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.

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February 2017 Reading and Blogging Wrap-up

The old saying “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” that historically applied to items to be carried by a bride on her wedding day seemingly applied themselves to my reading and related adventures in February. My collection included a 1980 publication date (considered old, depending upon who you asked), two new releases either read and/or reviews written, the balance borrowed, plus one book with a minuscule amount of blue on its cover.

There was something else new that, while central to a new release, existed as a “first” for me: I went to an author event and met one of my favorite authors, Stephen Kinzer, who just released his newest book: “The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.” I wrote two “Groupie Moment” posts about the lead up to his book discussion, with one more, “The Grand Finale” anticipated this upcoming month. In the meantime, in case you missed it/them (ICYMI), here are links to the posts about that special occasion (followed by February’s reads and blogging stats):

Groupie Moment: Countdown to Kinzer
Groupie Moment: Countdown to Kinzer (Part Two)

MARCH BOOK STATS
Books: 5
Pages: 1,405
Avg Pgs/Bk: 281

YEAR-TO-DATE BOOK STATS
Books: 9
Pages: 2,781
Avg Pgs/Bk: 309
2017 Releases: 2

Lenin on the Train (2017 Release) by Catherine Merridale
Shah of Shahs (1992 Release, A Re-read) by Ryszard Kapuściński
The Fall Of The Shah (1980 Release) by Fereydoun Hoveyda, Roger Liddell (Translator)
United States of Jihad (2016 Release) by Peter Bergen (NOTE: The book’s official title is “United States of Jihad,” but it has a few different secondary titles; I tried including them in my original post’s name (making it quite long)
Who Lost Russia? (2017 Release) by Peter Conradi

TOP 3 NATIONS READ
Iran
Russa
USA

TOP 3 POPULAR POSTS
1.  Infidel (2007 Release) by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
2.  The Fall of the Shah (1980 Release) by Fereydoun Hoveyda
3.  United States of Jihad (2016 Release) by Peter Bergen

1st-EVER RE-BLOGGED POST
Infidel (2007 Release) by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

1st-EVER LINK-BACKED POST
Jihad Academy (2016 Release) by Nicolas Henin

BLOG STATS
Views: 249
Visitors:  107
Posts Published:  24

TOP 3 VISITING NATIONS
United States
United Kingdom
Cyrus

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.

Review: Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love

cvr_face-to-face-with-jesus-a-former-muslims-extraordinary-journey-to-heaven-and-encounter-with-the-god-of-love-by-samaa-habib

Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love by Samaa Habib, Bodie Thoene

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from the GoodReads Giveaways Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: ”For many believers, particularly in the West, persecution is a foreign concept and experience–limited to unpleasant exchanges in the office or over social media. However, for many other believers, from Indonesia to Africa, in North Korea and throughout the Middle East, persecution is common. They suffer in many different ways, from social and economic exclusion to torture, rape, imprisonment and martyrdom for their belief in Jesus”(13).–Mike Bickle, Director, International House of Prayer

Face to Face with Jesus: A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love,” existed as the story of a young, Egyptian female and her conversion from Islam to Christianity. The author, Samaa Habib, received an invitation, from one of her friends, to attend a Christian Orthodox Church service. She was fortunate to have parents who, despite being Muslim and deeply religious, were also open-minded about learning, seeing how others practiced their faith(s), etc. While there, she learned that the God of Christianity valued and loved females equally as much as males. This surprised her; because in Islam, females were worth half or less than that of their male counterparts.

Face to Face with Jesus” covered the wide-spread progression from Samaa’s Egyptian family living under a communist government, to displeasure of it and people’s desire to convert to generalized Sharia Law, and ultimately to being ruled by the cleric-mandated Sharia law. As things changed, her worth to her family also became devalued. Nonie Darwish, also a native of Egypt and whose father worked in the field of military intelligence under Gamal Abdel Nasser, noticed these extreme changes as well and shared them in her book, titled “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.”

In Samaa Habib’s case, it was the first time that she witnessed how religion became a divisive weapon: to “tear personal lives apart and divide and destroy nations” (51). She also saw “cruelty for the sake of cruelty ” (52). “In Muslim countries, women without male chaperones are targets of assault” (109), and she witnessed some of the terrible acts. One could easily understand how this girl’s new-found faith (in Christianity) made her feel protected and helped her to fight back against some fellow Egyptians who became her attackers.

At first, I thought that the “International House of Prayer” was unfairly targeting Egypt’s female population, using “free self-defense classes” as a way to gain recruits and converts from Islam to Christianity; however, the reality was that they did provide an undeniably valuable and life-saving service and skillset to the populace, which also saved the lives of this girl and her friends on multiple occasions. Not everyone would convert to Christianity, but they would convert from intended victims of sexual assault and other crimes to their own personal heroes.

SPOILER ALERT
As the chapters progressed, especially in the “Epilogue,” the soft-sell for Christianity became a hard-pushing one, and I found myself skimming the last parts. The hard-sell became distracting from the author’s amazing life story and the good deeds of her church. It seemed that the sole purpose of the book was to be a religious conversion piece, which varied greatly from what its synopsis conveyed to me; as such, this well-written book and amazing story lost some of its integrity, causing a reduced star rating.

Review: Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Funamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism

cvr_unveiled-threat-a-personal-experience-of-funamentalist-islam-and-the-roots-of-terrorism-by-janet-tavakoliUnveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Funamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism by Janet Tavakoli

MY RATING: 4/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Author (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Do not allow the small size of this book fool you into believing that it is not big on content. This is the first piece I have read by Janet Tavakoli, MBA, who utilized this work as a delivery vehicle to share her experiences when she found herself suddenly trapped in the middle of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. In one day she went from being an Iranian man’s, American-born, wife to becoming his property under that nation’s newest laws. “Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Fundamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism” delved into the author’s experiences, connected religious institutions to terrorism, and expounded upon the issues that developed due to the creation of a politically-correct world that began producing a global, fundamentalist, terrorist threat to the United States of America (USA).

Unveiled Threat” began with a focus on Iran and touched on tangentially-related topics in other countries due to their effect on the USA. Prevailing themes included the following:
1. “Poor men want to be rich” (1)
2. Political hypocrisy.
3. Hypocritical use of chador.
4. “Stalkers for Islam” (43)
5. Honor killings.
6. Female genital mutilation (FGM).
7. Islamic rule.
8. Muslim apologetics.
9. Sex abuse scandals.
10. Freedom of artistic expression and speech.

Ms. Tavakoli gave one example that specifically dealt with Muslim outrage pertaining to freedom of artistic expression/speech; I felt that it lacked sufficient context, causing me to be in disagreement with her. The story’s lack of details pertained to the year 2006, when a Pakistani cleric issued a death fatwa on a cartoonist who drew satirical images of Mohammad. I did not find their context to be fatwa-worthy nor good cause for riots. The situation created by the editors appeared repulsive and malicious. I associated this example with the Charlie Hebdo incident, though it was not clearly defined in the book.

The incident involved artistic representations of tied-up Muslims being raped by dogs (as had reportedly occurred to incarcerated people of the same faith). Dogs were utilized because due to their consideration as being the most disliked, lowly creatures in Islam. Other highly-inappropriate, disgusting, and insensitive illustrations went to print. I could not begin to imagine the uproar that would take place in a Westernized nation if, in the same context, there was a contest to draw a likenesses of God, Jesus Christ, or any other holy icon, in order for them to be printed amongst cartoons of children being raped by religious or other authority figures. In this situation, described as artistic expression and/or freedom of speech, moral and philosophical boundaries melted.

Unveiled Threat made for a compelling read that, at its core, focused on personal boundaries being legally melted by changing societal norms. This book contained elements of stories shared by Nonie Darwish, in her book titled, “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.” Plus, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stressed similar warnings in the three pieces I have read of hers: 1.) Nomad–From from Islam to America: a Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations; 2.) Infidel; and, 3.) The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.

Tavakoli’s book made me hold my breath quite a bit. At times I felt my eyes racing from one sentence to the next because of the energy that the author’s writing style created. The reading enjoyment factor caused the book to easily earn five stars; but, what I thought were minor historical discrepancies did cause me to reduce the work’s overall rating by that of one star. These minute differences in no way diminished the author’s experiences nor intensity of the situations covered in the piece. The most important factual fabric of this book maintained its integrity.

Groupie Moment: Countdown to Kinzer (Part Two)

the-true-flag-theodore-roosevelt-mark-twain-and-the-birth-of-american-empire-by-stephen-kinzerThank goodness that I recently joined the Twitter-verse (@StreedsReads)! It was there that I quickly became a follower of one of my favorite authors, Stephen Kinzer (@StephenKinzer), resulting in something I had dreamt of, but never thought would happen: meeting him. On the eve of one week ago, I just happened to be on Twitter late at night…such a romantic thing for a wife (who adores her husband) to do…don’t you think? Instantly I saw the transformative tweet from Kinzer, about his newest release, “The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.” If you missed it, details were posted in: Groupie Moment: Countdown to Kinzer.

The next day, I called Vroman’s to reserve my copy of “The True Flag.” No way was I going to risk not having one for the event. Plus, that bookstore’s policy stated that with the purchase of said book, attendees could bring up to three other Kinzer works from home library for the author to sign–YIPPEEEEEE!

But, just one problem: the “Kinzer Groupie” status was achieved by borrowing books from my local library system. The time had come for that big word—“C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T:” It was the only way to prove my groupie worthiness by purchasing some of the author’s books. My husband revealed that he was already one step ahead of me, because he intended to take me to the local (for us, but not in a corporate sense) bookstore so that we could pick up other Kinzer titles for the event.  Finally, I would officially have Kinzer-esque bragging rights!

The store had only two other Kinzer books:
1. All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (I read this one years ago, having reviewed it on my Goodreads and LibraryThing profiles at the time; recently, I posted it to this blog as well.)
2. The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (I planned to read this one upon its release in 2016 but allowed myself to be lured into temptation by other books…even though they kept their covers on. Shame on me! What kind of Kinzer fan am I?)

My husband and I got dressed up for our date night, because nerds-at-heart do things like this for excitement. We really do! We left our home to allow two and one-half hours for the commute and arrived in approximately 90 minutes…relieved by the lack of normally-heavy Los Angeles and Inland Empire traffic.

2017-02_kinzerbooksfortrueflagauthoreventOnce inside the store, I immediately purchased my book, bringing my “To Be Autographed” set to three pieces; so, I knew I could relax a little bit.  I realized that I was in a special place…feeling as though no outside world existed.  Endless aisles of texts surrounded us, as well as anything that a book nerd/aficionado would want to couple with reading: luxury pens and high-end stationary sets, fragrant candles and exotic incense, cosmopolitan coffees and unusual teas plus specialty cups/mugs to enjoy them, themed socks and aprons, plus more, more, more. We entered the adjoining cafe and ate a light meal together, not wanting to chance a growling stomach interrupting Stephen Kinzer’s lecture. My husband opted to have some coffee and work for a little bit while I walked around the store…with less than a half-hour left in my “Countdown to Kinzer.”

I’ll never forget what happened next…as I was looking at books in the “Military History section, I heard HIS voice. Not to confuse anyone…it was not GOD’s voice. It was that of the man of the hour (other than the one of every hour, who is my husband) Mr. Stephen Kinzer. I turned toward the voice, and there he was! Adenaline coursed through me, causing my heart to race. For an instant I froze, like a little girl caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The next second I came to my senses, slowly took a deep breath and sauntered away.

How rude of me to walk away, right?  I moved calmly, as though seeing Kinzer was an everyday thing. Then, when I rounded the corner, I doubled by pace and raced to get to my husband, back at the cafe. I leaned toward him and in an excited whisper I said, “He’s here!” And, my totally calm and cool husband smiled and said, “That’s why we’re here, right?”

Of course that was why we were there! But why did I walk away from one of my favorite authors, especially when I had been wanting to meet him for years? YEARS!!! My reason was simple. Despite my excitement, I wanted to be respectul of the fact that the man was not “On Stage” or “On Duty” yet. His personal time was his own; so, what possibly appeared to be rudeness or indifference was really about my effort to respect boundaries.

I spent the remaining time just perusing the opposite side of the store taking pictures. Then I began to feel more like a tourist or a really bad wanna-be spy. After two non-covert and very obvious snapshots were taken, I realized I had snapped the most important pre-event images anyway (except a display of “The True Flag“): Scrabble and Shakespeare, and I’ll tell you why.

My husband and I played Scrabble on our first date. We had agreed to meet for coffee; but I brought Scrabble, a Scrabble Players’ Dictionary, and Boggle. He had never played Scrabble before; and, wouldn’t you know it? They guy won the game and the girl!

Shakespeare was a man who snuck into my teenage daughter’s bedroom in a way that I never would have guessed. A while back, my teenage daughter began disappearing to her bedroom and only coming out for meals, school, and quick chores. I was growing concerned; so, one night I tip-toed to her door (wanna-be spy mode, again) and suddenly knocked. She immediately responded for me to come in. That was when I found her in bed with Shakespeare. I was proud to discover that she was disappearing because she did not want to stop reading books. Later I learned that she had been giving her younger brother lessons in Shakespeare, which really warmed my heart. That was why I took a picture of the Shakespeare socks.  I think I should get them for her.

Review: United States of Jihad: Americans Fighting for Radical Islam–Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists–From Al-Qaeda to ISIS

cvr_united-states-of-jihad-americans-fighting-for-radical-islam-from-al-qaeda-to-isis-by-peter-bergenUnited States of Jihad: Americans Fighting for Radical Islam–Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists–From Al-Qaeda to ISIS by Peter Bergen

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Book

REVIEW: Forget everything you think you know about radical Islam, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, et. al. Close your eyes and pretend for just a moment that you have never seen pictures of radicalized Islamic terrorists and the results of their destructive events. Now open your eyes, and read Peter Bergen’s book, “United States of Jihad: Americans Fighting for Radical Islam–Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists–From Al-Qaeda to ISIS;” and, prepare to have your mind blown. Not literally blown!!! I’m not a terrorist, and neither is the author; but, I’ve obviously got some explaining to do.

My husband was on a business trip in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. Each time he does this, he tries to stop by a place that is special to us: Coco Sala Restaurant and Chocolate Boutique. What what does chocolate have to do with “United States of Jihad?” One day he arrived before the chocolate boutique opened; so he walked to one of my other favorite places, “The International Spy Museum” and entered its bookstore. From there he called me and said, “Honey, have you read, “X” where “X” became a list of books that he was plucking from the shelves and hoping to bring home to me. How incredibly thoughtful and kind of him! When he mentioned, “United States of Jihad,” I became excited…and that’s how he knew to bring it home for me.
cvr_united-states-of-jihad_withcoversticker_intlspymuseum_signedcopy-by-peter-bergen cvr_united-states-of-jihad_insidecoverpg_signed-by-peter-bergenWhen I opened the museum store’s goody bag, I was delighted that my husband chose a hardcover copy of the book. It had a sticker on the upper corner, but all I noticed was “SPY” and thanked my husband with a big hug and a kiss. Then he said, “And its autographed, too.”  I took another look, saw the author’s signature, and couldn’t stop smiling.  My husband wanted to do something so special for me, and I could not hug him enough.  His night definitely had a happier ending than it did for people in Bergen’s work!  This book became one more addition to several works written by terrorism expert Peter Bergen, who has a long list of accomplishments to his name (Learn more by visiting his website: PeterBergen.com). His other books to-date include the following:

*Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden–from 9/11 to Abbottabad
*The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda
*Drone Wars: Transforming Conflict, Law, and Policy
*The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Al-Qaeda’s Leader
*Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden
*Talibanistan

While I did not read this book while sitting in a place (real or imaginary) called “Talibanistan,” I was able to absorb the contents while resting in the comfort of my seemingly-safe home, in the Post-9/11 environment, of the United States of America. “Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, 330 people in the United States have been charged with some kind of jihadist terrorist crime ranging in seriousness from murder to sending small sums of money to a terrorist group.  An astonishing four out of five of them are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.  Moreover, more than one hundred American citizens or residents have been charged after traveling overseas to join a terrorist group, and further thirty-nine were arrested in the States while planning to do so” (10). In its simplest terms, this is a form of treason:  to join a group or accept an ideology whose goal is to kill Americans.  This book is an attempt to discern why these Americans made that choice, how U.S. institutions and the Muslim community in the United States have responded, and how a threat of terrorism on American soil has changed us” (10–11).

They are ordinary Americans” (15)…just like me…and my parents…and my children. Our children–America’s children! Every parent can attest to the feeling that our children are always our children until the day we die. Imagine the horror when the immigrated parents were so proud to be in this country and would not intentionally do anything to harm it…only to get a knock on the door or a special phone call from law enforcement (of any type). The kind you don’t want knocking at your door unless its to say they moved in next door and wanted to know if you had a cup of sugar.

But, this story had no sugary sweetness to it; no additives, no preservatives, no artificial anything. It was all truth that left me with quite a bit to think about post-read. Bergen shared interesting investigative elements about “America’s homegrown terrorists:”

*The religious conversion process and steps to achieving extremism.
*Terrorist organization recruitment efforts: targeted marketing with well-understood ideal candidate profiles that include demographics and psychographics.
*Islamist terrorism and its “relationship to the religion of Islam” (27).
*How political correctness contributed to ignoring or insufficiently investigating suspected radicals.
*Challenges in knowing when and how to legally acquire and use data.
*”The key role that families and communities played in preventing violent extremism was also overlooked in the effort to justify more exotic counterterrorism measures” (218).
*Entrapment and false arrests of non-jihadists to improve performance reporting.

United States of Jihad” proved itself to be an excellent, highly-recommendable read. Peter Bergen delivered on every one of his promises to the reader. This book challenged and overhauled the American belief system of what comprised a jihadist. The author’s writing style was clear, cohesive, and compelling…from start to finish, easily earning it a five-star rating.

Review: The Fall Of The Shah

cvr_the-fall-of-the-shah-by-fereydoun-hoveyda-roger-liddell-translatorThe Fall Of The Shah by Fereydoun Hoveyda, Roger Liddell (Translator)

MY RATING: 4/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: This passionately-written book written was created as a tri-faceted account of “The Fall of the Shah” by Fereydoun Hoveyda, an Iranian Diplomat, under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Hoveyeda adeptly delved into core themes to support the book’s title; and, I enjoyed reading the up-close perspective and how Hoveyda (and others) reached a point where they recognized that the Shah no longer wished to hear the truth from his court. The author’s brother, Abbas, Iran’s former Prime Minister suffered as a result. I found myself impressed by how well the writer wove a tapestry of parallel histories: foreign intervention to create the rise and fall of the Shah, momentum of the Islamic Revolution, and Abbas Hoveyda’s assassination.

“No matter what one believes about the theories of foreign intervention in Iran’s affairs, there is no denying that the Shah did all he possibly could to bring about the collapse of his dynasty. His armaments policy, the corruption in his entourage, his ruthless repression and stifling dictatorship gnawed like a cancer at his whole system, especially during his last two years in power. Blinded by his own dreams of grandeur and walled off from the realities of the country, the Shah ignored popular aspirations, despised the clergy, and antagonized both the world and his own people simultaneously…with the help of his family he was the true and certain author of his own downfall” (215-216).

The author expertly crafted the final component of this book by leaving the reader with a a few strong and intriguing points for consideration. I did not wish to spoil the book for anybody, but felt compelled to extrapolate one of the arguments. An issue surrounded the events of the 1953 coup: it involved the overthrow of Mohammad Mossaddeq. The question essentially became “What if the coup had failed?” It almost did, but Hoveyda did not want his readers to think about the coup results in the same way that we have since its occurrence. What if Kermit Roosevelt continued with his efforts for the United States government (on behalf of British interests), but the last Shah of Iran decided to not return to his country anyway? Essentially, it would have been an incomplete intervention.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen Kinzer, specialized in the subject of American interventions into foreign countries to protect U.S. “interests.” His book, “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror ” covered the details of this significant historical event quite well. Hoveyda’s book left me wondering, “What would Kinzer think would happen without the return of the last Shah? How would it possibly have altered Iran-US relations? Would the timeline to Islamic Revolution have possibly sped up, stayed the same, or whittled down to nothing? I encourage people to read both Hoveyda’s and Kinzer’s renditions of the the Shah’s decline to decide for themselves.

Review: Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

cvr_overthrow-americas-century-of-regime-change-from-hawaii-to-iraq-by-stephen-kinzerOverthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Stephen Kinzer’s ” Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” sought to illustrate a trended pattern of regime changes driven by the United States government on foreign land. He detailed specific situations and defined the categories of coups, coupled with commonalities of the countries in which the USA initiated overthrows of key politicians.

Blatant coups took place in countries with rich, natural resources that fell under foreign (namely, American) control; or in scenarios where nationalization of those resources were attempted, America stepped in to protect its corporate interests. Covert coups, typically of the Cold War Era, seemed to be conducted differently because they were based on an assumption that Communism need to be stopped. “Far easier was to categorize nationalism simply as a disguised form of Communist aggression and seek to crush it wherever it reared its ugly head” (pp. 215-216).

“What distinguishes Americans from citizens of past empires is their eagerness to persuade themselves that they are acting out of humanitarian motives. For most of the “regime change” era, the United States did little or nothing to promote democracy in the countries whose governments it deposed” (pg. 316). The consistent, immediate effects of US-driven coups led to “larcenous frenzy” (pg. 306), and insufficient troop support to stop fires, looting, and other crimes of opportunity.

Kinzer’s research revealed that US has mistakenly believed that in making a foreign country turn democratic that it can be equated with the political position of being pro-American. More often than not, the converse has revealed itself to be true. Coups/Overthrows tend to “bind the United States” to the subject matter countries. It was this form of attachment that chiseled our almost inescapable legacy.

Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq became the fourth book I read by Stephen Kinzer; and, it was my least favorite of the bunch. It was typical for there to be a lack of transition between the chapters (typically representing a separate country), and when he tried to make the chapters connect toward the end of the book, his paragraphs seemed to jump around. The book lacked structural cohesion and seemed to be a rush-to-production piece that took his research from previous books and slammed it/them together to call the compendium a defined work. The fact that I had already become a Kinzer fan was what pushed me to read this book to completion.