Each and every time I set out to visit a country in the NATO alliance when I used to be Supreme Allied Commander, I’d try to read a book that could help me understand the history, culture and zeitgeist of the place. It can be a novel by a local creator, a history or a work of historical fiction. Are you able to in reality understand France without reading Camus and Sartre? To comprehend Russia, including the mindset of Vladimir Putin, I’ve found more illumination in Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and above all Gogol than in most CIA reports, with all due respect to the agency.
So as 2020 ends, I want to offer five books that have helped me make sense of a confusing world up to now year.
The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Conflict of Nations – Daniel Yergin
Let’s start with a sweeping look at probably the most most important global trends: “The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Conflict of Nations” by Pulitzer prize-winning analyst Daniel Yergin (disclosure: Dan is a colleague of mine at the private fairness firm Carlyle Group). Yergin’s 1990 book approximately the oil industry, “The Prize,” is a standard text in most graduate schools of international relations. By the way, the world still depends on oil, gas and coal for 80% of its energy — kind of the same as it did when he wrote the book 30 years ago. But such a lot else has changed.
In “The New Map,” Yergin weaves geopolitics into his energy and climate analysis. Imagine, for example, his study of the Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. In that massive body of water, we find huge deposits of oil and gas, near to 40% of the world’s shipping, warming water, overfishing, and more and more dangerous military competition between the U.S. and China. Yergin lays out the want to shift to greener sources of energy, but points out how tough this is going to be — and how the competition (maybe the clash) between the U.S. and China will color the next two decades. This will have to be mandatory reading for President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming team.
The Missionaries – Phil Klay
A second powerful read is “The Missionaries,” a novel approximately Colombia by Phil Klay. A combat veteran, Klay won the 2014 National Book Award for “Redeployment,” a collection of short stories approximately the Iraq War, in which he participated as a U.S. marine. In “The Missionaries,” he sets his sights on the supposedly successful American intervention in Colombia over the last several decades. Having spent three years as head of Southern Command, in charge of U.S. strengthen for the Colombian military, I will be able to attest to the deadly accuracy of Klay’s depiction.
The novel portrays the ugly 50-year war against the FARC, a Marxist guerrilla group. It contrasts the views of a hardened, yet by hook or by crook naïve, American female journalist, an American contractor serving as liaison to the Colombian military, a few FARC insurgents, and a Colombian military officer. There are no lucid winners here and, by the end, the reader is left to strongly question U.S. intervention. Used to be the point to create a cadre of true believers in the advantages of an interventionist foreign policy? This will be a central question for the new administration, and “The Missionaries” can help officials understand the costs involved.
The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Daybreak of the Bloodless War — a Tragedy in Three Acts – Scott Anderson
Scott Anderson’s history approximately the founding of the CIA, “The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Daybreak of the Bloodless War — a Tragedy in Three Acts” is another important 2020 book. As we grapple with the direction of our country’s espionage efforts in this new era of great power competition, it pays to look back at how we undertook the same missions in communist times. Four fascinating characters, including the legendary Edward Lansdale, illustrate both the successes and screw ups of the CIA’s early days. It is a book approximately finding a moral compass along side success in a imperative mission, a balance that the U.S. has yet to reach. The Biden administration will certainly wrestle with these challenges in traditional geopolitics and intelligence, in addition to in the new frontiers of cyber, outer space and biotech.
War: How Clash Shaped Us – Margaret MacMillan
Then there is veteran historian Margaret MacMillan’s broad look at clash and the human spirit, “War: How Clash Shaped Us.” Why has war been this kind of defining characteristic of human life on soil? Drawing on history, political theory, literature, anthropology, biology and a dozen other disciplines, MacMillan seeks to reply to what in many ways is humanity’s existential question: Why are we so fascinated with killing one another at scale? And what does it cost us? A book like this may teach us how to essentially “reverse engineer” the phenomenon of war, and prevent more mayhem ahead. Let’s hope so.
Make Russia Great Again – Christopher Buckle
After all, because each and every book list will have to include a work of satire, I offer Christopher Buckley’s hilarious “Make Russia Great Again.” Buckley, the brilliant writer of “Thank You for Smoking” and more than a dozen other fine novels, skewers the present administration with style. The book is ostensibly written by President Donald Trump’s seventh chief of staff (he’s if truth be told getting near to that number), who remains improbably loyal to his ex-boss even as he writes from jail, serving time for his actions in the White House. Unlike the many unfunny Trump memoirs published this year, this novel had me laughing out loud and, by the end, shaking my head at what we’ve come to accept as normal. This book contains the answer to one of the crucial few enduring Trump mysteries: Why does he continue to pander so remarkably to Vladimir Putin? Buckley’s answer is very amusing. And after 2020, boy do we need a laugh.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)
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