Archive for November, 2008

How America can survive and thrive in a post-American world

November 27, 2008

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Using sound historical and economic comparisons, Fareed Zakaria offers an optimistic take on how American power and purpose is still as relevant and impotant as ever in an interconnected, globalised world with the rise of many power centres like China,  India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa, but only if America learns the lessons of history well and is able to get past the isolationist, protectionist paranoia that currently envelopes many levers of the policy-making machine.  A singularly dispassionate and rational analysis in what is regrettably the most hawkish policy climate in the US at the moment.  Washington, is anyone out there?

“And then we fucked up the endgame”

November 16, 2008

charlie wilson's war

This is one time when it’s better to read the book before watching the movie.  Crile’s gripping account of how Charlie Wilson came to champion the Afghan cause and then proceed to escalate and bankroll the CIA’s secret war against the Soviets in Afghanistan is absorbing and I found it very difficult to put the book down.  More significantly, he gives us an important glimpse of how power operates in the world of kings, generals, bureaucrats and legislators, and one cannot help but wonder how truly ironic and ugly the “democratic process” in America really is.  What was kinda disappointing was the way Joanne Herring and Gust Avrakotos suddenly disappeared towards the end of the narrative, with Avrakotos’ increasing unimportance rendered with an understated tragic irony.  This detailed account of what was later to become blowback with a vengeance is a highly-recommended read.

good summary but offers nothing new

November 11, 2008

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If you’re looking for a good first introduction to al-Qaeda, this is an easy to read and understand short primer that looks at all the key players and examines all the key issues.  If you’ve read Wright and Burke and Rohan and you want more, this won’t cut it for you.

Suskind opts for a softer, more literary touch in new book

November 10, 2008

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Now that The Big Test is over, I can finally get back to my reading.  And what better way to restart the odessey than with the followup to The One Percent Doctrine.  Suskind’s new book has received a lot of hype as it get digested in what he aptly calls the global news cycles, but much of that hype has concentrated on his charge that the White House ordered the fabrication of the Habbush Memo that was ultimately used to justify prosecuting the Iraq War.  Suskind’s book is actually more than about that, however.  In relating vignettes of characters as varied as an Afghan teenager to former Agency operatives trying to mount a nuclear sting operation to the late Benazir Bhutto, Suskind unrelentingly stresses that America’s current predicament in the world is by far the result of the loss of its moral authority as it attempts to navigate the complex paths of the post-9/11 world.  But there’s a seeming naviete in his belief that American altruism and self-interest can work well together without resulting in mutually contradictory consequences.  Either way, the Habbush episode seems forced and oddly out of place with the tenor of the rest of the book, coming as it does in the dying moments of the third section.  For me, the best moments are his recounts of the wars within and between individuals caught on different planes of the cultural encounter.  America can only begin a new conversation with the world, it seems, if it starts “caring more about what others think’ than making others follow its diktat.

Geography and History

November 3, 2008

Today my charges sat for the very paper I’ve been preparing them for the past one and a half years.  And it is indeed ironic that Science kids are confronted with a Geography-heavy essay paper and two passages about History.  If everything goes well, they should do okay.  Already there are grumbles about missed opportunities on Facebook. Well, we’ll know what we’ll know next March.  But personally, I think it was do-able.