Today’s event was a conversation between Schwartz Senior Fellow, Peter Beinart, and New York Times Op-Ed columnist, David Brooks, on the subject of Beinart’s latest book, he Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris. The two authors were moderated by Steve Coll. Beinart first discussed the content of his book, which looks at the evolution of American foreign policy as a result of a dangerous pattern of hubris. The book’s theoretical basis is drawn from the Greek myth of Icarus, and explains that the as the US experiences foreign policy successes they begin to overestimate their powers, especially militarily, which leads to overly ambitious endeavors that end in failure. Beinart put forth the claim that Iraq War was largely a result of the confidence built up by American military successes in the nineties, such as Kosovo, and was based on the idea that these successes could be replicated in Iraq, when in fact the government was entering into a much larger-scale conflict.
Columnist David Brooks criticized Beinart’s disregard for the value of American idealism. The desire to spread democracy and other American ideals may have been done the wrong way in Iraq, but this does not mean that we should be overly cautious in our foreign policy ventures. He advised that we should balance our idealism with caution learned from experience, because if we lose sight of idealistic goals we may find ourselves rudderless and find the world leaderless. Beinart then clarified that he was primarily focusing on military modesty, and did not wish to limit American idealism in other sectors such as trade and diplomacy. During the question and answer Beinart and Brooks answered questions on human rights, the idea of honor, the draft, and the relationship between this book and Beinart’s recent article in the New York Review of Books.