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(David Ben-Gurion, creator of Israeli intelligence services)

When the state of Israel achieved nationhood in 1948 it was seen as an ethical and moral experiment because of the role the Holocaust played in its creation, along with its dominant Jewish culture.  Residing in a geographical region that had nothing but hatred for the new state it would be difficult to expect Israel to maintain the high standards that were expected of it.  The difficulty would morph into a nation that had to protect itself from invasion, and once that was beaten back it had to deal with constant attacks across its borders.  As a result Israel would take on the character of other countries and adopt measures that ran counter to expectations.  The evolution of Israel into an intelligence and military power to meet the needs of its citizens is explored in detail in Ronen Bergman’s new book, RISE AND KILL FIRST: SECRET HISTORY OF ISRAEL’S TARGET ASSASSINATIONS.  Bergmann is an Israeli journalist who writes for Yedioth Ahronoth and has received the highest prize offered for journalism in Israel.  Bergman’s monograph begins with the end of the Second World War and continues through today. It is based on over 1,000 interviews, thousands of documents, and runs to about 650 pages.

What is clear from the outset is that Israeli leaders were firm believers in the Hammurabi Code of “an eye for an eye.”  This can be seen from the outset as Israel wanted to ethnically cleanse as many Palestinians as possible (Plan Dalet)), from towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Bergman traces the creation of a “machine” which came about through the “marriage of guerrilla warfare and the military might of a technological powerhouse.”  Bergman explores the political leaders, operatives, methodology, and deliberations that resulted in many successes, but a number of important failures also.  One of the major themes of the book rests on the moral cost of this policy and how two separate legal systems developed in Israel; one for ordinary citizens, and one for the intelligence community and military establishment.  The template became a model for other countries, particularly the United States after 9/11 which mirrored Israeli intelligence gathering and assassination techniques.

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(Ariel Sharon, circa 1967)

Bergman does an excellent job explaining the Israeli rationalization for targeted killing.  He explores in depth the history that preceded its implementation, its legal justification, and the resulting bifurcation in Israeli society.  Since Israel suffers from a deficit of men and equipment when compared to its enemies, early on they decided to rely on internal security and intelligence gathering services for their survival.   The program began under Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion who effectively set up the extrajudicial system to carry out assassinations.  By 1949 Ben-Gurion created the Mossad (covert activities beyond the country’s borders)), along with AMAN (the military intelligence arm that supplies information to the IDF); and Shin Bet (responsible for internal intelligence, counterterror, and counterespionage).  These three services still remain the core of Israeli intelligence activities to this day.

There are a number of key events and individuals that are responsible for the evolution of Israeli tactics.  Israel faced “Fedayeen,” Arab terrorists led by an Egyptian, Mustafa Hafez, who crossed into Israel in great numbers after the War of Independence and killed numerous Israelis.  By 1956, the Suez War broke out and after the Gaza Strip was conquered Israeli intelligence came across Hafez’s list of operatives who had terrorized Israel for years.  Ben-Gurion ordered that everyone on the list should be killed and one by one operations were carried out.  This section of the book reads like a Daniel Silva novel.  From 1956-1967 attacks were drastically reduced as the Arabs realized the price they would pay from Israeli retribution.  However, the Egyptians began to employ German scientists to develop long range missiles.  Bergman provides a detailed chapter on the episode and one realizes that once a threat is perceived, Israel reacts.  In this case the assassination of German scientists, kidnappings, and recruiting certain scientists to be used against Egypt, i.e., Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s Operational Commander.

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(Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad)

The book encompasses more than a retelling of numerous targeted killings.  Bergman discusses a series of operations whose focal point was not assassination.  For example, the high jacking of an Iraq MIG-21 fighter by getting the pilot to defect, or allying with King Hassan II to spy on Arab leaders providing intelligence leading up to the Six Day War.  Further, throughout the 1950s and 60s Israel was preoccupied by Egyptian President Gamal Nasser and as a result Israeli intelligence missed the creation in 1964 of the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasir Arafat and Abu Jihad.  After the 1967 War, the PLO launched numerous attacks against Israel.  As Israel attempted to assassinate Arafat, his popularity among Palestinians increased, and enlistments in the PLO rose dramatically as the Palestinian leader was seen as the embodiment of Palestinian nationalism.

Perhaps one of Bergman’s most interesting chapters, “Meir Dagan and His Expertise” the author describes how Israel dealt with this increasing threat.  It is here that we see assassination and killing implemented as standard policy.  The Israeli government unleashed Ariel Sharon who commanded Israel’s southern frontier.  By the end of 1969, Sharon created a new unit under Meir Dagan, and using intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet went into Gaza to murder Palestinian operatives and leaders.  After the PLO responded by slaughtering an Israeli family driving along the Gaza road, Shin Bet and IDF Special Forces wiped out terrorism in the Gaza Strip through 1972 by employing methods that went beyond Israeli domestic law.  This was effective until the Jordanian Civil War produced a new Palestinian terrorist group, Black September.

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(Results of of an Israeli missile target killing)

Bergman’s command of his material is superb, as his analysis down to the last detail.  He takes the reader into areas that no previous author has done.  Numerous operations are described including their conception and implementation.  Among the many that are discussed include the “Spring of Youth” operation that resulted in the death of three top PLO officials and 35 PFLP terrorists in Beirut in October, 1972, which netted documents that would lead to the destruction of the Fatah network in the West Bank, and the killing of all the assailants related to the 1972 Olympic Munich massacre by elements of Black September.  However as successful as the operation was it created tremendous hubris on the part of Israeli leaders leading them to believe the Arabs would not attack further.  This feeling of superiority resulted in rejection of Anwar Sadat’s peace overtures which led to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

The Salameh operation is described in detail and produced a number of surprising pieces of information.  For example, Salameh had been recruited by the CIA and was America’s back channel to Arafat.  Both parties agreed that the PLO would not launch attacks in the United States, and Salameh would be protected.  However, Israel viewed Salameh as the man who engineered the Olympic massacre and waited until January, 1979 to kill him with a car bomb in Beirut.  Another example was the Israeli raid on Entebbe that resulted in the rescue of most of the Israeli hostages that were imprisoned after an airliner high jacking that was flown to Kenya.  Bergman presents the planning of the raid, and once again the outcome was marked by Israeli hubris.

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(the assassination of an Iranian operative)

Abu Nidal presented a different problem for Israel after his terror group killed Israel’s ambassador to England, Shlomo Argov.  This was used as an excuse to invade Lebanon, when Israeli attacks led by Meir Dagan failed to provoke a PLO response, a move that Middle East expert, Robin Wright led to “Israel’s Vietnam.”  Bergman highlights the most important aspects of the war, especially the role played by Sharon.  The Israeli general had his own agenda in launching the attack; first, to redraw the map of the region with a Christian Lebanon and the movement of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan, second, his obsession with killing Arafat.  Both goals were not achieved, but what was achieved was raising Arafat’s profile in the Arab world as the Palestinians were forced to leave Lebanon in August, 1982, the emergence of a new terrorist group backed by Iran, Hezbollah, and the beginning of an eighteen year quagmire in Lebanon.  Sharon acted like a monarch, a law unto himself making him a detriment to Israel.  Sharon overshadowed Prime Minister Menachem Begin who receded into an emotional depression as the war continued, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Yitzchak Shamir.  Israel would continue its policy of targeted killing as the carnage of Munich, Maalot, Nahariya, and many others became Israel’s justification for murder and summary executions.  Lebanon made the situation even worse as there were no laws to restrain the Shin Bet from torturing prisoners and on many occasions killing them.

There are numerous other highlights in Bergman’s detailed narrative.  The Intifada that broke out in December, 1987 that caught the Palestinian leadership, Israeli government and intelligence officials totally flatfooted is a case in point as it eventually morphed into the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993.  The Intifada saw Israel double down on targeted killings as it sought to control the images being flashed each day in the media.  Israel’s main target was Abu Jihad, Arafat’s number two man and Bergman describes how he was hunted down, and at the same time missing an opportunity to also kill Mahmoud Abbas, the current president of the Palestinian Authority.  Bergman makes the important point that Abu Jihad, who was not as intransigent as many others in Gaza had been alive perhaps there might have been some movement towards ending the Intifada and perhaps “Hamas might not have been able to consolidate its position to dominate large parts of the Palestinian public.” (323)

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(Yasir Arafat)

As the Intifada continued the Shin Bet became very flexible in its approach to killings; employing disguise to trap suspects, demolished terrorist’s homes, and turning Palestinians into spies for Israel.  The most important of which was Adnan Yassin, a mid-level activist who dealt with numerous projects in PLO headquarters in Tunis.  Once Yassin was turned, he provided valuable information for over four years that helped prevent numerous attacks and contributed to a number of important targeted killings.  By 1992, Yassin was discovered and executed.

As Bergman develops his narrative he integrates the history of the region and the most important historical figures into his text.  None is more important than Saddam Hussein and his quest to acquire nuclear weapons.  Bergman digs deep and points out that the United States and France were currying Saddam’s favor because of his ongoing war with Iran in the 1980s.  It is surprising to note that the French built a nuclear reactor in Iraq and supplied him with the necessary technology to try and reach his goals.  This was due to the ego of Charles de Gaulle who resented Israel’s ignoring his advice in 1967 and from that time, France, a traditional ally  turned against the Jewish state.  The Mossad pursued the same approach it had used against Egyptian scientists and began killing those associated with Iraq’s program.  Bergman follows Israel’s military and intelligence planning that finally led to the Israeli destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.

Another important individual that Israeli intelligence had to cope with was Ayatollah Khomeini whose movement overthrew Israel’s ally, Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian monarch in 1979.  Khomeini was seen as an existential threat to Israel and eventually fomented trouble throughout the region and helped create and support Hezbollah, “the Party of God” during the fighting in Lebanon.  This produced another cycle of violence with rockets and raids into northern Israel and Israeli target killings against Hezbollah leaders, particularly Hussein Abbas al-Mussawi who was responsible for many attacks against Israel.  He would be replaced by Hassan Nasrallah as Hezbollah’s leader in Lebanon.  Bergman points out that killing Mussawi may have been a mistake for Israel because he was much more liberal when it came to relations with Israel than Nasrallah who was more of a radical Shi’ite.

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(President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu-no love lost between these two!)

This process continued in dealing with Palestinian terrorism throughout the 1990s despite the Oslo Peace Accords.  Once again Bergman effectively deals with another cycle of violence.  In Gaza, Hamas was a major problem and was responsible for numerous suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.  Israel responded once again with an increase in targeted killings.  Despite the Oslo Accords, Arafat refused to cooperate with trying to control Hamas.  It would cost Prime Minister Shimon Peres his office and he would be replaced by Benjamin Netanyahu effectively ending the peace process.  Bergman points out that Hamas suicide attacks were designed to end the peace process, and with the arrival of Netanyahu as Prime Minister, they achieved their goal.

In the large number of operations that Bergman recounts he is careful to balance successes with failures, i.e., the attempt to kill Khaled Mashal, a Hamas leader in Amman totally backfired and cost Israel dearly.  Another would be the attempt to kill Hezbollah operative, Haldoun Haidar that resulted in a deadly ambush for the IDF.  These failures along with the ongoing threats from an enemy that used tactics that Israel had never grappled with before led to the reorganization of intelligence agencies under new leadership, a key of which was Ami Ayalon to head the Shin Bet and the introduction of new technology.  New surveillance techniques, integration of computer systems, a new approach to network analysis, the use of real-time intelligence, hardware and software designed to integrate different services and operational bodies led to a series of success of which the killing of the Adwallah brothers and capturing the Hamas military archive stands out.  The advances made by Shin-Bet was replicated throughout the entire country.  Bergman correctly argues if these changes had not been implemented it would have been even more difficult for Israel to deal with the Second Intifada that broke out in 2000.

Bergman discusses the changes in Israeli governments and its impact on “killing strategies.”  Netanyahu’s government was plagued by charges of corruption and an increase in suicide bombings, and by May 1999 was replaced by the Labor Party under Ehud Barak, who as a soldier had been a master of special operations.  Barak’s military lessons did not carry over to the world of politics and diplomacy.  He was able to withdraw the IDF from Lebanon, but failed in his approach to Arafat at Camp David in 2000.  This failure in conjunction with Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount helped touch off a second Intifada.  The increase in suicide bombings toppled Barak’s government and brought to power Sharon as Prime Minister leading to an all-out offensive against suicide bombers.  With no real strategy to confront events Israel turned its usual approach, increased assassinations.  When this failed Israel altered this strategy by going after much more low level targets employing advanced drones retrofitted with special targeting technology and missiles.  In addition, they began to acknowledge their responsibility for attacks and provided explanations for each.  Once the 9/11 attacks took place the Israeli leadership used the new climate in the world to legitimize its assassination policy to break the back of the Intifada.

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(Iranian diplomat Reza Najafi complaining about Israeli policy at the UN)

To his credit the author delves into discord within the intelligence community over certain actions.  Reflecting his objectivity Bergman discusses certain planned operations that brought about refusals on the part of certain participants to carry out orders when they believed there would be too much collateral damage.  The debates between higher ups in this process are also presented and it was rare that there was unanimity over a given plan.  The possible assassination of Sheik Yassin is a case in point because Israel’s legal justification for targeting anyone rests on the principle that a direct link between that person and a future terrorist attack was at hand.  Finally, in March, 2004 Yassin was killed, as was his successor Abd al-Aziz-Rantisi one month later.  Israel had instituted a new policy that political targets, in addition to operational targets were fair game because of the increase in suicide attacks that also included the use of women for the first time.  The suicide attacks finally ended with the death of Arafat and the coming to power of Mahmoud Abbas who finally cracked down on Hamas.

Bergman pays careful attention to the shifting balance of power in the Middle East as it pertains to Israeli targeting policies.  Yassin’s assassination was a turning point as he opposed any links with Iran, however once he was dead Hamas’ leadership agreed to work with Iran and the Teheran regime gained a strong foothold in Gaza.  At the same time new Syrian President Bashir Assad decided to ally with Iran producing a radical front of Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran.  Israel’s response was twofold.  First, Sharon appointed Meir Dagan to totally rework Mossad which Bergman describes in detail, and secondly, have Israel’s intelligence services network with those of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco reflecting the Iranian common enemy.  The result was a string of targeted killings on the part of Israel.

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(Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin)

Israel has faced a number of threats throughout its history and no matter the obstacle it seems to land on its feet.  Over the last decade it has dealt with abducted soldiers that led to war in 2006 with Hezbollah, the creation of a Hamas state in Gaza after the split in the Palestinian community, the destruction of the Syrian nuclear reactor at Deir al-Zor in 2007, and the targeted assassination of Hezbollah leaders and Iranian nuclear scientists.  But these successes have created further hubris by reasoning that it did not have to engage diplomatically, just rely on its intelligence community and technology.  As in the past this hubris could lead to tragedy.  As Bergman concludes Israel has produced a “long string of tactical successes, but also strategic failures.”

Bergman’s presentation of intricate details and analysis of all aspects of Israel’s targeted killing policy has produced a special book.  His access to the major personalities involved, his documentation of numerous operations and their repercussions, and how his subject matter fits into the regional balance of power is beyond anything previously written and should be considered the standard work on the history of the Israeli intelligence community.

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(David Ben-Gurion)


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(December 7, 1941)

Steve Twomey is a superb writer whose new book COUNTDOWN TO PEARL HARBOR: THE TWELVE DAYS TO THE ATTACK is a useful addition to the list of books recently published commemorating December 7, 1941.  Employing numerous primary source documents, memoirs, interviews, and a mastery of secondary materials Twomey has recreated the tension filled days leading up to the Japanese attack. The reader is provided a front row seat from which to witness the debates within the Roosevelt administration, the work of the intelligence community, and the approach the American military took in responding to the Japanese threat.  In addition, the author explores the Japanese perspective on all events.

Twomey, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post incorporates numerous biographical sketches of the major figures and these sketches include Japanese as well as American figures.  Prominent on the Japanese side are Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Vice Minister of the Imperial Navy, the architect of the attack; Kichisaburo Nomura, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States; Takeo Yoshikawa, a Japanese spy who took a job as a dishwasher at Pearl Harbor;  Admiral Harold Starks, Chief of Naval Operations; Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet; Joseph J. Rochefort, Head of the Combat Intelligence Unit; William Knox, Secretary of the Navy; General George C. Marshall, Chief of the Army, and General Walter Short, Army Command in Hawaii, among others.

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(Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Vice Minister of the Japanese Navy who planned the attack)

Twomey follows the week and a half leading to the attack, providing context and analysis as he brings to the fore a number of issues.  The role of the Washington bureaucracy and its communications with military commanders is especially important, as is the flow of intelligence that was made available.  The intelligence issue is paramount because the United States had broken Japanese diplomatic and naval codes referred to as MAGIC and these intercepts had a limited dissemination.  The preparation taken by commanders in the Philippines and Hawaii receives a great of attention as does the inability of Washington to supply the numbers of planes and pilots for reconnaissance to provide a warning to deal with the Japanese threat.  Marshall and Stark had a limited ability to supply the Pacific theater, and even reduced Pearl Harbor’s forces by 25% to assist in the Atlantic war against Germany.

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Twomey deals with those who were supposedly the most culpable for the lack of preparation at Pearl Harbor, and unlike Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan’s recent book he finds Admiral Kimmel guilty of a lack of judgement in preparing his command and presents him as a person who had little contact with Japan, and believed they might bluff but would not be reckless enough to attack the United States.  Twomey also dissects the intelligence community concentrating on the cryptographic miracles that occurred in the “dungeon,” the nickname for Rochefort’s office.  Men like Lt. Commander Edwin T. Layton, a Lt. Commander of the intelligence division who held a strong knowledge of Japanese culture and language, and Capt.  Arthur H. McCollum, Chief of the Far Eastern Section of Naval Intelligence who assisted in the breaking of the MAGIC code are discussed in detail in an enlightening chapter entitled, “Their Mail Open and Read.”

A number of telling things emerge in dissecting the lack of preparation at Pearl Harbor.  Twomey’s critique of Stark is very accurate as during the course of 1941 up until the collapse of diplomatic negotiations with Japan at the end of November, his warnings to the Pacific fleet were like a “yo-yo.”  On January 13, 1941 he informed Kimmel that war “may be in a matter of weeks.”  On October 17, 1941 he told Kimmel that “I do not believe the Japs are going to sail into us,” but on November 7, 1941 he stated the situation was “worser and worser and in a month may see literally most anything.”  The problem as the author correctly points out is that Stark did not put himself in the minds of a commander with his double bind messages.  Further, Stark kept the Japanese intercepts away from Kimmel and General Short, and when messages that were forwarded did not include a threat to Pearl Harbor as it emphasized the Philippines.

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(FDR: “A Day that will go down in infamy”)

Another interesting chapter that Twomey presents deals with Army-Navy relations at Pearl Harbor.  The lack of trust, poor communication, and little or no training together by the two services before the arrival of Kimmel and Short is damning to say the least as is their lack of coordination of reconnaissance flights, the destination and location of naval forces, and other issues.  The situation does improve once the new command is in place, but it took a long time to try and undo the past relationship.

The role of Joseph Grew, the American Ambassador to Japan and his attempts at reaching a settlement between the two adversaries is interesting as is Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s negotiations with the Japanese in Washington.  The Japanese process was simple in its application of diplomacy, stall and create a charade of amiability until their navy was in place, then move quickly to the deadline date.  Another important component in Twomey’s narrative is his accurate portrayal of American racist views.  This deprecation of Japanese culture led to ridiculous views of the abilities of Japanese naval forces and their pilots.  Our view of their inferior technology, intelligence and decision making also contributed to the disaster of December 7th.   Another fascinating area is Twomey’s discussion of how American naval intelligence lost sight of Japanese aircraft carriers weeks before the attack.  They went silent and intelligence analysts could not determine its true meaning for the near future.  But, by December 3rd intercepts showed that Japanese diplomats were destroying their code machines and documents and they feared for their seizure once the attacks in the Pacific took place.  If Stark was convinced this was a prelude to war why didn’t he make firmer warnings to Kimmel?

In the final analysis Twomey argues American readiness for an attack on Pearl Harbor was an outright gamble.  After sifting through all the documentation the author can make the case that certain steps should have been taken by Stark, Kimmel, Short and others to prepare American forces for a Japanese attack.  However, those in charge in Washington and Pearl Harbor held the belief that the Japanese would not be ignorant enough to hit Pearl Harbor so distant from their home base.  The Philippines was most likely to be attacked, but for government officials, civilian and military, Pearl Harbor should not have been a target.  The question who is responsible for the disaster that followed, the blame could be spread around and should not be focused on one or two individuals.

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(December 7, 1941)


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(Map of the Suez Canal)

Last week was the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Suez Crisis as well as the Soviet invasion of Hungary.  Both events had a tremendous impact on the geo-strategic balance in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.  The Eisenhower administration was confronted by overlapping crises that brought the United States in opposition to its allies England and France at a time when it seemed to President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John F. Dulles that allied actions in Suez had provided cover for Soviet tanks to roll in to Budapest.  The interfacing of these two crises is the subject of Alex von Tunzelmann’s new book, BLOOD AND SAND: SUEZ, HUNGARY, AND EISENHOWER’S CAMPAIGN FOR PEACE.  Von Tunzelmann has a unique approach to her narrative and analysis as she chooses certain dates leading up to the crisis, from October 22 to November 6, 1956 and within each date she explains events and delves into the background history of the issues that are raised.  In so doing she effectively examines how decisions were reached by the major actors, and the impact of how those decisions influenced the contemporary world order. The only drawback to this approach is that a sense of chronology is sometimes lost, and with so much taking place across the Middle East and Eastern Europe it can be confusing for the general reader.

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(British Foreign Secretary and then Prime Minister during Suez, Sir Anthony Eden)

Von Tunzelmann begins by providing the history that led up to British control of the Suez Canal.  She goes on to examine the major players in the conflict; Anthony Eden, British Foreign Secretary and later Prime Minister who despised Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser and basically “wanted him dead” as he blamed him for all of England’s ills, domestic and foreign. President Dwight Eisenhower, who had grown tired of British colonialism and its impact on American foreign policy, and provided the guidelines that Secretary of State Dulles implemented.  Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Egyptian President who rose to power in 1954 and was bent on achieving the removal of the British from the Suez Canal Base, and spreading his Pan Arabist ideology throughout the region.  It is fascinating as the author delves into the role of the CIA in Egypt and the relationship between Kermit Roosevelt, the author of the 1953 Iranian coup, and Miles Copeland with Nasser taking the reader into an area than is usually forbidden.  Other profiles are provided including Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, French President Guy Mollet, Imre Nagy, the leader of Hungary, and the troika that controlled the Kremlin.

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(French President Guy Mollet)

Each country had its own agenda.  In England neo-imperialist forces believed that “if they could no longer dominate colonies openly, they must try to foster a secret British Empire club….a powerful hidden empire of money and control,” this was apart from the “Commonwealth.” (23)  This was the overall strategy that revolved around access and transportation of oil.  An example of Von Tunzelmann’s approach is her March 1, 1956 section where she concentrates on Jordan’s King Hussein’s firing of John Glubb Pasha, a British serving officer who headed the Arab Legion.  For Eden, Nasser was the cause and his actions were a roadblock to achieve a Middle Eastern defense pact (Baghdad Pact), and Jordanian membership.  Eradicating Nasser became Eden’s life’s mission.  In her discussion of March, 1956 the author raises the role of American policy, but she only mentions in passing American attempts to bring about peace between Israel and Egypt, i.e.; Project Alpha and the Anderson Mission.  She presents a number of reasons why the US withdrew its offer to fund the Aswan Dam project on July 19, 1956, forgoing that Washington had already decided as early as March 28, 1956 that Nasser was an impediment to peace and the US launched Operation Omega designed to take Nasser down a peg or two, and once the presidential election was over more drastic action could be taken.  For the French, Mollet blamed Nasser for all Paris’ difficulties in Algeria.  When FLN leader Ahmed Ben Bella, a World War II hero in France left for Cairo it confirmed that Nasser was providing Ben Bella weapons and a safe exile.  To the author’s credit throughout the narrative she whittles down all of the information in expert fashion and she sums up the interests of all concerned as the crisis approaches.

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Von Tunzelmann provides many interesting details as she delves into individual motivations.  For Ben-Gurion, the Straits of Tiran were the key.  Many have speculated why Israel would ally with England under the Sevres Agreement, a country that had been a thorn in the side of Jews for decades.  The key was an oil pipeline that was to be built from the southern Israeli port of Eilat to Ashkelon in the north (Trans Israel pipeline or Tipline) that would bring Iranian oil to Europe.  In 1957, Israel brokered a deal with Iran, and the Suez Canal, by then under Egyptian control, would be bypassed.  This deal would also make the Jewish state a strategic ally of Europe.

The most important parts of the narrative deal with the October 23-24, 1956 dates.  It is during those few days that Von Tunzelmann provides intimate details of the negotiations between Israel, France and England at Servres.  All the important players from Eden, whose health is explored in relation to his decision-making; Ben-Gurion, who exemplifies  what she calls “muscular Judaism,” who wanted a preventive war before the Egyptians could absorb Soviet weapons; Guy Mollet, who agrees with Israel and promises aid in building a nuclear reactor for the Jewish state, and others.  Within each chapter Von Tunzelmann switches to the machinations involving events in Hungary and how precarious the situation has become.  As machinations were taking place Von Tunzelmann describes events that are evolving in Hungary.   With demonstrations against Soviet encroachment in Poland and the visit of the Soviet leadership to Warsaw to make sure that the Poles remained in the Russian orbit, the aura of revolution was in the air and it spread to neighboring Hungary.  With mass demonstrations led by Hungarian students, workers, and intellectuals, Moscow dispatched the head of the KGB, Ivan Seroy.  Von Tunzelmann examines the thinking of Soviet leadership, the role of Imre Nagy, hardly a revolutionary, but a reformist acceptable to the people, as the situation reaches a breaking point.  Finally, on October 24, 1956 Soviet troops and tanks roll into Budapest sparking further demonstrations allowing an excuse for Russian forces to crush the demonstrators.  The end results vary from 60-80 killed and 100-150 seriously wounded.  The proximity of Soviet actions with the Israeli invasion of the 29th would make Eisenhower apoplectic, in part because the CIA had a coup set to go in effect in Syria on the same day as the Israel attack.Image result for photo of Ben-Gurion and Nasser

(President Eisenhower and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser)

One of the most conjectured part of this period is whether the United States was aware of the Sevres conspiracy and what was the role of the CIA.  Von Tunzelmann approach to these questions is fair and plausible.  After reviewing the available documentation she reaches the conclusion that Allen W. Dulles, the Head of the CIA, who destroyed his documentation knew about the plot in advance and kept the president in the dark because if Eisenhower had known he might have pressured England and France to call it off.  The CIA had so much invested in Nasser, with the relationship fostered by Miles Copeland and Kermit Roosevelt that they wanted to protect him, in fact according to the author the CIA warned Nasser that the British wanted to kill him.  According to Israeli historian and later politician, Michael Bar-Zohar the CIA was fully aware of what was going on and Allen Dulles informed his brother of the conspiracy.  For the CIA “plausible deniability” was the key.  Whatever the case it is clear that crucial information was withheld from Eisenhower.  However, the president was fully aware of the Anglo-American plot to overthrow Syrian leader Shukri al-Kuwatty, who was developing closer ties with the Soviet Union.  Explaining CIA and MI6 machinations is one of the strongest aspects of Von Tunzelmann’s work.  Reading about the British obsession to kill Nasser, reminded me how Washington pursued Fidel Castro few years later.

At the same time she discusses Suez, Von Tunzelmann shifts to Hungary and analyzes Moscow’s hesitancy to invade.  Her portrayal of Imre Nagy’s difficulty in controlling the uprising is solid as the demonstrations spirals out of control inside and outside of Budapest.  However, once Imre Nagy decides to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact and claims neutrality for his country it is a forgone conclusion in the Kremlin that despite some hesitation they must invade.  The Suez situation provided Moscow with excellent cover at the United Nations.  As the French and British dithered in delivering their forces to Egypt, Moscow became emboldened.  Von Tunzelmann does an excellent job following communications between Dulles and Eisenhower on the American side, Mollet and Pineau for the French, Eden and the Foreign Office, and within Imre Nagy’s circle in Budapest, as it is clear in the eyes of Washington that the allies really have made a mess of things.  The author’s insights and command of the material are remarkable and her new book stands with Keith Kyles’ SUEZ as the most important work on the topic.  What enhances her effort is her ability to compare events in Suez and Hungary during the first week of November shifting back and forth reflecting how each crisis was dealt with, and how the final outcome in part depended on the evolution of each crisis.

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(Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with Israeli Foreign Secretary Golda Meir)

One of the major aspects of the Suez Crises that many books do not deal with which BLOOD AND SAND discusses is that once war was unleashed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could only be exacerbated.  Israeli actions in Gaza stayed with those who were displaced and suffered and it would contribute to the hatred that remains today.  Once the crisis played itself out and Eisenhower forced the British and French to withdraw from Egyptian territory in early November, using oil and currency pressure; threatening the Israelis, who finally withdrew in March, 1957, it seemed that American standing in the Arab world would improve.  However, the United States gave away the opportunity to furthering relations in the Arab world with the introduction of the Eisenhower Doctrine which was geared against the communist threat.  Von Tunzelmann makes the case that Eisenhower was the hero of Suez, but within a few years his doctrine led to dispatching US troops to Lebanon and the overthrow of the Iraqi government.  By 1958 the Arab world began to view the United States through the same colonialist lens that they evaluated England and France, tarnishing the image of Eisenhower as the hero of Suez.

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(Map of the Suez Canal)


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The mood that is presented in J. Kael Weston’s powerful new book, THE MIRROR TEST: AMERICA AT WAR IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN is one of horror, empathy, skepticism, anger, and little hope that the American government has learned its lessons in dealing with cultures that are in many ways the antithesis of our own.  Weston immediately explains how he arrived at the title, THE MIRROR TEST by describing the reaction of an American Marine who is unwrapping his bandages following a horrific burn injury, and is looking at himself in a mirror for the first time.  For Weston, the American people should look at themselves in the mirror as they have supported in one way or another fifteen years of war since 9/11.  Weston was a State Department official who served over seven years in some of the most dangerous spots for a “diplomat” in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The majority of his time was spent in Fallujah in Anbar province in Iraq, the remainder in Khost and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan.  Because of the calamitous injuries suffered by US Marines the author has witnessed, he finally comes to the realization that he has seen too much.  Our country has demanded so much from so few, and it seems that we as a people have forgotten about the sacrifices these men and women have made.  In the latter part of the narrative Weston describes his journey throughout the United States as he tries to visit the families, memorials, and grave sites of the thirty one soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 in the Anbar Desert, an operation that the author ordered.

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(The author)

Weston, who worked at the United Nations as part of the American delegation volunteered to serve in Iraq, even though he opposed the war.  He became a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority whose job was to oversee the occupation of Iraq.  From the beginning Weston believed the United States was in over its head, and thirteen years later that belief has not changed.  He describes the invasion of Iraq as “mission impossible” due to our ignorance and unrealistic expectations.  Weston believed it was important to go beyond the “Green Zone” and learn the truth about Iraq and its people.  Working with Iraqi truckers who had their unique version of “teamsters;” visiting schools, Madrassas, Iraqi religious leaders, and the homes of Iraqi citizens where he gained insights and knowledge that made him one of the most respected and knowledgeable Americans in the country.  Weston observed an “imperialistic disconnect” between the local populations and Americans that has not changed since the war’s outset.

Weston integrates the history of the war that has been repeated elsewhere by numerous journalists and historians, but what separates his account is how he intersperses his personal experiences, relationships, and evaluation of events as the narrative progresses.  He has done a great deal of research in formulating his opinions and provides numerous vignettes throughout the book.  One of the most interesting was the discussion of the Jewish Academy that existed in Fallujah, the Sunni stronghold, where the Talmud was supposedly written during the Babylonian era. As the book evolves the reader acquires the “feel of war” that existed in Anbar and all the areas that Weston was posted.  For Weston, American policymakers should have followed the advice of the Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher, Sun Tzu who wrote in ART OF WAR; “In the art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy is not good.”  It has been proven that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and the rest of Bush’s cadre of neocons never took into account the opinions of others who had greater experience in war and the Middle East region in general.

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Weston describes the malfeasance that highlights US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, a malfeasance that US Marines had to work around and for many pay with their lives.  Weston touches on things that most writers do not, i.e., his interactions and the role of Mortuary Affairs crews; visits to the “potato factory” or mortuary building; coping methods of people who worked there; accompanying Marines on body recovery missions and dealing with booby-trapped bodies; and dealing with the burial process that would assuage Iraqi religious beliefs.  Weston includes the names and hometowns of each Marine that have been killed in Iraq that he was aware of.  What is abundantly clear in presenting these lists is that the majority of American casualties were in there early twenties and where from small town across America, the towns that bore the unequal burden of these wars.  Weston is extremely perceptive in his views and they explain why we will never be successful in Iraq and Afghanistan.  First, by keeping ourselves separate from the Iraqi people, we make more enemies.  Second, the perception we give off is that our lives are deemed more valuable than theirs.  Our way of dealing with a crisis, be it collateral damage, errors, or just plain stupidity on the part of military planners is to pay the aggrieved families money – we even had a scale of what a life was worth – at times $2,000 per life or $6,000 referred to as “martyr payments.”

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(The battle for Fallujah, circa 2007)

Weston’s approach in Iraq and Afghanistan was very hands on and taking risks that he felt would enhance America’s relationship with local people.  Whether dealing with poor villagers, Imans or Mullahs, Islamic students, Taliban leaders, regional officials, warlords, and any group or person deemed important, Weston’s approach was “out of the box” and designed to further trust and reduce tensions surrounding the US presence.  He worked hard to alter the views of the locals that the United States was out to take over the Muslim world.  For example he recommended increased funding for Madrassas students which he hoped would stem the flow of students into northwest Pakistan were they would be further radicalized.    In many cases these were dangerous missions that military officials opposed.  What drove Weston to distraction was the disconnect between regular Marines and US Special Forces who could conduct operations that detracted from what the Marines were trying to achieve, with no accountability.  Two good examples were the kidnapping of Sara al-Jumaili that led to the murder of one of Weston’s allies, Sheik Hamza, with no explanation or accountability on the part of the Special Forces; and the torturing to death of Dilqwar of Yakubi in Bagram prison.  Unlike visiting politicians who dropped in for a photo op, i.e., former Senators Jon Kyle, Arizona and Sam Brownback, Kansas, or Senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, who the author singles out, Weston believed in laying the groundwork of trust to establish working relationships that would be so important for any success, but the actions of others created to many road blocks..  Weston presents a number of individuals who cooperated with his work, many of whom would be killed by al-Qaeda extremists in Fallujah, and the Taliban in Helmand province.

When Weston leaves Fallujah after three years and moves on to Khost and Helmand in Afghanistan he is suffering from a crisis of confidence.  When people approach him and ask “did you kill anyone?”  He knows he did not do so physically, but he is fully cognizant that a number of his policy decisions led to the deaths of many Iraqis and Americans.  Weston learned that “the wrong words could be more dangerous to human life than rounds fired from rifles.”  Perhaps the war would have gone differently had Washington policymakers asked the same question, did you kill anyone?”  Weston worked to get ex-Taliban leaders to support the Kabul government, and reintegrate former Taliban fighters back into Afghan society.  This was almost impossible with the attitude and corruption that existed in Kabul.  From Weston’s perspective, President Obama’s “surge” policy in 2010 was another example of wasting America’s resources as it was bound to fail.  For Weston the name of Thomas Ricks’ book FIASCO is the best way to sum up what occurred and is still reoccurring in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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(Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan)

Weston tells many heart rendering stories.  His chapter dealing with “dignified transfers” describing how American bodies were gathered, prepared, and shipped back to the United States is eye opening.   His recounting of stories concerning the reuniting of wounded veterans with their service dogs is touching.  Presenting amputee veterans skiing in the Sierras provides hope.  Operation Mend, a private program to assist disfigured Marines needs further support.   His meetings with families as he travels across the United States is a form of personal therapy once he returns from the region for good.  Weston writes with a degree of sincerity that is missing in many other accounts of the war.  His approach allows the reader to get to know his subjects, at times intimately, as he shares their life stories in a warm and positive manner, particularly during his travels visiting the families of those who have fallen overseas, and those families whose offspring have had difficulty readapting to civilian life after returning home.

Despite the gravity of Weston’s topic, he maintains a sense of humorous sarcasm throughout the book.  My favorite is his summary of his visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library where his narration of the exhibits that discuss the war in Iraq are seen through the lens of his five and half years in Baghdad and Fallujah (the other year and a half were spent in Khost and Helmand).   These are just a few of the many topics that Weston explores that should make this book required reading for anyone who has studied US foreign policy during the last fifteen years and who will make policy in the future.

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October, 1973 was a traumatic period for the Arab-Israeli conflict which greatly affected the American economy.  On October 6th, Arab armies attacked Israel on Yom Kippur morning and the ensuing war resulted in an Arab oil embargo against the United States that brought long lines at gas stations, a spike in prices, and rationing.  The situation for Israel grew dire at the outset of the conflict, but after 21 days of fighting the Israeli Defense Forces proved victorious on the battlefield, though it can be argued the war resulted in a psychological defeat. No matter how the outcome is evaluated the situation for Israel could have been a lot worse had it not been for Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian who spied for the Mossad who happened to be Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser’s son-in-law, and following Nasser’s death a close aide to his successor Anwar Sadat, which provided him with access to his country’s deepest secrets.  The story of how Marwan provided the Mossad information that should have allowed Israel to be on greater alert when the war came is effectively told by Uri Bar-Joseph, an Israeli academic with expertise in Israeli intelligence, in his new book, THE ANGEL: THE EGYPTIAN SPY WHO SAVED ISRAEL.

(President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Mona, his daughter, and his son-in-law, Ashraf Marwan)

Bar-Joseph’s narrative follows Marwan from his rise to a position of power within the Egyptian government to his untimely death in 2007 when he was probably pushed over a terrace and fell to his death.  Marwan was a corrupt egoist who felt he deserved a powerful position in government.  His marriage to Nasser’s daughter was a step in achieving his goals.  The impediment was the fact that his father-in-law held a very low opinion of his son-in-law.  Intelligence sources made Nasser aware of Marwan’s avaricious lifestyle and he tried to get his daughter to divorce him.  When she refused Nasser allowed Marwan to work at a low level position in his office that he greatly resented, which in large part provided a rationale for him to turn to espionage to acquire wealth.

Bar-Joseph traces how Marwan gained access to Egyptian state secrets and analyzes why he chose to spy for Israel’s greatest enemy.  In assessing Marwan, Bar-Joseph concludes that his subject engaged in espionage for two reasons.  First, was financial.  Marwan needed money, but despite his contacts he was limited in influence because of Nasser’s Spartan approach toward his family.  If he was going to achieve the lifestyle he craved he would have to find a source of income that Nasser’s intelligence people could not uncover.  The second motive was Marwan’s ego.  Marwan craved power, but realized he was blocked by his father-in-law.  In his own mind he would show Nasser by turning to his father-in-law’s greatest enemy.  Disloyalty to Nasser was the solution for his financial and psychological crisis.

(Egyptian troops establish a beachhead in the Sinai on October 7, 1973)

Bar-Joseph does an excellent job explaining the marriage of Marwan and Israeli intelligence.  He describes in detail how Marwan offered his services and the vetting done by the Mossad.  The author takes the reader inside the Israeli intelligence community as they evaluate Marwan the person and as the relationship flourished, as well as the information that he made available.  Bar-Joseph discusses a number of important personalities, the positions they occupied, and their reactions to each other.  The key for the Israelis was to determine whether Marwan was a double agent.  Almost immediately the valuable material he provided trumped the idea he could have been playing them.  Though Bar-Joseph has a somewhat trenchant writing style, the picture he paints and many of the details he shares have never been published before and makes the book a very important work.

One of the keys to Marwan’s success was the Sadat-Marwan relationship as each needed the other.  Once Sadat assumed the Egyptian presidency he needed a link to Nasser’s family which did not think a great deal of him.  For Marwan, Sadat was a vehicle to improve his overall position in government to allow him to gain access to state secrets and new sources of wealth.  Marwan’s success was his ability to provide the Mossad Egypt’s most closely guarded secrets concerning plans to attack Israel.  For example, plans to cross the Suez Canal and establish a bridgehead in the Sinai, which came to fruition in October, 1973.  Further he provided notes of Egyptian meetings with the Soviet Union that showed that Moscow did not think Egypt was ready for war as well as the minutes of a Sadat-Brezhnev meeting in 1971 that was later shared with the United States.  Because of Marwan Israeli leaders developed a very accurate picture of Egypt’s intentions regarding war and peace, particularly that if Egypt attacked it would not be a comprehensive move to reconquer the Sinai.  Israeli military intelligence firmly believed, much to their detriment in October, 1973 that Egypt would never attack until they solved the problem of Israeli military superiority.

(Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat with senior military commanders during the Yom Kippur War)

Bar-Joseph traces the development of Sadat’s strategic thinking as he pressured the Russians to provide the necessary long rang planes, missiles, and air defense to allow an attack on Israel since he did not see a way to recover the Sinai through diplomatic means.  By August, 1973, the Russians would provide most of the necessary weaponry, leaving out SCUD missiles, a key item because Israeli military intelligence believed that Sadat would never launch an attack until he received the SCUDS.  As early as June, 1973 Marwan warned the Israelis that Sadat was changing his approach to war and decided he could attack Israel even if his forces were inferior.  The problem for Israel was that the head of its Military Intelligence branch, General Eli Zeira refused to revise his thinking and could not accept that Egypt possessed the where with all to launch an attack.  Further, Zeira refused to accept the fact that Marwan was not a double agent.  When the decision for war was made and Sadat asked the Russians to leave Egypt, Zeira believed that Sadat would now take a more defensive approach toward war, but for Sadat he had removed a major impediment to launching an attack.

The author provides the details of all the warnings that Marwan provided the Israelis as early as April 11, 1973 that Sadat had altered his thinking and an attack would come in the late spring or early summer.  Israeli military intelligence continued to mistakenly believe that Egypt would not launch an attack until it received SCUD missiles from the Soviets.  Marwan provided information of Egypt’s preparations for war as well as the developing alliance with Syria.  Throughout Marwan’s intelligence was dead on, but the Israelis did not analyze it correctly.  For Bar-Joseph his most important theme that he reiterates throughout the book is that as war finally approached by September, 1973 “Israel’s military intelligence was under the command of a group of officers whose commitment to a specific intelligence paradigm was unwavering, almost religious, even though it had been obviated by events almost a year earlier.”

What is fascinating about Bar-Joseph’s account is the detail he provides, particularly, an almost hour by hour account of the two days leading up to the war.  For example, the Israeli reaction to Marwan’s warning of October 4th that war was imminent, but the bureaucratic structure of Israel’s intelligence operations did not allow for the proper response and warnings to Golda Meir’s government.  The author does a credible job following the actions and views of all the major historical figures who were involved in the decision making on the eve of the fighting.  Even though Eli Zeira and those he influenced were unwilling to take Marwan’s warnings seriously which resulted in a spectacular intelligence failure, his information did speed up Israel’s reserve call up and other crucial decisions that saved them from an even greater military disaster than what occurred.

Once the war ended Marwan assumed a greater diplomatic role working directly with Sadat.  He became the liaison with Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria, but also with Henry Kissinger as the United States tried to achieve a lasting ceasefire.  Even as Marwan worked to bring unity to the Arab world he was reporting to the Mossad.  Marwan’s influence then began to wane and he was forced to leave the government on March 1, 1976, but remained in the background working on a weapons consortium.  After Sadat’s assassination in 1981 he began a new chapter in his life moving to London.  Throughout he maintained his contacts with the Mossad, but after the Camp David Accords in 1979 he became a low priority for Tel Aviv.

(Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan and Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir during the Yom Kippur War)

Bar-Joseph spends the latter part of his study conjecturing on who outed Marwan as an Israeli spy, and how he died in 2007.  His speculations do not reach concrete conclusions on either score, but Marwan dies shortly after he was outed, leading to all kinds of conspiracy theories that the author addresses.  Overall, Bar-Joseph describes an amazing life integrating all the major players in Marwan’s career as a spy.  Though, at times the book becomes bogged down in detail and is overly wordy, it is worth exploring because it is an important story that deals with a very sensitive topic.

(Ashraf Marwan)


(Statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, following the US invasion of 2003)
As a student of history over the years I have studied and taught the 100 Years War between England and France in the 14th and 15th centuries, the 30 Years War in western and central Europe in the 17th century, and now Andrew Bacevitch suggests the 40 Years War in the Middle East that began in the 20th century and continues to this day.  Bacevitch, a former career soldier and professor of history at Boston University, has written a number of important books on American foreign and military policy including BREACH OF TRUST, WASHINGTON RULES, AND THE LIMITS OF POWER explains in his new book, AMERICA’S WAR FOR THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST: A MILITARY HISTORY that the United States has been engaged in a war in the region that dates back to 1979 and is still ongoing.  He has labeled this continuous struggle, the 40 Years War in which the United States has been involved in conflict in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen.  After reading his latest work two questions come to mind.  First, over the period discussed in the book, did the United States ever have an actual strategy?  Second, did American military supremacy obviate the need for a strategy?  After exploring Bacevich’s narrative the answer is a resounding no to the first question, and yes to the second as successive administrations relied on the latest military technology to achieve its goals as it careened from one crisis in the region to the next.  For example, Bacevich describes President Clinton’s policy in the Balkans in the 1990s as “intervention by inadvertence,” and the NATO air campaign in the same region as “military masturbation.”  Further, after discussing President George H.W. Bush’s approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein after forcing the Iraqi dictator out of Kuwait in 1991, Bacevitch describes United States policy as “occupation by air,” setting up “no-fly zones” rather than instituting a realistic approach to dealing with the situation on the ground.

A handout photo of Saddam Hussein after his capture is seen December 14 2003 in Iraq US troops captured Saddam Hussein near his home town of Tikrit...

(Saddam Hussein after his capture in 2003)

Bacevitch’s work is provocative and reflects the ability to synthesize a great deal of information in developing sound conclusions.  The author constructs a narrative that encompasses the period 1979 to the present as he explains the origins of American involvement in the region and how it fostered the “Greater War in the Middle East.”  As he does so he develops his arguments like a prosecutor at an evidentiary hearing as he dissects the approach taken by five presidential administrations.  He carefully crafts his thesis in a step by step approach as each event builds on the next and how they are linked to produce the idiocy of American policy.  As each building block is presented, Bacevitch digresses to compare policy decisions for the Middle East with other somewhat comparative situations in American history from the American Revolution, the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and II, and the Vietnam War creating interesting parallels.  What is clear from Bacevitch’s narrative is that in many cases American decision makers repeatedly reached conclusions in a vacuum that reminds one of Kurt Vonnegut’s “cloud cuckoo land.”

As the author traces America’s “War for the Greater Middle East” what becomes clear is the lack of a coherent strategy.  Administration after administration succumbed to fallacies of their own making.  Jimmy Carter hoped to develop a new foreign policy agenda of alleviating Third World poverty, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, and eliminating nuclear weapons.  This agenda would be shattered by the Iranian revolution and a president who “lacked guile, a vulnerability that, once discovered, his adversaries at home and abroad did not hesitate to exploit.”  Bacevitch provides an astute analysis of Carter’s overall foreign policy, focusing mostly on Iran and Afghanistan.  Carter concerned for his own reelection would auger in the “Greater War in the Middle East” by announcing the Carter Doctrine which stated that “an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”  Wonderful in theory, but American fecklessness was on full display in the Iranian Desert in April 1980 as it seemed that American planes and helicopters were playing bumper cars.

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(Iranian students seize the American Embassy in Teheran, 1979)

The problem with the Carter Doctrine and subsequent American policy under Ronald Reagan is that it was based on the false premise that the Soviet Union coveted the Persian Gulf and possessed the will and capacity to seize it.  The American response was the creation of a new command for the region called CENTCOM.  Though created to deal with the Soviet threat, CENTCOM would provide the United States with a platform to launch and continue its wars in the region.  What was also very troubling is that CENTCOM paid little attention to the Shi’ite-Sunni divide, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the climate of the region in its planning.  As the Cold War drew to a close, the Reagan administration shifted its focus from the Soviet Union to Iraq as public enemy number one, and did not take into account that state actors were not the only enemies that confronted the United States.  For Reagan, Afghanistan seemed like a major victory as we contributed to the defeat of the Soviet Union.  Another victory was supposedly achieved as we backed both sides in the First Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, a policy we would pay heavily for in the future.  But in endorsing the Carter Doctrine in stepping up American military activity in the region we achieved little of lasting benefit and over time we created an incubator for terrorism that drew the United States into a quagmire later on.  As Bacevitch points out, by supporting the Mujahidin we helped foster Islamic radicalism and with our support Pakistan became a nuclear power.  Further, by meting out punishment to Libyan dictator Moamar Gaddafi it led to bombings in Berlin killing American soldiers and German civilians and the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland and the death of hundreds of Americans.  The Reagan administration was not just content with an erroneous approach in Afghanistan and Libya, its policy toward Lebanon was hard to fathom resulting in two separate incursions into the Beirut area resulting in further radicalizing Hezbollah and causing the death of 241 Marines.  When the United States withdrew from Lebanon and engaged in the Iran-Contra scandal it reflected American ignorance, ineptitude, and a lack of staying power that Islamists would take note of for the future.

(President Obama’s weapon of choice, drone aircraft over Afghanistan firing Hellfire missiles)

Bacevitch is correct in arguing that the end of the Cold War provided the United States with a freedom of action that it had not enjoyed since the mid-1940s allowing George H.W. Bush to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.  The second Persian Gulf War, was a proxy war against a past to eradicate feelings of inadequacy induced by Vietnam.  This was reflected in the rhetoric surrounding the conflict and commentary evaluating America’s technological and military superiority as we crushed Saddam’s forces.  As much as the war seemed a success American intervention would produce conditions that were conducive to further violence and disorder.  Once Saddam was expelled the United States had no real plan for the post-war situation.  Substantial elements of the Republican Guard remained intact, and Shi’ites and Kurds rose up against Saddam.  Bacevitch points out that a myth developed concerning the 1990s as a relatively peaceful decade for the United States in the region.  This myth was fostered by the supposed success of “Operation Desert Storm.”  However, almost immediately the plight of the Kurds led to a “no-fly zone” in the north, and Saddam’s revenge against Shi’ites led to a “no-fly zone in the south.”  In effect the United States occupied Iraq in the air and flew thousands upon thousands of sorties in the 1990s to control Saddam’s forces.  Once Bush left office Bill Clinton continued the Bush approach of the gap between raw military power and political acuity.  In confronting events in the Balkans and Somalia, the United States widened the “Greater War for the Middle East.”  The United States sought to protect Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from the Serbs, as well as the Somali people from murdering warlords, but as in most instances the “commitment of raw military power might get things off to a good start, a faulty grasp of underlying political dynamics leaves the United States susceptible to ambush, both literal and figurative.”

Bacevitch digs deep in his analysis integrating American military strategy, the theoretical arguments between military men and their civilian overseers, as well as the application of strategies developed for the battlefield.  Bacevitch explains military concepts in a very understandable manner and the conclusion one reaches is that conceptually American military planners were repeatedly off base in their approach.  Bacevitch’s description of the cast of characters involved is very important and insightful.  Whether discussing Generals Norman Schwarzkopf, Tommy Franks, Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, or others, the reader is exposed to personalities and egos that dominated military policy planning and implementation in an overly honest and blunt fashion.

(February, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City)

Bacevitch leaves his most scathing analysis of American policy for the George W. Bush and Barrack Obama administrations.  As the 1990s evolved with terrorist spectaculars at the World Trade Center in 1993, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, attacks in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the outgoing Clinton administration explained that these events resulted from American leadership responsibilities in the world, and because we acted to advance peace and democracy.  This explanation as most offered by the government during the period under discussion were “designed not to inform but to reassure and thereby to conceal.”  The “Greater War for the Middle East” now widened to include Osama Bin-Laden and al Qaeda.  As the United States exaggerated the threat it posed, it ignored the underlying circumstances that created it.  What developed was a pattern, if we could decapitate al Qaeda and kill Bin-Laden all problems would be solved.  We tried that with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moamar Gaddafi in Libya and look what resulted.  For the United States “policy formulation was becoming indistinguishable from targeting.”

(US bombing of al Shabaab, an al Qaeda offshoot in Somalia)

After 9/11 the United States immediately shifted from crushing al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq.  Bacevitch argues that the Bush administration was fixated on Saddam Hussein, and did not accept or ignored the fact that the battle in Afghanistan was far from over.  Afghanistan reverted to the back burner, another “phony war” that the United States ignited, but failed to carry to fruition and let simmer.  Many have pondered why the United States invaded Iraq – was it about oil, weapons of mass destruction, or humanitarianism?  Bacevitch correctly places these reasons aside and concentrates on the American intent on establishing the efficacy of preventive war.  Washington was going to assert the prerogative that no other country had – overthrowing any government the United States found wanting or as it is better known as, the Bush Doctrine.  This premise was based on the fallacious conclusion that the Islamic world could easily adapt to democracy, limited government, a market economy, and respect for human and woman’s rights no matter what their opponents argued.  For the Bush administration Saddam and Iraq fit this paradigm perfectly.  The United States invaded Iraq not because of the danger it posed, but because of the opportunity it presented.  Bacevitch explores in detail all the key aspects of the war from its outset, to the capture of Saddam, the Shi’ite-Sunni civil war, to the “surge,” and again what is clear is American incompetence be it the fault of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bremmer, Franks, or others.

Bacevitch’s overall evaluation of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy is harsh, but extremely accurate as the President seemed to continue Bush policies. First, Obama was committed to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of the 2011 deadline that Bush had negotiated with the Iraqi government.  However, as troops returned home from Iraq, many made a “U-turn” and were sent to Afghanistan, or for many who were redeployed once again to Afghanistan!  During the Obama years the “Greater War for the Middle East” was confronted by three important changes that had major implications.  First, after almost 40 years of war, an “Iraqi Syndrome” developed with the reluctance to put American troops in harm’s way.  Second, the turmoil from the Arab Spring.  Lastly, the chasm that developed in American-Israeli relations.  Obama has had a great deal of difficulty navigating these changes.  A surge was tried that accomplished little but increasing American casualties.  Support for aspects of the Arab Spring resulted in little improvement in Egypt and other Arab autocracies.  Problems with Israel became a partisan political football in both countries and an inability of leaders to work with each other.  Further, the Obama administration resorted to decapitation in Libya that has been disastrous.  Finally, the administration dithered over the civil war in Syria and looked foolish when it did little to enforce its own “red line.”  It seems that Obama’s strategy is wrapped up in special operations and drone attacks, not really conducive to improving America’s reputation in the region and the overall Islamic world.

In closing, Bacevitch has written an extremely important book that policy makers should consult very carefully.  Granted, the author has had the benefit of historical hindsight in preparing his arguments.  But one cannot negate the intelligent conclusions he puts forth.  If you would like to gain insight and understanding of the 40 Year War, consult Bacevitch’s narrative because as events in Libya, Syria, and Yemen continue, it does not seem as if this war is going to end in the foreseeable future.  As Bacevitch states in his conclusion; the perpetuation of the “War for the Greater Middle East” is not enhancing American freedom or security.  It is accomplishing the opposite, but hopefully one day the American people will wake up from their slumber regarding its prosecution.  Until that time the wars in the region will not come to an end.

(Statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad after US invasion of Iraq in 2003)


(Well wishers at Ben-Gurion Airport to welcome the return of hostages from Entebbe)

After recent events in Paris and San Bernardino the world’s heightened awareness of possible terrorist attacks has been raised ever further.  We have all heard about failed attempts to blow up airplanes by the “shoe bomber,” and the “underwear bomber,” and of course 9/11.  We live in a world where fears of flying have increased, but it is not a unique feeling as is evidenced by Saul David’s new book OPERATION THUNDERBOLT: FLIGHT 139 AND THE RAID ON ENTEBBE AIRPORT, THE MOST AUDACIOUS HOSTAGE RESCUE MISSION IN HISTORY that recounts the hijacking of Air France’s Flight 139 on June 27, 1976 originating in Tel Aviv, with a stopover in Athens and a final destination in Paris.  The flight spawned the Israeli rescue of 102 people out of an original total of 253 passengers and flight crew after the plane was diverted from Athens, where the hijackers boarded and forced the pilots to fly to Benghazi, Libya before proceeding to Entebbe Airport outside Kampala, Uganda.  The reader should remember that the hijacking of Flight 139 was not an isolated event as the 1970s witnessed terror attacks across Britain and Ireland, as well as those related to the Middle East and Africa.   At the time Uganda was led by the dictator Dr. Idi Amin Dada, a former paratrooper in the British army, who had come to power by a coup in 1971, and was in cahoots with the hijackers.    Like today, the passengers of Flight 139 were quite aware of a possible terrorist attack if the plane stopped in Athens, but like most, they threw caution to the wind resulting in the Israeli raid and the death of four of the hostages, one Israeli commando, Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 45 Ugandan soldiers and the hijackers.

(Defense Minister Shimon Peres congratulating Israeli Defense Force members for their successful raid)

The plane was seized by an offshoot of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that had pioneered the hijacking of airplanes as a means of striking Israel, which did not bode well for a passenger list dominated by Jews and Israelis. David present a day by day, and at times, hour by hour description of the hijacking allowing the reader to enter the mindset of the passengers as the plane was seized, flown to Entebbe, and their incarceration in the old terminal at the airport.  We witness the feelings and emotions of the hostages as they were separated by Jews/Israelis and others, and as they dealt with the release of 40 hostages, then another 100 or so, leaving just Jews and Israelis to face their fate.  The hostages go through many highs and lows during their detention and David provides many insights into how they tried to cope with their situation.  David takes the reader inside the Israeli government as they debated their response to terrorist demands for the release of 53 prisoners, 40 of which were held in Israel and other countries.  What emerges is a major disagreement between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who favored negotiations with the terrorists if a military response was not available, and Defense Minister Shimon Peres, who advocated for a rescue mission and no negotiations.  Rabin was placed in a quandary because he wanted to limit concessions but there was a precedent for a prisoner swap dating back to the Yom Kippur War when Israel traded imprisoned terrorists for Israeli war corpses.  Feeling the pressure of the hostage’s families, how could Israel not trade prisoners for people that were alive?

(Lt. Colonel Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was killed leading the raid on Entebbe)

David presents a detailed description of how the Israeli intelligence community and military ferreted out information and went about planning the rescue mission.  We meet a number of important characters led by Major Muki Bester, the head of Sayeret Matkal (the Unit), Israel’s most efficient reconnaissance unit that had previously trained Ugandan soldiers, Yoni Netanyahu, the Unit commander, Brigadier-General Dan Shomron, one of the major architects of the rescue, Lieutenant-Colonel Ehud Barak, another Unit commander and future Prime Minister of Israel among numerous others.  The major problem that military planners faced was refueling.  The Hercules C-130 airplanes needed to refuel because of the distance between Israel and Kampala, in addition, the weight of equipment and soldiers made it impossible for the planes to fly roundtrip.  After a few tense days, the Kenyan government agreed to allow the Israeli planes to refuel in Nairobi because the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence arm had foiled an attempted shoot down of an El Al airliner over Nairobi Airport, and their desire to get even with Amin who was smuggling weapons across the Kenyan-Ugandan border.  The key to the crisis came on July 2 when Amin, who enjoyed the attention, announced that the deadline for a decision regarding the prisoner swap would be extended three days while he chaired a meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Mauritius.  This gave the Israeli military a window to plan, train, and implement a rescue attempt.

(Ugandan dictator, Dr. Idi Amin Dada, who cooperated with the Palestinian and German hijackers)

David provides an almost minute by minute account of the raid from takeoff in Sharm el-Sheik at Israel’s southern tip all the way to Entebbe.  As the first Hercules landed things did not go as planned as Netanyahu insisted on taking out two Ugandan sentries, thus forgoing the element of surprise. However, the IDF was able to improvise, and in the end the raid was an overall success.  All the terrorists were killed, as were numerous Ugandan soldiers, but with five casualties, including a number of wounded.  Once the hostages were secure as part of their agreement with the Kenyan government the Israelis destroyed 11 Soviet Migs of the Ugandan air force parked in front of the old terminal as a concession to the Kenyan government for its cooperation.  Once the planes landed in Nairobi, they were refueled and the wounded were taken care of.  David provides an aftermath explaining to the reader some of the interesting ramifications of the rescue operation.  As one could have been expected the United Nations condemned Zionist aggression.  Idi Amin had Dora Bloch, an elderly hostage who had been hospitalized and was not freed, was murdered by Amin in an act of revenge.  The French worried about their position in Africa and the Arab world remained very subdued in its public statements following the operation.  Idi Amin was overthrown in 1979 and was provided with a “golden parachute” by the Saudi Arabian government.  Lastly, and most importantly it showed the world what could be done to stop terrorism, and a number of western countries developed their own version of the Unit.

Although the Entebbe raid has been explored by many books, three full length movies, and a number of documentaries, military historian, Saul David has written an engrossing narrative that encapsulates all aspects of the seizure and raid.  David interviewed numerous hostages and has full command of government sources and other materials.  The result is a carefully constructed book that reads like fiction.  The problem is that it is a true story that hopefully will not be repeated in our current climate of fear and terrorist operatives.

(Wounded Israeli hostage carried by stretcher upon arriving in Tel Aviv following the raid on Entebbe)


(The liberation of Dachau, April 29, 1945)

According to Jay Winik, the author of two bestselling works of history, APRIL, 1865 and THE GREAT UPHEAVAL, during World War II every three seconds someone died.  This should not be surprising based on the myriad of books that have been written about the war that fostered mass killing on a scale that had never been seen before.  The Nazis perpetuated the industrialization of death almost until they ran out of victims.  In the skies the combatants laid waste to civilian areas fostering terror and destruction unknown to mankind before the war.  It is with this backdrop that Winik tells the story of World War II focusing on the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision making and his inability or refusal to lift a finger to assist the victims of Hitler’s Final Solution until it was too late.  The book is entitled 1944: FDR AND THE YEAR THAT CHANGED HISTORY, but the title is misleading, because instead of focusing on the watershed year of 1944, the book seems to be a comprehensive synthesis of the wartime events that the author chooses to concentrate on.  Winik opens his narrative by describing the Teheran Conference of November, 1943 which most historians argue was the most important wartime conference as the major outline of post war decision making took place.  Here we meet Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, before Winik switches to the massive allied bombardment of Berlin that would shatter the faith of the German people in their government, as it could no longer protect them from the developing superiority of allied might.

(President Franklin D. Roosevelt who refused to pressure the State Department when he knew that they were blocking Jews from immigrating to the United States during WWII)

The author offers very little if anything that is new dealing with the war.  Its strength lies in its synthesis of the massive secondary literature that the war has produced.  Winik has mined a voluminous amount of material, but very little of it is primary and one must ask the question; what purpose does the book have if it adds little that is not already familiar for bibliophiles of the war?  I believe the author’s goal is to produce a general history of the conflict that allows the reader inside some of the most important decisions related to the war.  Winik writes in an engrossing manner that creates a narrative that is accurate with sound analysis of the major characters and events discussed.  The monograph is not presented in chronological order as the author organizes the book by concentrating on the period that surrounds the Teheran Conference of November, 1943 through D-Day and its immediate aftermath for the first 40% of the narrative, and then he shifts his focus on to the Final Solution that by D-Day was almost complete.  Most of the decisions involving major battles are discussed in depth ranging from D-Day, the invasions of North Africa and Sicily, to biographies of lesser known characters like, Rabbi Stephen Wise, a leader of the American Jewish community, but also a friend of FDR; Rudolph Vrba and Eduard Schulte who smuggled out evidence of the Holocaust as early as November 1942 and made their mission in life to notify the west what was transpiring in the concentration camps with the hope that it would prod the allies to take action to stop it, or at least, lessen its impact.

(Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long who did all he could to prevent Jews from immigrating to the United States during WWII)

Much of the narrative deals with the history of Auschwitz and its devastating impact on European Jewry, and Roosevelt’s refusal to take any concrete action to mitigate what was occurring, despite the evidence that he was presented.  Winik delves deep into the policies of the State Department, which carried an air of anti-Semitism throughout the war.  The attitude of the likes of Breckenridge Long are discussed and how they openly sought to prevent any Jewish immigration to the United States.  When the issue of possibly bombing Auschwitz is raised we meet John J. McCloy who at first was in charge of rounding up Japanese-Americans and routing them to “relocation centers” in the United States, and is in charge of American strategic bombing in Europe who refuses to consider any air missions over Auschwitz arguing it was not feasible, when in fact allied planes were bombing in the region and had accidentally hit the camp in late 1944.  Roosevelt was a political animal and refused to use any of his political capital, no matter how much pressure to assist the Jews.  FDR was fully aware of what was taking place in the camps and did create some window dressing toward the end of the war with the creation of the War Refugees Board that did save lives, but had it been implemented two years earlier might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Much of Winik’s descriptions and analysis has been written before and he has the habit of discussing a particular topic with an overreliance on a particular secondary source.  A number of these works appear repeatedly, i.e.; Martin Gilbert’s Auschwitz and the Allies, David Wyman’s THE ABANDONMENT OF THE JEWS, Richard Breitman and Alan J. Lichtman’s FDR AND THE JEWS, James MacGregor Burns’ SOLDIER OF FREEDOM, and Ian Kershaw’s two volume biography of Hitler.  There are a number of areas where Winik’s sources have been replaced by more recent monographs of which he should be familiar, i.e., when discussing Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June, 1941 the main source seems to be Kershaw, but David Murphy’s WHAT STALIN KNEW, Andrew Roberts’ STALIN’S WARS, and Evan Mawdsley’s THUNDER IN THE EAST would have enhanced the discussion.  In addition, there are many instances when endnotes were not available, leaving the reader to wonder what they have just read is based on.

(John J. McCloy, in charge of strategic bombing in Europe at the end of the war who refused to allow American planes to bomb Auschwitz)

To Winik’s credit his integration of the state of FDR’s health throughout the book is very important.  We see a Roosevelt who is clearly dying at a time when many momentous decisions must be made, but the president feels that he was in office when the war began, and he must complete his task.  The effect of FDR’s health on decision making and the carrying out of policy has tremendous implications for the history of the time period.  One of the more interesting aspects of Winik’s approach to his subject matter is how he repeatedly assimilates the plight of the Jews with other facets of the war.  It seems that no matter the situation the author finds a way to link the Holocaust to other unfolding decisions and events, particularly during 1944 and after.  The author also does a superb job describing the human element in his narrative.  The plight and fears of deportees to Auschwitz, the anxiety of soldiers as they prepare for Operation Overlord, the chain smoking General Eisenhower as he awaits news of battles, and the fears and hopes of FDR on the eve of D-Day are enlightening and provide the reader tremendous insights into historical moments.

To sum up, if Winik’s goal was to write a general history of the Second World War, centering on the role of Franklin Roosevelt he is very successful as the book is readable and in many areas captivating for the reader.  If his goal was to add an important new interpretation of the wartime decision making centering on FDR and 1944 as the turning point in the war, I believe he has failed.  Overall, this is an excellent book for the general reader, but for those who are quite knowledgeable about World War II you might be disappointed.


(Anwar al-Awlaki taken from his online magazine Inspire)

Scott Shane is a New York Times national security reporter whose new book OBJECTIVE TROY explores the evolution of the American use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) as its main weapon to counter Islamic terrorism.  After invading Afghanistan and Iraq and having both incursions turn out poorly the Obama administration came into office with the fervent belief to avoid further use of “boots on the ground” in any large number in the Middle East.  Events in the region did not necessarily cooperate with President Obama’s vision and threats from the region necessitated a shift in strategy.  The choice was rather simple; let the jihadists have their way and do nothing or reassert American troop strength.  A middle road emerged, that of applying drones to the shifting balance of power in the Middle East and Southwest Asia to decapitate the leadership of groups that threatened the United States in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.  The implementation of the drone strategy successfully decimated al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan, but the United States was confronted with a new enemy in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  One of the ramifications of this new geo-political threat was the emergence of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen educated in the United States and Yemen, who headed three separate mosques in America emerging as a radicalized jihadist who would be killed by a drone attack in 2011.

The book centers on whether the U.S. government has the constitutional right to assassinate an American citizen if it deems them a threat to its national security.  Shane explores the rise of al-Awlaki as a person who opposed the 9/11 attacks in 2001, seeing himself as a bridge between Islam and America.  However, by 2005, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, U.S. support for Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his stay in London where his students were much more radical than those in the United States, al-Awlaki grew increasingly radicalized and became a jihadi spokesperson who by 2007 was calling for attacks against the United States as he concluded that his religious beliefs and the ummah (community of believers in Islam) took precedence over his loyalty to his country.  After fleeing the United States because the FBI had learned he was not following his own moral code by engaging his sexual appetites he grew increasingly strident in calling for jihad against America.  Once he was linked to Nidal Hasan’s attack at Fort Hood, TX, and Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad’s attempt to blow up an airplane with 289 passengers as it approached Detroit’s Metro Airport at Christmas in 2009, the Obama White House realized what a threat he had become.  Further examination brought the realization in the Justice Department that it seemed no matter what the incident, be it 9/11, or other operations, Anwar al-Awlaki’s name seem to come up.  The question for President Obama was how to counter act the growing threat.

Shane explores the evolution of Obama’s thought process and the Justice Department’s reasoning as to the legality of killing an American citizen and the morality of killing by remote control.  He discusses Obama’s comments as a law professor, state senator, and United States Senator to formulate how to deal with extremism.  He approved of the attacks on al-Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11, but was against President Bush’s detention, rendition, and interrogation program which he immediately eliminated upon assuming the presidency.  However he did not do away with the drone program.  Obama was not an ideologue as some on the right have painted him, but a ruthless pragmatist when it came to the use of drones.  Obama’s Justice Department’s finding concluded that al-Awlaki could be targeted because he posed “a continued and imminent threat” to American national security.

In 2008 al-Awlaki set up a web site that markedly expanded his exposure “as his Islamic teaching was kindling volatile emotions across the English speaking world.” (177)  His lectures appeared on You Tube and the Internet reaching everyone interested in his message, a message that was successful because of American actions in Iraq and Pakistan.  His further success was due to his command of English and his knowledge of Arabic sacred texts, along with his disarming informal way of speaking.  He employed the motivating power of religion with the universal quest of the young for identity as he created an attractive message for disaffected Muslims who saw him as their spokesperson, and many were willing to answer his call for jihad.

(Nidal Hassan, convicted FT. Hood,TX killer)

Perhaps al-Awlaki’s most successful propaganda tool was his creation of Inspire, an online magazine that was written in a breezy style to promote suicide bombings and other terror tactics.  Shane discusses its slick presentation and internet appeal providing instructions on how to make a bomb and calling for attacks against the west.  Shane goes on to discuss the effect Inspire had on jihadi recruitment, future attacks, and how the western intelligence community tried to figure out how to respond.

(Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by an American drone in 2011)

Shane does an exceptional job summarizing the constitutional arguments for and against the use of drones.  He also discusses the legal arguments that were pursued by Anwar’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki who went to federal court to try and get his son removed from the drone “kill list.”  Shane is very effective in discussing the legal nuances and reasoning whenever he brings up the constitutionality of whether an American citizen could become an assassination target by its government.

By 2010 AQAP was a greater threat to the United States than al-Qaeda.  With the links between the Detroit bomber and Fort Hood killings it was just a matter of time before the United States would kill al-Awlaki.  In the end al-Awlaki has probably had a greater impact on the Jihadi world in death than when he was alive.  His life, writings, and speeches continue to carry a great deal of influence on the web where he has an achieved a “prophetic martyrdom.”  All you have to do is point to the Boston Marathon bombers-the Tsarnaev brothers who learned how to make a bomb from a pressure cooker on al-Awlaki’s website.

(US drone firing a missile over Yemen)

Shane has written a very useful book that provides a great deal of insight into Obama and al-Awlaki and their approach to dealing with events in the Middle East.  Further, he has provided a strong narrative for the reader to understand the future legal implications of what Obama has done by targeting the Muslim preacher.  If there is a major criticism I can offer concerning the book it would be the illogical chronological approach that Shane presents.  Approaching al-Awlaki’s life by offering his middle years first, leads to repetition as he discusses the other stages of his development.  A straight chronology would have greatly benefited the reader in understanding the main subject of the book.  Apart from that, I recommend Objective Troy to anyone who wants to understand the constitutional, social media, and world political issues that confront the United States in a region that brought us the “Arab spring,” but continues to fall into chaos.

CHICKENHAWK by Robert Mason

(Bell AH-1 Cobra)

One of the most iconic sounds that people relate to the Vietnam War is the “womp, woosh” of American Huey helicopters.  Whether watching a film like Apocalypse Now or reading a book on the war those sounds will reverberate in the reader’s mind.  During the war about 12,000 helicopters were deployed by the United States military.  Of that number 7,013 were Hueys, almost all of which were US Army.  The total number of helicopter pilots killed in Vietnam was 2202, and total non-pilot crew members who died were 2704.  The most accurate estimate of the number of helicopter pilots who served in the war was roughly 40,000. (www.vhpa.org/heliloss.pdf)  As we think about these statistics we can only admire the bravery and fortitude of the men called upon to undertake the many diverse missions these pilots engaged in.  One of the pilots, Robert Mason has written one of the most important accounts of the war available in his memoir, CHICKENHAWK.  Mason’s account is probably one of the most accurate and realistic accounts we have about the American serviceman’s experience in Vietnam.  From the vantage point of a helicopter pilot, Mason explores his daily life during his tour of duty.  Mason’s approach to his memoir is simple, clear, and honest.  As he completes basic training, advanced individual training, and two attempts at passing preflight training, he comments that he never “suspected that the army taught people how to fly helicopters the same way they taught them to march and shoot.  But they did.” (23)  He realized early on that if you washed out of the flight program you would wind up as a PFC in the infantry.  Mason’s journey begins in 1964 and carries him through 1968, a time when the United States, under President Lyndon B. Johnson was ramping up the American commitment to save South Vietnam from communism.  Mason’s insights echo those of historians that were written years later.  Mason’s memoir was first published in 1983, and was reissued in 2005 with a new afterword describing how the war affected his life for decades following his service.

06 Returning Fire

(American “slick” with a machine gun mount)

Mason’s experience in Vietnam was much diversified. Even as a warrant officer he engaged in the activities of a typical grunt rooting out tree stumps, digging fox holes, filling sand bags, and building a perimeter for his assault division.  Mason’s primary activity was flying a Huey helicopter that involved him in support of troops in the Bon Song Valley and Ia Drang Valley where in November, 1965 the United States won its first large scale encounter with the North Vietnamese.  Though it appeared to be a victory, Mason questions what American strategy was as we killed the enemy at an increasing rate, but we would withdraw and not hold the land taken.  Mason points out repeatedly, that later American troops would fight to retake the same territory as it had won earlier, but at an increasing cost for the United States.  Mason’s buddy, Connors summed it up well, “Why the fuck don’t they keep some troops out there.  This is like trying to plug fifty leaks with one finger.” (351)  This is not the only thing that Mason questions.  He did some reading before he went to Vietnam, Bernard Fall’s Street without Victory having had the most impact on him as it describes the political situation in South Vietnam, the corruption of the Saigon regime, and the lack of commitment on the part of the South Vietnamese peasants who just wanted to till their own soil.  The poor training and refusal to fight on the part of the ARVN (South Vietnamese army), the fear in the eyes of South Vietnamese he came in contact with bothered Mason a great deal.  The resentment between ARVN and American officers was readily apparent.   At times when ferrying ARVN troops to a landing zone Mason had to be careful that once on the ground they would not turn and fire on his Huey.  For Mason, there were many times that he questioned why he was in Vietnam.

14 My Chair

(the author in Dak To during his tour)

In exploring the Vietnam War from the lens of a Huey pilot the reader will experience with Mason a myriad of situations. Mason provides an excellent description of how he learned how to fly helicopters.  He also provides a useful amount of technical information about the problems that pilots faced and how they could maneuver their Hueys out of many tough situations.   He engaged in spraying defoliants to eliminate ground cover for the VC (Viet Cong, South Vietnamese communists), not knowing what havoc these chemicals would reap in the future.  Mason’s primary activities centered on transporting troops, wounded, and bodies to and from the battlefield, but he was also involved with relocating refuges, to training missions, as a mail courier, to picking up and delivering supplies to combat areas and rear compounds.  But there were other missions of importance, the pickup and delivery of tons of ice so the officer’s club would be stocked and if any was not needed it would be traded for appliances from other units.  Further, the transport of small groups of officers on their own “secret” missions, as well as using the Hueys to visit friends a hundred miles away.  Some of these tasks were obviously would not be considered “militarily relevant,” but to maintain the sanity of people who have flown over 1000 missions they were none the less very important.

18 Preacher Camp

(the author walking along a trench by his, as he calls it, “spiffy digs”)

Throughout the narrative Mason supplies the reader the historical context of what was occurring on the ground in Vietnam.  The intensity of Mason’s descriptions of his flights and what he observed provides the reader the feel and the smell of war.  Supply shortages were constant in his unit, particularly chest armor that was a necessity for Huey pilots.  Mason highlights it further after he transfers to another unit that is overflowing in chest armor.  A recurrent them is the weakness of American intelligence, provoking Connors to comment after a fire fight that “the intelligence branch must have read their maps upside down, [and was] getting its information from smuggled Chinese fortune cookies.” (146)  Early on Mason was led to believe the reason the French had been forced out of Vietnam was because they weren’t “air mobile.”  Once the American Air Cavalry arrived it was supposed to change the course of the war.  For Mason at times he believed the United States was winning, then doubts would creep in based on his experiences in combat.  It led to a discussion with  his co-pilot, Gary Resler as they tried to determine their attitude toward the war; where they afraid or “chicken,” or after seeing the constant pile of dead American bodies they wanted revenge, making them “hawks.” Their conclusion was a combination of the two, hence, they were “chickenhawks.”

17 Washing Out the Blood

(Cleaning the chopper from the blood and other aspects of war)

Mason provides the reader insights to his thinking about his personal feelings.  He left his wife, Patience, and young son, Jack in the United States, and he integrates his personal letters to his family throughout the narrative.  His feelings of guilt are present as he is honest about his activities during R & R in Saigon, Taipei, and Hong Kong.  It should be obvious that Mason suffered from PTSD before he left Vietnam.  Constant nightmares, anxiety, and fear centered on the murder of VC prisoners, the use of napalm and the damage it caused, and the casualties he witnessed drove him to use medication after his missions in order to complete his tour of duty.  In addition, he pours his heart out about what he witnesses and cannot cope with.  Chickenhawk, though written over twenty years ago provides lessons for future soldiers, and it is an exceptional Vietnam memoir that has stood the test of time.