One great benefit of making an extended coastal cruise like the one I’m on is the ability to read. During the ordinary workweek, I have little time to read, and it’s only while aboard the boat that I can indulge like this. I’ve read eight or nine books in the past three weeks, and have four more awaiting me, but I thought I’d report on a few of them, in case anyone was contemplating browsing through Barnes and Noble or some other bookstore for some mindfood.
Without a doubt, the best of the books I’ve read has been ‘Fiasco’, by Thomas E. Ricks. This study of the military aspects of the Iraq War (currently a best seller) was so compelling, I had difficulty putting it down, and spent a couple of late nights too intrigued to shut off the cabin light and get into my bunk.
Ricks, who is the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, reviewed over 30,000 documents (many obtained by the Freedom of Information Act) and interviewed hundreds for this absorbing portrait of sheer, gross incompetency, on the part of both the military, as well as the civilian Provisional authority, in the aftermath of the invasion. The book has an air of great credibility lent to it by the inclusion of hundreds of quotations from soldiers and military officers.
The basic conclusion of Ricks’ work supports much of what has been popularly reported over the last several years, and what I have come to believe; the fact that, while the US Military did an outstanding job of invading Iraq, they had absolutely no plan (not even a bad plan) to deal with the after-effects of the invasion. Ricks illustrates and details how totally uncoordinated and inconsistent the effort was. Ricks lays the blame for this stunning failure squarely on the expected cast of characters: Rumsfeld, Franks, Tenet, and Bremer (the latter three of which, in a particularly despicable and disingenuous effort to prop up a failed policy, were given Presidential Medals of Freedom… thereby denigrating and cheapening the award given to those who deserved it).
Ricks does point out, and commend, several military officers as the few whose behavior and leadership lent credit to the U.S., as opposed to the many who did not acquit themselves honorably. This book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to understand what has transpired in Iraq since the initial invasion… and why we’ve failed so miserably.
The second-best book I’ve had the pleasure of reading on this trip has been ‘Conservatives without Conscience’, by John Dean. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Barry Goldwater was John Dean’s mentor, and originally was to be a co-author of this book (whose title is a play on Goldwaters’ landmark book, ‘Conscience of a Conservative’). The collaboration started long ago, but sat dormant after Goldwater’s death… until Dean was ‘slimed’ by far right elements of the GOP (perhaps as a long-delayed retribution for his role in Watergate?), with a false claim of Dean’s wife Maureen’s supposed involvement with some sort of prostitution ring. Dean and his wife sued, and settled out of court for substantial money, but the event catalyzed Dean to write this book.
This work is mostly a study of the history of the American Conservative movement. As Dean succinctly put it, the fact that he has been a conservative his entire life, and has now realized that his views put him far to the left of what conservatism means today, justifies a re-examination of what Conservatism used to mean… and what it has been perverted and twisted into, today.
Of particular note, is a somewhat amusing, but revealing, portion of the book where Dean categorizes at least a half dozen different kinds of conservatism, ranging from the ‘neo-conservatism’ of the Richard Perle / Douglass Fieth / Dick Cheney variety, to populist-based conservatism, to isolationist conservatism, describing how each one of these movements has influenced what passes for conservatism these days.
Dean’s work is absorbing and informative, and while a worthwhile read for any particular political persuasion, would be (I think) especially worthwhile for people who describe themselves as ‘conservatives’.
Of the other books I’ve read on the cruise, I’d just like to mention that ‘The One Percent Doctrine’, by Ron Susskind (which is certainly high on the bestseller list this summer) was interesting, but disappointing in that most of the material has been covered in the popular press. This is one can wait for the discount paperback version, in my opinion.