Review: The CIA and the Culture of Failure: U.S. Intelligence from the End of the Cold War to the Invasion of Iraq

4 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

John Diamond

4.0 out of 5 stars Got the Obvious Right, Misses Everything Else, September 4, 2013

I regard Retired Reader as an alter ego and top gun in the field, so his review has my vote. If the book were current (it was published in 2008) I would be tempted to buy it but my time is not my own for the next year or two. Tim Weiner’s book remains my top level choice, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA along with The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World (Second Edition), and of course the many other books that I have reviewed here at Amazon, all easily scanned and leading to their respective Amazon page, by searching for “Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)”. I last updated it in August 2011.

There are seven CIAs, not just the one that the author writes about, and that costs the book one star. Search for my post of some time ago, “Search: Seven CIAs [Steele on the Record]”.

There is also a total lack of integrity as well as intelligence in Washington, D.C., and while I might normally take a second star away from the book — the author is pimping the cover story and not addressing the deep pathologies across the Executive, Legislative, and corporate worlds — this last bit is something I focus on and will return to in a year or two once I am done with my service overseas.

Yes, the CIA failed on 9/11 because Dick Cheney ordered it so and the Director of the FBI, two weeks on the job, was hired for the explicit purpose of covering it all up (just as the FBI actively covered up George W. Bush’s participation in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and its own culpability in the assassination of Martin Luther King, as well as many other crimes of state from Waco to Oklahoma and beyond).

No, the CIA did not fail on Iraq. Charlie Allen got it right, and George Tenet prostituted his office in willfull betrayal of his oath of office and the public trust. we had the defecting son-in-law, we had the 20 plus legal travelers, we knew they had kept the cook books, destroyed the stocks, and wer bluffing for regional influence’s sake.

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Review: Collapse–How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

5 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe

Collapse FailSolid, specific, provocative, and useful call to action,

February 26, 2007

Jared Diamond

Let’s get a couple of things straight before I enter my review:

1) There is no debate on this issue. There are the honest folk with the facts on their side, and then there are the unethical oil companies (Exxon leading the way) that have adopted the tobacco industry strategy of trying to sow doubt and turn facts into disputable theories, and the intellectual whores who do their bidding for money.

2) What’s different today, apart from Al Gore’s achieving global effect, is that the public now has a digital memory and digital sense-making. The World Index of Social and Environmental Responsibility (WISER), under the leadership of Paul Hawkin,Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming is going to do what neither Lester Brown (Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition) nor Lori Wallich (Seattle street demonstrations against WTO) have been able to achieve. It’s over. The people have won. See A Power Governments Cannot Suppress The only question now is how soon we liquidate the dictators and corporations that refuse to attend to the people’s needs for a sustainable earth.

Here is my review, focusing mostly on specifics that are not in the other reviews.

Published in 2005, this book is more relevant and more useful now that Al Gore has finally impacted on the public consciousness in a big way. Climate change and global warming are now understood by all to be very real and very close to a tipping point.

It is in this context that I am glad I have waited to read this book. The author has been praised by many for combining an understanding of geopolitics with an understanding of environmental causes and effects. Here are a few of the things that stayed with me:

1. Although the High-Level Threat Panel of the United Nations placed Poverty and Infectious Disease above Environmental Degradation, the author points out that Ecocide must now be seen as much more dangerous to the planet as a whole than either disease of proliferation and a nuclear event (which by the sheerest coincidence, Michael Scheuer of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror has just told the NYT will happen soon–but see my review of Paul Williams’ Osama’s Revenge: THE NEXT 9/11 : What the Media and the Government Haven’t Told You for a complete overview).

2. The author has conducted arduous research and lined up a number of case studies to support his five part framework of examining the topic of how societies choose to succeed or fail. They are:

a. Environmental degradation, whether man=made or natural
b. Climate change (as distinct from desertification, deforestation, etc.)
c. Hostile neighbors
d. Less friendly neighbors (loss of support)
e. Societies’ responses

3. On this latter point, the one thing we have control over, the author reminds me of the book Catastrophe & Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster (School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series), when he lists the following factors as causing disaster to turn into catastrophe and collapse:

a. Lack of anticipation
b. Lack of perception once upon us (denial starts here)
c. Impact of a selfish few unobserved or uncontested by the majority
d. Insulated elite not realizing or caring about impacts on the majority
e. Continued refusal, or inability, to solve the challenges (denial continues here)

The author emphasizes that the principal negative of globalization is that it assures a global collapse–there is no longer any insulation from diseases or other ill-effects of a collapse elsewhere.

Following a detailed review of specific past case studies (you can spend the time in the middle of the book, or read all my other reviews for a more diverse overview), the author lists twelve factors challenging all of us today:

1. Destruction of natural habitats
2. Over-fishing to point oceans and rivers do not replenish
3. Loss of diversity (which is essential to balanced complexity)
4. Soil impoverishment (top soil farming blows away the top soil)
5. Peak Oil and declining availability of fossil fuels for the larger population
6. Dramatic decreases in replenishable fresh water (aquifers down 1 meter each year)
7. REDUCTION of solar energy due to climate change. This was the only thing in the book I did not know already. Climate change REDUCES the degree to which solar energy can be harvested. This is HUGE.
8. Toxic chemicals in the ground, water, and atmosphere (see my reviews of the marvelous books, Pandora’s Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy and Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America’s Ocean Wilderness as well as The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
9. Alien species (in sense of rabbits over-running Australia)
10. Human activities
11. Increased population
12 Increased per capita impact (i.e. an order of magnitude worse than just increased population.

There are two paragraphs that in my view are priceless gifts from the author in this context, and the merit quoting here:

Page 429. “The remaining solution to the tragedy of the commons is for the consumers to recognize their common interests are to design, obey, and enforce prudent harvesting quotas themselves. That is likely to happen only if a whole series of conditions is (sic) met: the consumers form a homogeneous group; they have learned to trust and communicate with each other; they expect to share a common future and to pass on the resources to their heirs; they are capable of and permitted to organize and police themselves; and the boundaries of the resource and of its pool of consumers are well defined.”

Page 487. “The public has the ultimate responsibility” to define the accountability of big business and the justice framework that big business must respect.

The latter extract is part of the author’s chapter-length observation that without big business on board, nothing the consumer groups do will matter. This is of course true, and the question is, do we win over big business with boycotts, boycotts, new forms of public corporation, and perhaps (my favorite) the end of corporate personality.

The author ends on a positive note: of all the societies facing collapse, only ours, today, has the opportunity to learn from the past. I would add to this, only ours has the Internet and the dramatic increase of transpartisanship among concerned and informed citizens. We the People can indeed restore the power of the people, and the sensibility of the people, to all that hold in trust for the future of Earth and Humanity.

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Review: Squandered Victory–The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq (Hardcover)

4 Star, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Iraq, Leadership, Military & Pentagon Power

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4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat tedious, speaks truth, reveals our shortfalls,

June 28, 2005
Larry Diamond
The bottom line is this book is on page 290: “We never listened to the Iraqi people, or to the figures in the country that they respected.”

While some reviewers are critical of this author for representing all that is wrong with our post-war approach (he doesn’t speak Arabic and knows nothing of the Middle East) I do not hold that against him–he tried to help, and he was the best we had. It is the fault of a long series of US Administrations, and multiple generations of Congress, that have chosen to ignore the real world and to short-change American education to the point that we are literally clueless as a Nation about the real world and how billions of people in the real world hold mixed feelings about America: admiring much of what we represent, while despising our immoral corporate and unilateral government behavior.

The U.S. Army, both before the war and in the post-reconstruction period–and the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army–come out of this book looking very professional. The Army got it right, both in its pre-war estimates of what would be needed, and in its post-war recommendations. The author places the blame for the post-war deaths and disasters squarely at the feet of a naive President that empowered a Secretary of Defense inclined to go light, and side-lined a Department of State whose own intelligence estimates on Iraq have been consistently superior to those of either the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Defense.

I put this book down with a heavy heart, coincident with Secretary Rumsfeld announcing that we will be in Iraq and be taking losses for another twelve years. The good news is that Iraq will over time achieve its own balance, its own form of democracy. The bad news is that, as Winston Churchill has said so famously, “The Americans always do the right thing–they just do it last (after making every other possible mistake).”

See also:
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage)
Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq
Secrets and Lies: Operation “Iraqi Freedom” and After: A Prelude to the Fall of U.S. Power in the Middle East?
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone (Vintage)

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Review: Collapse–How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

4 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe

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4.0 out of 5 stars Not the Best, Does Offer Some Contributions,

February 18, 2005
Jared Diamond
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

The book does not live up to the title, and one wonders if the book was inspired by the edited work Catastrophe & Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster (School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series) whose basic point is that disasters turn into catastrophe when societies fail to plan and adjust.

On balance, I do not recommend the book to anyone that reads widely, and especially in the ecological economics literature from Herman Daly back through E.O. Wilson The Future of Life, Martin Rees OUR FINAL HOUR: A Scientist’s warning : How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future in This Century–On Earth and Beyond, J. F. Rischard High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them, or the more obvious Club of Rome and that Brown guy. Indeed, for the general audience, J. F. Rischard remains the best overview and the best value.

Having said that, I do not discourage the purchase and absorption of this book. Much of it can be skipped through if you have read other books that do a better job on any individual item (to his credit, the author provides an excellent bibliographic review in his expanded notes section). It is largely a kludge of the ideas and investigations of many others, but does–and this is why it gets four stars from me–pull together in one place, in a very interesting manner, a broad variety of investigations and conclusions.

Here are the highlights that I found worthy of reflection:

1) Gives useful emphasis to the word “ecocide” while bringing forward excellent reviews of how “creeping normalcy” and “landscape amnesia” can undermine any perception of danger or urgency.

2) Summarizes, but not as elegantly as J. F. Rischard, 12 problems and a 5-point framework of contributing factors.

3) Focuses on big business as the core player that must reform, but also emphasizes that big business will not reform until the public lives up to its responsibility for changing the rules of the game and making green business profitable.

4) Provides an impressive, nuanced, and helpful view of China and non-traditional threats coming out of China, including invasive plant and animal species, and noxious gases leaving China with the winds.

5) Alarms regarding Australia, the English-speaking outpost in Asia, which appears much more fragile and vulnerable to collapse than generally appreciated.

6) Explores the destructive nature of religious values that cause deforestation or over-population or other ills that impact on the commons.

7) Bluntly relates environmental instability to political instability. Max Manwaring does it better in his edited work “Environmental Security,” but for the general audience, these few pages are important.

8) Provides a concise and helpful thrashing of the 12 or so most common objections to being prudent about our environment.

Deep inside this book, and finally summarized by the author, is a focus on the failure of decision making at all levels of society. A failure to anticipate, a failure to perceive, a failure to attempt remediation, or even if attempted, a failure to achieve remediation, are all failures of each group and its leadership.

The author ends thoughtfully by noting that resolution of our imbalances will come one way or the other. The only choice we have is between peaceful planned sustainable changes, and catastrophic imposed “natural” corrections through war, famine, pestilence, and genocide.

I am very glad to have purchased this book, and would note that it did not make the cut via online browsing, but when examined in an airport bookstore, was found, once in hand and on direct inspection, to be worth the price of purchase and the time to absorb.

Edit of 20 Dec 07. In a larger s trategic context, what I do not see in this book is an emphasis on strategic culture or getting a grip on global reality. The USA has been living on the backs of everyone else, and only now is it starting to sink in that we are part of an The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People where everyone is is accutely conscious of The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World and our The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project).

The USA is today (20 Dec 07) a “failed state,” and while it is not officially classified as one, it is relevant to note that in 2007 there are 177 failed states, up from 75 in 2005. Bush-Cheney have been terrible to America, and to the rest of the world. Absent a miraculous turning out of a true majority in 2008, America is headed for a depression.

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