THE WEAPONS WIZARDS: HOW ISRAEL BECAME A HIGH TECH MILITARY SUPERPOWER by Yaacov Katz and Amir Bohbot

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(Iranian nuclear reactor)

On February 6, 2017 Israelis living in the south were once again reminded of the threat of Hamas rockets being launched from the Gaza Strip, when one landed in an uninhabited area.  During the summer of 2014 in its war against the Palestinian terrorist group Israel absorbed over 4000 rockets launched against its territory.  Since that time Hamas has been trying to replenish its stockpile and prepare itself for the next round of warfare against Israel which will surely come in the not too distant future. Along with Hezbollah’s stockpile of over 100,000 rockets provided by Iran and Syrian dictator, Bashir el-Assad the appearance of a new book entitled, THE WEAPONS WIZARDS: HOW ISRAEL BECAME A HIGH-TECH MILITARY SUPERPOWER by veteran Israeli military correspondence Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot is especially timely.  The authors provide a unique perspective on how threats and changes in the Middle East political and military landscape have impacted military research and development to try and bring about a degree of security for the Israeli public.  Katz and Bohbot discuss a number of weapons systems in detail and reflect how the dangerous neighborhood in which Israel lives influences policies and what had to be done to insure that the continued existence of the Jewish state.

We live in a world where technology continues to evolve at an amazing rate of speed.  This has impacted how wars have been fought recently and will continue to impact the battlefield in the future.  With the advent of satellites, drones, cyber warfare and other systems, Israel finds itself at the cutting edge of all of these new technologies because if it does not, it may not survive.  The question is how a small nation of 8 million people maintains its commitment and implementation of new military technologies on par with superpowers like the United States and Russia.  Today, Israel’s exports are electronics, software, and medical devices with weapon systems being 10% of all exports.  Israel invests 4.5% of its GDP in research and development, with 30% of that figure geared toward the military.

From its inception in 1948 Israel was forced to develop critical tools – the ability to improvise and adapt to changing realities to survive.  According to the authors, Israel is a country with an absence of structure and social hierarchy which spurs innovation.  This stems from mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), an army dependent upon its reservist system.  The end result is that defense company employees meet soldiers during their reserve commitments where they can examine new weapons designs and other ideas. Israeli engineers have battlefield experience, and their training in the reserves assists them in understanding what the IDF requires in the next war, and how to develop it.  Further, the IDF is a melting pot that allows for social integration and the development of an élan that does not necessarily exist in other countries.

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(Israeli satellite)

The authors do a good job in offering insights into Israeli attitudes toward technology as they relate developments to past events.  The psychological impact of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a preemptive war against Israel was a major catalyst in the Israeli defense community’s change in its military approach, thinking, and training.  For Israel “solutions that cross bureaucratic borders and technological limits” are the keys to survival.  For Israel certain things are a given; they are always in a state of conflict, combat experience is used to satisfy immediate operational needs, and they are an innovative people who do not stand on ceremony.

The authors recount major events and crises in Israel’s history dating back to the pre-1948 landscape.  They recapitulate what has transpired, then focus on how military planners  pursued critical self-examination, lessons learned, and how the strategy moving forward prepared the military for the next crisis that would surely come.  The Israeli military doctrine was fostered by its first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion in 1948 in that to offset the demographic disadvantage, Israel must seek a qualitative military advantage.  Israel had to make sure it always has superior quality weapons, not necessarily more of them.

Katz and Bohbot focus in on a number of important figures in the development of Israel’s military technology.  Individuals such as former Defense and Prime Minister Shimon Peres who began his career in the early 1950s procuring weapons from France is one of the individuals most responsible for Israel’s defense establishment over a career that ended with his death late last year.  Each technological success was fostered by Israelis who had the foresight to carry through with their ideas and beliefs no matter what bureaucratic obstacles lay before them.  IDF Major Shabtai Brill of the Military Intelligence Directorate was a driving force in the development of drone technology.  Lt. Colonel Effie Defrin an armored brigade commander was intricately involved in the development and upgrading of the Merkava tank program.  Colonel Haim Eshel helped foster the creation of Israel’s satellite program, and Brigadier General Danny Gold was a prime mover in bringing on line the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.  In all cases these individuals realized that Israel could not rely on other countries for their weapons systems, as procurement was influenced by geo-political strategies and events worldwide.

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(Israeli soldier outside the entrance of a Hamas tunnel from Gaza on the Israeli side)

Israeli officials learned early on when to cooperate and develop joint programs with other nations and when to go it alone.  For example, the partnership with the United States in creating the Iron Dome Missile System dates back to the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq launched 39 Scud missiles into Israel.  Further impetus was provided as Hamas launched its first rocket attack against Israel in April, 2001, and the 2006 war with Hezbollah that witnessed over 4300 rocket attacks against the Jewish state.  This resulted in a joint effort with the United States, which provided most of the funding and some technology, as it used its financial support as a means of lessening Israeli security concerns by promoting the missile system in return for negotiations with the Palestinians.  This strategy was employed by the Obama administration early in its tenure in office, but since the Iron Dome went operational in March, 2011, with a 90% kill ratio, its peace strategy failed.

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(Iron Dome Missile on the way to shoot down Hamas rocket in 2014)

Recently cyber warfare has begun to dominate the news relating to Russian activity trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.  From Vladimir Putin’s perspective it has been very successful, and one wonders about the future of a full scale cyber war and what it portends.  The authors discuss one of the most successful cyber-attacks in recent years as Israel and the United States tried to derail Iran’s nuclear program.  Once the world learned of Iran’s Natanz facility that housed tens of thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium in August, 2002 Israel immediately began a program of killing Iranian scientists, sabotaging deliveries of important materials to Iran, and developing Stuxnet, a dangerous virus that would set back the Iranian nuclear program for about two years.  The Iranian threat fostered the reorganization of Israel’s cyber warfare capabilities creating Unit 8200, a military cyber command and resulted in the creation of over 100 high tech companies and startups as the military and the private sector allied to face the cyber threat.   The authors also explore how Israel destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, and the implications of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu constant threats to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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Katz and Bohbot provide an excellent chapter dealing with the integration of Israeli military technology and diplomacy.  Since its inception defense ties and arms sales played a significant role in bringing billions of dollars into the Israeli economy.  Not only did weapons sales bring in enormous profits for the Israeli defense industry, it also furthered diplomatic ties with certain countries.  The authors detail arms diplomacy with China, India, and Singapore reflecting on its successes and failures.

The authors repeatedly reiterate that the key to Israel’s survival is its ability to innovate and solve problems during military conflict that was unexpected.  The most recent cases deal with Gaza and Russia.  During the 2014 war with Hamas, the major new problem was tunnels that were used to attack Israeli Kibbutzim.  Israel was aware of the tunnel problem, but not the sophistication and interlocking pathways underground.  It took Israel over 50 days and the death of dozens of Israeli soldiers and hundreds of Palestinians to solve the problem and shut down over 30 tunnels.   As new technology was applied to resolve the threat it showed “that Israel’s experience during the Gaza War showed the IDF that as prepared as it might think it is for war, it can always be surprised.”  Another situation evolved with Russia in applying the leverage of drone sales to Moscow to block the sale of sophisticated missiles to Iran that could protect their nuclear facilities.  Israel thought it had the situation in hand when more sophisticated missiles turned up in Syria as Putin did his best to retain Assad in power.  Once again showing that arms diplomacy and war cannot be totally predicted.

For Israel, the neighborhood they live in is not some virtual threat, but it’s a daily reality that the authors constantly focus upon as each official, scientist, or engineer are constantly concerned about what crisis is right around the corner.  Katz and Bohbot detail how Israel has achieved their preeminent position in the techno-warfare world, but also scenarios for the future, that are out right scary.

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(Iranian nuclear facility)

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THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU by Neill Lochery

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(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)

A few days ago the United States withheld its veto of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council demanding that Israel end its settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian territory.  Reflecting the Obama administration’s frustration with Israeli settlement policy it broke with the long tradition of Washington shielding Israel from UN condemnation.  It further points to President Obama’s final “shot” at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man that the administration has been at “diplomatic war” the last few years be it over the Iranian Treaty or settlement policy.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has let it be known that he is looking forward to the inauguration of Donald Trump and smoother relations with the United States.  The situation in the Middle East has put Netanyahu in the news a great of late and it is propitious that Neill Lochery, a Professor of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies at University College London has published his new book, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU at this time.  The work is not a traditional biography, though the most salient aspects of his family background and the course of his life is presented.  Instead of a chronological approach Lochery presents his subject by a series of nine of the most decisive moments in Netanyahu’s career to tell his life’s story.

The key theme that Lochery develops is that Netanyahu has been “more American” and “less Israeli” throughout his life.  Lochery points out that Netanyahu did not fit “into the notorious closed and business elites in Israel,” a country that remains wary of outsiders, and many see the current Prime Minister as a stranger, even after all of these years.  It is difficult in assessing Netanyahu’s career because I wonder what the man stands for other than his own political survival.  Lochery understands this dilemma and does his best to deal with it as Netanyahu places numerous roadblocks in the path of diplomacy, doing his best to retain the status quo.  However, if Netanyahu survives the next two years in office he will become Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, even surpassing, David Ben-Gurion, with his negative attitude toward the rest of the Middle East, the Palestinians, and at times, the United States.

The arrival of Netanyahu on the Israeli political scene in 1990 was part of a wider cultural revolution in Israel that ushered in the “Americanization” of Israeli politics, media, and business.  The key to Netanyahu’s rapid rise was his telegenic face and oratory style.  As the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1 was ushered into our living rooms on CNN with its 24 hour news cycle, Netanyahu began to appear regularly as Israel’s chief spokesperson during the war.  As his popularity rose outside of Israel, the elites in the Jewish state did not take him seriously which contributed to his rapid rise.  Lochery points out that the Bush administration was growing tired of the hawkish Shamir government in Israel, so Netanyahu’s arrival came at a critical time as the war made him a political star, particularly after the 1991 Madrid Conference.

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(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barak Obama in May, 2009)

Netanyahu’s rise was assisted by changes in the Israeli political process which began to mimick that of the United States.  The institution of primary elections allowed the “Likud Princes,” (young Likud politicians like Netanyahu who had links to Revisionist Zionism) to leap ahead of others on Likud political lists and move toward party leadership quickly.  Another change was the move toward the direct election of the Prime Minister which would greatly assist in Netanyahu’s victory and assumption of the Prime Ministership in 1996.  In part Netanyahu modeled himself after President Clinton in 1992 when he publicly admitted an affair and placed his wife Sara out front in his political campaign.  Further, in what was known as “Bibigate,” (Netanyahu’s nickname was Bibi) which he viewed it as a conspiracy against him.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was a political disaster for Netanyahu.  Lochery correctly points out that Netanyahu’s virulent public opposition and bombastic accusations against Rabin’s Oslo Accords Agreement with Yasir Arafat had in part been responsible for the assassination.  Netanyahu’s rhetoric had energized right wing extremists who opposed Oslo and one of them, an Israeli student, Yigal Amir shot Rabin.  Netanyahu had compared Rabin’s actions to Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement with Hitler and opponents to Oslo carried signs accusing Rabin of being a “Nazi devil.”

Lochery does an excellent job explaining the factionalism that existed and still exists in Israeli politics that was based on forming coalition governments as ruling parties never seem to be able to gain a direct ruling majority.  This leads to deal making with lesser parties, particularly religious and immigrant factions that the ruling party is then beholden to.  The internal schisms within the party are also developed with an excellent example being the rivalry between Netanyahu who at times appears as an ideologue, and Ariel Sharon’s development into a pragmatic politician.

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(Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin)

With the increase in terror attacks in Israel after Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu was able to base his campaigns on fear to increase support.  With the first suicide bombing on October 19, 1994 at a bus station that killed 22 and injured well over 100, Netanyahu’s support was energized beyond his right wing base.  Netanyahu was first elected Prime Minister very narrowly (50.4% to 49.5%) over Shimon Peres on May 29, 1996.  Netanyahu’s election campaign was run by Arthur J. Finkelstein, an American political consultant and was funded by a number of rich American contributors, a pattern that would dominate future elections.  Netanyahu outspent Peres on television ads, campaign paraphernalia, and pursued the JFK v. Nixon strategy in their own television debate.  Apart from his media strategy Netanyahu zeroed in on the religious and Russian immigrant vote to win.

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(Yonatan Netanyahu, Benjamin’s older brother killed at Entebbe)

Lochery does a good job developing Netanyahu’s family background and his relationship with his brother.  If there is a criticism to be made, the author does not provide a detailed history of Netanyahu’s family background, particularly his father’s bitterness against Israel and the United States, the impact of his views on Benjamin, and the role he played in early Israeli politics until half way through the narrative.   Benzion was a scholar of Jewish history and the Zionist political movement, and he and Yonatan, his older brother one of Israel’s most decorated soldiers had a profound influence on Benjamin, especially their hawkish views concerning the Arabs. In growing up in the United States Benjamin was greatly influenced by the American political culture.  Unlike his father who was an ideologue, Benjamin saw how pragmatism worked in the American political process and pursued that strategy throughout his political career.  Central to Benzion’s scholarly work was the traditional Zionist ideology of Ze’ev Jabotinsky which rested on the belief that Jews faced racial discrimination and any attempts to reach a compromise with the Arabs was futile.  Yonatan Netanyahu was being groomed as the star of the family.  First, a career in the Israel Defense Force, reach the rank of general, retire to assume a career in politics and eventually become Prime Minister.  Yonatan a hero in the 1973 Yom Kippur War stationed in the Golan Heights was well on his way to fulfilling his father’s dreams when he was the only Israeli soldier killed in the successful Entebbe Raid in Uganda.  Yonatan death was a life changing event for Netanyahu.  His brother had believed that it was better to continuously live by the sword, then lose the state of Israel.  Netanyahu vowed he would achieve everything his brother had hoped to, protect his brother’s legacy, in addition to ingratiating himself with his hard to please father, a man who never showed any emotion.

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(Benjamin and Yonatan Netanyahu)

Another area that Lochery should develop more was Netanyahu’s life in the United States.  He continuously points to America’s influence, but other than a few lines about his business education, connections in America, serving as the Diplomatic Head of Mission to the United States, and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations between 1982 and 1988, he offers little.

Lochery does a much better job narrating and analyzing Netanyahu’s performance as Prime Minister in dealing with Yasir Arafat and negotiations on the Interim Agreements fostered by Oslo under Rabin.  Netanyahu is a cagy politician who brings in Ariel Sharon as Foreign Minister in order to deal with Likud members who oppose any further negotiations.  Netanyahu realized that President Clinton facing impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal needed a deal at the Wye River Conference resulting in a diplomatic framework that only cost Israel an eight month hold on settlements and the release of 750 Palestinian prisoners.  Lochery’s coverage of the 1999 election is perceptive and he points out that his loss to Ehud Barak and his subsequent resignation of his Likud held seat in the Knesset was a grave error because it allowed Sharon to reorient the party in a direction away from Netanyahu’s approach to governing.  It would take him six years to recover and almost made himself politically irrelevant.

Most of Netanyahu’s problems center on his ego and his belief that only he could effectively rule Israel and that the public trusted him more than any other Israeli politician.  Lochery is correct in arguing that Netanyahu would later unseat Sharon as leader of the Likud coalition by moving further to the right on the Israeli political spectrum as the former war hero had moved to the center.  The campaign began with Netanyahu’s withdrawal from Sharon’s cabinet in 2005 in opposition to complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.  Sharon’s response was to withdraw from Likud and create a new political party, Kadima.  Once Sharon had a stroke, Ehud Olmert replaced him and was elected Prime Minister in 2006, leaving Netanyahu the task of rebuilding a Likud Party that won only 12 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu’s machinations behind the scene in opposition in the Knesset, the scandals that engulfed Olmert, and other events resulted in new elections in 2009.

Lochery’s analysis of the Israeli electorate throughout the narrative allows the reader to experience the ebb and flow of Israeli politics with great understanding, particularly in 2009, the election that returned Netanyahu to power.  The election coincided with the assumption of Barak Obama as president of the United States, thus beginning their eight year testy and sometimes controversial relationship.  Once in power Netanyahu focused on remaking the Middle East which brought him into conflict with Obama, especially in relation to Iran and its nuclear program.  One of Netanyahu’s defining moments came when he accepted a Republican Party invitation to address Congress on March 3, 2015, a speech that angered many supporters of Israel.  Lochery examines the speech in detail and correctly points out that it was vintage Netanyahu as he presents a problem, emphasizes the historical nature of the problem, and then does not offer any viable alternatives in solving the problem.  This was Netanyahu’s modus operandi throughout his career whether dealing with Israeli domestic issues or its foreign policy.  Whether it was Iran or the Palestinian peace process, Lochery is dead on, the Israeli Prime Minister would obfuscate, stall, and in the end the status quo would remain essentially the same, a strategy defined by conflict management, not conflict resolution.  The arrival of the Arab Spring in 2010 further solidified Netanyahu’s power in Israel and heightened tension with Obama.  The Israeli public saw the Arab Spring as a threat, so it leaned further toward the right thereby increasing Netanyahu’s political support.  Obama saw it as an opportunity, but the two sides could never bridge that gap.  Lochery is accurate in his conclusions concerning the distaste that each had for the other, to the point that he wonders if Netanyahu would have made a better candidate for Republicans in 2012 than Mitt Romney in opposing Obama.

When reading Lochery’s narrative one can get the feeling that he concentrates mostly on foreign policy and internal political issues.  To his credit he does explore Netanyahu’s role in turning Israel away from what he calls the “inefficient Zionist model” to a market driven economy.  He presents Netanyahu as a “Thatcherite” and credits Netanyahu’s reforms as Finance Minister as laying the foundation of bringing the Israeli economy into line with other Western capitalist ones.  Netanyahu moved in this direction according to Lochery because he saw no alternative in securing Israel’s future, but it created tremendous political problems as the poor and lower classes suffered the most from these reforms, but at the same time, he needed their political support to be reelected.

No matter what area of Netayahu’s life or policy Lochery delves into the reader will gain an interesting perspective of what drives the man.  This is important as we pick up the newspaper each day and we learn the latest machinations of the Israeli government, i.e., this morning we learn that Israel is about to defy the United Nations and build more settlements.  A direct strike against President Obama, and a belief in Tel Aviv that Donald Trump will view this action more favorably.

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“After the Islamic State” by Robin Wright (NEW YORKER, December 12, 2016)

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Middle East historian and correspondent Robin Wright has just written a perceptive article for the December 12, 2016 edition of the New Yorker that is worth exploring.  At a time when the Islamic State (or Daesh as it is known in the Gulf States) is now experiencing a number of major defeats since it created its “caliphate,” Wright’s article, “After the Islamic State” is very timely.  Her analysis concentrates on what should our policy be once Daesh is defeated.  As its territory recedes the west faces the prospect of more Paris and Brussel types of attacks as the “caliphate” changes the battlefield as American drones continue to target their leadership and fighters.  Wright recently traveled throughout the region and found ongoing wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq.  Further, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan have become sanctuaries for hundreds of thousands of refugees.  On top of this the oil rich Gulf States, she believes are very fragile.  The instability across the region has led to economic distress and high unemployment and the long term viability of certain Arab states is called into question.  The fear is that the destabilization that has manifested itself in Syria, Iraq, and Libya could spread across the region and engulf countries like Algeria, Morocco, or other Arab states.

In addition, Wright points out that the reemergence of al-Qaeda, i.e., the al-Nusra front in Syria is very problematical for the west and the Arab states.  Further complicating matters is the increased role of the United States with roughly 5,000 troops/advisors, drone attacks, and expenditures of $12.6 million per day on the eve of a new presidential administration that has done very little to educate the public as to what its policy might be in the future.  Iraq itself, despite its Mosul offensive against Daesh suffers from political paralysis and corruption.  Above all the dream of a caliphate is still out there and once Daesh is driven out of Raqqa, its supposed capitol, some other jihadi group will try and rekindle the concept.  Wright brings up a number of important issues and it would be well worth the time for the Trump administration and its European “allies” to think long and hard as to how to confront the future.

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A MATTER OF HONOR: BETRAYAL, BLAME AND A FAMILY’S QUEST FOR JUSTICE by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

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December 7 , 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor)

This week Americans commemorate the 75th anniversary of the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ official entrance into World War II.  The date has fostered the appearance of a number of recent books dealing with the Japanese attack and its repercussions.  Among these monographs are JAPAN 1941: COUNTDOWN TO INFAMY by Eri Hotta, PEARL HARBOR: FROM INFAMY TO GREATNESS, by Craig Nelson, COUNTDOWN TO PEARL HARBOR: THE TWELVE DAYS TO THE ATTACK by Steve Twomey, SEVEN DAYS OF INFAMY: PEARL HARBOR ACROSS THE WORLD by Nicholas Best that concentrate on the overall attack, what lay behind it, its repercussions, and A MATTER OF HONOR: BETRAYAL, BLAME AND A FAMILY’S QUEST FOR JUSTICE by Anthony Summers and Robby Swan which focuses in on the role of Admiral Husband Kimmel who was relieved of his command and accused of dereliction of duty due to the success of the Japanese attack.  The focus of this review is the narrative exploration and defense of Admiral Kimmel who Washington officials made one of the major scapegoats for the losses at Pearl Harbor, and his fight, during his lifetime to clear his name, and the continued battle with the Washington bureaucracy by his sons to absolve their father and restore his reputation.  The book is presented in two parts.  The first section, about two thirds of the book explores events, decisions, intelligence, and personalities leading up to the attack.  The last third deals with the charges against Kimmel, his defense, and the families attempt to restore his reputation and absolve him of total responsibility for the failures that led to December 7th.

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After putting to bed some of the conspiracy theories pertaining to the reasons behind the Japanese success at Pearl Harbor the authors move on to deal with the issue of culpability that stands on firmer ground.  In terms of whether the accusations leveled at Kimmel hold water Summers and Swan point to the change in US strategy for the Pacific in January, 1941.  Under Admiral Harold R. Stark’s direction “Plan Dog” was implemented to restrain Japan by using the fleet operating out of Pearl Harbor as a bulwark against Japanese aggression.  Stark was very concerned that a sudden attack in Hawaiian waters would be very problematical and he asked the War Department to provide additional equipment and protective measures, i.e., increased air-born patrols, augment anti-aircraft patrols, newer and more efficient aircraft, increase the lack of aircraft detection devices among a number of requests.  It was clear that the naval command at Pearl Harbor felt its defenses were inadequate.  In February, 1941, Kimmel who was made Commander and Chief of the Pacific Fleet also made requests to Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall who was not forthcoming with materials and planes as he remarked that the country was “tragically lacking in material…we cannot perform a miracle.”  Letters to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Navy Secretary Henry Knox reflected the position that the army would be unable to assist at Pearl Harbor and that materials were not available.  This at a time, based on earlier exercises going back to 1928, as well as a number of other warnings from well-placed individuals who claimed to know Japan’s plans, it seems obvious that the US military was fully aware of the Japanese threat, including an accurate prediction by Knox as to what could occur in the future.

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(Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson)

Summers and Swan discuss many facets of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  They have mined the communications between London and Washington, including the political and intelligence sharing components.  They explore the important meetings in Washington involving the president, his cabinet and military officials as they evaluated intelligence information, negotiations with the Japanese, and military readiness and strategy should Tokyo strike.  The coverage of a number of interesting components of intelligence operations, human and non-human are excellent, in addition to the dissemination of information learned.  Portraits of the key characters and decision makers are integrated into the narrative, i.e., President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Henry Knox, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark, US Military Commander responsible for Hawaii Walter C. Short, FBI Head, J. Edgar Hoover, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Kichisaburo Nomura, and the Japanese Admiral in command of the attack on Pearl Harbor Isoroku Yamamoto, among many more.

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(Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold R. Stark)

There were many interesting aspects to Summers and Swan’s description leading up to December 7th.  Their discussion of spies such as Ulrich von der Osten, a German spy stationed in Shanghai who ran a leather goods salesman, Kurt Ludwig in gathering intelligence for Japan is fascinating.  The role of British double agent, Dusko Popov and Hoover and other officials refusal to take his warnings seriously sheds light on the dysfunctional relationship between US and British spymasters before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The authors zero in on the negotiations between the US and Japan the last week of November, 1941, including MAGIC and PURPLE intercepts since the US had broken Japanese codes. Other intercepts include the November 27th warning to US bases overseas and the intelligence assessments as of November 30, all pointing to a number of conclusions.  First, the Japanese were acting out a charade in conducting negotiations, Kimmel was not party to intelligence and the analysis of the ongoing talks that had reached a standstill, and Hawaii/Pearl Harbor was left out of any warnings and intelligence pertaining to a Japanese attack.  It was pretty clear that officials were much more concerned with the Philippines than Pearl Harbor.

The first damning action taken was the creation of the Roberts Commission a week after the attack.  The commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts provided its report on January 24, 1942 and concluded that Marshall and Stark had sent appropriate warnings to Hawaii.  Further, it vindicated senior members of the government including naval and army commanders.  It argued that Kimmel and Short did not respond appropriately and charged them with “dereliction of duty,” a failure to “properly evaluate the seriousness of the situation,” and errors in judgement.”  Interestingly, Kimmel was never asked if he received MAGIC intercepts, and the senior officials who said he received them were not under oath at the time.  The result Kimmel was relieved of command on December 16, 1941, was coerced into retiring, and was the subject of hate mail, death threats, denunciations in Congress, and was told that a court martial could take place in the future.  This for a man who gave over forty years to his country.  First he was not allowed to have a lawyer present with him before the commission, and secondly, he was not allowed to question his accusers.  According to commission member William Standley, a retired admiral the result was a self-fulfilling prophecy as the investigation “precluded any investigations into the activities of high civilians in Washington….Army and naval officers and high civilian officials equally more culpable.”  In addition, he points out based on the information available to them Marshall and Stark did not serve with distinction to say the least.  The only way to exonerate Kimmel was to make parts of MAGIC intercepts public, but that would be a threat to American national security.  Finally, a congressional investigation did take place in late 1945 after FDR’s death and it concluded that MAGIC intercepts should have been sent to Kimmel.  He may have been guilty of “errors in judgement,” but not “dereliction of duty.”  This was not enough and Kimmel would spend the rest of his life trying to restore his honor.

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(Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall)

Following his death, Kimmel’s sons, grandchildren, and other family members worked to restore his correct place in history by trying to get the the Defense Department, Congress and the President to restore his naval rank as it existed before December 7, 1941.  The authors examine this effort and its results, a quest that continues to this day.  A MATTER OF HONOR is a fascinating look at the inner workings of our defense, diplomatic, and intelligence policies leading up to the war and its effect on one person who is aptly described as “an American Dreyfuss” because of what he went through.  Summers and Swan have written a cogent narrative and their conclusions dealing with FDR, Marshall, Stark and other government officials are dead on.

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(December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor)

1956: THE WORLD IN REVOLT by Simon Hall

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(Montgomery, Alabama bus segregation, 1956)

During my forty two year teaching career my students repeatedly complained when I used the term “watershed date” in class.  There are certain dates in history that deserve that characterization, i.e.; 1648 the dividing line between the Medieval and the modern, 1789 the year of revolution and of course 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union, among many others.  Often historians seem to come up with new dates, arguing its historical significance, and in Simon Hall’s new book 1956: THE WORLD IN REVOLT, the author chooses a year that probably qualifies as a “watershed date.”  The year 1956 witnessed a number of important events that include the Suez War, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, the Polish uprising, the Algerian Civil War, Nikita Khrushchev’s destalinization speech, the independence of Ghana, and important events in South Africa, Cuba among many others.  Trying to write a complete history of all of these events is a daunting task that for Hall, falls a little bit short.  The author makes a valiant attempt by introducing the main characters through biographical sketches and goes on to explain what has occurred and why it is important.  The problem for Hall is carrying out his theme of anti-colonialism and the rise of independence movements, while trying to effectively link them all together globally, a truly difficult task.

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(Algerian Civil War independence movement)

Today we acknowledge the sixtieth anniversary of the Suez War and the Hungarian Revolution with a number of new books appearing particularly monographs by Michael Doran and Alex von Tunzelmann, which are narrower in focus than Hall’s work.  The author teaches at the University of Leeds and has published a number of works on civil rights and the protest movements of 1960s.  Hall sees 1956 through a much wider lens in which the European powers refused to fully relinquish their imperial ambitions, the so called “people’s democracies” of eastern Europe were confronted  by further Soviet oppression, and in the United States and South Africa white supremacists tried their best to retain racial control.  The book is broken down into a series of chapters that seem to jump from one topic to another with a closing paragraph that tries to create continuity with the next chapter.  This technique is very informative from a narrative perspective, but linking the history of Rock n’ Roll to civil rights and independence movements is a bit of a stretch.  At times this technique does work as the Algerian Civil War impacted other colonial struggles in Cyprus, Ghana and other areas.

Hall devotes a great deal of time to the Suez Crisis that resulted in war at the end of October into November 1956.  His narrative is spot on but he does not add anything new to historical analysis.  His discussion of Gamal Abdul Nasser, Guy Mollet, Anthony Eden, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and David Ben-Gurion are accurate and provide insights into how the drama unfolded and was settled.  Hall relates Suez to events in Poland and Hungary as the war provided cover for the Soviets to crush descent in its satellites.  It was able to avert a military incursion of Poland through threats, and in Hungary the Soviet army crushed the revolution with tanks and infantry.  Hall introduces Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, Wladislaw Gomulka, Imre Nagy, and the workers and intellectuals who stood up for their principles as best they could. These events were fostered by Khrushchev’s February 20, 1956 Speech to the Soviet Party Congress where he denounced Stalin and his “cult of personality” and argued that countries could take a different path to socialism.  The Soviets let the genie of freedom out of the bottle and throughout the Soviet bloc people began to call for greater rights.  As events in Hungary showed the forces of freedom went too far for Soviet tastes.   As Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn stated “the October Revolution created a world communist movement, the Twentieth Congress destroyed it.” (381)

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(Hungarian people demonstrating against Soviet oppression knock down statue of Joseph Stalin in Budapest)

Hall makes many astute comments in the narrative.  His discussion of the strategy employed behind the scenes during the Montgomery bus boycott and the leadership of Martin Luther King and how he relates the strategy of non-violence pursued by civil rights leaders in America and its impact on events in Africa and Asia are important.  The strategies and ideology of the white supremacists blaming calls of integration and greater civil rights for all citizens as a communist plot, just played into the hands of Soviet propaganda as it was crushing the citizens of Budapest with tanks.  Hall is perhaps at his best when discussing the origin and the course of the Algerian Civil War. His explanation of how one million European settlers living in Algeria dominated a Muslim population of over nine million reflects the basic problem.  Of these one million Europeans, about 12,000 owned most of the industry, media and fertile land in Algeria.  Hall explains the creation of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) and describes its leadership and strategy as the bloody civil war that Alistair Horne calls the “A Savage War of Peace” in his excellent study of the conflict progresses from its origin in November 1954 and would not end until 1962.

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(Nelson Mandela, imprisoned in South Africa, 1956)

Hall’s final chapter is very timely as he describes the rise of Fidel Castro and his 26 July movement.  It is especially relevant today as this morning we learned that Fidel passed away at the age of ninety.  Hall explores Fidel’s rise and how he created his movement with his brother Raul, Che Guevara and eighty Marxist guerillas, and why it was so successful, in addition to its impact in the western hemisphere and Africa.

Overall, the book is extremely well written, though it relies too often on secondary sources.  If you are looking for a general history of world events with a global perspective that seems to come together in the mid-1950s that impacts Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas for decades, then Hall’s effort might prove a satisfactory read.

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(Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, 1956)

BLOOD AND SAND: SUEZ, HUNGARY, AND EISENHOWER’S CAMPAIGN FOR PEACE by Alex von Tunzelmann

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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)

IKE’S GAMBLE: AMERICA’S RISE TO DOMINANCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST by Michael Doran

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(President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser)

Today we witness a Middle East in crisis.  In Iraq, ISIS remains a power though the current operation to reconquer Mosul could be the beginning of the end of the supposed caliphate.  Syria is a humanitarian disaster as Russia and Iran continue to prop up Bashir Assad and keep him in power.  As the Syrian Civil War continues, war in Yemen involving Saudi Arabia, an American strategic ally evolves further.  The seeming winner in this juxtaposition of events is Iran which has taken advantage of the American invasion of Iraq, and how the region has since unraveled.  Once ISIS is removed from Iraq it will be interesting to see how Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni factions “might” try to reconstitute their country.  It seems an afterthought to this untenable situation that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict featuring Hamas, an intransigent Israeli government, and Hezbollah in the north has somewhat faded into the background.  As we contemplate the morass that is the current Middle East it is interesting to return to the by gone days of the region in the 1950s when Arab nationalism/Pan Arabism was in vogue as opposed to the religious ideological road blocks of today.  In IKE”S GAMBLE: AMERICA’S RISE TO DOMINANCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST, senior director of the National Security Council under George W. Bush, Michael Doran has revisited an American strategy to deal with the myriad of problems then in the region, that laid the foundation for America’s role in the area that we continue to grapple with today.

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(President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles)

According to Doran when President Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed the presidency, he and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles decided to offer the president as “an honest broker” in the Middle East to try and settle intra-Arab, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  The term “honest broker” is an interesting one unless you think of it as a realpolitik based on power politics designed to drive the British from the region and replace it with American influence and control.  In 1952, Egypt had undergone a revolution and replaced King Farouk’s government with one based on a “Free Officers Movement” dominated by Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, an Egyptian nationalist and believer in uniting the Arab world under Egyptian leadership.  The British position in the region was tenuous, despite the presence of 100,000 troops at their Suez Canal base.  Their Hashemite allies in Jordan and Iraq feared what was termed as “Nasserism,” the Arab-Israeli conflict was punctuated with “Fedayeen” attacks against Israel, and retaliation by the Jewish state all served to make the region a powder keg.  For incoming President Eisenhower he was concerned with dealing with a region that was ripe for communist expansion in the guise of anti-colonialism.  Dulles learned firsthand about these tensions when he visited the region in May, 1953 and upon his return he and the president decided on a strategy to remove the British from their Suez base by brokering a treaty that was accomplished by October, 1954, and trying to settle issues between Egypt and Israel that were getting out of hand.  For the British it was a series of frustrations with the Eisenhower administration that dominated.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to pass leadership of the Conservative party to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden despite a stroke that left him partially paralyzed on his left side as he would not give in to Egyptian demands and sacrifice the last remaining bulwark of the British Empire.  For the United States their ties to British and French imperialism and the closeness of American-Israeli relations were seen as preventing any progress in the Middle East toward peace.  This resulted in a policy which set as its goal supporting Nasser in the belief he would cooperate with the United States once a treaty with Israel was arrived at, the end result of which for the Eisenhower administration would be his leadership and gaining the support of the Arab states for a Middle East Defense Organization designed to block Soviet penetration of the region.  The United States would woo Nasser with economic aid and promises of military largesse for over four years, a policy that would fail as the Egyptian president was able to dupe his American counterparts.

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(British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden)

With the above as background, Doran begins to unravel events that resulted in the 1956 Suez War that he describes as Eisenhower’s gamble, a gamble which ended in failure.  Doran takes us through the intricacies of Anglo-Egyptian negotiations over the Suez Canal base and the American role in pressuring London to give in to most of Nasser’s demands.  He follows that up with a rather long discussion of the “Northern Tier,” an American policy of developing an alternative to a Middle East Defense Organization.  The “tier” involved Pakistan and Turkey and theoretically other nations would be added.  Doran argues that Nasser’s opposition to the pact and his hatred of Iraqi leader Nuri al-Said, his goal of receiving Soviet arms, and deceiving the United States were all tied together reflecting how Nasser manipulated Washington.  Relying on one secondary source to bind all of this together Doran believes that he has gone where no other historian has gone.  This is part of his rather condescending approach to historians who have previously studied this topic.  On more than one occasion Doran starts out by stating, “most historians have failed to understand how significant….,” or “failed to realize,” in this case the importance of the Turco-Iraqi Pact, or in presenting the role of Eisenhower and Dulles in the Heads of Agreement negotiations dealing with the Suez Canal base, and the role of Jordan in Nasser’s plan to seize the leadership in the Arab world.  I would point out that instead of repeated self-serving comments, the author should reflect some objectivity for those who have written previously on the background to the Suez crisis.

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(Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion)

Doran also has a habit of twisting facts to suit his arguments.  A case in point is a memo prepared by Dulles in 1958 looking back on issues that led to Suez.  In the memo that Doran uses to support his narrative the Secretary of State argues there was little the United States could do to move Israel from its entrenched positions because of the influence of Jews domestically and internationally.  If this was so, how come Eisenhower pressured Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with threats in March, 1957 to gain Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai?  Further he claims that the Soviet Union, “while consistently hinting to the Arab states that it will agree to dismember Israel, has never actually come out with a statement of support.”  If that is correct what do we make of Soviet threats concerning the use of nuclear weapons after Israel, France, and Britain implemented the Sevres conspiracy and attacked Egypt at the end of October, 1956?

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I do agree with Doran that Washington’s “blind pursuit of an illusionary Arab-Israeli peace” strengthened Nasser’s position in the Arab world, at the same time he was trying to undermine the western position in the region.  Nasser deceived the State Department, raising the hopes for peace through the secret Alpha Plan.  The Egyptian leaders stalling tactics and disingenuousness would continue until the Eisenhower administration would call Nasser’s bluff following the Anderson peace mission in early 1956, a mission that would lead to the Omega plan designed to pressure Nasser to be more accommodating.  Doran points out that the new plan was designed to deal with Nasser and achieve behavioral change, not regime change.  I would point out that the document also alluded to strong action particularly if a soft covert approach did not work as Dulles’ March 28, 1956 memo stated that “planning should be undertaken at once with a view to possibly more drastic action in the event that the above courses of action do not have the desired effect.”*   For Eisenhower, whose frustration with Nasser finally took effect there were suggestions that a strong move against the Egyptian president would have to wait until after the American presidential election in November.

Doran continues his narrative by taking the reader through the immediate causes of the Suez War, the machinations that occurred after the Israeli invasion, and the final withdrawal of Israeli, French, and British troops from Sinai.  The author then goes on to discuss the anti-colonial purity of the Eisenhower administration which was short lived with the announcement of the Eisenhower Doctrine in January, 1957, designed to protect Arab states from communist encroachment.  The reality was total failure of American policy with the overthrow of the Iraqi government and the dispatch of American marines to Lebanon.  In addition, the goal of turning the Saudi monarchy into a substitute for Nasser as an Arab leader that would bring about a coalescing of Arab states in support of U.S. policy in the region never transpired.  In the end I would agree with Doran that Ike’s gamble did more harm than good and by 1958 resulted in the president questioning his policies that led to the 1956 war and beyond.  These musings by Eisenhower and the counterfactual scenarios presented by the author are interesting, but it does not change the fact that the team of Eisenhower and Dulles did create a popular Arab leader who was able to create strong Pan Arabist sentiment in the Middle East and left the United States with two weak allies in Jordan and Lebanon.  Further, they created a “doctrine” for the Middle East that was viewed in the Arab world as the same type of colonialism that had been previously practiced by England and France.  Doran completes his narrative by admonishing American policy makers that we should be careful not to make the same errors today that we made in the height of the Cold War.

*Steven Z. Freiberger. DAWN OVER SUEZ: THE RISE OF AMERICAN POWER IN THE MIDDLE EAST 1953-1957 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992), p. 149.

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(President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser)

THE GENERAL VS. THE PRESIDENT: MAC ARTHUR AND TRUMAN AT THE BRINK OF NUCLEAR WAR by H.W. Brands

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(General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman at the Wake Island Conference, October 15, 1950)

On June 25, 1950 North Korea unleashed an attack against its southern neighbor that set off a war that resulted in 36,914 American casualties.  Many Americans are aware of the role of General Douglas MacArthur in the conflict, in particular his brilliant, but risky landing at Inchon that beat back the North Korean attack, and later in the war pursuing a strategy that led to Chinese intervention.  MacArthur’s actions were very controversial and once the Chinese crossed the Yalu River with over 100,000 troops and the military situation deteriorated, America’s allies grew concerned when MacArthur suggested the use of atomic weapons against the Chinese.  President Harry S. Truman did his best to reign in his commander to no avail and most historians believe that MacArthur overstepped his authority and allowed his strong belief system guide his actions.  Others like the British historian Robert Harvey and the American historian Arthur Herman believe the situation was much more nuanced.  The topic has again been explored in H.W. Brands new book, THE GENERAL VS. THE PRESIDENT: MACARTHUR AND TRUMAN AT THE BRINK OF NUCLEAR WAR.  Brands position is very clear that Truman’s firing of MacArthur was a “bold stroke” that may have headed off a much wider war with the Chinese.

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(US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson)

Brands juxtaposes two personalities with totally different backgrounds and agendas.  Truman, reelected president in his own right in 1948 stood up to Stalin after World War II implementing the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and stood fast over Berlin as he pursued the policy of containment of the Soviet Union.  With the North Korean attack he was able to blunt their progress until the Chinese crossed the Yalu River in force, but he was faced with a commander who wanted to employ nuclear weapons to send a message to the communist world.  On the other hand, MacArthur, the “all knowing general” who held politicians in contempt, especially a “novice” president like Truman.  MacArthur saw himself as having saved the Pacific in World War II, rebuilt postwar Japan, and now believed he had the communists right where he wanted them, but a feckless president stood in his way.  Brands does his best to explain the issues between the two men in the context of the Cold War in which they lived.  Brands has written a general history of their relationship and its ultimate outcome, but does not really add anything new that has not been uncovered by previous works on the topic.

Brands smooth narrative style, refined through the many books he has written is present throughout.  Brands is a master story teller who is able to present his narrative and analysis in a concise fashion that the general reader should enjoy, which at times will also satisfy an academic audience.  A case in point is how MacArthur gained the support of the Japanese people as he totally reoriented their society away from the militaristic emperor worship to a nation based on liberal democracy.  In the constitution he prepared he did away with all pre-war institutions, except the emperor, that had dominated Japan and resulted in World War II.  Further evidence of this approach can be seen as Brands reviews Truman’s career that spans his election to the Senate in 1940, his assumption of the presidency in 1945, and Cold War events to the onset of the Korean War.  Brands effectively relies on Truman’s correspondence with his daughter Margaret who served as a remarkable conduit into his thoughts and concerns.

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(General Matthew Ridgeway who took over command in Korea after MacArthur was relieved)

A major strength of the book are the character studies that are presented.  Discussions of people like Secretary of State Dean Acheson, a rather arrogant individual; General Omar T. Bradley, whose insights into Truman and MacArthur’s personalities are fascinating; General Matthew Ridgeway, a hero at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II whose leadership helped turn around the military balance in Korea; and Marguerite Higgins, a wartime correspondent add to the narrative.  Other strengths of the book include Brands’ description of the plight and final breakout of US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir and their two week trek battling the elements which were more dangerous than the Chinese communists to reach Hamhung.  Brands coverage of Truman and MacArthur rationalizations when confronted by Congress and the press is eye opening in trying to gain insights into their dysfunctional relationship after the Chinese communists crossed the Yalu into North Korea.  MacArthur’s statements at this time concerning administration restraints in dealing with bombing Chinese airfields in Manchuria and other issues is very similar to his rhetoric leaked to the American press after Matthew Ridgeway’s forces saved MacArthur’s reputation in April, 1951.  Brands coverage of Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff finally reaching the conclusion to relieve MacArthur of his command points to the final realization that MacArthur’s insubordination and egocentrism could no longer be tolerated.  Especially enlightening was the inclusion of a great deal of the testimony of MacArthur and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall before Congress following MacArthur’s dismissal. However, the report of the hearings would have been enhanced if excerpts of Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s testimony had also been included.   This along with the geopolitical analysis of the region and domestic politics in the United States that included the role of Chiang Kai-Shek, Republicans in Congress, and the coming 1952 presidential election are all important pieces in understanding the war and its domestic implications.

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(President elect Dwight Eisenhower visits South Korea after his election)

Despite the strengths of the book there are a number of areas that could be improved.  The bibliography is rather sparse and the endnotes could be enhanced.  In the area of analysis, Brands chooses to deal with a number of major issues in a rather superficial manner.  His exploration of Soviet motives behind the North Korean attack is weak.  His excuse that the Russians were protesting the seating of Formosa over mainland China in the UN Security Council as the reason for their absence to block an American/UN force to stop the North Korean advance does not go far enough.  Is it possible that Moscow tried to draw the United States into the conflict in the hope it would cause difficulties with the Chinese at a time when the Sino-Soviet split was emerging is a main motivation?  Brands covers all the major topics that come under the umbrella of his overall subject, but he needs to dig down further, or just state up front that he is preparing a general history of the topic, then the reader will not expect more.  For example, the Wake Island meeting between Truman and MacArthur covers the basics.   Further, he does not drill down far enough when discussing events that led up to the Chinese overrunning UN forces in November, 1950.  To his credit he does list the signs of possible Chinese actions that MacArthur missed, but he needs to explore the reaction of America’s allies further, as well as the interaction between MacArthur and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Overall, Brands has written a very readable account of the Truman-MacArthur relationship in the context of the Cold War.  I would agree with Francis P. Sempa’s view published in the New York Journal of Books* that Brands does not present a very clear legacy of the Korean War in terms of future American foreign policy.  Truman wanted to have a “police action” or “limited war,” in Korea, MacArthur sought total victory, something the United States has achieved only once since World War II in the first Gulf War in 1990-91, but failed to accomplish in Vietnam, and currently in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There are a number of lessons that could have been discussed that relate to future American foreign policy, an important area, which Brands chooses to ignore.

*http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/general-vs-president

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(General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman at the Wake Island Conference, October 15, 1950)

ALTER EGOS: HILLARY CLINTON, BARACK OBAMA, AND THE TWILIGHT STRUGGLE OVER AMERICAN POWER by Mark Landler

(President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton)

Following his victory in the 2008 presidential election Barack Obama chose Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State.  Many pundits conjectured as to why Obama made this selection.  They argued that he was following the path of Abraham Lincoln by placing his opponents in his cabinet so he could keep an eye on them and control any opposition.  This view is wonderfully presented in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s TEAM OF RIVALS: THE POLITICAL GENIUS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, but one must ask could Goodwin’s thesis actually represent Obama’s motivation.  In his new book, ALTER EGOS: HILLARY CLINTON, BARACK OBAMA, AND THE TWILIGHT STRUGGLE OVER AMERICAN POWER Mark Landler, a New York Times reporter compares Obama and Clinton’s approach to the conduct of foreign policy and how it has affected America’s position in the world.  In do so Landler explores in detail their relationship on a personal, political, and ideological level.  Landler delves into the differences in their backgrounds that reflect how they came to be such powerful figures and why they pursue the realpolitik that each believes in.  In so doing we learn a great deal about each person and can speculate on why Obama chose what really can only be characterized as his political enemy throughout the 2008 campaign trail as his Secretary of State.  What is even more interesting is their differences that can be summed up very succinctly; for Obama the key to conducting a successful foreign policy was “Don’t do stupid shit,” for Clinton, “great nations need organizing principles…don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.”

Since we are in the midst of a presidential election and it appears that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee it is important to evaluate and understand her approach to foreign relations.  Landler does the American electorate a service as his book is a useful handbook in understanding and getting an idea how she would approach the major foreign policy issues that America currently faces should she assume the oval office.   By comparing her with Obama we gain important insights into her thinking and how she would implement her ideas.  It is clear during Obama’s first term that Clinton was the “house hawk” within his administration as she supported increases in troop deployments to Afghanistan which Obama reluctantly agreed to, but only with a set time limit; she wanted to leave a large residual force in Iraq after American withdrawal which Obama did not do; she favored funneling weapons to rebels in Syria fighting Assad as well as the creation of a no fly zone which Obama opposed; and lastly, she favored the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi and the bombing of Libya when he threatened to destroy Benghazi which Obama reluctantly agreed to.  Their difference are clear, Obama believes that the United States is too willing to commit to military force and intervene in foreign countries, a strategy that has been a failure and has led to a decline in America’s reputation worldwide, a reputation he promised to improve and has been partly successful with the opening to Cuba and the nuclear deal with Iran.  For Clinton the calculated employment of American military power is important in defending our national interests, and that our intervention does more good than harm, especially in exporting development programs and focusing on human rights.  Obama arrived on the scene as a counterrevolutionary bent on ending Bush’s wars and restoring America’s moral standing.  He no longer accepted the idea that the U.S. was the world’s undisputed “hegemon” and shunned the language of American exceptionalism.  Clinton has a much more conventional and political approach, “she is at heart a ‘situationist,’ somebody who reacts to problems piecemeal rather than fitting them into a larger doctrine.”  Her view is grounded in cold calculation with a textbook view of American exceptionalism.

(President Obama, an Illinois State Senator in 2002 speaking against the war in Iraq)

Landler describes the difficulties that Clinton had adapting to the Obama White House that is very centralized in decision-making and she had difficulty penetrating Obama’s clannish inner circle.  The author also does an excellent job explaining the main players in Hillaryland and the Obama world that include Obama’s whiz kids, Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes, and Clinton’s staffers Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin.  Since Obama was a self-confident president who had a tight grip on foreign policy, Clinton spent most of her time implementing the strategy set by the White House.  During the first two years of the Obama administration Clinton pursued a global rehabilitation tour to patch up the mess that Bush left.  During her second two years she did more of the heavy lifting on sensitive issues like Syria, Libya, Iran, China, and Israel which Landler dissects in detail.  From her UN women’s conference address in Beijing during her husband’s administration, her lackluster attempts at bringing peace between the Palestinians and Israel, developing and implementing sanctions against Iran, her support for the rebels in Syria, and the overthrow of Qaddafi, we get unique insights into Clinton’s approach to foreign policy.

The fundamental difference or fault line between Obama and Clinton was Clinton’s vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq on October 2, 2002, a vote that Obama opposed as a state senator in Illinois.  Landler does a marvelous job comparing their backgrounds and the influence of their personal experience on their worldview.  Obama’s divided heritage of Hawaii, Kenya, and especially Indonesia defined him from the outset.  For him Indonesia highlighted the ills of the oil companies, western development programs, and American power as it supported repressive military dictatorships to further its Cold War agenda.  Obama was an anti-colonialist and could put himself in the place of third world cultures in his decision-making.  Clinton on the other hand was rooted in Midwestern conservatism and her interests after law school was to try and alleviate poverty and defend the legal rights of children.  Landler is correct when he states that “Clinton viewed her country from the inside out; Obama from the outside in.”

(Special envoy Richard Holbrooke)

Landler presents a number of important chapters that provide numerous insights into the Obama-Clinton relationship.  Particularly important is the chapter that focuses on Richard Holbrooke, a career diplomat that dated back to Vietnam and ended with his death in 2010.  A swash buckling man who did not fit into the Obama mold was brilliant, self-promoting and usually very effective, i.e., the Dayton Accords in 1995 that ended the fighting in Bosnia.  He hoped as Clinton’s special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan to help mediate and bring some sort of closure to the conflict with the Taliban.  Holbrooke rubbed Obama the wrong way and was seen as the epitome of everything Obama rejected in a diplomat and Clinton who had a very strong relationship with Holbrooke going back many years spent a great deal of time putting out fires that he caused.  Another important chapter focuses on administration attempts to mediate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  For Clinton it was a no win situation for a person who represented New York in the Senate and planned to seek the presidency on her own.  Obama would force her to become engaged in the process along with special envoy, George Mitchell, and she spent a great deal of time trying to control the animosity between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Landler’s discussion of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship is dead on as the Israeli Prime Minister and his right wing Likud supporters represented the colonialism that Obama despised.  For Netanyahu, his disdain for the president was equal in kind.  In dealing with the Middle East and the Arab Spring Clinton argued against abandoning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as she believed in the stability and loyalty to allies, Obama wanted to be “on the right side of history,” and in hindsight he was proven to be totally wrong.  These views are polar opposites and helps explain Obama and Clinton’s frustration with each other that form a major theme of Landler’s narrative.

Obama’s drone policy was another source of disagreement between the President and Secretary of State.  For Obama “targeted killings” was a better strategy that the commitment of massive numbers of American troops.  The primacy of employing drones is the key to understanding Obama’s foreign policy.  For Clinton regional stability, engagement, and the United States military is the key to a successful foreign policy.  As Vasil Nasr states, Obama believes that “we don’t need to invest in the Arab Spring.  We don’t need to worry about any of this; all we need to do is to kill terrorists.  It’s a different philosophy of foreign policy.  It’s surgical, it’s clinical, and it’s clean.”

Perhaps Landler’s best chapter deals with the evolution of Syrian policy.  Internally Clinton favored aid to the Syrian rebels which Obama opposed during the summer of 2012.  However, when Obama decided to walk back his position on the “Red Line” that if crossed by Assad through the use of chemical weapons, the US would respond with missile attacks.  Once this policy changed to seeking Congressional approval for any missile attack, the United States gave up any hope in shaping the battlefield in Syria which would be seized by others eventually leading to ISIS.  Obama needed Clinton’s support for this change.  Though privately Clinton opposed the move, publicly at her own political risk she supported the president.  This raises the question; how much difference was there in their approach to foreign policy?  It would appear that though there were differences, Clinton was a good team player, even out of office, though as the 2016 presidential campaign has evolved she has put some daylight between her and the president.  From Obama’s perspective, though he disagreed with his Secretary of State on a number of occasions he did succumb to her position on a series of issues, particularly Libya, which he came to regret.  The bottom line is clear, Clinton kept casting around for solutions for the Syrian Civil War, however unrealistic.  Obama believed that there were no solutions – at least none that could be imposed by the U.S. military.  Another example of how the two worked together was in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.  They both agreed on the approach to be taken, a two track policy of pressure and engagement.  Clinton played the bad cop enlisting a coalition of countries to impose punishing sanctions while the President sent letters to the Supreme Leader and taped greetings to the Iranian people on the Persian New Year as the good cop!  But, once again they appeared to be working in lock step together.

(Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012)

The question proposed at the outset of this review was whether President Obama chose Hillary Clinton so he could keep her within the “tent” as Abraham Lincoln did.  After reading ALTER EGOS there is no concrete conclusion that one can arrive at.  Even at the end of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State two major diplomatic moves were made; the groundwork that would lead to a restoration of relations with Havana and an opening with Burma took place.  In both cases the President and Clinton were on the same page, therefore one must conclude that though there were some bumps in the road, publicly, Obama and Clinton pursued a similar agenda and  were mostly in agreement.  As a result, it would appear that they are more similar than different and that the “team of rivals” concept may not fit.  It seems the title ALTER EGOS could give way, perhaps to THE ODD COUPLE, a description that might be more appropriate.

(President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton)

AMERICA’S WAR FOR THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST: A MILITARY HISTORY by Andrew Bacevitch

(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.

Iran hostage crisis - Iraninan students comes up U.S. embassy in Tehran.jpg

(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)