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CM Weston (Warsaw)

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Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia
Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia
by Ahmed Rashid
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Afghan - Pakistan Tragedy, 20 May 2009
This is essentially a sequel to Mr Rashid`s book "Taliban" and essentially updates the reader to around the middle of 2008. Since then, of course, bad has turned to worse, particularly in Pakistan, although at least the new US administration has treated the area with a little more seriousness than its predecessor.
One area touched upon that was striking was the level of US aid provided to Pakistan since 2001 and what happened to it - Pakistan spent $ 3.8 billion on weapons in 2003 and $ 6 billion in 2006. Where did it all go? It would certainly not appear to have assisted the Pakistan military build up any counterinsurgency expertise - as has been demonstrated by recent events in Swat. Perhaps to the nuclear programme or reinforcing its capability to head off the imagined "Indian threat"? Despite such aid, none, or very little, has found its way into social programmes for education - literacy rates are appalling - 54 %, with female literacy at 30 % and of course the madrassas (funded by private money from Gulf states) have promoted little but religious intolerance and jihadism. Also little aid has found its way into the poorer areas of the country - FATA, which have become havens for Taliban and their ilk.
If the reader wants to know what lies behind the depressing headlines of today, this book is an excellent start to gain an understanding.

The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power
The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power
by David E. Sanger
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Obama`s full foreign policy intray, 19 May 2009
I have a clear recollection from my childhood of a tv programme in which an individual performed a trick whereby he balanced consecutively a large number of plates on individual bamboo sticks. The trick was, of course, to keep all the plates spinning while you spun new plates on other poles - every now and again the performer would return to the old plates, give them all a further spin and then move on. The idea was to avoid the plates stopping spinning and then falling to the ground with a crash. When Mr Obama became President, he inherited a lot of plates almost ready to stop spinning and some ready to fall, and Mr Sanger, the author, gives us a review of some of those foreign policy "plates" namely Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, China plus a few others, to which I will return in due course.
Over three months into his presidential term and the list of foreign policy issues identified by Mr Sanger look, on the face of it, shrewdly chosen.
Mr Obama has reached out to Iran for a dialogue in a bid to avoid the latter`s attempt to go nuclear. We shall see what happens but the author highlights the issues and challenges faced by the US in this area.
North Korea has fired a longrange ballistic rocket - masquerading as a satellite launch, pulled out of the Six Party Talks, threatened to detonate a further atomic device but the Obama administration has so far kept its nerve in not reacting too strongly and sought international support for its (muted) protest - although this may have more to do with other pressing issues such as Af - Pak, - with the emphasis surely on the Pakistan side of this suffix.
For this situation has definitely worsened considerably. The book refers to a trip made by Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, to Pakistan in May 2008 and his meeting with a senior Pakistani general in which the latter states that the US will not bear the burden of staying in Afghanistan, cites India - with whom Pakistan had fought three wars and come close to a major conflagration in 2002 as being too close to the Afghan President Karzai and that accordingly Pakistan must therefore side with the Taliban. As the book relates: "That last statement stunned McConnell. For six years the Aamerican government had paid upward of $ 10 billion to the Pakistani government to support its operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban". If anything this has understated the true level of self denial exhibited by this country as Pakistan later signed up to deals handing over sovereignty over swathes of its own territory to the Pakistan Taliban - including areas near to its capital. The sections on Pakistan`s nuclear arsenal, and its ability to protect them are also worth pondering in the light of recent events. Mr Obama and his team have their work cut out that it is not Pakistan that becomes "the key challenge" rather than Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
The chapters on China are interesting although they don`t cover what is the symbiotic relationship between the US and China`s economy with the latter financing the US deficit, and I think that here the author has missed a trick - namely the significance of economics as a foreign policy issue. There is no addressing of the major impact of the global financial crisis on US foreign policy - will the US be constrained in what it can do to confront some of the issues it faces, as referred to by the author, due to its need to reduce its deficit, and its allies` reluctance to share the burden? What about the foreign policy steps to counter the rise of protectionism caused by the crisis? Would, or could, China use its foreign reserves to influence US policy? On this the book is silent.
The author rounds off the book with 'three vulnerabilities' - namely a WMD going off in Washington, a biological attack and cyberwarfare. I think these sections were of interest but are they so significant to warrant their inclusion? The author is light on a number of more direct issues inherited: 1) the Israel - Palestine issue - surely a major headache inherited from Bush and his predecessors at the White House; 2) Iraq - the 'surge' may have avoided the country spinning out of control but the US is not "out of the woods" in that country yet; 3) Russia - its policies towards NATO expansion for Georgia and Ukraine, as well as the issue of energy security for the EU; et al.
That said, I believe the author has conveyed a good sense of what Mr Obama was to likely to face, and events so far have not detracted from that and indeed have validated his choice. A very worthwhile read.

Thatcher's Britain: The Politics and Social Upheaval of the Thatcher Era
Thatcher's Britain: The Politics and Social Upheaval of the Thatcher Era
by Richard Vinen
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thatcher and her legacy: an assessment postponed, 19 May 2009
I read this book fairly quickly - it is well written but it rather left a feeling of hopes unfulfilled. It is thirty years since Mrs Thatcher came to power and she remained there for a further eleven years. She created immense passions on all sides and to all comers - she was loved and hated in equal measure on both sides of the political divide, and she left an indelible mark on a country. Even now, certain observers, such as the 'Financial Times', say that the economic crisis we now face should finally put the seal on the Thatcher era which saw deregulation in the City, reductions in the high income tax rates (only now reversed by the Labour after twelve years in power), privatisation, rollback of the State etc etc. And yet, the author has not really given us a cold eyed view on this lady and her time in power and its after effects, which still circulate in the current "body politic".
The author instead provides us with the standard bio - although John Campbell`s own two volume biography has covered that more than adequately. There is no real analysis of the Thatcher style that rivals "One of Us" by Hugo Young or indeed the impact post Thatcher, as set out in Simon Jenkins` "Thatcher & Sons". This is a great shame as I genuinely feel that with the elapse of time, such a study would be of great interest.
With respect to the title, I would have expected a greater look at the economic record of the Thatcher years and how it has affected the UK going forward. Perhaps the author could have posed some questions such as was Thatcher perhaps on the right side of the argument in not going into the ERM, from which the country was ignominiously ejected after her fall? Was the poll tax so fundamental to her downfall? It would have been interesting to hear some views on the social upheaval caused - whether beneficial or detrimental. Instead we have just a reasonable, straightforward, uncontroversial look at the Thatcher period.
This is a shame as I think it does no justice to the "Iron Lady" herself - some would argue she was not reasonable, others perhaps not straightforward but all would agree she was the most controversial politician and prime minister of our time and from that perspective, she still awaits her due and proper reassessment.

The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels
The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels
by Tristram Hunt
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Engels: Marx`s Joint Venture Partner in their Communist enterprise, 19 May 2009
This is a hugely enjoyable biography of the man and his times. The book is light on ideology although the sections on the predecessors to the Communist ideal ie Saint - Simon and Charles Fourier and his "Theory of the Four Movements", were interesting. Apart from the picture of Engels as the champagne drinking (although he preferred his bottle of Holsten), horsehunting, bon viveur with an eye for the ladies, the real core of the book is his longtime collaboration with Marx and his own contribution to the development of Marxism.
Despite a cool beginning at the start of the relationship, the Marx - Engels friendship and collaboration lasted for almost forty years. During this time, Engels was providing critical financial support to Marx and his family - even after Marx`s death, as well as penning a number of newspaper articles for Marx to claim as his own and receive the financial benefit thereof! There is one letter referred to in which Marx is chivvying Engels to quickly prepare a newspaper article for Marx in order for Marx to meet an editorial deadline, while at the same time Engels is working full time in his father`s Manchester cotton business.
The book refers to Engel`s own contribution to Marxism. Engels was only 24 when he penned "The Condition of the English Working Class" - a book which Marx praised long after. Engels was Marx`s "inside man" in the capitalist system and Marx undoubtedly relied on him for guidance on its workings for his own writings. One of Marx`s weaknesses was his inability to complete some of his researches - only the first volume of his famous "Capital" had ben published by his death. It fell to Engels to assemble and edit the two posthumous volumes of "Capital" as well as to guard the intellectual legacy of his old friend.
Engels also penned "The Dialectics of Nature" and "Origins of the Family" - the former much referred to by Lenin and Plekhanov. Engels therefore can make a full claim to being a key founder of Marxism.
As part of the book`s introduction, the author refers in passing to his visit to Engels - a crumbling, post Soviet town of Engels nestling on the Volga but he should have stayed in Moscow - diagonally opposite the Church of Christ the Saviour (famously dynamited by Stalin`s regime in the 1930s and now rebuilt) and just across from one of the plushest restaurants of modernday Moscow stands a large statue in memory to Engels - the "Frock Coated Communist" himself. I sense that Engels would have enjoyed this particular irony.

The Gamble: General Petraeus and the Untold Story of the American Surge in Iraq, 2006 - 2008: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
The Gamble: General Petraeus and the Untold Story of the American Surge in Iraq, 2006 - 2008: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
by Thomas E. Ricks
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Follow up to "Fiasco"', 19 May 2009
For those, like me, who enjoyed, "Fiasco", this is the next episode in the continuing saga of the US`s unhappy foray into Iraq. There is something of the air of redemption in this book - "Fiasco" left off with the US and coalition forces facing almost near disaster in Iraq and indeed this book kicks off with the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra in Febriary 2006 and Iraq`s near descent into civil war, but due to the efforts of a group of officers, such as retired General Keane, General Petraeus takes over. He and other likeminded individuals such as Odierno, his deputy, employ classic counterinsurgency tactics such as the forces living among the Iraqis to improve security - "the populace are the prize", cutting deals with the Sunni and Shia insurgents to bring them over to the US side rather than the previous "commute to work" from large bases and "insurgency on two fronts", the decline was at least halted, if not reversed.
Some of this background has already been outlined in Bob Woodward`s book - the involvement of Bush and Cheney in effecting the senior personnel changes, and the politicking surrounding the decision to proceed with the "surge" of US forces. Some of the previous reviewer`s comments re Bush are correct although Hicks is very clear that he believes the personnel and tactical changes should have been made several years earlier and that this was Bush`s responsibility.
Despite the reductions in incidents, fatalities (both military and civilian),as a result of the revised senior military line up and tactics, the book`s conclusions on the "Gamble" make sober reading. Petraeus and his successor, Odierno, very much believe that this is a a 'long war' and that a US military presence will be likely for many more years yet - redemption is therefore "work in progress". The "surge" tactics have only been limited in their success since they were also implemented with a view to allowing the politicians to begin to craft a political solution to the problems faced by Iraq following the fall of Saddam. In the Northern Ireland context, this was described as aiming at an "acceptable level of violence" or "holding the ring" while the politicians negotiated a resolution. This took decades to take effect in a place where the intensity of the conflict, albeit bitter, pales in comparison with that experienced in Iraq over the last six years. In addition, the three parties, Shia, Sunni and Kurds, are still struggling to make the compromises necessary. Meanwhile, the US is in a major economic crisis and its attention is being diverted to the Af/Pak conflict.
Petraeus posed the question about the US involvement in Iraq: "How does this end?" Not any time soon and the answer is unlikely to be so clearcut...

Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown
Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown
by Leszek Kolakowski
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.79

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kolakowski`s "Magum opus' on Marxism, 19 May 2009
"Main Currents" is comprised of three parts - "The Founders", 'The Golden Age" and "The Breakdown". The first part looks at both the antecedents ie Kant, Hegel, as well as the main protagonists - Marx and Engels. In some places, it is heavy going but if the reader can stick with it, the insights into philosophy underpinning Marxism are worthwhile. "The Golden Age" deals with the various contributions of Kautsky, Bernstein and other relatively less well known writers but at the heart of this part is the Russian contributors ie Plekhanov and Lenin, and here the examination turns from the analysis of the ideas to a straight examination of the Bolshevik and then Stalinist ideas in practise - perhaps not that original but still worth reading for the author`s insights - he was a Professor of Philosophy at Warsaw University into the 1960s. The final part covers the ideas of latterday contributors such as Marcuse and the Frankfurt School. The book pretty well finishes in the late 1960s in due part to the author`s belief that there was little more to say - the ideas of Marx et al had run their course and been found 'wanting in the balance' in their application in his country, then part of the Soviet bloc, and elsewhere. This is a book of real scholarship in its breadth and depth of the coverage of the Marxist ideal and is unlikely to be bettered.

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