Review: The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate

2 Star, Atlases & State of the World
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Robert Kaplan

2.0 out of 5 stars Neither new nor original nor reliable, September 1, 2013

I am getting pretty sick of Stratfor and the pimps of empire. There is nothing new in this book other than self-promotion. For better more original reads consider, among many, many others:

Zones of conflict: An atlas of future wars

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Geography and natural resources are a starting point. How the population develops — including the degree to which it is educated, liberated, and empowered to innovate, matter. Deeper books along these lines include:

Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition

Politics Among Nations

In the end it boils down to clarity, diversity, integrity, and sustainability. I am quite tired of pundits recycling old knowledge, a practice made poissible by an ignorant public (including ignorant policy makers and deeply unethical politicians as well as a captive media that is both ignorant and complicit).

Best wishes to all,
Robert Steele
INTELLIGENCE FOR EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

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Review: Execution Premium

4 Star, Best Practices in Management

Execution PremiumOne Side of Wisdom, Needs to be Read with Prahalad Et Al, August 25, 2008

Robert S. Kaplan

I strongly recommend this book for any executive with ambitions to both rise and to help grow a sustainable and increasingly profitable (or effective) organization, i.e. this applies to non-profits and government and academia as much as to commercial enterprises.

The book MUST be read in partnership with The New Age of Innovation: Driving Cocreated Value Through Global Networks, both emphasize strategy and business processes, and they are each unique in how they approach the urgency of getting an executive grip on both strategy and business processes or the blood and guts of operations.

Where I am increasingly disappointed (only one star worth) with the business literature is with its relative isolation from all the other literatures. Business is one of eight “intelligence tribes” (learn more at Earth Intelligence Network and OSS.Net,): the others are government at all levels, Military and National Guard or Gendarme, Law Enforcement, Academia, Media including bloggers and new media, Non-Profits, and Civil Society including lasbor unions and religions.

Where the Innovation book adds to this book by Kaplan and Norton is in its focus of co-creating value with all indiviudals–cutomsters, suppliers, employees, regulators. Both, however, lack the sense that can be found in, for example:

The exemplar: The exemplary performer in the age of productivity
The Knowledge Executive
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace (Helix Books)

I also find both completely lacking in their appreciation for the green to gold, cradle to cradle sustainable design ENVIRONMENT of business, as well as the toxic immoral environment that most businesses accept rather than challenge. See for instance:

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage
The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism

Finally, while strategy as well as information and intelligence (one in inputs, the other outputs) are buzz words in the business world, this book does well at demanding an Office of Strategy but does not reflect the best knowledge of strategic thinking such as represented by Colin Gray in Modern Strategy and other recent publications; and neither really appreciates external unstructured ANALOG or human information, although the innovation book tries with a second hand appreciation of humans.

A huge paradigm shift is coming, and the value of morality as a basis for trust (Nobel Prize awarded for the guy that gamed that trust lowers the cost of doing business) is upon us. We are now ready to create the Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth that Buckminster Fuller envisioned. See Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace for a sense of what 55 others are saying on this vital FOUNDATION for business enterprise.

Review: Daydream Believers–How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power

5 Star, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Impeachment & Treason, Insurgency & Revolution, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Iraq, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Religion & Politics of Religion, War & Face of Battle

Daydream BelieversTogether with a Few Other Books, All You Need to Know, March 21, 2008

Fred Kaplan

The author is kinder to the protagonists than they merit.

I give the author high marks for making the case early on in the book that the world did NOT change after 9-11, and that what really happened was that the coincidence of neo-conservative back-stabbing and Bush’s well-intentioned evangelical village idiot view of freedom and democracy.

The author does a fine job of reviewing how after 9-11 we were faced with two choices, the first, going for empire (“we make our own reality”) or revitalizing alliances. The neocons in their ignorance called for regime changes, but the author fails us here by not understanding that both political parties love 42 of the 44 dictators, those that “our” dictators.

The author has many gifted turns of phrase. One talks about how their “vision” turned into a “dream” that then met “reality” and was instantly converted into a “nightmare.”

The author adds to our knowledge of how Rumsfeld empowered Andy Marshall, and how the inner circle quickly grew enamored of the delusion that they could achieve total situational awareness with total accuracy in a system of systems no intelligent person would ever believe in.

The author highlights two major intelligence failures that contributed to the policy bubble:

1. Soviet Union was way behind the US during the Cold War, not ahead.
2. Soviet economy was vastly worse and more vulnerable that CIA ever understood.

The author helps us understand that the 1989 collapse of the Berlin War created a furor over the “peace dividend” and the “end of history” that were mistaken, but sufficient to bury with noise any concerns about Bin Laden and Saudi Arabian spread of virulent anti-Shi’ite Wahabibism from 1988 onwards.

By 1997 Marshall and Andy Krepinevich were staking everything on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), high speed communications and computing (still not real today), and precision munitions.

The author provides a super discussion of Col John Warden’s “five rings” in priority order: 1) leadership and C4I; 2) infrastructure; 3) transportation; 4) population (again, war crimes); and finally, 5) the enemy. The author is brutal in scoring the campaign designed by Col Warden a complete failure. It…did…not…work (in Gulf I).

I cannot summarize everything, so a few highlights:

+ Taliban quickly learned how to defeat US overhead (satellite) surveillance–remember, we do not do “no-notice” air breather imagery any more, except for easily detected UAVs, with mud as well as cover and concealment. .

+ Excellent account of the influence on Rumsfeld of George Tenet’s failure to satisfy him during a missile defense review. It became obvious to all that the U.S. Intelligence Community a) no longer had a very high level of technical mastery on the topic; and b) was so fragmented as to make the varied analytic elements deaf, dumb, and blind–not sharing with each other, using contradictory data sets, the list goes on.

Page 187 is the page to read if you are just browsing in the bookstore:

Summarizing 2007: “Not so much a return to realism as a retreat to randomness.” Also: “Grand vision was shattered by reality. Policies were devised piecemeal; actions were scattershot, aimless.” And: “put forth ideas without strategies; policies without process; wishes without means.” Devastating.

So many other notes. Here are a tiny handful:

+ Speechwriter Michael Gersen connected with Bush on an evangelical level, wrote major speeches, in the case of a foreign policy speech, without actually consulting any adult practitioners.

+ Joseph Korbel was both Madeline Albright’s father and Condi Rice’s educational mentor–talk about a non-partisan losing streak!

+ American Enterprise Institute and Richard Perl used Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky to impress Cheney and subvert Bush by reframing the Israeli genocide against the Palestinians as the first 21st Century war between terrorism (the hapless Palestinians) and democracy (the Israeli’s).

+ He credits Eliot Abrams with devising the unique linkage between American Jews whose numbers and influence have been declining, and the Evangelical Christians whose influence peaked with Bush-Cheney.

+ He slams General Tommy Franks for providing assurances and making promises he could not keep with respect to settling and stabilizing the towns by-passed or over-run by the US Army.

+ The author is misleading in his account of the Saudi-Powell discussions on how an election would lead to radical Islamics in charge (as opposed to despotic, perverted spendthrifts).

+ Rumsfeld Lite going into Iraq meant that a quarter million tons of ordnance was looted by insurgents, which is what cost us four years time. General Shinseki is vindicated.

+ For the first time I learn of a planned Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

+ The author introduces Ahmed Chalabi but does not fully understand this man’s crimes as well as his special relationship with Iran. Iran used him to get the USA to depose the Taliban and Sadaam Hussein, , and to lure the entire US military into a quagmire.

+ Department of State, Mr. White in particular, got it right every time.

+ Legitimacy and stability must come before elections.

+ Hezbollah win in Lebanon dealt a crushing blow to the Bush delusions.

+ Bush refused to deal with Syria and Iran throughout. I am reminded of how Civil Affairs was told in the first five years of the war to blow off the tribal leaders and imams, and only now are they being allowed to get it right.

+ Useful account of three failed Public Diplomacy tenures (Charlotte Beers, Margaret Tutwiler, Karen Hughes (who waited six months so her son could leave for college–so much for the importance of that job….)

+ USA sent $230 million in aid to Lebanon, while Iran poured in $1 billion via Hezbollah (meanwhile, the Chinese do the same everywhere else).

Page 191 is glorious: Bush’s strategies were “based on fantasies, faith, and a willful indifference toward those affected by their consequences.”

Page 192: the real divide is “between the realists and the fantasists.”

The author quite properly slams the Democrats for not having an original idea, plan, program, bill, budget, or moral thought.

He ends by suggesting that multinational consensus is still the true litmus test for the sensibility and sustainability of any endeavor.

On this note, I conclude that five stars are right where this book should be. Incomplete, but original and provocative. Bravo.

Other recommendations:
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
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
DVD Why We Fight
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The Price of Loyalty : George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy

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Threats

2004

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2004

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2004

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2004

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2004

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2004

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2006

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2006

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2006

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2006

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2006

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2006

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2005

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2004

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2004

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2004

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2002

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2000

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1996

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Review: Imperial Grunts–The American Military on the Ground (Hardcover)

5 Star, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Military & Pentagon Power

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Admiring of Grunts, Deep Between the Lines Slam on Washington,

October 3, 2005
Robert D. Kaplan
Most important in this book is Kaplan’s documentation of the fact that transformation of the U.S. military is NOT taking place–Washington is still enamored of multiple layers of rank heavy bureaucracy, the insertion of very large cumbersome task forces in to every clime and place; an over-emphasis on technology; and a lack of appreciation for the urgency of providing security, food, water, and electricity IMMEDIATELY so as to start the cycle of counter-insurgency information collection from volunteers. The author is brutal in his indictment of the bureaucracy for failing to provide the linguistic skills, four years after 9/11, that are far more important to transformation than any weapons system. He is also brutal on the delays in approving operations in the field that are associated with layered bureaucracies that come with joint task forces, and completely detrimental to fast moving tactical success at the A Team level.

Key here is the conclusion that American power can only be exercised in a sustained way through discreet relationships at every level from neighborhood and village on up to provinces and tribes. The emphasis here is on discreet, humanitarian, tangible goods and services including security. When America introduces major forces, it spikes resistance and delays the achievement of its very objective. What jumps out is the need to change how the US achieves its presence around the world. The author recommends a change in the State Department model of embassies focused on countries–State tends to be co-opted country by country and loses sight–if it ever had it–of regional or tribal nuances. The author also recommends a sustained peaceful presence at the provincial and village level around the world, through a combination of modern civil affairs and humanitarian assistance cadres and retired military given leave to choose a place they get to know and stay there to finish out their careers and then be “on tap” for retired reserve plus up.

A third theme in this book, one that Ralph Peters also makes in “NEW GLORY,” is that a lot of these countries are NOT countries and should not be countries. Many borders imposed by colonialism are simply lunatic when taking into account historical and geographic and related ethnic realities. It *makes sense* to have regional summits that re-locate borders in a manner that respects historical, geographical and cultural realities, and to do so with a massive Berlin Airlift/Marshall Plan application of the benefits of peace. Ceding southernmost Thailand and the insurgent southern part of the Philippines to Malaysia, and establishing an Indonesian-Malaysian Muslim Crescent, makes sense. Similarly, in Africa and in the Middle East, there is good that could come of a deliberate recalculation of borders.

A fourth theme, and I share his admiring view of Special Operations and the Marine Corps, is that of the separation of the military ethos of service and dedication to mission, from that of the Nation at large, where Tom Friedman in “The World is Flat” declares that we are suffering from a new generation that is, in a word, apathetic. We need to return to universal service, with options for serving in the Peace Corps or the local constabulary at home. America has lost its civic integrity.

A fifth theme, one that corrected a misimpression I have shared, was of the rather special nature of the National Guard elements of the U.S. Special Forces and the Army civil affairs teams. They come out in this book as being among the best of the best.

Sixth, I found the author’s field appreciation of citizen militia in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere to be quite illuminating. Washington is wrong to rush the transition to a centralized Army in places where tribes and militia still hold sway and can be used to provide provincial stability. We ignore the possibilities of unconventional indigenous forces at our peril.

Seventh, as on page 230, the author highlight those occasions when our unconventional warriors point out that Toyotas are better than Humvees, commercial cell phones are better than military communications alternatives. Across the book, a few good men and women with independent authority and cash resources to do instant compensation and instant aid authorization come across as vastly superior to Washington-style contracting and major joint force insertions.

Eighth, throughout the book, force protection mania is killing us and gutting our counter-insurgency potential. This comes out especially strongly in Colombia, where A Teams are forbidden to go tactical with the forces they are training, and are limited to training within safe encampments only. Force protection is a modern variation of the Soldier’s Load-we are so nuts about force protection and heavying up that we are shackling our troops and our small unit leaders and completely avoiding the military value of “fast and furious.”

Ninth, national and military intelligence are not meeting needs of front-line grunts. Bottom-up intelligence collection, including passive collection from observant civil affairs teams and foot patrols, is what is really working. We appear to need a whole new concept of operations and a whole new doctrine for field intelligence, one that floods areas with non-official cover and overt personnel, one that puts analyst and translators heavy-up into the front lines.

Sidenotes include great admiration for SOUTHCOM, accustomed as it is to getting along with the short end of the stick; and derision for PACOM, “twenty years behind the times, afraid of messy little wars and of a transparent humanitarian role for SF.” The author regards the Global War on Terror (GWOT) as a convenient “set up” for a future war with China, not something I agree with but evidently a perception within the military that has specific outcomes from day to day. Other side notes include a brutal indictment throughout of “Big Army” and also of the US Air Force which is obsessing on more super-bombers and unwilling to fund what really works well, long-haul transports, AC-130 gunships (Puff the Magic Dragon), and more air controllers in the field with the grunts.

Super book! NOTE: I have the sense that some in the SF community have taken an intense dislike to Kaplan, and vote against the review as a way of voting against Kaplan. Fair enough, but for what it’s worth, the review is a good summary intended to be helpful to all in appreciating what I take to be some pretty useful themes.

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2004 Kaplan (US) The Saudi Connection: How billions in oil money spawned a global terror network

09 Terrorism, Government, Historic Contributions, Law Enforcement, Media
David Kaplan
David Kaplan

GOLDEN CANDLE AWARD: Mr. David Kaplan

OSS ’04: To Mr. David Kaplan, for his extraordinary exploitation of legal and ethical sources of information in the pursuit of investigative journalism on behalf of U.S. News & World Report.  His studies of North Korean government corruption and of Saudi Arabian government sponsorship of terrorism, represent the best practices in his field.

Today he is Editorial Director for the Center for Public Integrity, one of our Righeous Sites (click on Cover Photo to go to the Center).   In addition to overseeing the Center’s editorial work, he serves as director of its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Below is the core story as he told it personally at OSS ’04.

David Kaplan
David Kaplan

Review: Yakuza–Japan’s Criminal Underworld, Expanded Edition

5 Star, Crime (Organized, Transnational)

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Reference Work–Need Same for US,

May 15, 2004
David E. Kaplan
This is a solid reference work, and expands and updates on the earlier work that was itself a classic. It examines structured corruption in which organized crime, organized politics, and secretive corporate conglomerates, all help one another become wealthy at the expense of the public.There are a number of fine points across the book that merit emphasis here, and one of the earliest is that of how the CIA and the Army G-2 deliberately nurtured Japanese criminal organizations during the occupation, because they were “anti-communist.”

There is an excellent section of the book that focuses on how the US government fostering of political corruption in Japan in turn led to US corporate corruption, to include the funding of separate US corporate foreign policies anti-thetical to those Congress was trying to foster in the days before Congress abdicated its responsibilities.

Lee Kuan Yew would like this book. He says the only antidote to organized crime is strong extended families–natural families whose kinship equates to ethics. The book documents the spread of crime in Japan to every aspect of life, and one can only be saddened to see how the concepts of samurai honor and loyalty have been turned upside down.

Three ideas keep running through my mind as I read the book, two of them from the author and the third my own. First, the authors focused on the importance of following the money. He knew and wrote about this in the mid-1980’s, but today the US Government is still marginally able to follow money, especially informal money that the FBI only discovered in the late 1990’s with help from Dick Clarke (see my review of “Against All Enemies”). Following the money is *the* intelligence challenge of the 21st Century, and it is not something CIA can do–we have to find means of integrating all seven tribes, and especially business and banks as well as law enforcement at every level. Second, the author documents the weakness of Japanese law enforcement in a manner that highlights the weakness of US law enforcement at the state and local levels. Think of this book as traveling back in time to Japan, and then forward in time to the US, where we are now suffering many of the same problems. Finally, being a fan of Special Operations properly done, I realized that 21st Century warfare is going to be about man-hunts. It is going to be about tribal and criminal orders of battle, and about decapitating terrorist and criminal gangs without mercy.

The book spends some time on how US forces overseas are in fact a major stimulant and catalyst for crime, especially drugs and trade in women and children. By sending our forces and their money into austere conditions, we have actually created 750 “crime magnets” all over the world. And if you think our secret bases overseas are secret from anyone other than the US public, think again–one has only to ask the prostitutes. There is another important aspect of GI (Government Issue) life overseas: too many of our naive GI’s get sucked into crime, first from small loans, then being asked to smuggle small things, then big things, to pay off the loan, and then being tracked down, after returning home, to be brought into international crime within the USA. I realized from this that DoD needs a crime counterintelligence and amnesty program, and we need to out-brief every GI on how to handle criminal blackmail when they encounter it, both overseas, at home, and post-service.

The book ends with a fascinating and thoughtfully-selected series of vignettes on the spread of Yakuza crime to 21 countries. The study of their passports is especially interesting, and makes us wonder why the US Treasury is still spending most of its time, two years after 9-11, trying to harass those trading with Cuba, instead of going after terrorist and criminal money.

Toward the end of the book there is a useful professional discussion of how inept governments are at identifying correct names and name variants when trying to spot and monitor criminals. This is a real problem. Within the US Intelligence Community, there is no standard for international names, each agency doing its own thing, with the result that even if we were to connect all the databases, the decades of unstandardized data entry across the archipelago makes many of our records too hard to use–almost as if we have to start from scratch.

One final point that really jumped out at me: the authors do a great job of identifying the real experts on Yakuza, across many countries, and what struck me was that they exist but no one has figured out how to create a virtual community of interest with the Internet such that all of them are security in touch with one another, sharing name databases, libraries, photograph archives, etcetera. The obsession with secrecy and national control remains the greatest obstacle to actually doing well against crime, and we appear to need regional information sharing systems that are NOT secret (just secure), and multinational regional “stations” against crime.

Closing comment: the book documents the incompetence of the US approach to manning its Embassies, especially in the law enforcement arena, where individuals are not language qualified, have no idea of the culture or history, and rotate every two years just as they are finally getting wise. We need a “long haul” manning strategy, and in my view should start thinking in terms of 10-year assignments with every second person coming in at the 5-year mark for solid continuity of intelligence and counterintelligence against these clear and present threats to national security and prosperity.

Outstanding book. A classic relevant to any country, any business, any government, at any level.

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Review: Eastward to Tartary–Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus

5 Star, Atlases & State of the World, Country/Regional, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)

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Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Detail You Might Hate, But You Need It…,

November 23, 2001
Robert D. Kaplan
This will not be a long review. There is a similarity to Robert Kaplan’s books, and my reviews of his other books will suffice for additional detail.Having said that, I will also say that this book continues an excellent pattern of combining prior reading of history, a solid understanding of geography, and a gift for drawing out from an astonishing diversity of individuals, those little details that may bore in the aggregate but are priceless when endured and absorbed.

He seems to have missed the genocide against the Tatars, but perhaps that was hidden from him.

There is one huge gem, at least for me, in this book, and that is his assessment of the potential for a new schism between Western and Eastern Christianity, and how that must be avoided at all costs. This one sentence and the surrounding text is alone worth the price of the book.
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