Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on Sept. 11, 2006. It is being published again to coincide with Lawrence Wright’s visit to Huntington, West Virginia on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011.
To employ the often useful – and truthful cliché – if you read only one book on Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, that book should be “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright (Knopf, 480 pages, $27.95, illustrations, sources, cast of characters, bibliography, index).
About that back-of-the-book feature “Principal Characters”: It’s absolutely essential — with all the Arab names in this book – to get them straight. More books should include them, as well as the voluminous notes, sources, persons interviewed, etc. in this exceptionally well documented book that immediately joins my short list of contenders for top prize books of 2006.
By telling the story of the spiritual father of bin Laden’s form of Islamism, Sayyid Qutb, who studied in Greeley, CO in 1948, Wright places fundamentalist Islam in context. Qutb was a middle-class Egyptian who was both entranced and appalled by the diversity of America, where people of various nationalities and religions seemed to get along, albeit with much literal and physical jostling. Qutb traveled widely in the U.S. and was particularly entranced – and appalled – by the vitality of New York City, in sharp contrast to the decadence of Cairo in the last days of King Farouk’s regime.
After discussing Qutb’s variety of fundamentalist Islam and its influence on young Muslims of all nationalities – Qutb was hanged by Nasser in 1966 – Wright concentrates his narrative four individuals: Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, the leaders of al-Qaeda (Arabic for “The Base”) founded in Afghanistan in 1988 in the last days of the Soviet occupation; colorful FBI Agent John O’Neill, who died in the attack on the World Trade Center five years ago and Saudi Arabia’s former head of intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who started out as ally of bin Laden and ended up as his bitter enemy after the Saudi millionaire declared jihad on the Saudi leaders. Most of the emphasis is on bin Laden and O’Neill.
If there’s one thing that comes through clearly from “The Looming Tower,” it’s that the widely held belief that intelligence agencies hoard their scraps of intelligence like animals crowding around a downed prey animal, unwilling to share with anyone, is absolutely true. The rivalry between the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI is particularly well-drawn by Wright, an indefatigable reporter and elegant writer.
O’Neill, was a working class guy from Atlantic City, NJ, who loved the New York metropolitan area. He dressed like a dapper Mafia don in Burberry pin-striped suits and expensive Italian shoes – in contrast to his cheap-suit-wearing colleagues – and tried to break down this great intelligence divide, often to the annoyance of his boss, FBI Director Louis Freeh. O’Neill, who was 50 when he died in the 9/11 attacks soon after his resignation and just into his new job as security director of the WTC, is wonderfully profiled by the New Yorker writer, which makes sense since the “profile” as we know it today was invented at the magazine decades ago under the editorship of Harold Ross.
At the time of the Khobar Towers bombing in August 1996, there were only seven Arabic speaking FBI agents in the entire nation, Wright notes, pointing out that the FBI was largely staffed by men of urban Irish and Italian background. One of the seven, Lebanese-American Ali Soufan, was assigned to work with O’Neill on the investigation of the USS Cole bombing; the interrogation by this loyal American of Lebanese birth of Abu Jandal in Yemen after 9/11 was instrumental in identifying the 9/11 hijackers. He now works for Rudy Giuliani’s security firm.
O’Neill comes through in Wright’s narrative as one of the few intelligence officers in the nation to understand the dangers of Islamic terrorism, which really is amazing considering the events of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. O’Neill, in charge of a New York-based task force dedicated to capturing Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 WTC attack, had to deal with general tone-deafness toward Islamic terrorism that characterized both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Yousef was captured in 1995 and now is in prison for life.
With more interagency cooperation and more leaders listening to O’Neill, his colleague and Islamism expert Dan Coleman and the CIA’s Michael Scheuer, head of that agency’s Alec Station counterterrorism agency in New York from 1996 to 1999, 9/11 could have been prevented, Wright argues. Scheuer and O’Neill, true to form, were bitter rivals, echoing the rivalry of the CIA and the FBI.
The lack of information sharing even resulted in some agencies threatening to install antennas on Diego Garcia and other listening posts to gather intelligence denied them by other agencies, Wright reports in a book that reads like an espionage thriller by John Le Carre or Len Deighton.
The bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are described in detail, showing that Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri were deadly serious about their anti-U.S. jihad – even if it meant killing dozens of innocent Muslims in the process. Wright, a Tulane University graduate who taught at the American University in Cairo for two years, attempts to explain how suicide bombers and terrorists can exist in a religion that bans suicide. He interviewed hundreds of people for his exhaustive book.
We get a glimpse of life in Hamburg, Germany, one of the wealthiest cities in the nation, where 200,000 Muslims live, most of them law abiding residents of a prosperous Western nation, but a significant number who took part in the planning and execution of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings and the failed attempt to hit the Capitol in Washington. Wright points out that the German authorities tolerate terrorists – as long as they didn’t attack German targets.
Could there have been a 9/11 without Osama bin Laden? Wright says: “The answer is certainly not. Indeed, the tectonic plates of history were shifting, promoting a period of conflict between the West and the Arab Muslim world; however, the charisma and vision of a few individuals shaped the nature of this contest….without bin Laden, the Egyptians [Zawahiri, Abu Ubaydah, Saif al-Adl, and Abu Hafs] were only al-Jihad. Their goals were parochial…it was bin Laden’s vision to create an international jihad corps. It was his leadership that held together an organization that had been bankrupted and thrown into exile.”
Just before finishing this review, I saw Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center.” I recommend the film and Wright’s masterful “The Looming Tower” to anyone seeking answers to questions of why the West became a target of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
Publisher’s web site: www.aaknopf.com
You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. — Ransom Stoddard (played by James Stewart) to Maxwell Scott in the 1962 movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
* * *
I leave this rule for others when I’m dead:
Be always sure you’re right –THEN GO AHEAD! — David Crockett
* * *
David Crockett spent less than three months — his final three months — in Texas, yet this period in his adventure-filled life is the one most people remember, especially his death at the Alamo on March 6, 1836, says Michael Wallis in his intriguing biography, “David Crockett: The Lion of the West” (W.W. Norton, 380 pages, photographs and maps, $27.95).
He wasn’t, in the words of the 1950s song “Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee,” writes prolific author Wallis, who voiced the sheriff in the animated feature “Cars.” Rather, he was born alongside a river in Franklin, now part of northeastern Tennessee, but in 1786 when Crockett was born, an independent state that had seceded from North Carolina. It existed from 1785 to 1789 when it was absorbed by Tennessee, failing in an attempt to become the 14th state and existing briefly as an independent republic. To this day in towns like Johnson City and Greeneville, TN, you’ll see signs on banks and other businesses paying tribute to its former independence.
Franklin was an appropriate place for the Scots-Irish Crockett to be born. It was a fiercely independent region of Appalachia — itself a fiercely independent region of the new country — which was largely settled by people with the same ethic background as Crockett. He killed plenty of bears and other game, but he didn’t “kilt him a b’ar” when he was three years old, as the song goes.
He was a state representative in 1821, after being elected Colonel in the Lawrence County, Tennessee militia. He was first elected in 1826 as Congressman from two different districts in west Tennessee, where he lived until he decamped for Texas in January 1836. His restlessness, heavy drinking and lack of money prompted his exasperated second wife Elizabeth to move out of their cramped cabin to live with her family in North Carolina. Crockett committed political suicide as congressman when he voted against the Indian Removal Act advanced by his bitter enemy President Andrew Jackson. His opposition to Jackson, who was popular in Tennessee, led to his defeat in the 1834 elections.
During his lifetime, Crockett was a legend in his own time — and mind, too. His exploits were featured in a popular play that was staged in New York and later in London. In his travels, Crockett was instantly recognized, but he only wore the hunting outfit — including the coonskin cap popularized in the 1950s Disney series starring Fess Parker — when he was promoting his 1834 autobiography or other appearances. In Congress, he clothed his muscular 6-foot, 200 pound body in the same suits as his colleagues.
Early in the book, Wallis says he didn’t write this book as “another straightforward chronological biography” of Crockett, but rather as a book “for those people interested in learning the truth — or as much as can be uncovered — about the historical and fictional Crockett, and how the two often became one.”
Wallis says that the research for the book involved traveling to the many places Crockett lived and hunted; this comes through in the book. The Crockett that emerged from Wallis’ research was definitely not the Crockett portrayed in 1954 by Disney. “Much of the distortion of truth about Crockett began in his own lifetime and continued after his death,” Wallis says.
About the Author
Michael Wallis (born 1945) is a journalist and popular historian of the Western United States. He has written seventeen books, including Route 66: The Mother Road, about the historic highway U.S. Route 66. His work has also been published extensively in magazines and newspapers, including Time, Life, People, Smithsonian, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. Wallis attended the University of Missouri in Columbia, and moved to Miami, Florida, in 1978, where he worked for Time’s Caribbean Bureau. He currently lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his wife, Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis.
For my 2007 review of his book about the “Father Road,” “The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast From Times Square to the Golden Gate”, click: http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/070817-kinchen-columnsbookreview.html.
Publisher’s Website: www.wwnorton.com
By John W. Lillpop
With his customary modesty, President Obama has attempted to sell the American people on the ‘success’ of his leading from behind strategy in the ‘non-hostilities’ waged in Libya.
This braggadocio is issued despite the fact that, as of this date, Moammar Gadhafi is still on the loose when he should have been taken care of ‘within days, not weeks.’
Even more disconcerting is the fact that 20,000 or so surface-to-air missiles have gone missing as reported, in part, at (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/09/27/report-20000-heat-seeking-missiles-may-be-missing-from-libyan-warehouse/#ixzz1ZLAt1uIc) :
A recent secret White House meeting revealed that an estimated 20,000 portable, heat-seeking missiles appear to have vanished from an Army warehouse in Libya, ABCNews.com reported.
The new revelations stoke ongoing fears that such weapons, which are light, relatively easy to use and have the capacity to take down a commercial airplane, could end up in the wrong hands as the Libyan war that ousted Muammar Qaddafi winds down.
“Matching up a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile, that’s our worst nightmare,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told ABCNews.com.
Earlier this month, a senior U.S. official told the Associated Press that weapon proliferation was the “key concern” for the U.S. as Libya emerges from six months of civil war. To be sure, Libya has been struggling to secure many weapon caches.
The U.S. has individuals working with Libya’s new rulers to help stanch the possible proliferation of a wide range of weaponry. Jeffery Feltman warned reporters of the potential proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles and mustard gas.
“This is certainly an issue we are concerned with, the Libyan officials are concerned with, because it poses potential risks not only to Libyans, but to the region as a whole,” said Feltman earlier this month.”
Perhaps intelligent involvement rather than goofy “leading from behind” would be advised, Mr. President?
Lillpop lives and blogs in San Jose, CA.
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear — 1997 to be exact — to find out what made elite U.S. Army Military Policeman Jack Reacher the scruffy vigilante he is today in Lee Child’s “The Affair” (Delacorte Press, a Random House imprint, 416 pages, $28.00), the 16th Reacher novel and the one that explains everything you need to know.
“The Affair” is actually the second prequel; “The Enemy” — set in 1990 and published in 2004 — is the first.
Reacher — 6-5, up to 250 pounds of sinew and muscle and not an ounce of fat — is a force of nature and a natural detective, so it’s no surprise that his boss Gen. Leon Garber wants him to go to Carter Crossing, Mississippi to find out who’s been killing women in the small town next to an Army Special Forces base called Fort Kelham. He’s to go undercover to find out if the killer is a civilian or one of the soldiers on the base who frequent the bars in the town.
A complicating element for Major Jack Reacher is the commander at the base who’s the son of a powerful senator who’s in charge of appropriations for the military. Another complication is an ex-Marine named Elizabeth Deveraux who’s the local sheriff. I take part of that back: There is no such thing as an ex-Marine! Deveraux has no particular love for the army, but she’s a professional and immediately spots the long haired drifter as an undercover cop.
There’s tension of many kinds between the two cops, including the sexual variety. Even their meals together in the town’s best restaurant have an erotic quality. Jack Reacher immediately realizes that Deveraux is not the lesbian she’s rumored to be and you can guess where they end up in the hotel where Deveraux lives and Reacher is staying. After this period of education, they join forces to find out who killed Janice May Chapman — and if the killer is responsible for the deaths of other local women.
Anything more would be a spoiler and Jack Reacher wouldn’t like that! So I’m not spoiling for a fight with the giant.
* * *
I couldn’t believe that Jack Reacher hasn’t made it to the big screen (most of Child’s novels have been optioned for films) and I learned after a Google search that the giant drifter will be played in the upcoming adaptation of “One Shot” by the diminutive (5-7, according to IMDb) Tom Cruise. The movie version of the 2005 novel will be directed by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie for Paramount. McQuarrie, whose last directing credit was 2000′s The Way of the Gun, is best known as the screenwriter behind The Usual Suspects, and Valkyrie (starring Cruise),
Cruise, born in 1962, is the right age to play Reacher, who, according to his “biography” in the Wikipedia entry “Jack Reacher” was born on a military base in Berlin in 1960. Reacher is a graduate of West Point and served 13 years as a military policeman, most of it as part of a fictional military police unit, the 110th Special Investigations Unit, formed to handle exceptionally tough cases, especially those involving members of the United States Army Special Forces.
Though he was demoted from Major to Captain in the prequel novel “The Enemy”, he regained the rank of Major by the time hemustered out in 1997 after solving the crimes in “The Affair” He was the recipient of many military awards during his career: the Silver Star, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Soldier’s Medal, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.
About the Author
Lee Child is the pen name of Jim Grant, born in 1954 in England and a former TV director before he became a best-selling novelist. His wife Jane is a New Yorker and they currently live in New York state. His website: www.leechild.com
Most people have read something somewhere — or more likely heard it on TV — about the declining populations of European countries, with each year seeing fewer young people in the workforce to sustain the welfare state safety net of health care and pensions that keep the retirees of Germany, France, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries so prosperous.
Thanks to continuing declining birthrates, much of Europe is on a path of willed self-extinction, says David P. Goldman in “How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too)” (Regnery, 331 pages, notes, index $27.95). Not only that, but Muslim countries — contrary to popular belief — are experiencing similar declines in birthrates, he says, with educated Iranian women, for instance, who grew up with five or six siblings giving birth to one or two children.
Goldman, author of the widely read “Spengler” column in Asia Times Online and a contributor to other sites, writes that the story the mainstream media isn’t covering is that birthrates in Muslim nations are declining faster than anywhere else — at a rate never before documented. He says that Europe, even in its decline, may have the resources to support an aging population, if at a terrible economic and cultural cost. But in the impoverished Islamic world, an aging population means a civilization on the brink of total collapse— something Islamic terrorists know and fear.
Goldman borrowed his pseudonym from Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), a German historian and philosopher who is best known for his 1918 book “The Decline of the West” (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), which posits a cyclical theory on the rise and decline of civilizations. The Nazis initially approved of Spengler’s German hegemony in Europe, but he was ostracized after Hitler came to power in 1933 for his pessimism about Germany and Europe’s future and his refusal to support Nazi ideas of racial superiority.
> How extinctions of peoples, cultures, and civilizations are not unthinkable—but certain
> How for the first time in world history, the birthrate in the West has fallen below replacement level
> Why birthrates in the Muslim world are falling even faster
> Why the “Arab Spring” is the precursor of much more violent change in the Islamic world
> Why looming demographic collapse may encourage Islamic terrorists to “go for broke”
> How the United States can survive the coming world turmoil
Goldman writes as a conservative of the old school, not as a neoconservative, whatever that is. He discusses the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in Europe and how it forced the English Pilgrims — who had fled their native country for Holland — to leave Holland for Massachusetts in 1620 to avoid being absorbed or destroyed as Catholics and Protestants fought each other to the death in what British historian Mark Mazower called the “Dark Continent” in his 1999 book of the same name, published by Knopf. Goldman writes (Page 208): “Even if the Spanish did not come [to reassert their claim on Holland], the Separatists [Pilgrims] faced absorption into either the Dutch or English official church. And if the Spanish came, they would be the first to burn.”
American exceptionalism — often derided by those on the Left — began with the Pilgrims and continues today with the dissenters from the declining traditional religions — the Evangelicals, he says. “Identification with ancient Israel was not a Pilgrim quirk,” Goldman says (Page 209). “It was the sine qua non of the radical Protestantism that rejected the failing regime of Church and Empire….The New England settlers saw themselves as an elect saved by grace from the perdition of the Old World. A red thread leads from John Winthrop’s ‘bond of marriage’ between God and the Pilgrims and Abraham Lincoln’s characterization of Americans as an “almost chosen people.'”
A stimulating mix of history, demographics, religion, economics, sociology and just about everything else, “Why Civilizations Die” will be controversial and troubling to many readers, but, like Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West”, it will be an accessible and important scholarly and polemic work. And, if I hadn’t read Goldman’s book, I might not have known that one of my favorite authors, Christopher Hitchens, has a younger brother, Peter Hitchens, 59, a British conservative who says (Page 247) that democracy following the “Arab Spring” — if it ever comes to pass — might not be such a good thing. Hitchens notes that spreading democracy across Muslim world — as so many enlightened people say they wish to do — would certainly increase the number. Yet the enthusiasts for planting democracy all over the planet [neoconservatives like Bush and Cheney?] also tend to be the people who dislike Islamic republics and warn endlessly about their likely use as bases for terror.”
About the Author:
David P. Goldman headed global bond research for Bank of America as well as other Wall Street research groups. He was elected to Institutional Investor’s All-America Fixed-Income Research Team. A former Forbescolumnist and editor at First Things and a frequent television commenter on politics and the economy, he draws a million readers a month for his “Spengler” column at Asia Times Online. Trained in music theory as well as economics, he has written extensively on music, mathematics, religion, and the cultural heritage of the West. He lives in New York City with his family.
Satire by John W. Lillpop
Fresh off his historic gaffe in which he stuck his right hand over the face of Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj at a photo-op last week, President Obama is going down a new and uncharted avenue of controversial campaign speech.
“While defending his call for the rich to pay more in taxes, the president said he didn’t mind people calling him a class warrior for merely asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew. Whoops!
The president meant to say “janitor” instead of “Jew,” and he immediately corrected himself.”
Although Obama claims to have been victimized by a slip of his own silver tongue, the truth is that when it comes to compiling ‘enemies lists,’ wise politicians try to identify as many “two-fers” as possible to keep campaign costs in check.
Which helps explain why Barack is on the attack against billionaires who are also Jewish janitors. With just one ugly swat, the president can sock two of his least favorite demographics: Jews and billionaires.
It is rumored that Obama is none too fond of janitors, either, but that rumor cannot be confirmed.
It is also rumored that the prez is developing a distinct dislike for Caucasian executives who make solar panels, particularly CEOs who demand government loans as payback for campaign contributions and who then have the audacity to go bankrupt within 14 months of a presidential election.
The One’s ire is also reportedly agitated by Mexican drug cartel executives, especially the really stupid sort, who kill a U.S. border patrol agent with a gun provided by, and traceable back, to Eric Holder and the White House, again within 14 months of a presidential election.
Is there any occupation-racial mix that Obama is generally at peace with?
According to sources deep within the White House, Obama finds nothing at all objectionable about black community organizers with very low approval ratings!
Lillpop is neither Jewish nor a janitor, but since he lives in California — which has the second highest unemployment rate in the country behind Nevada — he may be considering joining the janitorial brigade in San Jose, where he lives and blogs.
As it turns out Hope, rather than math, dominates much of his plan.
Consider, please, comments made by Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, the professional who projected that the Jobs Plan would result in the creation of 1.9 million jobs, reduce unemployment, and increase gross domestic product.
Zandi’s comments, reported at http://news.yahoo.com/obama-plan-small-dent-jobless-rate-081609652.html, include the following disturbing facts:
The projections for new jobs, reduction in unemployment, etc., is based on Zandi’s assumption that the Plan will be passed, in its entirety, by Congress before the end of the year, and that there are no other budgetary issues which upset the apple cart.
Of course that is unmitigated nonsense.
Congress is hopelessly divided on the issue and the Jobs Plan will not even be on the Senate calendar until October.
So much for Obama’s “Pass this bill now!” urgency!
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to shut down the government next week over a Continuing Resolution needed to keep the government running.
Given that heated partisan environment, how likely is it that Congress will pass a Jobs Plan that proposes to spend another $457 billion on “stimulus” by taxing the hell out of those who, for no reason other than their extraordinary success, are on Obama’s enemies list?
Adding to the insanity is this little noticed fact: The projected growth in jobs applies ONLY to 2012!
Starting in 2013, Obama’s Jobs Plan becomes a “drag” on the economy. Zandi’s dire forecast includes this statement, “So by 2015, the economy is in the same place as now, as if there were no jobs package.”
How convenient, and presumably coincidental, that the projected creation of jobs begins just before the 2012 election, only to fade away in 2013!
However, while job growth dissipates, the $457 billion in new taxes is still owed.
Finally, Zandi pointed out that should a new recession befall the nation, all of his positive projections will be nullified.
Some economists believe that a double-dip recession has already arrived, while others believe that the original recession never ended.
The bottom line is that Obama’s Jobs Plan is a cruel mockery of the devastating problems facing this nation.
In fact, Obama’s Plan is all about “games, politics, and delay,” and is nothing more than an opening salvo in the war to win the White House thirteen + months from now.
America needs a plan for dealing with the economic decimation of our great nation.
Instead, Barack Obama delivered a plan for getting reelected.
The other two legs of this political tripod are the nominal selectorate — everybody eligible to vote — and the real selectorate. In the former Soviet Union, the real selectorate — the winning coalition– consisted of a few members of the Communist Party who chose the candidates (some would say this has been revived under the regime of Vladimir Putin, who has the power to reject potential candidates for office).
For eighteen years, the authors have been part of a team revolutionizing the study of politics by turning conventional wisdom on its head. They start from a single assertion: Leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don’t care about the “national interest”—or even their subjects—unless they have to.
Selectorate theory posits that the difference between tyrants and democrats is just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind but only in the number of essential supporters, or backs that need scratching. The size of this group determines almost everything about politics: what leaders can get away with, and the quality of life or misery under them. The picture the authors paint is not pretty. But it just may be the truth, which is a good starting point for anyone seeking to improve human governance.
Selectorate theory applies to Wall Street, too, where the authors (Pages 148-149 ff) describe how small coalitions are in play: “The best way to organize a business is exactly the same as the best way to organize a government: rely on a small group of essentials…”
This applies to business in general, as the recent dumping of the CEO of HP, Leo Apotheker, who walked away with a platinum parachute of more than $25 million after 11 months on the job and was replaced by billionaire Meg Whitman, formerly of CEO of eBay and a former Republican candidate for governor of California.
Rizzo was in power for 17 years, starting at $72,000 a year in 1993 and ending up in the summer of 2010 with the munificent salary of $787,000 a year in a poor, mostly Latino city. No parachute for him, he’s being investigated for corruption. Rizzo and his assistant spent seven years conspiring to illegally boost their pensions, created fake contracts, secretly increased their benefits and then filed workers’ compensation claims in 2010, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed March 31, 2011.
. Why countries with oil and other natural resources — the “resource curse” — are more likely to be autocratic, have less economic growth and more civil wars than countries without readily accessible resources. The authors explain why President Obama should focus on resource poor countries like Syria and Cuba, rather than rich ones like Libya and Venezuela.
. Why foreign aid — from humanitarian aid and disaster relief to the funding of Pakistan to fight the Taliban and hunt down Bin Ladin — is so ineffectual, and how — unless we restructure the way it’s given — both aid and debt forgiveness just encourage countries to let their problems fester. Speaking of Pakistan, on Thursday, Sept. 22, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that the Haqqani “militants” who attack U.S. targets in Afghanistan are a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence secret police. Pakistan denied Mullen’s charges on Sept. 23.
. Why natural disasters seem to disproportionately strike poorer nations, like Haiti.
. Why the easiest way to encourage political reform is to force a leader to rely on tax revenue.
The authors ask us to consider why it’s important to not take a coalition’s loyalty for granted — why it’s essential that you don’t underpay your coalition.
The advice applies, they say, to Mafia boss “Big” Paul Castellano and an Italian of a different era, Julius Caesar. Both didn’t give the coalition that brought them to power their due.
Castellano, who inherited the leadership of the Gambino crime family in 1976, neglected the Mafia’s traditional businesses of prostitution, extortion and loan sharking that kept his coalition happy. Instead, he shifted the focus to racketeering and the construction business, which wasn’t profitable to members of his coalition, that included John Gotti and Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. This lead to the Dec. 16, 1985 gunning down of Castellano at Sparks Steak House in Midtown Manhattan.
Similarly, Julius Caesar, they write, was not assassinated because he was a despot, as the common view holds, but because he was a reformer! Being a reformer who got ride of the policy of tax farming, which gave the job of tax collecting to persons outside government, instead rationalizing tax collection and reducing the tax bite. This was great for the common people, but not for the coalition that had put him in power — the powerful “influentials and essentials” — who ended up cutting him down — literally.
The takeaway from “The Dictator’s Handbook” that Castellano and Caesar both neglected: always attend to the interests of whatever group put them in power and kept them in office. Whether its the Oligarchs of Russia, who found out that crossing Vladimir Putin was a major mistake (see my review of “The Oligarchs” link: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/9230) or a small coalition dictator like Egypt’s Mubarak who outlived his usefulness to the Egyptian army, this rule applies.
“The Dictator’s Handbook” is an important book — a “must read” — to anyone who wants to understand how politics really works in the political sphere and the world of business, in democracies and dictatorships alike.
About the Authors
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is the Julius Silver Professor of Politics and director of the Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy at New York University. He is the author of 16 books, including The Predictioneer’s Game. Alastair Smith is professor of politics at New York University. The recipient of three grants from the National Science Foundation and author of three books, he was chosen as the 2005 Karl Deutsch Award winner, given biennially to the best international relations scholar under the age of 40.
Publisher’s website: www.publicaffairsbooks.com