Avid Readers, Occasional Bloggers

Tag: Iraq Page 1 of 2

The Corruption Before Trump

We are where we are in American politics, in part, because all these big-picture projects succeeded in enriching private interests … but failed to achieve their stated public goals. The “shock therapy” delivered to Russia midwifed Putinism instead of a prosperous American ally. The war in Iraq ushered in a regional conflict that’s still burning to this day. Chimerica worked out better for the Chinese than for many working-class Americans, and far better for the Chinese Politburo than for the cause of liberty. And the self-justifying doctrine of the present elite — that you can serve the common good while in office and do well for yourself afterward — became far more implausible when the elite’s projects kept failing even as the officeholders kept on cashing in. – Ross Douthat

Deep Black by Sean McFate

Sean McFate’s Deep Black follows his initial novel in the Tom Locke Series Shadow War. Deep Black is a fast-paced action novel primarily based in war-torn Iraq.

The non-stop action reminds me of the books I grew up reading – Mack Bolan and the like – but, much better and this book also includes an intellectual bent. The action is more morally based. The lead character, Tom Locke, is developing more of conscience and is not just another mercenary. He and his two comrades use their skills to help more than hurt – sometimes ignoring big payouts of cash.

Speaking of the characters, Tom Locke is a likable heroine who refuses to be sucked into the mercenary-for-hire world he had just left. He is not a typical mercenary – educated, connoisseur of good food, and lover of classical music and opera.

The plot is fast-moving with a few surprising turns. The action spans from Iraq to Turkey to England. The plot also includes a lot of intrigue involving not only the mercenary company that formerly employed Locke, but also a power struggle in Saudi Arabia.

The book is a must-read for those interested in the mercenary wars that Americans are involved in.

Book Review: Decision Points by George W Bush

No matter your opinion of George W Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, a lot of momentous events happened during his eight years in office; from the controversy of his election to 9/11 from Iraq and Afghanistan to Katrina and TARP. Getting his perspective on them is worthwhile and that is exactly what Decision Points offers, his take on the most important decisions of his term.  There is a brief biographical introduction but the focus is on critical decisions not a chronological or traditional autobiography.

What struck me most while listening, however, was how unique Bush’s experience was. The son of a president wrestling with what it means to be a successful president; dealing with the consequences of his father’s actions in Iraq; an awareness of the traps of perception and politics, and the circumstances of history, that prevented your dad from being re-elected even as you seek re-election; never getting the chance to have a clear winner declared on election night yet assuming the presidency; on and on it goes.

Whether you think him and idiot or mis-underestimated, evil or just squishy, well-intentioned or badly served or all of the above at different times, what a unique historical figure.

If you are a policy wonk or have a philosophical bent you might be frustrated by the lack of detail and the often simplified arguments provided. For the vast majority of the book the tone and style is relentlessly pragmatic. Bush faced decisions and he made them based on his principles, instincts and the advice of experts and staff. He lays out his thought process and rational but rarely seems willing to wrestle with deeper issues or more philosophical conundrums (the role of government, the efficacy of foreign intervention, the problems of a security state, etc.).

The central role of faith and family in his life, his confidence in his ability to make decisions and in his team, and his dry sense of humor all shine through however. An interesting historical perspective without much deep insight or literary flare.

Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq by Mark Urban

There is no doubt that the special forces of the United States have been heavily involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars since those wars’ initial stages.  However, many do not know how much assistance the Americans received from its allies, particularly the British.  Mark Urban highlights the efforts of British special forces to assist American special forces in taking down Saddam’s forces and the insurgents of al-Qaeda and Shia in his book Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq.

Here is a brief summary of the book from the publisher’s website:

When American and British forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, select teams of special forces and intelligence operatives got to work looking for the WMD their governments had promised were there.  They quickly realized no such weapons existed.  Instead they faced an insurgency—a soaring spiral of extremism and violence that was almost impossible to understand, let alone reverse.

Facing defeat, the Coalition waged a hidden war within a war.  Major-General Stan McChrystal devised a campaign fusing special forces, aircraft, and the latest surveillance technology with the aim of taking down the enemy faster than it could regenerate.  Guided by intelligence, British and American special forces conducted a relentless onslaught, night after night targeting al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

Urban provides a solid chronological history of the British special forces in Iraq.  Many people may see this book  as a dry history, but I would counter that it is not because Urban includes many details of the war that I thought would be top-secret.  For example, he describes how the American tracking of cell phones in Iraq helped the American and British special forces to find targets for their operations.  These operations eliminated or captured leaders in the insurgency.

Home and Away by David and Nancy French

David French picked up the newspaper in the comfort of his penthouse in Philadelphia, and read about a soldier – father of two – who was wounded in Iraq. Immediately, he was stricken with a question: Why him and not me?

This is the hook at the heart of Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War by David and Nancy French. David (“a 37-year-old father of two, a Harvard Law graduate and president of a free speech organization”) didn’t just think about it or write about it he did something about it.  He went to Iraq and served his country on the front lines or as close as he could get.

The book tells the story of the impact of this decision, and all its ramifications, on him and his family. Nancy tells the home front side and David the enlisted side. Together they allow the reader to get a glimpse into life if someone in your family was called up and sent to war for a year.

David explains his motivation, and the thought process leading up to his enlistment and getting called up, while Nancy offers her response and experience while he was gone.

We see what it is like to live and work in a war zone; the bonds built and the tragedies that unfold – events that permanently change a person.  We also see the difficulties and emotional strains of being a single parent while your spouse is overseas in a war zone. How you interact with friends and family; the social interaction in the larger community that can become difficult; the ways you change and your relationships change.

And for this alone I think it is a valuable book.  Both David and Nancy offer honest and emotional insight into how they experienced this challenge and how it changed their lives. And this offers readers the ability to put themselves into that experience.

Two potential drawbacks: politics and style.  Politically and culturally the Frenches are conservative Republicans and Southern evangelicals. If you do not share this perspective there are points that might get under your skin.  David is clearly engaged in push-back against critics of the war in Iraq and in particular seeks to defend the soldiers and their conduct.

Understandable? Sure, and honestly and well articulated. But it might rub some the wrong way. And politics plays a large role in Nancy’s life as well – her relationship with the Mitt Romney presidential campaign (v. 2008) in particular.

And this ties into the style issue.  David and Nancy are in important senses both professional writers and the book is well written, often thought provoking and frequently entertaining. But they have two very different styles and the alternating chapters don’t always blend together well.

David has a straightforward logical style. There are often powerful emotions involved but he mostly just tells it like it is – here is how I see it, felt it, understand it, etc.  Nancy has a more sarcastic, self-effacing Southern humor style. Going back and forth between these two styles can be jarring and it undercuts the narrative energy at times.

Nancy’s sections in particular feel like a series of vignettes rather than a coherent story or timeline. Her trip to Utah and interaction with the Romney’s was rather bizarre and out of place (I understand it was an important aspect of her life but is felt odd to me). At the end I felt like I knew David better than Nancy and understood what his life was like better than hers.

But as I said, overall it is an interesting story that offers a unique and valuable perspective for our times.  Your tastes, perspective and attitudes (and perhaps gender) will obviously have an impact on your enjoyment of various aspects but it is an honest and entertaining look at something many of of us probably don’t think all that much about: what it means to send a spouse to a war zone for a year.

And if it can get us to think about the Americans who are going through this every day a little more, then it is worth it.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén