author is brutal in scoring the campaign designed by Col Warden a complete failure. It…did…not…work (in Gulf I).

I cannot summarize everything, so a few highlights:

+ Taliban quickly learned how to defeat US overhead (satellite) surveillance–remember, we do not do “no-notice” air breather imagery any more, except for easily detected UAVs, with mud as well as cover and concealment. .

+ Excellent account of the influence on Rumsfeld of George Tenet’s failure to satisfy him during a missile defense review. It became obvious to all that the U.S. Intelligence Community a) no longer had a very high level of technical mastery on the topic; and b) was so fragmented as to make the varied analytic elements deaf, dumb, and blind–not sharing with each other, using contradictory data sets, the list goes on.

Page 187 is the page to read if you are just browsing in the bookstore:

Summarizing 2007: “Not so much a return to realism as a retreat to randomness.” Also: “Grand vision was shattered by reality. Policies were devised piecemeal; actions were scattershot, aimless.” And: “put forth ideas without strategies; policies without process; wishes without means.” Devastating.

So many other notes. Here are a tiny handful:

+ Speechwriter Michael Gersen connected with Bush on an evangelical level, wrote major speeches, in the case of a foreign policy speech, without actually consulting any adult practitioners.

+ Joseph Korbel was both Madeline Albright’s father and Condi Rice’s educational mentor–talk about a non-partisan losing streak!

+ American Enterprise Institute and Richard Perl used Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky to impress Cheney and subvert Bush by reframing the Israeli genocide against the Palestinians as the first 21st Century war between terrorism (the hapless Palestinians) and democracy (the Israeli’s).

+ He credits Eliot Abrams with devising the unique linkage between American Jews whose numbers and influence have been declining, and the Evangelical Christians whose influence peaked with Bush-Cheney.

+ He slams General Tommy Franks for providing assurances and making promises he could not keep with respect to settling and stabilizing the towns by-passed or over-run by the US Army.

+ The author is misleading in his account of the Saudi-Powell discussions on how an election would lead to radical Islamics in charge (as opposed to despotic, perverted spendthrifts).

+ Rumsfeld Lite going into Iraq meant that a quarter million tons of ordnance was looted by insurgents, which is what cost us four years time. General Shinseki is vindicated.

+ For the first time I learn of a planned Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

+ The author introduces Ahmed Chalabi but does not fully understand this man’s crimes as well as his special relationship with Iran. Iran used him to get the USA to depose the Taliban and Sadaam Hussein, , and to lure the entire US military into a quagmire.

+ Department of State, Mr. White in particular, got it right every time.

+ Legitimacy and stability must come before elections.

+ Hezbollah win in Lebanon dealt a crushing blow to the Bush delusions.

+ Bush refused to deal with Syria and Iran throughout. I am reminded of how Civil Affairs was told in the first five years of the war to blow off the tribal leaders and imams, and only now are they being allowed to get it right.

+ Useful account of three failed Public Diplomacy tenures (Charlotte Beers, Margaret Tutwiler, Karen Hughes (who waited six months so her son could leave for college–so much for the importance of that job….)

+ USA sent $230 million in aid to Lebanon, while Iran poured in $1 billion via Hezbollah (meanwhile, the Chinese do the same everywhere else).

Page 191 is glorious: Bush’s strategies were “based on fantasies, faith, and a willful indifference toward those affected by their consequences.”

Page 192: the real divide is “between the realists and the fantasists.”

The author quite properly slams the Democrats for not having an original idea, plan, program, bill, budget, or moral thought.

He ends by suggesting that multinational consensus is still the true litmus test for the sensibility and sustainability of any endeavor.

On this note, I conclude that five stars are right where this book should be. Incomplete, but original and provocative. Bravo.

Other recommendations:
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
DVD Why We Fight
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The Price of Loyalty : George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy

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