Review: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: When undertaking the negotiations of, or simply reading about, the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, everyone becomes aware of how influences within and beyond the borders of the Middle East become a party to the issue. “The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall, investigates the dynamics of these relationships and how they influence outcomes. His thesis establishes the element of force as core to achieving change, regardless of country and/or organization. “Compromise on each side has been driven less by the promise of peace than the aversion of pain…not limited to bloodshed. Economic sanctions, boycotts, threats, unarmed protests, and other forms of confrontation have been just as important in bringing about ideological concessions and territorial withdrawals. “Force” in this broader sense has, sadly, proved the only language “they” understand” (2).

Mr. Thrall explained the suppressive aspect(s) of the Oslo Accords, despite not being viewed that way by international courts because “the agreements” maintained a status quo. He made the reader think differently about the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, Madrid Conference of 1991 and other related conference outcomes. I had viewed them as a tremendous amount of beneficial progress toward peace in the Middle East–especially after reading “The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Solution, 1996-2003,” by Yossi Beilin. At the time of Beilin’s work, great achievements were made; but, in the long-run, it looked like situations eroded. To truly understand the making of each stage of agreements, readers needed more knowledge of the context, language, and time-frame in which the agreements were reached, and Nathan Thrall did an excellent job of covering those details along with some over-arching themes in support of his thesis:

*Intifadas, wars, terrorism, and other aggressions.
*Exporting the Holocaust to the Palestine Mandate.
*Zionism and the diaspora.
*Revisionist history and racism.
*Corruption.
*Frameworks for peace and statehood.
*Foreign powers and positioning.
*Decision making processes: short-term versus long-term reality.
*Periphery Doctrine effectivity.
*Collaborations between Palestinians and Israelis.
*America’s role the in the peace process: mediator or trouble-maker?

The author made it easy to recognize how themes played out repeatedly and ultimately existed as a form of force. He also made the reader ponder intelligent, though likely unpopular and uncomfortable, questions: Would the diaspora have survived without a separate Jewish state? Who truly had the right to promise Palestine to the Jewish people? Did America need to be involved in this peace process? Did the parties squander their opportunities to reach a two-state solution? Did some of the Palestinian leadership carry responsibility for continued nationlessness and some of the harm to their people? Was the author pro-Israel or in favor of the Palestinians? Ultimately, there was no denying that the author did a phenomenal job in supporting his thesis while writing a very interesting, fact-filled, thought-provoking book. Nathan Thrall’s “ The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine ” enveloped a highly-recommendable read that earned a well-deserved five-star rating.

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Review: Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott by Michael Bar-Zohar, PhD.

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Michael Bar-Zohar’s “Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” garnered an easy five-star rating from me. This book had it all: history, smut, politics, international intrigue, foreign policy, terrorism, psychological warfare, a touch of romance and so much more–all interwoven expertly–something difficult to accomplish given the amount and range of content covered by the author. The story began as a biography of Jean Frydman, a French immigrant from Poland who became a leader of the Nazi Resistance in WWII’s, Holocaust-driven Vichy France. He eventually worked his way up into the position of a vested partner for L’Oreal…only to be covertly fired by historical Nazis with the goal of illegally complying with the Arab boycott.

Dr. Bar-Zohar explained that the Arab boycott was designed to destroy Israel via the prevention of commerce with any organization(s) that had ties to it. This effected L’Oreal when it purchased another company that had previously built one factory in Israel as well as another entity that had a subsidiary or secondary brand’s facility there, too; and, L’Oreal partner Jean Frydman maintained a dual citizenship status in France and Israel.

When the Arab League “demanded a list of all affiliates” (pg. 8), the reader began to learn about how the League’s political system interfaced with L’Oreal. This boycott had the potential to financially damage additional corporations outside of the beauty industry and those which a person would not have typically associated with L’Oreal at the time: Nestle, Baxter International, Panavision and others. A progressive reveal of the vastness and unexpected international business holdings of L’Oreal took place while the author provided a simultaneous education pertaining to L’Oreal’s Nazi era history of three politically and financially powerful people, how they worked to hide anti-Semitic and collaborationist activities and pasts while they gained power, and (ultimately) how they were linked to Jean Frydman’s removal and attempted divestiture.

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” impressed me with how well Michael Bar-Zohar conducted his investigative research and taught the reader about a set of parallel histories and how they intersected. It taught the reader that anti-Semitism never ended and that, surprisingly, it existed even within the Jewish community. This story made me want to read books about Vichy France as well as more texts about the Helena Rubinstein empire. The author’s writing style made me wish I could read the book at a much faster pace. It was so well written! My desire to read more pieces by this author led me to add a few more of his books to my reading list; in doing so, I learned that Michael Bar-Zohar also authored books under the pseudonym “Michael Barak.” I highly recommend this book and suggest that readers consider his other investigative pieces.

ARC Reveal: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

cvr_The Only Language They Understand- Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan ThrallThe Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy via LibraryThing Early Reviewers

BOOK INFO
*Genre: Political Science
*Published by Metropolitan Books (April, 2017)
*320-336 pages
*ISBN: 1627797092 / 9781627797092

CONTENTS
(Pages ix-x)
*Forcing Compromise
*Domination: Israeli Conquest and Its Justifications
*Collaboration: Easing Occupation as a Failed Strategy of Ending It
*Confrontation: Palestinian Pressure and Its Limits
*Negotiation: Political Horizons, and Other Euphemisms for False Hope

AUTHOR HIGHLIGHTS
*Analyst and Commentator: Arab-Israeli Conflict
*Senior Analyst: International Crisis Group
*Regular Contributor: The New York Review of Books
*Regular Contributor: The London Review of Books
*Regular Contributor: The New York Times

Review: Shah of Shahs

cvr_shah-of-shahs-by-ryszard-kapuscinskiShah of Shahs, by Ryszard Kapuściński, William R. Brand (Translator), Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand (Translator), and Margaret Atwood (Contributor: “Afterward”)

MY RATING: 4/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book (both times)

REVIEW: “Only a few months ago it was an achievement, like winning a lottery, to get a room in this city. Despite the many, many hotels, there was such an avalanche of people that new arrivals had to rent beds in private hospitals just to have a place to stay. Now the boom of easy money and dazzling transactions is over, the local businessmen are lying low, and the foreign partners have fled, leaving everything behind (5). Tourism has fallen to zero; all international traffic has frozen. Some hotels were burned down, others are closed or empty, and in one of them, guerrillas have set up their headquarters. Today the city is engrossed in its own affairs, it doesn’t need foreigners, it doesn’t need the world” (5-6). Everything has suddenly changed: welcome to Iran’s Islamic Revolution

When Iran’s last shah fled his country, he terminated approximately 2,500 years of monarchy and a few decades of significant progress in women’s rights, religious freedom, the arts, technology, business, oil and nuclear energy, plus military might. Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński had been assigned to Iran cover Ayatollah Khomeini’s return and events surrounding the revolution. As he watched the television to see the initial speech, the author noted the following: “Nothing in that murderous climate would seem to favor reflection and contemplation, yet Qom is a place of religious fervor, rabid orthodoxy, mysticism, and faith militant.  It contains five hundred mosques and the nation’s biggest seminaries.  Koranic scholars and the guardians of tradition quarrel in Qom; the venerable ayatollahs convene their councils there; Khomeini rules the country from Qom.” (6).

Kapuściński authored “Shah of Shahs” as a way to communicate timelines via dagguerotypes (photos and cassette recordings). The journalist’s contemplative and wise voice definitely came through as the reader took in descriptions of images and circumstances. The approach seemed distant, yet intimate, as he described Iran’s vast history, the lead-up to revolution and as well as a psychological profile of the country’s leadership and sociological make-up of its citizenry…the latter of which appeared to be significantly misunderstood by the Pahlavis. He designed the book as a travel log, an approach consistent with another work of his that I recently read, about his travels through one of Iran’s neighbors: the Soviet Empire. Its corresponding compendium titled “Imperium,” reveals a consistency in the author’s qualities; one must read both works to recognize how true they were to the author’s writing style and in their paralleled histories, which made sense given their intertwining relationship(s). “Shah of Shahs” heavily focused on the following themes:

*Fervent nationalism: mandated unique language—Farsi.
*Petroleum business: so much money, so little for the people.
*Regime change.
*Inertia of revolution.
*Societal changes: progression, regression, repression.
*Power-struggles and hierarchy: familial, governmental, international.
*Paradoxical histories: lessons of opposites.

Shah of Shahs” was the first book containing the great lessons of Ryszard Kapuściński. In 2013 I rated the book an easy five stars. On this re-read, and after reading so many more works dealing with the same topics, my excitement seemed a bit tempered; then (early 2017) I gave the book a four-star rating. Please note that he book remained as recommendable as before. It did an excellent job of taking a large amount of information and condensing it into nuggets of the most important data points necessary to understand the ascension and reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The author’s voice and format remained unique when compared to many other reading experiences I had in the four years between the first and second reads. I simply did not find myself as impressed with the work as before. One could combine the two ratings, to yield four-and-a-half starts, then round them up to five stars…I guess; but, the gusto just did not seem to still be there on the second read. What it did lead me to was the intent to read more Kapuściński in 2017 (which was exactly what I did with his book, “Imperium).

Review: Why Israel Can’t Wait: The Coming War Between Israel and Iran

Why Israel Can’t Wait: The Coming War Between Israel and Iran by Jerome R. Corsi

MY RATING: 2/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Book.

REVIEW: I always admired people who supported Israel, and I believed that Dr. Jerome R. Corsi meant well when he wrote, “Why Israel Can’t Wait: The Coming War Between Israel and Iran.” His intentions were certainly as praise-worthy as his high level of formal education (PhD.), extensive work experience and vast knowledge. However, this piece did not sufficiently achieve his stated goals; the first of which began with addressing the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Prior to the June 12 (2009) election, Iran expert Michael Ledeen of the “Foundation for the Defense of Democracies” claimed Mousavi was not a revolutionary but rather “a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him” (14).  “But the impression in the United States that Mousavi was a reformist is entirely wrong” (14)..the real revolutionary is Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and the real question is why Ayatollah Khamenei allowed her to be positioned that way in the 2009 presidential election” (14). This was an excellent question, one which led specifically to the “regime change” discussion, seemingly regardless of who won the election.

However, during Iran’s 2009 post-election protests, Obama possibly missed an opportunity for regime change, according to Dr. Corsi. My issue with that specific point rested in the fact that the United States conducted a coup d’état in the 1950s with its overthrow of Iran’s democratically-elected Mohammad Mossaddeq, which restored Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to his thrown. (“Patriot of Persia: Mohammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup” by Christopher De Bellaigue served as a biographical account of the aging Prime Minister and devout oil nationalist, though its not my favorite account). The regime change gave the appearances that the over-throw worked. Some books that covered this topic in greater detail included: “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror” by Stephen Kinzer; “Blood & Oil: A Prince’s Memoir of Iran, From the Shah to the Ayatollah” by Manucher Farmanfarmaian (a Qajar prince) and Roxane Farmanfarmaian, PhD.; “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran” by Andrew Scott Cooper, PhD.; and, “The Shah” by Abbas Milani, PhD. (Research Fellow at Hoover Institution (as of this writing) and whose brother served as prime minister to the last Shah and was later assassinated by Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime).

The Shah’s status, however, became temporary, and its long-run consequences spread themselves throughout the globe with particular vitriol pointed toward the United States of America (who conducted the operation as a special favor to one of its historically favorite allies: the British). Corsi seemed to encourage another regime change, as well as additional America-driven modifications to the region, as a solution to a wide range of problems for the USA and Israel with the goal of returning stability to the greater Middle East. Central themes existed as the following:

*Iran’s 2009 post-election protests.
*Regime change dynamics.
*Nuclear weaponization: “A credible nuclear program must have three components: (1) weapons-grade enriched uranium/plutonium source; (2) Medium/Long-range missile system capable of delivering a nuclear weapons payload reliably; and, (3) technology to weaponize into a miniaturized warhead capable of being delivery (29).”
*Regional stability and hegemonic interests.
*Iran and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority.
*Arab-Israeli conflict core issues: “Netanyahu strongly disputed the contention that territory was at the start of the heart of the conflict with the Palestinians” (69).

I thought that the Arab-Israeli conflict could not simply be resolved with border issues being quelled nor re-negotiated and agreed upon by the parties as well.  in fact, Netanyahu’s statement reminded me that the root cause of the conflict was not about borders at all anyway; much of this dispute originated during the Palestine Mandate era and the trouble caused by Yasser Arafat’s uncle, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, (then “The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem”). He willingly and excitedly served as Hitler’s proxy to export Europe’s Holocaust to the Palestine Mandate making a major component of the original conflict about RACISM, RACISM, RACISM not land.  “Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam by Rabbi David G. Dalin adeptly covered this history, and I repeatedly recommended this book to encourage others to view the history of “The Conflict” with either more knowledge or a different perspective than that of a land-grab. As far as said conflict goes, until the parties can agree that their negotiations for specific sessions or summits are on a focused few (ideally one at a time) topics, then no positive movement toward peace can truly be achieved.

While Dr. Corsi did an excellent job of detailing why the Arab-Israeli Conflict could not be simply resolved with the resolution of land boundaries, it seemed that the rest of the book was slammed together and utilized hyperbole. He shared some interesting information and uncommonly-known revelations; but, the work did not really contain anything new (even for its publication time). I wished that the author had shared greater context and perspective.  The piece contained choppiness in its going back-and-forth while trying to put the reader in a constant panic with sweeping generalizations. I felt greatly disappointed that the closing statement under the subchapter name (which mimicked the book’s title) “Why Israel Can’t Wait” led to nothing more than two mini-paragrphs, each containing two sentences. Its over-simplicity revealed incoherence, causing the overall product to present itself as nothing more than than an rushed-to-publish “Op-Ed” in lieu of a quality piece of literature that the author historically-supported reputation provided.

Review: Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West

Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West by Laurent Murawiec

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

MOVIE TRAILER: Bhutto

REVIEW: “Let us admit…that the title “prince” is purely formal. Even if one were to respect the right of illiterate and course nomads to call their chiefs princes–we have no reason to be gratuitously discourteous–the demographic explosion of the Al-Saud family has created an endless supply of pseudo-princes. It even seems impossible to count this sub-species, which multiplies uncontrollably. Are there three or eight thousand Saudi “princes”? No one knows. If necessary, it was agreed–politeness to foreigners–to call the dozen bearded men in jellabas “princes.” But five or eight thousand? Inflation, as it is well known, devalues currency. The inflation of princes has devalued the title. Each prince thus bears the title of only one five-thousandth of a prince, so that at diplomatic receptions, the introduction might go: “Royal Highness the five-thousandth of a Prince Bandar,” which would be closer to reality” (229).

Yet, Laurent Murawiec, author of “Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West,” wrote a book’s worth of “reasons to be gratuitously discourteous” (229), in his efforts to expose the everything he wanted readers to know about the Saudi Royal Family, he also freely injected caustic language. The author contended that Saudi oil came to life as a result of simply happening to inhabit the land under which the petrol sources rested. He wanted to establish that this royal family was nothing more than a self-propagating orgy of princes and their several wives to create future generations in order to maintain their power. “Saudi Arabia, for its part, modernized nothing. It was in 1957 – – and not in the seventh century – – that King Saud [SIC] issued and edict forbidding women to drive. In the name of Islam, the Saudi-Wahhabi regime has worsened the position of women. Sequestration inside the walls of home, the requirement to wear and an abaya showing only the eyes, and illiteracy and the virtual impossibility of exercising a profession, the prohibition of pursuing education abroad” (14-15), etc. Additional information included the author’s suggestion that the US invasion of Iraq existed as favor to Saudis…under threat of (Iran’s) Shia being able to obtain Iraqi oil reserves and out-power “The Kingdom.” He also delved into the formation of OPEC and OAPEC, asserting themselves as nothing more than political oil cartels, regardless of the fact that that the producing countries simply wanted control over what came from their territories. “Oil, everything comes down to oil” (179). Murawiec clearly had a problem with everybody and everything pertaining to the Saudi Royal Family, defining them as nothing more than Bedouin tribal thieves utilizing their religion as a weapon.

Despite the author’s frequently injected opinions that tended to distract from important historical facts, I enjoyed learning more about the Saudis and their relationship with Pakistan. This alliance may also have been the reason why Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prohibited from obtaining “The Bomb.” I found this to be particularly interesting because, after seeing the film “Bhutto,” I wondered why Dr. Henry Kissinger adamantly emphasized to Bhutto that he would regret developing nuclear weaponry. After all, the USA developed “The Bomb,” then the USSR did the same thing. China then sensed it needed nuclear weapons to protect itself from the Russians. India felt threatened and started testing its “Bomb;” therefore, it appeared only rational that Pakistan would develop equal-caliber capabilities to protect itself from India. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was denied this power. General Zia-ul-Haq became Bhutto’s Chief of Staff (most likely at the request of the USA or Saudi Arabia), and then this man seized power via military coup…and got “The Bomb” anyway.

Mr. Murawiec did not go into all of that detail with Pakistan, because his book was about exposing the Saudi Royal Family’s power matrix. Pakistan played a somewhat minute role (in the context of their total power-base). The author explained how Pakistan’s intelligence arm, the ISI, “pulled the wool over the CIA’s eyes, manipulated American policy for its benefit, and came out on top” (77), thereby orchestrating the election(s) of Benazir Bhutto as part of a façade to appease the Western world.

While this review did not share nearly as much as what one can read and learn about in “Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West,” my goal was to communicate that the author demonstrated compelling writing skills and strong subject matter knowledge, yet he faltered in maintaining a modicum of professionalism that one would expect from a person with his impressive credentials. I failed to appreciate when he repeatedly injected vitriolic statements such as the following: “We have seen the way in which Saudi Arabia asserted control over Pakistan, or, if you like, the Wahhabi acid bath into which Saudi influence plunged Pakistan” (107). Comments such as this one devalued the crucial information that he wanted exposed; as such, the book’s star rating was reduced.

Review: Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party by Dinesh D’Souza

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

MOVIE TRAILER:Hillary’s America

“Hillary’s America” is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital HD now! Order your copy here: http://hillarysamericathemovie.com/#dvd.

REVIEW: This book changes you. It makes you wish that you could unlearn what you have read. It hardens you and breaks your heart, leaving you feeling betrayed and enlightened all at once. You are left feeling helpless while simultaneously being motivated and invigorated to do something. It is time for a change; and, Dinesh D’Souza’s “ Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” provides the “Hillary” education and calls to action for his readers.

ABOUT HILLARY: “This woman has been in public life for decades, and yet she has accomplished nothing” (1). Everyone who has followed her career knows that Hillary is dishonest to the core” (2). “Yet when is the last time a major political party nominated someone who has been investigated for corruption so many times, and with an ongoing FBI inquiry?” (5). They’ve been doing it under different circumstances all along, and most of America was marketed to, and brainwashed, into thinking just the opposite of the Democratic party.

“Democrats—the mantra goes—are the party of the common man, the ordinary person. For two hundred years, Democrats have been looking out for the little guy, including historically marginalized groups like women, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. Where would these people be without the Democratic Party to protect them and secure their basic rights? Democrats are the party of equal rights, civil rights, and human dignity” (7). At least, that is what they want Americans to think. D’Souza masterfully details the history of the Democratic Party, their games, their marketing narrative, plus their schemes, thievery, and plan of national enslavement leading to all-out slavery. The Democrats are nothing that they say they represent and everything that all Americans should fear.

The Clintons have become the modern-era representation of the Democrats, utilizing the Alinsky model, but by changing government from within…and using many “useful idiots” to help them every step of the way. “Alinsky realized he could recruit allies and direct their hatred to the corporations by appealing to motives such as envy, resentment, and hatred, but all packaged in the rhetoric of equality and justice. He had no illusion that any of this was related to actual justice” (183). “For Alinsky, justice is a province of morality, and morality is a scam. Morality is the cloak of power. Activists appeal to the language of morality but recognize that it is a mere disguise” (183).

Everyone in the United States of America needs to read this book. It serves as an educational tool, a wake-up alarm, and a call to action. The Democratic party’s long-term sociopathic behavior must be brought to a halt. Their trended pattern of trying to stop upward mobility and creating modern day plantations in the inner cities must be reversed while simultaneously convincing the many good Americans who came to believe the opposite of what is right for our country’s future. It is with the aforementioned in mind, and so much more contained in Dinesh D’Souza’s book that “ Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” easily earns its five-star rating.

Review: The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

cvr_the-oil-kings-how-the-u-s-iran-and-saudi-arabia-changed-the-balance-of-power-in-the-middle-east-by-andrew-scott-cooperThe Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East by Andrew Scott Cooper

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Copy

REVIEW: This is the second piece I have read by Andrew Scott Cooper, with the first one being “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.” I purchased “The Oil Kings” as part of an extensive book haul in late 2015, and this piece sat in rotating loads of books from my local library system and other occasional ARCs that always, immediately, went to the top of my “To Read” stack. Had I known then what great work this book contained, I would have read it much sooner! How could I ever have delayed reading about the importance Middle East oil prices with their crude mix of politics!

The Oil Kings” revealed some jaw-dropping, pertinent micro-histories:
*“Asking the National Security Adviser to rig a defense contract” (71).
*Gilda (“the most dangerous of the Shah’s paramours” (100)).
*Corporate empire fixing.
*Money laundering from Iran, via Mexico, to support Nixon’s campaign/Watergate.
*Iran’s supply of fighter jets to South Vietnam during the war.
*Instability of worldwide economic systems.
*Scathing, SAVAK-caused “Charles Jourdan Incident.”
*Kissinger’s ambitions gone too far.
*Follow the oil; it shifts the power.
*Algiers Accords: a deadly domino effect.

My jaw dropped when I read about how “1975 Algiers Agreement” (246) shifted the balance of power in the Middle East: it betrayed the Kurds, empowered and emboldened Iraq, and weakened both Iran and the United States…immediately. Secondary consequences occurred in countries outside of the region as well. This book significantly underscored the entanglement, or interdependence, of every country with another, regardless of its location on this planet. There was no where to hide from the economic fall-out.

The Shah attempted to hide his cancer diagnosis to prevent political fall-out; I had read details surrounding its secrecy several times throughout the years. Cooper included new information and wrote about it with an unforgettable analogy: “In the spring of 1974, Iran’s supreme leader and his closest aide had both contracted incurable cancers. Shakespeare could not have imagined a more exquisite tragedy of state: unbeknownst to each other, the empire’s two most experienced helmsman were mortally ill. It brought to mind another empire whose fated Romanov dynasty and the deadly hemophilia suffered by Czarevitch Alexei, son and heir of Czar Nicholas II” (167).

While the Shah’s illness progressed, his country became more politically isolated…though one did not directly create the other; the possibility existed that the ruler’s behavior drastically changed as a result of his terminal diagnosis. By “December of 1974…it should have been abundantly clear that the Shah was pulling away from Washington to pursue a foreign policy based on independent nationalism, as Ardeshir Zahedi had been advocating since the late 1960s. Years earlier the CIA had warned that as the Shah became more assertive the chances would increase that Iranian foreign policy goals would diverge from those of the United States. Whereas Saudi Arabia was making inroads in Washington, Iran was increasingly identified as a source of tension and instability” (228). The American intelligence failure pertaining to knowledge surrounding the Shah’s lymphoma diagnosis allowed for the following situations: “…no policy adjustments made, no contingency plans drawn up, no legwork asked of the intelligence community. The transfer of high-tech weaponry to Iran did not slacken. The negotiations to sell Iran nuclear power technology remained on track. No steps were taken to reduce the number of expatriate personnel. In short, the United States continued its march to folly in Iran” (280).

This folly included targeted assassinations and generalized attacks on Americans in Iran. The warning signs and predictions were in place and well-known…but they were ignored. Everything led up to the Islamic Revolution, where this book tastefully ends but includes a follow-up to what happened to some of its key players. “The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East” contained compelling writing, great analogies, and interesting stories with just the right amount of “smut” factor. This piece easily earned its place on my “Favorites” shelf.

Review: Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War

cvr_who-lost-russia-how-the-world-entered-a-new-cold-war-by-peter-conradiWho Lost Russia?  How the World Entered a New Cold War by Peter Conradi

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Have you seen a film called, “The King’s Speech” (starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush)? It delved into how the grandfather of England’s Prince Charles became king while building his nation’s confidence in him via a set of inspirational war-time speeches that reflected that he had overcome a stuttering issue and that the originally-intended king’s abdication would not adversely affect the nation. This film was based upon a book by the same name and was written by co-authored by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (with the latter also serving as author of another book, “Hitler’s Piano Player”).

So, what lead me to read my first Peter Conradi book? At first glance, it was the book’s title, “Who Lost Russia?: How the World Entered a New Cold War.” It was written in large and bright, Russian-red, Cyrillic-like block-style letters.  The cover art intrigued me, so I had to read the work’s synopsis.  The paragraphs included some teasers that dealt with the reality of what happened after former U.S. President Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”  “In reality, Russia emerged from the 1990s battered and humiliated, a latter-day Weimar Germany, its protests ignored as NATO expanded eastwards to take in ex-Soviet republics.  Determined to restore his country’s bruised pride, President Vladimir Putin has overseen rapid economic growth and made incursions into Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, leaving the Western powers at a loss.  Now a cold war threatens to turn hot once again” (back cover).  What a tease for someone, like me, who has an interest in modern Russian history, the aforementioned countries, and the enigmatic Putin–I had to read Conradi’s newest book!

Nobody could have chosen a better writing sample as my introduction to Mr. Conradi’s work. “Who Lost Russia?” did not disappoint!  The story-telling (which included the author being an actor in some parts of the text, too) made the Russian-to-Soviet-to-Russian Federation backgrounds so much more enthralling than any of those found in the average college textbook and many competing works. I greatly enjoyed reading about the Tsars and Lenin, tribalism, ethnic Russians and how they managed their colonies, Russification, unifying propaganda and other themes, with a few of my favorites as follows:

*US permissions and Russian leadership: Who’s your daddy?
*NATO’s changing size: Is bigger always better?.
*Russia’s propaganda portfolio: Serving trolls with a side of catfish.
*Gerasimov:  Just what the doctrine ordered.
*Russia’s former republics:  Relationship status–“Its complicated.”

Peter Conradi demonstrated his ability to take complicated histories and weave them into an easy-to-follow storyline; the enigmatic Vladimir Putin repeatedly became the core of those stories in this up-to-date epic.  When most people heard about “Russia,” didn’t they instantly think about “Putin?” The United States found his rise to Russia’s most coveted leadership position to be a mysterious one. “IF WASHINGTON INITIALLY STRUGGLED TO GET the measure of Putin, it was understandable. His path to the Kremlin had been extraordinary for both its speed and its unexpectedness. At the end of 1991, as the Soviet Union broke up, Putin had been in his native St. Petersburg, where he held a relatively minor post in the Mayor’s office as head of the committee for external relations. It was not until June 1996 that he had come to Moscow to become a deputy chief of the presidential property management department. Yet by July 1998 he was head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the successor services of the KGB. In August 1999 he was named prime minister” (108).

Putin’s ascension to prime minister revealed a great dichotomy when comparing his present life with that of his past one; and, it was something in his childhood that aided me in connecting with this book. Conradi shared the following about Putin’s upbringing: “A flurry of biographies has been written about Putin, starting with is poor upbringing in Leningrad, as his home city was then known. The only child of a stern father, who was the Communist Party representative in a factory making railway carriages, he grew up in a run-down communal apartment in a once-elegant nineteenth-century apartment building in the centre of town. Amusement came from chasing rats around the courtyard. Accounts of his childhood have undoubtedly been coloured by his later career, yet he seems to have been an unremarkable boy and young man, who briefly went off the rails before finding redemption in martial arts” (108).

This story about Putin’s life reminded me of some stories my father (of Russian, English and Austrian descent) shared about his young years. Like Russia’s current prime minister, my father claimed to have had a poor childhood with a stern father; the family supposedly went from riches down to rags when they lost almost everything due to America’s 1929 “Great Depression,” which started a few months after my father’s birth. During my dad’s third year of life, his parents decided to move from Buffalo, New York, to Boyle Heights, CA for new opportunities. The new place boasted a large Russian-Orthodox Jewish community. In fact, in the early 1930s, advertisements labelled Boyle Heights as the largest Orthodox Jewish community west of the Mississippi River. The community seemed close-knit and my father shared some great memories of living there; but, what made me connect most with Putin’s childhood story came from stories of my own father finding dead rats in the streets. He claimed that he used to pick them up by their tails, swing the critters around and throw them at other kids. I remember simultaneously feeling disgusted and also laughing at the idea of my father doing something like that “back in the day.” He called those rats, “Depression Era Toys.” Thankfully he eventually grew out of (or became bored with) those toys, moved out of the neighborhood, and achieved his own successes.

Vladimir Putin moved outward and upward as well; and Peter Conradi expertly explained the reasons why Russia’s current Prime Minister ordered his military into Ukraine.  This specific area became another connection I experienced with the book, because Ukraine was not always “just Ukraine.”

My grandmother and her parents left a city specifically known as “Dolyna,” in order to the United States circa 1903. Their hometown sat within the confines of the province of Galicia, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. This territory later became part of modern day Ukraine; and, it could eventually become part of Russia, again.

Peter Conradi’s approachable writing style took complex histories and converted them into a modern compendium for multiple audiences. I found his book to be a highly recommendable read for every individual who would want to understand personalities of world leaders, complications created by colonization and empire, complexities of geo-politics, and dynamics of international relations (emphasizing those between the United States and Russia). The author made it possible for me to re-connect with my own personal experiences and family history. While the connections I found in this book may be rather unusual, other readers may relate to facets of the book as well, embedding this highly memorable piece of literature within them (and me) for many years to come. In the meantime, as to the question of “Who Lost Russia?” future readers need to read the book and decide for themselves.

Review: A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation

cvr_a-new-voice-for-israel-fighting-for-the-survival-of-the-jewish-nation-by-jeremy-ben-amiA New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation by Jeremy Ben-Ami

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Book

REVIEW: The first half of “A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation,” by Jeremy Ben-Ami, seemed to have a good energy to it and began with an intriguing sentence: “My great-grandfather was a bootlegger, my grandfather was a card shark, and my father was a terrorist” (3). This thesis statement served as the lead-in for the author’s family history as well as providing great historical information on the Russian pogroms and how European Jewry immigrated to Palestine.

Challenges to immigration and Israeli statehood were covered with the concept of a two-state solution being core to the original plan for the former area of Palestine. The plan changed due to war and other dynamics; and, the author contended that “the roots of today’s conflict lie not in ancient religious hatred but in the clash of national aspirations of two peoples unfortunate enough to stake a claim to the same small piece of land. Their subsequent struggle for land, resources and control echoes other global conflicts that have been successfully resolved” (80).

While the text started in a realistic manner, it seemed to dissolve into a collection of generalizations and over-simplified ideas. The reader came to the conclusion that the purpose of the book was solely to address the President of the United States versus convincing an American public (or any other audience) of the strategies necessary to achieve a two-state solution in order to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end and achieve peace in the Middle East (as though the entire region’s stability depended solely upon the two-state solution!). The book held so much promise but culminated in a disappointing position.