Review: Leap of Faith–Memoirs of an Unexpected Life

5 Star, Biography & Memoirs, Country/Regional, Culture, Research, Diplomacy, Intelligence (Public)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Credible, Touching, Eye-Opener,

May 25, 2003
Queen Noor
… I hope that my review will provide a more balanced appreciation of this extraordinary book by an extraordinary former American of Jordanian extraction who, as a Princeton-educated professional, married to the King of Jordan, is able to summarize her life’s work of building better bridges between the Arab world and the west.I note as a preface that I am aware of the Jordanian hospital for terrorists recovering from combat wounds, that there are many things still running against the people in Jordan. However, what I find in this double-spaced book–by no means a work of scholarship–is a personal story that is rich with wisdom, integrity, and insights into differing perspectives.

The true beginning of the book comes on page 32, when the author, then a student at Princeton, learned of the death of four students and injury of nine students at Kent State University at the hands of an undisciplined Ohio National Guard armed with real bullets. Most Americans over 40 will never forget the photo of the young woman kreening over one of the dead. That shooting leads to the following sentence in the book: “It was a seminal moment in shaping my view of American society. While I loved my country, I found my trust in its institutions badly shaken.”

The value of the book for me is in the author’s credible discussion of what she calls “a fundamental lack of understanding in the West, especially in the United States, of Middle Eastern culture and the Muslim faith.” I took the entire book on faith myself–while rabid Jews may not agree, I am prepared to believe that Queen Noor has not been brainwashed, and that she is offering all readers a personal perspective on Arabs, Muslims, Israel, the Gulf War, the impact of US policies in creating millions of refugees and tens of thousands of dead, and so on. If anything, the book, one of hundreds I have read in the past several years, confirms my growing sense of ignorance. Every additional book I read in this area seems to confirm how little any one person can know, and how duplicitious and misleading most official accounts, or media stories, are. We have a long way to go in truly understanding one another, and we can all start by a) reading and b) discussing. Attacking this book, and this Queen, is not helpful.

Although I was was somewhat aware of the fact that Israel is in violation of United Nations resolutions calling for a separate and equal Palestine state, as well as compensation to the Palestinians driven from their lands and also are of the somewhat rocky start in the area from British mandates and Israeli terrorism utilized to drive the British from the area, I was unaware of Mahatma Ghandi’s statement, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.”

The bulk of the book is less about affairs of state than it is about the loneliness of a Queen whose husband is public property and who never has any privacy. It is, none-the-less, an absorbing personal account of many specific people and their ethics–one comes away dismayed that Barbara Bush would send word to Queen Noor that she was a traitor to America, and pleasantly surprised to find that Prince Charles proved to be the only balanced courteous English leader at a critical time.

At the end of the book, and this no doubt explains the hysterical Jewish attacks against this Queen, mother, and author, I was persuaded of three things: 1) the US public and the US government does not have a good grip on Arab politics, culture, or needs; 2) the combination of Jewish power within US policy; Arab inattention to playing US politics from within; and the Zionist “myths” that take on a life of their own, are a major reason why US policy is ineffective and unsustainable in the long run within this vital area; and 3) Queen Noor was as good a queen as the Jordanian people could have hoped for, given the circumstances. This book was well worth my time, and I recommend it to every citizen who wishes to reduce conflict, increase understanding, and obtain a better return on how the U.S. taxpayer dollar is spent.

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Review: War in a Time of Peace–Bush, Clinton, and the Generals

5 Star, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Iraq, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Strategy, War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars Important Piece of the Puzzle,

January 31, 2003
David Halberstam
I look for three things in a book on national security in the information age: 1) does it offer deep insights into specific personalities or situations not available from any other book; 2) does it highlight deficiencies in the process or substance that are not well understood by the public; 3) and finally, does it add anything to the larger discussion of war and peace in the 21st Century. On all these counts, Halberstam satisfies. Indeed, having read his book several months ago, I have put off reviewing it because I wanted to spend more time pulling the nuggets out–as those who follow my reviews know, they are both evaluative and summative.This book validates most of what General Wes Clark says in his own memoir, “Waging Modern War,” and thus in that sense alone it has great value: the Army was unwilling to trust the US General walking in Eisenhower’s shoes with either ground troops or helicopters, and also unwilling to fight in mountains. This is such a terrible self-condemnation of America’s most important Armed Service that every citizen should be shuddering.

The second major theme I drew from this book was one that the author highlights toward the end of the book when he quotes Madeline Albright, then Secretary of State, as saying (on page 409), “We’re just gerbils running on a wheel.” For this the U.S. taxpayer pays $500 billion dollars a year? For gerbils? In combination with Pentagon deception of the President in railroading General Clark out of NATO early, and a wide variety of other practices between personalities in Washington that would get you fired in any serious corporation, the overall impression that one draws of the Washington foreign policy and national security establishment is one of inattention alternating with craven back-stabbing. This is not an environment that is operating at peak efficiency, nor can it be trusted to act in the best interests of the voter and taxpayer.

A third theme, and this impressed/depressed me tremendously, is that of journalism and open sources of information getting it right early, only to be ignored. The author–Halberstam–takes great care to tell a story of respect for the accomplishments of another journalist, Roy Gutman of Newsday, whose headline on 21 November 1991, “Yugoslavs Need West’s Intervention,” was the beginning of a series of insightful articles that had little impact at the time. Joining the insights of journalists was the ignorance of history by politicians–Halberstam comments particularly on the lack of European understanding of just how recognition of Croatia was the opening of a Pandora’s Box of genocide. I was especially struck, throughout Halberstam’s accounting, as to how crafty the Balkan players were, how able they were at deception and distraction, and how inept the Americans and the Europeans were at interpreting the situation and the ploys–with massive genocidal consequences.

A fourth theme that was not emphasized by the book, but which I would highlight based on a passing observation by the author with regard to the lack of television coverage, has to do with the absolute imperative for America and Europe to have both a strong television industry that can go into the dark places where today only adventurers like Robert Young Pelton (“World’s Most Dangerous Places”) dare go–while at the same time governments need a “ground truth” cadre of observers who are accustomed to and can survive instability and combat, and are not trapped like rats in Embassies, reporting reality second or third hand. We simply don’t know. We simply do not have trusted observers–or TV cameras–in 80% of the places where we most need to have reliable independent observation.

Finally, there were a number of recurring points across the whole book, points where I ended up making annotations:
1) Civilian-military relationships are not marked by trust
2) Presidential teams tend to lack depth, have no bench
3) Washington promotes the least offensive, not the most talented
4) Bush Sr. got no bounce from Gulf War–this is suggestive today, as the son follows the father’s path.
5) Satellite imagery was used to detect Haitians building boats–this struck me as so symbolic of all that is wrong with the US intelligence community–rather than someone walking the beaches and seeing and sensing directly, we use satellites in outer space, at great cost, to do remote viewing…
6) Trust, Truth, and Morality–Halberstam may not mean to say this, but my reading of his book, influenced by Joe Nye’s book on “The Paradox of American Power,” was just this: all the money and all the military hardware in the world will not win a conflict in the absence of trust among the civilian-military players; truth about the fundamentals on the ground; and a morality that empowers tough decisions early enough to prevent genocide.

The book ends on a mixed note–on the one hand, observing that prior to 9-11 (and many would say, even after 9-11) America has distanced itself from the world; and on the other, noting that this is a very strong country, slow to anger, slow to rouse, but when roused, capable of miracles. More upbeat than I expected, I was almost charmed by the author’s optimism, especially in light of the many books he has written about the corridors of power and the pitfalls of American adventures overseas.

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Review: U.S. National Security: A Reference Handbook (Contemporary World Issues)

2 Star, Diplomacy, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power

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2.0 out of 5 stars Lowest Common Denominator–Old Think–High School,

January 14, 2003
Cynthia A. Watson
Although–or perhaps because–the author is a reputable and accepted member of the US national security “club,” and fully capable of writing innovative and ground-breaking materials, this book is horridly old think, even pedestrian, to the point that I was quite disappointed in having spent the time and money on it. The “author” is responsible for just 39 pages of overview, and what a superficial overview it is–without substantive reference to asymmetric warfare, environmental security, public health, or any of a myriad of emerging threats that are vastly more important to the future of US national security that a rehash of the Cold War.The balance of the book is a mind-glazing and largely useless chronology, list of personalities, and list of references and organizations that is both uninspiring, and severely constrained by the US-centric and beltway-centric perspectives of the author. The US Institute of Peace, among many, many other vital organizations, is not listed, and the eight web sites that appear to have been hastily added make a mockery of the concept of a book as a vehicle for imparting information.

With all due respect to the accomplishments and good intentions of the author and the sponsoring publisher, one would be better off browsing Amazon (or to be more specific, the 300+ books on national security and intelligence that I have reviewed) for a couple of hours, than in attempting to find any deep thoughts of lasting value in this reference work. In all respects, it is the lowest common denominator. Instead, I strongly recommend Joe Nye’s book on understanding international relations, and the Schultz Godson et al book on security studies.

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Review: Understanding International Conflicts–An Introduction to Theory and History

5 Star, Atlases & State of the World, Country/Regional, Diplomacy, Games, Models, & Simulations, Intelligence (Public), Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Terrorism & Jihad, Threats (Emerging & Perennial)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, Post 9-11 Update, Excellent Adult Foundation,

January 10, 2003
Joseph S. Nye
First, it is vital for prospective buyers to understand that the existing reviews are three years out of date–this is a five-star tutorial on international relations that has been most recently updated after 9-11. If I were to recommend only two books on international relations, for any adult including nominally sophisticated world travelers, this would be the first book; the second would be Shultz, Godson, & Quester’s wonderful edited work, “Security Studies for the 21st Century.”I really want to stress the utility of this work to adults, including those like myself who earned a couple of graduate degrees in the last century (smile). I was surprised to find no mention of the author’s stellar service as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council–not only has he had full access to everything that can be known by secret as well as non-secret means, but he has kept current, and this undergraduate and affordable paperback was a great way for me–despite the 400+ books I’ve read (most of them reviewed on Amazon.com) in the past four plus years–to come up to speed on the rigorous methodical scholarly understanding of both historical and current theories and practices in international relations. This book is worth anyone’s time, no matter how experienced or educated.

Each chapter has a very satisfactory mix of figures, maps, chronologies, and photos–a special value is a block chart showing the causes for major wars or periods of conflict at the three levels of analysis–international system, national, and key individual personalities, and I found these quite original and helpful.

Excellent reference and orientation work. Took five hours to read, with annotation–this is not a mind-glazer, it’s a mind-exerciser.

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Review: The Fifty Year Wound–The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory

6 Star Top 10%, Atrocities & Genocide, Complexity & Catastrophe, Congress (Failure, Reform), Crime (Government), Diplomacy, Environment (Problems), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Force Structure (Military), History, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Security (Including Immigration), True Cost & Toxicity, Truth & Reconciliation, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), War & Face of Battle, Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Breath of Sanity–Hard Look at Cost of Cold War,

December 1, 2002
Derek Leebaert
This is an extraordinary book, in part because it forces us to confront the “hangover” effects of the Cold War as we begin an uncertain path into the post 9-11 future. It begins by emphasizing that the Cold War glorified certain types of institutions, personalities, and attitudes, and ends by pointing out that we paid a very heavy cost–much as General and President Eisenhower tried to warn us–in permitting our society to be bound by weaponry, ideology, and secrecy.Two quotes, one from the beginning, one from the end, capture all that lies in between, well-documented and I would add–contrary to some opinions–coherent and understandable.

“For the United States, the price of victory goes far beyond the dollars spend on warheads, foreign aid, soldiers, propaganda, and intelligence. It includes, for instance, time wasted, talent misdirected, secrecy imposed, and confidence impaired. Particular costs were imposed on industry, science, and the universities. Trade was distorted and growth impeded.” (page xi)

“CIA world-order men whose intrigues more often than not started at the incompetent and went down from there, White House claims of ‘national security’ to conceal deceit, and the creation of huge special interests in archaic spending all too easily occurred because most Americans were not preoccupied with the struggle.” (page 643)

Although the author did not consult the most recent intelligence reform books (e.g. Berkowitz, Johnson, Treverton, inter alia), he is consistently detailed and scathing in his review of intelligence blunders and the costs of secrecy–in this he appears to very ably collaborate the findings of Daniel Ellsberg’s more narrowly focused book on “SECRETS: A Memoire of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.” He points out, among many many examples, that despite Andropov’s having been head of the KGB for fifteen years, at the end of it CIA still did not know if Andropov has a wife or spoke English. He also has a lovely contrast between how little was learned using very expensive national technical means (secret satellites) and open sources: “So much failure could have been avoided if CIA has done more careful homework during the 1950s in the run-up to Sputnik; during the 1960s, when Sovieet marshals were openly publishing their thoughts on nuclear strategy; or during the 1970s and 1980s, when stagnation could be chronicled in the unclassified gray pages of Soviet print. Most expensively, the CIA hardly ever learned anything from its mistakes, largely because it would not admit them.” (pages 567-568).

The author’s biographic information does not include any reference to military service, but footnote 110 suggests that he was at least in Officer Candidate School with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam era. The biography, limited to the inside back jacket flap, also avoids discussing the author’s considerable experience with information technology. Given the importance of this critique of all that most Republicans and most 50-70 year olds hold very sacred, we need to more about the man goring the ox. Future editions should have a much expanded biography.

Bottom line: America muddled through the Cold War, made many costly mistakes, and developed a policy-making process that is, to this day, largely uninformed due to a lack of a comprehensive global intelligence capability, or a sufficient means of consulting diverse experts (as opposed to the in-town intellectual harlots). If ever we needed a clean-sheet look at how we make policy and how we provide decision-support to that policy process, this is the time. The “fifty-year wound” is still open, and the author warns us it will not heal without a reappraisal of how we do the business of national security.

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Review: The Paradox of American Power–Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone

4 Star, Diplomacy, Economics

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4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Strategic Insights, Operationally Disappointing,

March 11, 2002
Joseph S. Nye Jr.
My highest complement for a book used to be how many pens I broke on it. This book leaps into a new category. I actually had to read it three times, short as it is. It is brilliant, with paragraphs of such substance that multiple readings are needed to “unzip” the implications. This is not an undergraduate text although it could certainly be used as such, to open deep discussions.Among the strategic thoughts that I found most valuable were these: 1) a plenitude of information leads to a poverty of attention; 2) in the absence of time or means to actually review real-world information, politics becomes a contest of competitive credibility (with the Internet changing the rules of the game somewhat); 3) Japan has vital lessons to teach Islamic nations–that one can adapt to the new world while maintaining a unique culture; 4) we are failing to adapt our democratic processes to the challenges of the Earth as well as the opportunities of the Internet.

This last merits special attention. I found in this book an intellectual and political argument for restoring democratic meaning to our national policies. From its evaluation of the pernicious effect of special interest groups on foreign policy; to its explanation (“When the majority are indifferent, they leave the battlefields of foreign policy to those with special interests.”); to its prescription for healthy policies: a combination of national discussion (not just polling), with a proper respect for the opinions of others (e.g. foreigners), the author clearly sets himself apart from those who would devise national policies in secret meetings with a few preferred pals.

Throughout the book, but not given any special chapter as I would have preferred, the author is clearly cognizant of the enormous non-traditional challenges facing the community of nations–not just terrorism and crime, but fundamentals such as water and energy shortages, disease, genocide, proliferation, trade injustices, etcetera.

Operationally, the book is slightly disappointing. Despite the fact that the author has served as both the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (and perhaps left the operational bit to his Vice Chairman, Greg Treverton, whose book, “Reshaping National Intelligence for an Age of Information” I recommend be read in conjunction with this one), and as an Assistant Secretary of Defense, I did not see two things in this book that would have bridged the gap from strategic reflection to operational implementation:

1) How must we change the manner in which our nation handles information? What should our national information strategy be, to include not only a vast new program for properly collecting, processing, and understanding foreign language materials that are openly available, for but improving our K-12 and undergraduate education with respect to foreign affairs?

2) How must we change the manner in which our nation authorizes, appropriates, allocates, and obligates the taxpayer budget? While noting that we spend 16 times as much on military hard power as we do on diplomatic soft power, the author left this issue largely on a single page.

On the topic of values and accountability the author excelled. Although I would disagree that values by themselves are the foundation of national power (“knowing” the world, in my view, is the other side of the coin of the realm), the author sounds very much like Noam Chomsky with a social make-over–we have to be honest on human rights and other core values, and not act nor permit our corporations to act in ways that are antithetical to our true national commitment to decency and honesty. The section on new forms of accountability and transparency being made possible by changing in information tools and practices are valuable–admitting non-governmental organizations to all bodies; accelerating the release of records into the public domain, and so on.

We learn from this book that the author is an avid admirer of The Economist, that he thrives on Op-Ed reading (I have never seen a more comprehensive use of Op-Eds in the notes), and that he is largely accepting of the World Trade Organization and other multi-lateral groups, most of which have not yet accommodated themselves to the new world of citizen-centered policymaking. As good as the notes are, the book would have benefited from a bibliography. The index is acceptable.

If we part ways on any one thing, it would be that I am less sanguine about any foreign policy, however much it might use “soft power,” being successful if it persists with the notion that we can cajole and seduce the world into wanting what we want. We’ve done that with Hollywood, and McDonalds, and chlorine-based plastics, and it is not working to our advantage. It may be that America must first recognize its own demons, adjust its global goals accordingly, and interact with the world rather than striving for a grander version of the “Office of Strategic Influence” that recently got laughed into oblivion. We appear to agree that the U.S. Information Agency must be restored as our two-way channel between our people and all others. I would dramatically expand USIA to also provide for a Global Knowledge Foundation and a Digital Marshall Plan on the one hand, and the education of all women on the other (Cf O’Hanlon’s “A Half-Penny on the Federal Dollar”).

This book opens the great conversation, and in doing so, renders a valuable service. Missing from the public conversation is the Department of State. Both the politically-appointed and the professionally-trained leadership of the diplomatic service appear to have been cowed into silence by a mis-placed coda that confuses abject compliance with loyalty to the larger national interest. If this book can draw State back into the public service, into a public debate on the urgency of protecting and expanding our most important soft power tools, then the author’s ultimate impact on the future of American security and prosperity will be inestimable.

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Review: What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response

5 Star, Diplomacy, Economics, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Truth & Reconciliation

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5.0 out of 5 stars Are We Our Brother’s Keeper, or Not?,

March 10, 2002
Bernard Lewis
The essence of this book that captured my attention was not the impact of the West on the Middle East, but rather the divergent manner in which the West separated religion from business and government, while the Middle East generally did not. I would point readers toward two other books: Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, in Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power, has done a fine job of looking at the differing manner in which Malaysia on the one hand, and Pakistan on the other, utilized Islam as a means of legitimizing the state. In the end, both states had to control their fanatics.The other book, by Howard Bloom, Global Brain: the Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, adds value to the very educated efforts of Bernard Lewis in this volume, because it points out that culturate training kills half the brain by the time one is an adult. This is serious stuff, to wit: if religion and culture can embed in an entire region the makings for a sustained collapse of social and economic measures needed to achieve stability and a minimalist quality of life for the population, is it safe for us to stand back? Are we to leave them to their own devices? What must we do to ensure that we *share* some common brain concepts and what will it take for both their educational system and ours to “build for peace” from grade one?

These are complex issues, even more challenging that the more tangible issues of intervention in the face of epidemics, gang wars, genocide, and so on. Certainly we cannot intervene with force nor confront our Islamic brothers, but we must ask ourselves: at what point should we consider substantial investments in both Islamic studies and socio-economic, even ideo-cultural and techno-demographic assistance, to the nations of Islam?

Are they our brother, or not? If we are to respect the universal declaration of human rights, and acknowledge that human suffering is justification for intervention, ideally peaceful intervention, then at what point do we create a national capability for responding to these needs in a manner that is both appropriate to the tangible challenge and consistent with the religious challenge?

In my view, this book is most valuable for outlining the depths of the challenge of modernization in a deeply religious region, and rather than ending on a note of “on your own heads be it,” I wonder if we might not better ask, “what do we need to do differently to find a middle road toward modernization, one that can be accepted within the strictures of Islam?”

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Review: See No Evil–The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Biography & Memoirs, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Culture, Research, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Misinformation & Propaganda, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy

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5.0 out of 5 stars Straight Talk from Patriot–Should Testify at 9-11 Hearings,

January 31, 2002
Robert Baer
As a former clandestine case officer, leaving the Agency in 1988 after unsuccessfully chasing terrorists for a few years, I knew we were in bad shape but I did not realize just how bad until I read this book. The author, working mostly in the Near East (NE) Division of the Directorate of Operations, and then in the Counter-Terrorism Center when it was just starting out, has an extremely important story to tell and every American needs to pay attention. Why? Because his account of how we have no assets useful against terrorism is in contradiction to what the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) told the President and his top advisors at Camp David on Saturday 15 September. According to the Washington Post of 31 January 2002, page A13, on the 15th the DCI laid out an ambitious “Worldwide Attack Matrix” and told the President that the United States had a “large asset base” from its years of working the terrorism target. One of these two men one is closer to the truth than the other. In my judgement, I believe Baer has three-quarters of the weight on his side. This discrepancy warrants investigation, for no President can be successful if he does not have accurate information about our actual capabilities.There are four other stories within this excellent book, all dealing with infirm bureaucracies. At one level, the author’s accounting of how the Directorate of Operations has declined under the last three leaders (as the author describes them: a recalled retiree, an analyst, and a “political” (pal)) is both clearly based on ground truth, and extremely troubling. The extraordinary detail on the decline and fall of the clandestine service is one that every voter should be thinking about, because it was the failure of the clandestine service, as well as the counterintelligence service (the Federal Bureau of Investigation) that allowed 9-11 to happen…at the same time, we must note that it was a policy failure to not have investigated similar incompetencies when a military barracks in Saudi Arabia, two Embassies, and a naval destroyer were attacked, and it was clearly known in open sources that bin Laden had declared war on America and had within America numerous Islamic clerics calling for the murder of Americans–all as documented in an excellent Public Broadcast Service documentary.

At a technical level, the author provides some really excellent real-world, real-war annecdotes about situations where clandestine reporting from trusted operations officers has not been accepted by their own superiors in the absence of technical confirmation (imagery or signals). As he says, in the middle of a major artillery battle and break-out of insurgent elements, screaming over the secure phone, “its the middle of night here”. We’ve all known since at least the 1970’s that the technical intelligence side of things has been crushing human sensibility, both operational and analytical, but this book really brings the problems into the public eye in a compelling and useful manner.

At another level, the author uses his own investigation for murder (he was completely cleared, it was a set-up) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and at one point by the Secret Service, to shed new light on the complete break-down of internal security processes within the CIA. At its lowest point, he is pressured by DO management with a psychological evaluation to determine his fitness for duty–shades of Stalinism! I know this technique, of declaring officers unfit for duty based on psychological hatchet jobs, to be a common practice over the past two decades, and when Britt Snider was appointed Inspector General at CIA, I told him this was a “smoking gun” in the 7th floor closet. That it remains a practice today is grounds for evaluating the entire management culture at CIA.

There is a fourth story in the book, a truly interesting account of how big energy companies, their “ambassadors” serving as Presidential appointees within the National Security Council, and corrupt foreign elements, all come together. In this the spies are not central, so I leave it as a sidenote.

In my capacity as a reviewer of most intelligence-related books within these offerings, I want to make it clear to potential buyers of this book that the author is not alone. His is the best, most detailed, and most current accounting of the decrepit dysfunctionality of the clandestine service (as I put it in my own book’s second edition), but I would refer the reader to two other books in particular: David Corn’s “Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA’s Crusades”–its most memorable quote, on covert action in Laos, being “We spent a lot of money and got a lot of people killed, and we didn’t get much for it.”–and Evan Thomas’ “The Very Best Men–Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA”–its best quote: “Patriotic, decent, well-meaning, they were also uniquely unsuited to the grubby, necessarily devious world of intelligence.” There are many other books, including twelve (12!) focused on reform and recommended by the Council on Intelligence.

The author is a brave man–he was brave on the fields of war and clandestinity, and he is braver still for having brought this story to the public. We owe him a hearing.
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Review: Inside Sudan–Political Islam, Conflict, and Catastrophe

2 Star, Country/Regional, Diplomacy, Threats (Emerging & Perennial)

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2.0 out of 5 stars Strong on Travel and Chit-Chat, Weak on History and Reality,

December 10, 2001
Donald Petterson
When compared to the other book on Sudan that I read at the same time, “White Nile, Black Blood: War, Leadership, and Ethnicity from Khartoum to Kampala”, this book, while worth reviewing, is extremely disappointing. If this is the best our Department of State can do–if this bland account of endless repetitive meetings and meaningless demarches is the best that America can do in addressing the deep challenges of Sudan–then we need a whole new State Department.It struck me immediately, as I worked through the book, that it is the diary of someone who means well, but has only his personal experience from which to judge the situation. Not only are there no references to learned studies, but the short-sighted thesis of the author is summed up on page 136: “The cumulative combination of factors putting Sudan in such a bad light (with the U.S. Government) began with the military takeover in July 1989.” When one contrasts this statement with the rich 200-year survey provided by “White Nile, Black Blood”, one can only feel a deep sadness for the lower depths of our foreign service.

Early on in the book the author-ambassador confesses to not knowing Arabic and to having had six months training in Arabic before reporting. This demonstrates two things clearly: first, that the Department of State is incompetent in Arabic affairs if it does not have legions of qualified officers fluent in Arabic from whom it can select an Ambassador and second, that obviously the language is not considered critical to the job if six months will suffice–just enough to get to the toilet, not enough to accept directions across town.

This book is a travel diary. I have annotated page 148 with the note: “substitutes travel for thinking.” There is no analysis in this book, no grasp of history, no real grip on the regional realities (other than a passing reference to the fact that water is going to be a cause of war in the future–something well covered in Marq de Villiers “WATER: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource”. Neither de Villiers nor Michael Klare’s “RESOURCE WARS: The New Landscape of Global Conflict” are cited by this book.)

At the very end there was a tiny glimmer of hope as the author began a chapter on working with the United Nations, and made it clear that the UN practice of allowing each of its agencies to appoint independent ambassadors to the same country, rather than subordinating all UN agencies to a single UN ambassador, was a big part of their problem. After three paragraphs, it became clear there was nothing else to be had from this chapter. I have the note “This is not a serious book.”

At one point in the book the author observes that neither Congress nor the U.S. public would allow the Administration to be more pro-active in Sudan. It immediately occurred to me that if this is true, then the Department of State has failed miserably, ignominiously, at informing the U.S. public of the true situation in Sudan, for any informed citizen would be sure to support extremely aggressive action against the (northern) Sudan despots and supporters of terrorism and genocide.

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Review: Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Toward a Diplomacy for the 21st Century

5 Star, Diplomacy

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5.0 out of 5 stars History, Politics, Vacuums, and Discretion,

November 12, 2001
Henry Kissinger
Edit to revisit Kissinger’s role and add book links.

Revisitation: We’ve always known Kissinger is brilliant, and there is no reason to revise that view. However, in light of what is now known about Viet-Nam, we must find Kissinger guilty as a war criminal (first link below).

The book begins with a lamentation that foreign policy has been neglected in the last three Presidential campaigns; that the American public is terribly apathetic about foreign affairs; and that Congress is overly interventionist–he refrains from adding the obvious caveat regarding most Members lack of knowledge of the world. In brief, we have a long way to go as a Nation before we can devise and sustain a credible foreign policy.

The core point in this entire work is that both economics and technologies, including Internet and communications technologies, have so out-paced politics that the world is at risk. Globalization, terrorism, and other threats cannot be addressed with our existing international, regional, and national political constructs, and new means must be found–new political solutions must be found–if we are to foster security and prosperity in the age of complexity, discontinuity, and fragmentation.

There are some useful sub-themes:

1) Each region must be understood in its full complexity, with special attention to both emerging powers and to the subtleties of relations between regional actors–we should not confine ourselves to simply addressing each actor’s relationship to the United States.

2) We must take great care to never interpose ourself or allow ourselves to become a substitute for a regional power, e.g. in the dialog between North and South Korea, or India and Pakistan.

3) We must strive at all times to ensure that the historic context is clearly appreciated and underlying every policy formulation, at the same time that we must recognize and define the vast cultural differences between US approaches to foreign policy, and the approaches of others, such as China.

4) Military compromise, whether in the Gulf War, Bosnia, or Kosovo, leaves a strategic vacuum that will inevitably require attention.

5) Africa is the true test for whether a world community can be devised and new solutions found for addressing the severe conditions in Africa that ultimately threaten the well-being of the rest of the world.

6) Our foreign service officers and the political leaders they serve must have history and philosophy restored to their diets, or they will fail to devise long-range concepts, global strategies, and sustainable policies.

Dr. Kissinger ends with what some might overlook and what I found to be absolutely core: no economic system can be sustained without a political basis. However much major multinational corporations may care to buy their comforts and their arrangements of convenience, at root, they prosper only because some set of political arrangements among great nations is providing a safety net, including the financial system with one major node in New York.

The books ends with an appeal for American humility and discretion as it makes it way forward–we must act as if we are one of many co-equal nation-states, while recognizing that our pre-eminence demands more of us than might be expected from others.

There is one major gap in this book, and I suspect it was deliberate: there is no discussion at all of the means by which American foreign policy is to be devised. As America moves into the early months of the “war on terrorism”, it would have been helpful to have a really well-qualified rant on how it is impossible for this great Nation to have a foreign policy when we have gutted almost into extinction what passes for a Department of State today. Our Foreign Service, our Embassies, our foreign assistance programs, our Peace Corps, our external research, our sponsorship of international conferences on topics of vital importance to the US, have all faded into decrepitude. If ever there was a time when Kissinger, Brzezinski, and Powell should come together and champion a major restoration–at least a $10 billion a year increase–in Program 150 (our soft power), this is that time. That they have all failed to do so troubles me–that Senator Biden was castigated publicly for speaking the plain truth about how the world perceives us–troubles me. The attacks of 11 September represent, primarily, a failure of our ability to monitor and understand the world. That failure must lie heavily–and equally–on the shoulders of the foreign service (State), the clandestine service (CIA), and the counterintelligence service (FBI).

See also:
The Trial of Henry Kissinger
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam

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Review: Wilson’s Ghost–Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century

5 Star, Consciousness & Social IQ, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Truth & Reconciliation

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5.0 out of 5 stars Strategic Context for Understanding 11 Sep Attack on America,

September 15, 2001
Robert S. McNamara
Of all the books I have read or reviewed in the past two years, this is the only one that comes close to addressing the bitter truth about the fundamental disconnect between our perception of ourselves as “the beacon of truth”, and the rest of the world’s perception of us as “interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, and hypocritical.” Those that would seek to understand just how long our Dark Ages will last would do well to start with this book while also buying a copy of the map of “World Conflict and Human Rights Map 2000” available from the PIOOM Project at Leiden University. Beyond that, selected portions of the Shultz et al book on “Security Studies for the 21st Century”, where detailed comments are made about both knowledge gaps among our policymakers and non-traditional threats, are recommended.

There is no question but that the Attack on America of 11 September 2001 has awakened and even frightened the American public. It has elicited conventional assurances from other nation states. What most Americans do not understand, what this book makes brilliantly clear, is that two thirds of the rest of the world is glad it happened. I quote from page 52: “…at least two-thirds of the world’s people–Chinese, Russians, Indians, Arabs, Muslims, and Africans–see the United States as the single greatest threat to their societies. They do not regard America as a military threat but as a menace to their integrity, autonomy, prosperity and freedom of action.”
Whether one agrees with their depiction of two-thirds or not (or whether they see the Attack as a well-deserved bloody nose or an atrocity beyond the pale), the fact is that the authors paint–together with the PIOOM map–a compelling picture of billions–not millions but billions–of impoverished dispossessed people suffering from failed states, crime, slavery, starvation, water shortages–and an abundance of media as well as propaganda showing the US fat and happy and living the consumer society dream on the backs of these billions.
Of all the policy people I have followed over the years, Robert McNamara and Bill Colby are the two that have in my view matured and broadened the most after leaving the halls of power. The deep insights that I find throughout this book-a partnership expert between McNamara with the global reality and power game insights, James Blight with the scholarly underpinnings-are extraordinarily applicable to the challenges that we face in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 Attack on America. In particular, their dissection of the United Nations-what works and what does not-and their recommendations for future initiatives that are multilateralist and focused on the prevention and amelioration of the root conditions that are spawning our terrorist challenges, are vital reading for policymakers, diplomats, warriors, and financial magnates.

I am very concerned by any effort to militarize our response to the terrorist challenge-this is a long war that requires a fundamental restructuring of national intelligence and counterintelligence; a $100 billion a year effort to address the root causes of instability worldwide and a redirection of US foreign and defense policy away from unilateralism (for instance, we must now support the International Tribunal and an international island prison for those convicted of war crimes as well as acts of terror). Our military is still needed, but it too must be restructured to provide for four major capabilities all equally capable: CINCWAR, CINCSOLIC, CINCPEACE, and CINCHOME. I can only hope that this book, which I recommend highly, is read and understood before we start to throw money at the problem in counterproductive ways.
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Review: Intelligence Power in Peace and War

5 Star, Diplomacy, Information Society, Intelligence (Government/Secret), War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Graduate/Policy Text on Intelligence,

January 10, 2001
Michael Herman
This is the textbook for the best and the brightest of both the academic world and the policy world. It is not an easy read, between the British language form and the deep thinking, but it is, as Christopher Andrew says, “the best overview” and “surely destined to become a standard work”. I especially liked its attention to components and boundaries, effects, accuracy, and evaluation. Perhaps most usefully within the book is the distinction between long-term intelligence endeavors that rely primarily on open sources and serve to improve state understanding and state behavior, and short-term espionage that tends to be intrusive and heighten the target state’s feelings of vulnerability and hostility. No intelligence library is complete without this book–it provides a rock-solid foundation for serious thinking about the intelligence in the 21st Century.
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Review: The American Encounter–The United States And The Making Of The Modern World: Essays From 75 Years Of Foreign Affairs

5 Star, Diplomacy

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem of Lasting Value, Especially Relevant Today,

November 11, 2000
James F. Jr. Hoge
This compilation of the “best of the best” articles from the journal Foreign Affairs is a real gem that is especially relevant today as America continues to neglect its international responsibilities and certain Senators and Congressman have the ignorant temerity to brag that they don’t own nor need an American passport. The conclusion of the July 1932 article by Edwin F. Gay, “The Great Depression”, is instructive: “The world war affirmed the international political responsibilities of the United States; the world depression demonstrates the economic interdependence of the United States with other states. It cannot be a hermit nation.” With four seminal articles from each decade (1920’s forward), including just about every great name in the international discussions of the century, this book is a fundamental reference point for those who would dare to craft a vibrant foreign policy for the United States in the 21st Century. The book ends with several thoughtful pieces including, most fittingly, an interview with Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore on culture as destiny, an article whose subtitle might have been “How extended families and the collective good still matter.”
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Review: Preparing America’s Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

5 Star, Diplomacy

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5.0 out of 5 stars Starting Point for 21st Century Security Strategy Dialog,

October 2, 2000
David L. Boren
I know of no finer collection of relevant views on our current and prospective foreign policy challenges. In the foreword to the book, William Crowe, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, observes that “A reappreciation of government is also in order.” He clearly articulates both the range of challenges facing us (most of them non-military in nature), and the disconnect between how we organize our government and how we need to successfully engage.His bottom line is clear: we are not spending enough on the varied elements of national security, with special emphasis on a severely under-funded and under-manned diplomatic service.

From Gaddis Smith and Walter Mondale to Sam Nunn and Robert Oakley, from David Gergen to David Abshire to David Boren, from Kissinger to Brzezinski to Kirkpatrick, in combination with a whole host of lesser known but equally talented practitioners, capped off by comments from five Directors of Central Intelligence, this books sets a standard for organized high quality reflection on the future of U.S. foreign policy.

Most interestingly, there is general consensus with David Abshire’s view that we are in a strategic interregnum, and still lacking for a policy paradigm within which to orchestrate our varied efforts to define and further our vital interests.

David Gergen clearly articulates the shortfalls in our national educational, media, and political patterns that leave the vast majority of Americans ignorant of our foreign interests and unsupportive of the need for proactive engagement abroad. Reading this book, I could not help but feel that our national educational system is in crisis, and we need both a wake-up call and a consequent national investment program such as occurred after the first Sputnik launch.

David Boren is clearly a decade or more ahead of most current commentators in his call for a new paradigm, for a new analytical framework, for the internationalization of American education across the board. I am reminded of the quotation from early America: “A Nation’s best defense is an educated citizenry.” Interestingly, he cites Daniel Boorstein’s caution that we must not confuse information with knowledge, and in the next sentence notes: “I watched during my term as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while the CIA greatly increased its information, its raw data, but became overwhelmed and unable to separate the important from the unimportant.”

I would itemize just a few of the many, many useful insights that this book offers:

1) Diplomacy is the sum total of familiarity with the role, knowledge of the component parts of the overall national security policy, and the ability to design and implement comprehensive policies that achieve the national objectives;

2) Politicians and policy-makers are losing the ability to think objectively and act with conviction…they are too dependent on short-term domestic polling and opinion;

3) (Quoting Donald Kegan): Power without the willingness to use it does not contribute to world peace;

4) We must strengthen the domestic roots of national power if we are to have a sound strategy;

5) Future of U.S. education and strength of U.S. family unit will quite simply determine whether U.S. can meet the economic challenges of the 21st Century;

6) Our domestic insecurity and domestic violence-and resulting foreign perceptions and disrespect for our competence at home-reduce our effectiveness overseas;

7) U.S. is its own worst enemy, with declining attention to foreign policy matters;

8) Weapons of mass destruction are our only substantive vital interest today;

9) Hunger, pestilence, and refugees within Africa will affect all nations;

10) Corruption has replaced guerrilla movements as the principal threat to democratic governance;

11) Commerce rather than conflict will be the primary concern of 21st century foreign policy;

12) The environment joins trade and commerce as an essential objective for foreign policy;

13) Long-term non-military challenges, and especially global financial markets, require refocusing of our security perspectives;

14) Asia will edge out Europe as our primary trading partner;

15) China in Asia and Turkey in the West are linch-pin nations;

16) NATO will survive but we must take care not to threaten Russia;

17) The UN is not very effective at peacekeeping operations-it is best confined to idea exchanges;

18) Our military is over-extended and under-funded but still the best in the world;

19) For the cost of one battalion or one expensive piece of military equipment, one thousand new Foreign Service officers could be added toward preventive diplomacy;

20) Lessons from the Roman empire: its decline results in part from a loss of contact with its own heartlands, a progressive distancing of the elite from the populace, the elevation of the military machine to the summit of the power hierarchy, and blindness in perceiving the emergence of societies motivated by nationalism or new religious ideologies; and

21) We may need a new National Security Act.

If I had one small critical comment on the book is would be one of concern-concern that these great statesmen and scholars appear-even while noting that defense is under-capitalized-to take U.S. military competence at face value. I perceive a really surprising assumption across a number of otherwise brilliant contributions to the effect that we do indeed have all that we need in the way of information dominance, precision firepower, and global mobility (strategic lift plus forward presence)-we just need to use it with greater discretion. I do not believe this to be the case. I believe-and the Aspin-Brown Commission so stated-that we lack effective access to the vast range of global multi-lingual open sources; that our commitment to precision munitions is both unaffordable and ineffective (we ran out in 8 days in the Gulf, in 3 days in Kosovo); and that we fail terribly with respect to mobility-naval forces are generally 4-6 days from anywhere, rather than the necessary 24-48 hours. This book is a very fine starting point for the national dialogue that must take place in 2001 regarding our new national security strategy.

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Review: Preventive Defense–A New Security Strategy for America

5 Star, Diplomacy, Force Structure (Military)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Fully Half of the Right Answer–Bi-Partisan and Serious,

August 30, 2000
Ashton B. Carter
The authors provide a coherent discussion of fully half of the security challenges facing us in the 21st century. They wisely avoid the debate swirling around the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)-but deserve credit for their predecessor “offset strategy”-and simply note that the absence of “A List” threats gives us an opportunity to strengthen and maintain our traditional nuclear and conventional capabilities against the day when a Russia or China may rise in hostility against us. The book as a whole focuses on the “B List” threats, including Russia in chaos, a hostile China acting aggressively within its region, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and catastrophic terrorism. They note, correctly, that most of the spending and effort today is focused on responding to the crisis de jure, some but not enough resources are applied to preparing for the future, and virtually nothing is being done against the latest concept, that of “shaping” the environment through “forward engagement.” Perhaps most importantly, they introduce the term “defense by other means” and comment on the obstacles, both within the Administration and on the Hill, to getting support and funding for non-military activities with profound security benefits.Although others may focus on their discussion of Russia and NATO as the core of the book, what I found most helpful and worthwhile was the straight-forward and thoughtful discussion of the need for a new national strategy, a new paradigm, for dealing with potentially catastrophic terrorism. Their understanding of what defense resources can be applied, and of the impediments to success that exist today between state & local law enforcement, federal capabilities such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and defense as well as overseas diplomatic and intelligence capabilities, inspire them to propose several innovative approaches to this challenge. The legal and budgetary implications of their proposals are daunting but essential-their proposals for dealing with this one challenge would be helpful in restructuring the entire U.S. government to better integrate political-diplomatic-military-law enforcement operations with judicial and congressional oversight as well as truly all-source intelligence support.

Interesting side notes include 1) the early discovery in US-Russian military discussions that technology interoperability and future collaboration required the surmounting of many obstacles associated with decades of isolated (and often secret) development; 2) the absence of intelligence from the entire book-by this account, US defense leaders spend virtually all of their time in direct operational discussions with their most important counterparts, and there is very little day to day attention to strategic analysis, estimative intelligence, or coordination with diplomatic, economic, and law enforcement counterparts at home; 3) the difficulty of finding a carrier to send to Taiwan at a time when we had 12 carriers-only four appear to have been “real” for defense purposes; and 4) the notable absence of Australia from the discussion of security in Asia.

The concept of Preventive Defense is holistic (requiring the simultaneous uses of other aspects of national power including diplomacy and economic assistance) but places the Department of Defense in a central role as the provider of realigned resources, military-to-military contacts, and logistics support to actual implementation. Unfortunately the concept of Preventive Defense has been narrowly focused (its greatest success has been the dismantling of former Soviet nuclear weapons in the Commonwealth of Independent States), and neither the joint staff nor the services are willing to give up funds for weapons and manpower in order to make a strategy of Preventive Defense possible.

This resistance bodes ill for the other half of the 21st Century security challenge, what the author’s call the “C List”-the Rwandas, Somalias, Haitis and Indonesias. They themselves are unwilling to acknowledge C List threats as being vital to U.S. security in the long-term (as AIDS is now recognized). I would, however, agree with them on one important point: the current budget for defense should be repurposed toward readiness, preparing for the future, and their concept of preventive defense, and it should not be frittered away on “C List” contingencies-new funds must be found to create and sustain America’s Preventive Diplomacy and its Operations Other Than War (OOTW) capabilities. It will fall to someone else to integrate their concept of Preventive Defense with the emerging concepts of Preventive Diplomacy, International Tribunals, and a 21st Century Marshall Plan for the festering zones of conflict in Africa, Arabia, Asia, and the Americas–zone where ethnic fault lines, criminal gangs, border disputes, and shortages of water, food, energy, and medicine all come together to create a breeding ground for modern plagues that will surely come across our water’s edge in the future. On balance, through, this book makes the top grade for serious bi-partisan dialogue, and they deserve a lot of credit for defining solutions for the first half of our security challenges in the 21st Century.

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