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Tim Boxer



Intelligence and U.S. Foreign PolicyWas Bush Right After All?

IMPLY amazing. A former CIA official contends that we may never know the reason the United States went to war in Iraq.

There was no policy process in place in the Bush administration to address this decision. There were many discussions but investigative reporters found "no meeting, no options paper, no debate in the White House Situation Room, or anything else that addressed whether an invasion of Iraq was in U.S. interests or not as input to a presidential decision on whether to invade," writes Paul R. Pillar in Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy.

Iraq was the first major offensive war, in which the U.S. was the aggressor, since the war against Spain in the previous century.

Concern about Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction had no influence on the decision to invade. The decision was made well before the WMD analysis was made, Pillar asserts.

So what was this all about? The neoconservative aim for the war on Iraq was to promote a new political order of democracy and civil rights that would become a domino effect on neighboring Arab dictatorial regimes.

So did we succeed? By the measure of the Arab Awakening that continues to roil the Middle East, from Libya to Yemen and on (hopefully) to Syria and beyond, then Bush’s domino policy of democracy has had an effect. Bush initiated the effort and Obama reaps the satisfaction.

Pillar, who works in the Security Studies Program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, also offers many proposals that he believes would improve government effectiveness, such as relying on career diplomats to serve as ambassadors rather than appointing major campaign contributors to foreign posts, and curtailing greatly the number of political appointees in the executive branch.

Last thought: Could it be that the Iraq war was George W. Bush’s revenge on Saddam Hussein in view of the Iraqi tyrant’s alleged plot to assassinate the previous American president, Bush’s father? Just a hunch. (Columbia University Press, 423 pages, Amazon.com Price: $29.50)


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That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come BackWhat’s Wrong With Us?

 TRY never to miss Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times. His twice a week op-ed piece brimming with profound analysis, keen observations and common sense advice is so refreshing that I hope it’s required reading at the White House. He is on the mark on every topic (except when he sets his sights on Israel and often strays way off track to appear more Arab-centric than the Arabs).

In That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back he partners with Michael Mandelbaum, director of American Foreign Policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies to show us how tragically America has gone downhill in this new century. Some people are saying that Great Britain’s century gave way to the American century, and this century belongs to a rising China.

There are so many things wrong with America that we have lost our way and become a country, with enormous potential, that is falling into disrepair and political disarray. Globalization robbed us of capital and jobs in the U.S. We face major problems in education, deficits and debt, energy and climate change. Because our political system is paralyzed, we can’t address these problems.

Being optimists, the authors spend the second half of the book with strategy for overcoming these problems that are holding America back from focusing on these challenges, adapting to a new era post-Cold War, and realizing the country’s potential.

To continue to be exceptionalist as in the past, America needs to overcome political differences to adjust its policies on immigration, upgrade our infrastructure, foster innovation, and above all strengthen our education system. There’s more but I refer you to the book.

The Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon once said that this Battle of Waterloo in 1815 was won "on the playing fields of Eton." In the same spirit, Friedman and Mandelbaum argue that "the stability and prosperity of the twenty-firs-century international order will be maintained—or lost—in the classrooms of America’s public schools."

They continue: "We have greater potential than any other country to thrive in the future by becoming the world’s most attractive launching pad—the place where everyone wants to come to work, invent, collaborate, or start something new in order to get the most out of the new hyper-connected world." (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 394 pages, $28.00, Amazon.com Price: $15.88)


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Romania, where King Carol longed to purify the nation with ethnic cleansing—that is getting rid of the Jews and Roma—got a unique opportunity in 1940 when the country evolved into a satellite of Berlin. King and country united to embrace the Nazi anti-Semitism. Vladimir Solonari, associate professor of history at the University of Central Florida, in a well-researched book on Romanian political turmoil during the war, shows how the country’s alliance with Nazi Germany served its own geographical interests: trying to keep Hungary from grabbing Transylvania and the Soviet Union from gobbling up Bessarabia and Bukovina. To achieve ethnic homogenization, in 1941 Romania implemented, for the first time in its history, massive population exchange. (Woodrow Wilson Center Press/Johns Hopkins University Press, 451 pages, $65.00, Amazon.com Price: $52.29)

THE HISTORY OF THE HOLOCAUST IN ROMANIATHE HISTORY OF THE HOLOCAUST IN ROMANIA "Right from the dawn of the modern Romanian state, hatred of Jews was an overt and constant feature of Romanian society." That’s how Jean Ancel, a Romanian-born Israeli historian, begins his painful description of the role Romanians played in Hitler’s pursuit to eliminate the Jewish people. Ancel, author of several deeply researched volumes on Romania’s genocidal history, continues: "Antisemitism left its imprint on Romanian nationalism and was the fuel that catalyzed national consolidation. It accompanied the nation from the dawn of its collective consciousness and did not abandon it even after the realization of its dream of liberation and the unification of all Romanian territories. Already by the mid-nineteenth century the idea that Jews constituted both an internal and external threat, and that they were part of a world conspiracy aimed at destroying the Romanian state, had penetrated the consciousness of many Romanians." The chapter on the well-documented pogrom in Iasi on June 29, 1941, is thre subject of an expanded book forthcoming from Yad Vashem, Jerualem. (University of Nebraska Press, 696 pages, $50.00, Amazon.com Price: $44.24)


PAUL ON MAZURSKYPAUL ON MAZURSKY A clever book on the career of director Paul Mazursky who made such films as Next Stop, Greenwich Village; Bob &Carol & Ted & Alice; Moscow on the Hudson; Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Film scholar Sam Wasson engages in lengthy but fascinating conversations with the director, drawing out delicious Hollywood gossip and backstage shenanigans, giving you an inside perspective at Hollywood wheeling and dealing. Lots of fun. They even tell each jokes during the interviews. Here’s one from Mazursky: Max and Sadie are in their condo in Miami, it’s three o’clock, they’re watching TV and having dinner. Max says, "I’m going to get up and go into the kitchenette and get myself some vanilla ice cream." Sadie says, "What are you going to get it for? I’ll get it for you?" He says, "You’ve got a bad memory. You’re going to forget." She says, "I won’t forget." He says, "You’ll forget." She says, "I won’t forget." He says, "All right. Get me a bowl of vanilla ice cream." So she gets up and goes into the kitchenette and calls out, "You want a bowl of vanilla ice cream?" He says, "Yeah and put on it some whipped cream." She says, "Okay." He says, "And a maraschino cherry. Don’t forget!" She says, "I won’t forget!" She comes back five minutes later and gives him two fried eggs. He says, "I told you you’d forget!" She says, "What did I forget?" He says, "My toast!" (Wesleyan University Press, 342 pages, illustrated, $35.00, Amazon.com Price: $26.60)

America in the SixtiesAMERICA IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY This is an ambitious series of history and commentary encompassing each decade under the editorial direction of John Robert Greene, history professor at Cazenovia College. Presenting American history by the decade makes for a great survey course for undergraduates, and for the rest of us. There is America in the Twenties (211 pages), by history professor Ronald Allen Goldberg of Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia, which surveys a decade that brought prosperity to the urban-based business community but hardship in rural America. Goldberg also wrote America in the Forties (213 pages), a most influential time in the American saga, when the nation faced armed conflict in Europe and Asia, a Cold War after that, and the dawn of the atomic age. America in the Fifties (351 pages), by history professor Andrew J. Dunar of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, deals with the Korean War, the Eisenhower years, popular culture during the cold war, and foreign policy at the dawn of the space age. Greene’s America in the Sixties (200 pages) is most interesting as it focuses on the hippies, counterculture, sexual revolution, civil rights and Vietnam. America in the Seventies (226 pages) by Stephanie A. Slocum-Schaffer, assistant professor of political science at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, deals with Nixon (and the Watergate scandal), Ford and Carter and social movements of the time. Make room on your bookshelf for each decade as it rolls out from Syracuse University Press at $19.95 paperback ($45 for the hardbound copy). The paperbound copy of the Fifties is $24.95 at Amazon.com.

THE OBITSTHE OBITS If you’ve been following the obits in the New York Times faithfully every day, as I have, you’ll welcome this neat collection from 2010 to 2011. William McDonald, the obituaries editor since 2006, presents the best, most interesting and compelling curtain calls (as Stephen King calls them) from the nation’s paramount newspaper. (Workman Publishing, paperback, 590 pages, $13.95, Amazon.com Price: $11.16)

ALICE'S PIANOALICE’S PIANO What an extraordinary life! Alice Herz-Sommer emerged from Prague as a gifted pianist, starring in concerts and recitals across the continent – until the Nazis sent almost all the Jews to the death camps. Alice was lucky to find herself in Theresienstadt, a Nazi "show camp" maintained to fool the world that Jews were treated humanely in the concentration camps. As many dropped dead from the cruelty, hunger and exhaustion, Alice’s piano playing kept her barely alive and gave hope to many of the prisoners. It’s a heart breaking story…until the Germans were driven out of Czechoslovakia and the Russian tanks rolled into Theresienstadt. For Alice there was no going back. Local citizens had taken ownership of the homes and possessions of Jews who had been deported to the camps. She settled in Israel first, then made her home in England. At 108 Alice is the oldest living Holocaust survivor and still inspires all with her piano. Her amazing story, tragic but inspiring, is set forth skillfully by Melissa Muller and Reinhard Piechocki. It’s a story poised for screen treatment. (St. Martin’s Press, 349 pages, $26.99, Amazon.com Price: $17.63)

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