Having recovered the books I left behind in Japan at a friend’s apartment, I have begun to address my anti library.
Jon Lee Anderson’s “The Fall Of Baghdad” is a mildly insightful look at what life in Baghdad was like for the six months or so before the 2003 invasion. Like many books about Iraq, it focuses too heavily on the big players, in this case, senior government officials and persons of interest in the Baathist regime, including a doctor of Saddam, a notable artist and the propaganda arm of the Baathist regime (the truly interesting part of the story with its conspiratorial alternate reality and Saddam veneration). Anderson’s best reporting is the brief and weird release of “most” prisoners throughout Iraq by Saddam just months before the invasion, an act that would have chilling repercussions for the horrific crime problem Iraq still is afflicted with even now.
The words of Iraqis and their guests (a jumble of journalists, human shields, humanitarians and foreign jihadists) themselves are what compels the reader forward, from the emergency room doctor who expresses rage at the cluster bombs that leave behind blown apart families to the Swedish humanitarian who admits surprise at how precise and careful the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan was compared to past efforts. In the end, Anderson gets as close as he safely can to the orgy of looting that engulfs the city before the eyes of passive American troops, a good postscript to a story now being rewritten in a Baghdad soaked with the blood of ethnic cleansing victims but wholly more peaceful (thanks to those same American troops with better leadership and training) than its post-Saddam self over the years.
It earns a C in terms of value and education.
Robert Baer’s “Sleeping With The Devil” is an entertaining peek at the abyss of Saudi royal corruption, American failure in the 80′s & 90′s to address terrorist threats adequately and the disturbing web of questionable ties between all manner of American elites with the Saudi royal family. Clearly the work of an angry former spy, Baer doesn’t mince words but his CIA vetters did, redacting a good 5% of the book, leaving more questions than answers. The corrupt relationship between Washington and Riyadh is explored in stories like that of Boeing, which sold a great number of planes to Saudi Arabia in the 90′s that the country clearly could not pay for, in the interest of American jobs and keeping the Saudis up with appearances. Now that the financial shoe may very well be on the other foot, it would be illuminating to learn what kinds of Faustian bargains American officials and business figures have made with the Saudis (and other oil-producing titans).
What one takes away after reading Baer is a sense that the lobbying process in this country has a serious blind spot for security and the fine line between advocacy and treason, a cascading series of legal and policy loopholes that need to be plugged if America’s best interests are its top priority.
It earns a C- in terms of value and education.
Stephen Kinzer’s “All The Shah’s Men” is a disturbing read that views one of America’s greatest Cold War triumphs through an even-handed lens that casts the real victors as the aaytolahs and terrorists who took power in Iran in 1979. Eh? While the author reaches too far with that judgment, he gets the details and the story right, identifying the stubborn British refusal to heed the post-colonial reality and compromise on their outlandish oil holdings in Iran as the key cause of the CIA-conducted overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953. He handles Mossadegh remarkably without kid gloves, casting aside lionizing portraits of him for a full view of a stubborn, tempermental man who felt trapped between the nationalist anger of his people and his own sense of betrayal at the hands of the British (whose culture he nontheless continued to admire) and ended up failing both miserably, playing chicken with the masses and the haughty British, whose irrational belief in their continued superiority was finally wiped out by the Suez misadventure.
The description of the CIA campaign to destablize the Mossadegh government by whipping up rhetoric in newspapers, mosques and city streets, employing often opposing gangs to fight and stir up violence and to discredit Mossadegh in every way makes for exceptional reading. As much as the “blowback” from the CIA’s successful operation has hurt America, Iran and many others, why should it not be explored as an option against say, Hugo Chavez?
Kinzer places Mossadegh as the first great Third World nationalist after World War II, especially with his performance before the United Nations and in other venues defending Iran’s case and revealing the sickening abuses the British inflicted upon their Iranian oil workers, who would be better described as slaves. Harry Truman is a tragic figure, trapped between the crackpot British and the stubborn Mossadegh while trying to keep the Soviets at bay and present America as the friend of the disadvantaged and opressed around the world. The author disagrees with the CIA’s actions, but he relishes a keen eye for every detail in the run-up to and execution of their plot to overthrow Mossadegh and they come across as heroic, cunning champions of anti-communism.
Kinzer whittles down into just under 300 pages what was probably thousands of pages of source material, antecodotes and previous books about the events leading up to the Shah’s installation as ruler of Iran. For anyone seeking to comprehend these events from the British, American and Iranian points of view, he did a job well done. Highly recommended!
It earns an A- in terms of value and education.
With the recent release of the controversial NIE that brings up a number of questionable conclusions about what the hell my upper chain of command has been claiming to the American people and the world the past year or so about Iran being the next Nazi Germany and prepared to usher in World War 3/4/5, a more important thought crossed my mind.
The American military won’t have to maim or kill some of the innocent Iranians next year who happen to live right near or (right above in apartment and office buildings, hospitals and schools) the nuclear facilities, Iranian military assets and the tyrants busy wrecking the country quite ably themselves. Talk about a sigh of relief. Given the track record we have with our airpower right now in Iraq and Afghanistan on that whole collateral damage thing lately, that was a serious cause for concern.
Furthermore, my comrades in arms on this ship won’t have to sail into a war zone or create one under orders next year.
Lastly, far fewer American servicemen and women like the wounded but recovering as best they can good folks I visited at Walter Reed earlier this month will be put in needless harms’ way by the misguided policies of some.
For more nuanced, thoughtful and insightful musings on the NIE, check out ZenPundit at his kick-ass new site.