A military historian examines how post-WWII presidents have drained American power by waging three unwinnable wars.
Asked about the importance and consequences of the French Revolution, former Chinese Premier Chou En-lai responded, “It’s too soon to tell.” No such timidity from Perret (Lincoln’s War, 2004, etc.), who looks at the last 60 years and concludes that Iraq will break American power, that war between nation states is virtually over, that within a decade, fears about global warming will dwarf the War on Terror, that India, China and the EU will challenge a failing America “to leave regional matters to the people who live there.” We’ve reached this pass, Perret insists, because three American presidents, aided and abetted by fawning, half-bright advisors, a pliant Congress and a deceived public, have run away with their powers and recklessly inserted the nation into armed conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Furthermore, Perret argues, Truman, with his “little-guy” complex, perhaps complicated by mood-enhancing drugs, Johnson and his inferiority complex with regard to predecessor JFK, and G.W. Bush with his Daddy complex, appear to have used war, no matter the consequences to the nation, to work out their own pathologies. Surely it’s too soon to tell whether America’s last three difficult wars will produce the remarkable turning point Perret sees, and certainly “Presidents Gone Wild” is too glib an explanation for our involvement. But while it’s easy to reject the author’s judgment, it’s impossible to resist his storytelling. He writes in the in-the-room brand of history, full of anecdotes, trivia and acidic portraits of presidential courtiers. Indeed, the chief delight here is the serial takedown of such sacred Washington cows as Clark Clifford (“a little too smooth, a little too pleased with himself”) and Paul Wolfowitz (“a graying vulgarian”).
A fast-moving, sharply told history that arrives at controversial conclusions.