Review: National Insecurity – American Leadership in an Age of Fear

4 Star, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Force Structure (Military), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Public Administration
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

David Rothkopf

4.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB Conclusion–Has Flaws But Still a Strong Contribution, February 25, 2015

Wow. I have met the author and I gave an earlier book of his, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power a strong review, but I was not expecting the deep common sense and pragmatic observations that conclude this book. There are many aspects of our insecurity that the author is not willing to address — notably the deep corruption of our political system and undue influence by foreign “allies” that are in fact enemies but that pales in light of his deep evaluation of how badly we are doing as a government. There are many flaws in the author’s arguments better covered by Reviewer Frank J. Wassermann, I put this down to the author trying too hard to not completely alienate all the mandarins he still meets for lunch and at evening events. I embrace most of Reviewer Wasserman’s comments but still give the book four stars instead of his two.

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Review: Superclass–The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making

4 Star, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Power (Pathologies & Utilization)

SuperclassDoes Not Name Names or Illustrate Networks, March 29, 2008

David Rothkopf

I grew up in the 1970’s studying multinational corporations and inter-locking directorates, reading Richard Barnett’s Global Reach, and so on. I am also familiar with the $60,000 a year special database that charts the top dogs and every membership, association, investment, etc.

The two major deficiencies in this book that left me disappointed are:

1. Does not name names nor show network diagrams such as you can pull from Silobreaker.com (Factiva is not even close).

2. Shows no appreciation for past research and findings. This is a current overview, closer to journalism than to authorship or research.

The book earns four stars instead of three for two reasons:

1. There is a very subtle but crystal-clear sense of goodness, ethics, and “good intention” or “right thinking” by the author. As diplomatic as he might be, he clearly sees the insanity of Exxon refusing to think about anything other than maximizing petroleum while externalizing $12 in costs for every $3.50 gallon that they sell–they did NOT “earn” $40 billion in profit this past year–they essentially stole it from the population at large and future generations).

2. Each chapter has a serious point or series of points, and I especially liked the author’s constant presentation of tangible numbers on virtually every page.

Having said all that, I will list two books below that I found more interesting than this one, and then list a few notes that made it to my flyleafs.

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich
All the Money in the World: How the Forbes 400 Make–and Spend–Their Fortunes

Notes from the book:

6,000 top people (in total of 6 billion, I think that’s .0001–the author, who’s no doubt better at math, says each is 1 in a million)

Top 1,000 rich own as much or earn as much as the bottom 2.5 billion poor.

Early on he says he decided not to do a list because it changes. I believe him, but I was truly disappointed to not find a lot of meat in this book–it has facts, anecdotes, a story line, but one does not get the “feeling in the fingertips” or the raw feel.

Early on he reviews and dismisses conspiracy theories, and returns to this in the final chapter where he reviews the Masons, Bohemian Grove, Skull and Bones, all in a cursory manner (for example, there is no table, a single page would do, of top Skull and Bones power figures today).

Power is shifting away from Nations. This is true. The author focuses on those who have money and live globally. He is not focusing on those who control their own spending, global assemblages. For that see
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs
Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems

Human interactions are the glue connects the superclass members–corridor meetings that take place on the periphery of “big events” where the important stuff is not the event, but the encounters–Davos, World Cup, Grand Prix, Allen & Co, Geneva Auto Show, Winter Olympics, the Chinese meeting on Hainan Island (the Boao Forum).

Corporate/Finance the top of the barrel, 2000 top organizations control $103 trillion in assets, do $27 trillion in annual sales.

Access/time is the most precious asset, one reason the Gulf Stream is really a solid indicator of top of the top–it provides time saved, mobility, flexibility, privacy, security, work en route, sleep well, etc.

The author tells us he is focusing on influence, not just wealth or accomplishments, but very candidly, while the book is coherent and there is nothing wrong with its facts or sequence of observations, one simply does not come away with a clear picture. This is like a verbal description of a trip around the world, which it is, but without the photos, smells, tastes, etc. It also avoids any substantive (as opposed to discreetly moral “in passing” commentary) attention to costs and consequences–a balance sheet showing choices being made (e.g. by Exxon) and who benefits, who loses, would no doubt terminate this author’s welcome on the fringes of the super-elite as it would be devastatingly negative.

20-50 people control any given sector, worldwide

In the book the author seeks to discuss six central issues:

1. Nature of the superclass power

2. Link if any (ha ha) between concentrated wealth and the five billion at the bottom of the pyramid

3. Whether the superclass calls into question the sufficiency of our global legal and governance institutions

4. Whether the division in interests between the rich and the poor will be the central conflict of our time

5. Would we choose this superclass?

6. How is the superclass evolving

General conclusions:

Markets not working fully, need some non-market “controlling authority”

Elites are not taking responsibility for the poor in their own countries

Meritocracy is no longer–same merit, one becomes a billionaire from connections, the other a mere millionaire

Private equity is where its at in terms of starting salaries in the $300,000 range.

Globalists versus nationalist

Anti-globalists include leaders of Iran, Russia, and Venezuela

Tottering institutions–International Monetary Fund may not be funded by countries much longer

Global military-to-military relations work, political-diplomatic do not, and the money is mis-spent (billions here and there, and no money for spare parts to keep air forces flying, much cheaper good will spending)

Criminal elite a part of this (read Moises Naim’s book Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy

USA has a power vacuum in that both the President and Congress have taken power that is not theirs and abused it, but the US voter has ceded power by failing to understand and deliberate on the issues.

He surprises me by bing familiar with General Smedley Butler’s book, War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier

Two coolest sentences in the book for me:

“Most dangerous mind-altering substance on earth is oil.”

“Cost is simply not caring.” (Corporations that enrich dictators while ignoring the billions whose commonwealth is being stolen). For more on this evil and how the USA supports 42 of 44 dictators, see Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025

There is nothing in this book, published in 2008, on Sovereign Wealth Funds, nor does the author focus on dictators and “royalty” as part of the superclass. As Lawrence Lessig has noted, end corruption, end scarcity, begin a true harvesting of the common wealth for the common good. Right now we are all where “Animal Farm” put us–fodder for the wealthy.

The publisher’s choice of ink colors for the jacket flaps and rear cover is terrible, those portions of the book are difficult to read.

The book is over-sold: “draws back the curtain on a privileged society.” Not really. This is a solid book of facts that is as close to bland and generic and inoffensive as one can get–but then, that was probably the author’s intent since he wants to be able to see these people again…..

See also
The Global Class War: How America’s Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future – and What It Will Take to Win It Back

For a direct opposite of this book, seek out books on Collective Intelligence, Wisdom Councils, World Cafe, Social Entrepreneurship, All Rise, Power Governments Cannot Suppress, and so on. We live in interesting times.

Review: Running The World–the Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power (Hardcover)

4 Star, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Power (Pathologies & Utilization)

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

4.0 out of 5 stars Documents Arrogance and Naivete of Top Executive Officials,

September 11, 2005
David Rothkopf
The arrogance and naiveté of the National Security Council and its principal protagonists is ably reflected in the title. The pretentiousness and unreality of “Running the World” is fittingly complemented by a cover photo of a Cabinet meeting, not an NSC meeting-the latter take place in crummy little rooms with poor ventilation, not at all the kind of image one wants as an Emperor, naked or not.

There are three consistent and very useful themes throughout the book that make it extraordinarily valuable to any student of the pathologies of the national security “decision” process (I use that term *very* loosely).

First, that each Administration allows personal ambitions and an almost pathological desire for “differentiation” from the previous Administration to first destroy and then slowly rebuilt the NSC. Hence, it is dysfunctional much of the time, regardless of the ideology prevailing at the time.

The second prevailing theme, one that Amy Zegart captured so well in her seminal scholarly work, “Flawed by Design,” is the perpetual dysfunctionality, a constant dysfunctionality, between the Departments of State and Defense, and between Defense and the loosely managed U.S. Intelligence Community. The bottom line is that personalities and politics, not intelligence nor wisdom, are the prevailing drivers of U.S. national security.

Lastly, the irrelevance of secret intelligence to the White House decision process, regardless of what Administration is in power, is documented. Page 361 is an especially good indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in particular, and with specific reference to its complete incompetence at economic intelligence needed by the Department of the Treasury. In general, intelligence in this book is portrayed, accurately, as either irrelevant or a pawn to the politically-driven preferences of the White House.

This is not a scholarly work, but merits great credit for the many interviews. Over-all the author has leveraged close access to a large variety of U.S.players over time, while not engaging the other players, including foreign players, private sector players, and non-governmental players. The book, even with its focus only on US players would have benefited from an annex charting and comparing the approaches of various NSC iterations to various issues and topics, to include number of action officers, number of meetings, and number of decision papers, but that kind of hard work does not appear to have been part of the plan. There is also little mention of the role lobbying and blatant corruption play in making foreign and security policy–for example, there is no mention of how the White House and the U.S. Senate, from 1974-1979, knew full well that Peak Oil (the end of cheap oil) had arrived, but in what may well be the most treasonous and retrospectively impeachable offence against the public interest, both the White House and the Senators decided to “live the dream” and waste 25 years during which we could have achieved energy independence and sanity.

The book, by virtue of its focus on primary research, does not address the substantive literature on global issues, nor the scholarly and practical literature on the NSC. Morton Halperin’s seminal work on “Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy” and other works on the NSC such as those edited by Dr. Loch Johnson, the foremost academic observer of secrecy and policy, are essential complements to this author’s offering.

The book whitewashes Tony Lake, whose incapacity as an advisor merits note. Most of what the author puts forward about Lake is contradicted by other accounts including those of Dick Clarke, who says he could not get Lake’s support until the time came for the latter to leave government and write a book. Naturally there are different points of view.

The book is a hatchet job on the Reagan era, even catty in its tone, but the author avoids appearing to be a sycophant to Bush II in that he very properly documents the grotesque dysfunctionality of the Bush II team (and the extraordinary competence of Vice President Cheney in getting his way as co-President). The author has done a good job of leading up to a severe indictment of the Bush II national security decision process, and excels at showing how Condi Rice was “run over” and side-lined by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neo-conservatives. His documentation on Cheney as a de facto prime minister is quite good, and these few pages are alone worth the price of the book. Pages 428-429 are “hot” and make it clear that the Bush II Administration, where Cheney was given the terrorism mandate in passing (something not widely known to the public), chose to emphasize invading Iraq, national missile defense, and energy sweetheart deals over counter-terrorism during the critical three months leading to 9-11.

There are a few disconcerting errors or failures in the book. In lambasting Reagan for invading Grenada, he says that 8,612 medals were handed out. Had he troubled to check with the military, he might have learned the difference between medals and campaign ribbons. He seriously over-sells both Burger and Lake while ignoring the blatant manner in which the Clinton Administration, and Madeline Albright in particular, sought to down-play terrorism to the point of suppressing alarmist reporting and ignoring or side-lining Dick Clarke. He claims, on page 387, that the Clinton Administration “foiled plots against trans-Pacific jumbo jet traffic.” Not so fast. The terrorist blew himself up in the Philippines prior to executing the plot, which was completely undetected by U.S. intelligence, and it was that error that revealed the plot when Philippine authorities responded to the resulting fire. On page 457 he makes the observation that the Congress has less turnover than the Soviet politburo. This should have been credited to Peggy Noonan and Ronald Reagan, who used it in an address to a joint session of Congress. He ends the book wisely, saying, “The ultimate check is an educated American public,” which thought tallies nicely with Thomas Jefferson, who said “A Nation’s best defense is an educated citizenry.”

This is a book that needed to be written. It documents the pathetic manner in which U.S. national security is in the hands of a small group of people that place loyalty to one another above intelligence, wisdom, and strategic thinking. We all suffer. It is a primary reference for all who would wish to understand why the greatest Nation on the planet has such a pathetic lack of strategic culture, vision, process, and outcome.

The Exective, and the Congress, and Broken. Here are some other books, with my reviews:
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11
State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy)
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism

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