Review: Secrets–A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

6 Star Top 10%, Censorship & Denial of Access, Crime (Government), Culture, Research, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Impeachment & Treason, Information Operations, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Justice (Failure, Reform), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Strategy, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), True Cost & Toxicity, Truth & Reconciliation, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars History Matters, Secrecy Permits War Crimes by Presidents,

November 2, 2002
Daniel Ellsberg
This extraordinary work comes at the perfect time, as an Administration is seeking to create new forms of secret operations invisible to Congress and the public, in pursuit of its war on Iraq and-one speculates-other targets of ideological but not public priority. The book covers seven areas I categorize as Background, History, Information Strategy, Pathology of Secrecy, Ethics, War Crimes, and Administrative.By way of background, the book establishes that the author was not a peacenik per se, as some might perceive him, but rather a warrior, both in terms of Cold War ideology and from actual experience as a USMC infantry company commander and an on-the-ground observer traveling across Viet-Nam by jeep instead of helicopter, generally in the company of the top U.S. ground expert in Viet-Nam, John Paul Vann. The book establishes-as George Allen has also told us in NONE SO BLIND, that intelligence did not fail in Viet-Nam, that Presidents do get good advice from good men, but that the position of President, combined with executive secrecy as an enabling condition, permits very irrational and ineffective policies, conceived in private without public debate, to go forward at taxpayer expense and without Congressional oversight. The author is timely in emphasizing that the “spell of unanimity” is very dangerous and provides a very false image to the public-the stifling of dissent and debate at all levels leads to bad policy.

The author does an effective job of bringing forward the lessons of history, not only from Truman and Eisenhower forward, but from the Japanese and French occupations of Indochina. We failed to learn from history, and even our own experts, such as Lansdale showing McNamara the rough equipment that the Vietnamese would defeat us with because of their “will to win,” were sidelined.

As a public administration and public policy text this book offers real value as a primary source. The author provides valuable insights into how quickly “ground truth” can be established; on how the U.S. Government is not structured to learn; on how the best answers emerge when there is not a lead agency and multiple inputs are solicited simultaneously; and most importantly, on how private truths spoken in secrecy are not effective within any Administration. The author stresses that Americans must understand what Presidents are doing in their name, and not be accomplices to war crimes or other misdeeds. He does a brilliant job of demonstrating why we cannot let the Executive Branch dictate what we need to know.

Interwoven with the author’s balanced discussion of how to get ground truth right is his searing and intimate discussion of the pathology of secrecy as an enabler for bad and sometimes criminal foreign policy, carried out without public debate or Congressional oversight. The author adds new insights, beyond those in Morton Halperin’s superb primer on Bureaucracy and Foreign Policy, regarding the multiple levels of understanding created by multiple levels of classification; the falseness of many written records in an environment where truth may often only be spoken verbally, without witnesses; the fact that the Department of Defense created false records to conceal its illegal bombings in Laos and Cambodia, at the same time that the White House created false secret cables, used Acting Director of the FBI Patrick Gray to destroy evidence, and sought to bribe a judge with the offer of the FBI directorship. The author presents a compelling portrait of an Executive Branch-regardless of incumbent party-likely to make major foreign policy miscalculations because of the pathology of secret compartmentation, while also being able to conceal those miscalculations, and the cost to the public, because of Executive secrecy. He is especially strong on the weakness of secret information. As he lectured to Kissinger: “The danger is, you’ll become like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours” [because of your blind faith in the value of your narrow and often incorrect secret information. P. 236]

On such a foundation, the author discusses the ethics of Presidential leadership. He is especially strong-and relevant today-in discussing how Presidential appointees regard loyalty to the President as a mandate for lying to Congress and the media and the public. The author excels at bringing forward how our corruption in permitting corruption is easily recognized and interpreted by indigenous personnel-just as how whom we support is quick evidence of how little we know about local politics.

From here the author segues into the ethics of collateral damage and the liability of the American people for war crimes and naked aggression against the Vietnamese because of our deliberate violation of the Geneva accords and our support for a corrupt series of dictatorships in South Viet-Nam. Much of what we did in Viet-Nam would appear to qualify for prosecution under the International Tribunal, and it may be that our bi-partisan history of war crimes in Viet-Nam is what keeps us from acknowledging the inherent wisdom of accepting the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal in future wars. Tellingly, at one point his wife reads the Pentagon Papers and her tearful reaction is: “this is the language of torturers.”

Administratively we are reminded that the Pentagon Papers were 7,000 pages in total; that Neil Sheehan from The New York Times actually stole a set of the papers from Ellsberg before being given a set; that character assassination by the U.S. Government is a routine tactic in dealing with informed dissent; and that it is not illegal to leak classified information-only administrative sanctions apply, outside a narrow set of Congressionally-mandated exceptions.

This book is a “must read” for any American that thinks and votes.

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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: Islamic Leviathan–Islam and the Making of State Power

4 Star, Atlases & State of the World, Country/Regional, History, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Religion & Politics of Religion, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Truth & Reconciliation

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4.0 out of 5 stars Two Case Studies on Islam and the State,

March 10, 2002
Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr
This book seems to have been overlooked in the rush to understand Islam in the aftermath of 9-11.I recommend it because it provides two reasoned case studies on how two different states, Malaysia and Pakistan, used the intensity of Islam to legitimize their governments and states.

In the end, both had to control their fanatics.

Well documented, with good notes and bibliography, this book is the first in a new series from Oxford on Religion and Global Politics. It is a very fine first start, and in the aftermath of 9-11, I would suggest to the editors of the series that they dramatically accelerate their other endeavors–at least three more books are needed on Islam in relation to state politics, in relation to political economy, and in relation to neighborhood or ethnic politics; and several others on the relationship of Judaism and Catholicism and Mormonism to state structures. A special emphasis on religious education and how this affects political perceptions would be helpful.

This is a thoughtful book and one that should be part of the broader reading on Islam and global politics.

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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: Policing the New World Disorder–Peace Operations and Public Security

4 Star, Atrocities & Genocide, Complexity & Resilience, Culture, Research, Force Structure (Military), Humanitarian Assistance, Insurgency & Revolution, Justice (Failure, Reform), Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Security (Including Immigration), Stabilization & Reconstruction, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Truth & Reconciliation, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)

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4.0 out of 5 stars From Missile Gap to Cop Gap–Heart of Stability Operations,

October 13, 2000
Robert B. Oakley
EDITED 18 September 2007 to add links to other books. Still Ref A.

In excruciating detail, with substantial commonality between a number of case studies, this book examines the traditional public security (police, internal order) function in relation to failed states and external interventions.

This is not a book about the larger issue of when and how to intervene in the internal affairs of states beset by internal conflict and it is not a book about the actual conditions around the world that require some form of imposed or reinforced public order. Rather, it is the most detailed book one could hope for on the need for an international law enforcement reserve that is capable of rapidly filling the gap in local public police services that occurs when the indigenous capability collapses and traditional military forces arrive unprepared to meet this need.

All of the case studies are world-class, with primary source detail unlike any normally seen in the literature. All agree that this is a “force structure” issue that no government and certainly not the United Nations, has mastered, but most give due credit to UN civilian police operations for being the best available model upon which to build a future capability.

The summary of conclusions by Ambassador Oakley and Colonel Professor Dziedzic are alone worth the price of the book. If the Cold War era might be said to have revolved around early perceptions of a “missile gap”, the 21st Century with its Operations Other Than War (OOTW) could reasonably be said to have two issues-natural conditions such as depleted water resources, which is not the book’s focus, and the “globo-cop gap”, which is-the book documents in a very compelling manner the fact that there is a major capabilities (and intelligence) chasm between preventive diplomacy on the one side, and armed military forces on the other, and that closure of this gap is essential if we are to improve our prospects for rescuing and maintaining public order around the world.

The capabilities of U.S. military police and civil affairs specialists are touched on by several pieces, but I for one would have liked to see more emphasis on what changes in their force structure is required-my understanding is that we have not increased their numbers in the aftermath of the Cold War despite the fact that these units are being used up all over the world, without relief.

The conclusion highlights the need for constabulary forces, and helpfully identifies the following specific national capabilities as being relevant (in this reader’s interpretation) to a future standing international gendarmerie: U.S. Military Police and Special Forces, French gendarmerie, Spanish Guardia Civil, Chilean carabineros, Argentine gendarmes, Italian carabinieri, Dutch Royal Mariechaussee). I would add the Belgian Gendarme, the first national force to establish an open source intelligence network across all police precincts in the entire country.

It is clear from both the conclusion and the case studies that this constabulary-police capabilities requirement needs agreed-upon international concepts, doctrine, training, earmarked resources including surge capabilities and transport, and so on. We do not appear to have learned any lasting lessons from the various interventions, in that civil affairs and military police continue to be “last in line” for embarkation into areas where military forces are being introduced, and there is no U.S. program within Program 150 where we can demonstrate a real commitment to “law and order” as part of our contribution to peace in the 21st Century.

The book lacks an index, a typical shortcoming of think tank and defense educational institutions, and this is a major flaw that should be corrected in the next printing. This book is “Ref A” for every foreign service, military, and law enforcement officer interested in doing a better job of integrating diplomatic, gendarmerie, and military capabilities in every clime and place.

See also:
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism
Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude
Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare
The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America

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Review: Deliver Us from Evil–Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict

5 Star, Crime (Government), Crime (Organized, Transnational), Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Force Structure (Military), Humanitarian Assistance, Insurgency & Revolution, Justice (Failure, Reform), Military & Pentagon Power, Security (Including Immigration), Stabilization & Reconstruction, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Truth & Reconciliation, United Nations & NGOs, War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamental Primer on Real-World Security Challenges,

August 29, 2000
William Shawcross
EDIT of 23 Feb 08 to add links. This remains a priceless reference work.

This book is serious, scholarly yet down to earth, compassionate, insightful, terribly relevant and most useful to any citizen, overseas practitioner, or policymaker. By the books own rendering, “good will without strength can make things worse.” Most compellingly, the author demonstrates both the nuances and the complexities of “peace operations”, and the fact that they require at least as much forethought, commitment, and sustainment as combat operations. Food scarcity and dangerous public health are the root symptoms, not the core issues. The most dangerous element is not the competing sides, but the criminal gangs that emerge to “stoke the fires of nationalism and ethnicity in order to create an environment of fear and vulnerability” (and great profit). At the same time, humanitarianism has become a big part of the problem-we have not yet learned how to distinguish between those conflicts where intervention is warranted (e.g. massive genocide campaigns) and those where internal conflicts need to be settled internally. In feeding the competing parties, we are both prolonging the conflict, and giving rise to criminal organizations that learn to leverage both the on-going conflict and the incoming relief supplies. Perhaps more troubling, there appears to be a clear double-standard-whether deliberate or circumstantial-between attempts to bring order to the white western or Arab fringe countries and what appears to be callous indifference to black African and distant Asian turmoil that includes hundreds of thousands victim to genocide and tens of thousands victim to living amputation, mutilation, and rape. When all is said and done, and these are my conclusions from reading this excellent work, 1) there is no international intelligence system in place suitable to providing both the global coverage and public education needed to mobilize and sustain multi-national peacekeeping coalitions; 2) the United Nations is not structured, funded, nor capable of carrying out disciplined effective peacekeeping operations, and the contributing nations are unreliable in how and when they will provide incremental assistance; 3) we still have a long way to go in devising new concepts, doctrines, and technologies and programs for effectively integrating and applying preventive diplomacy, transformed defense, transnational law enforcement, and public services (water, food, health and education) in a manner that furthers regionally-based peace and prosperity instead of feeding the fires of local unrest.

See also:
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks)
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
Manufacture of Evil: Ethics, Evolution, and the Industrial System
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition
The Future of Life
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century

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Review: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

5 Star, Change & Innovation, Culture, Research, Economics, Education (General), Education (Universities), Games, Models, & Simulations, History, Information Operations, Information Society, Intelligence (Commercial), Intelligence (Extra-Terrestrial), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Strategy, Truth & Reconciliation, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Enduring Classic on the Hard Truth about Changing Minds,

May 29, 2000
Thomas S. Kuhn
Two points are worthy of emphasis: 1) the paradigm shift is always forced and 2) until the paradigm shift occurs, always suddenly, the incumbents can comfortably explain everything with their existing paradigm. There will be many from the current “laissez faire” academics without accountability environment who would be critical of this book, but the fact is that it’s fundamentals are on target; as the sociology of knowledge has shown time and time again, “thinkers” are nepotistic, incestuous, and generally lazy, as well as mono-lingual and culturally-constrained, and it takes a major shock-wave to push any given intellectual domain up to the next plateau.
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