Foreign Affairs Books I Recommend


A Bright Shining Lie, by Neil Sheehan.
This is the most exquisite, well-written and comprehensive (790 pages) book that I have read about Vietnam, or any war! It won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 1989.

Sheehan made numerous trips to South Vietnam, oftentimes going out with combat troops on missions; because that is where wars or fought! Our War was mismanaged at the highest civilian and military levels; because, no one understood the culture, nor was flexible enough to consider more relevant ideas and strategies. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon used the War for their own political purposes.

Additionally, America didn’t understand the Saigon Elite, and the string of unpopular puppet governments that we helped establish. Each of those South Vietnamese governments had two primary concerns: use the Army to prevent an overthrow; and manage both the civilian and military bureaucracy for their own corrupt enrichment.

Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror, By Robert M. Cassidy

Not an easy read; however, Colonel Cassidy, U. S. Army, provides a coherent explanation as to why a larger, more technologically equipped army, using conventional tactical methods cannot defeat a smaller, unconventional force. Guerrilla forces don’t stand and fight straight-up!  Rather, they split into smaller groups that are not usually employed in conventional war. Also, technological superiority actually puts the more modern army at a disadvantage, say in street-fighting, where civilian casualties cannot always be prevented, and the shear weight of the technology—weaponry and uniforms—weighs the modern soldier down.



Three Days in January:  By Brett Baier.
This book provides a most interesting combination:  a biography of President and General Dwight David Eisenhower; the historical “Passing of the Torch”, from “Ike” to President John F. Kennedy; and a treatise in leadership at the very highest levels. Ike’s constant referring to our First President, George Washington, and the intentions of the Framers of our Constitution are provided as context for today’s political reality.  Also:  Ike warned against The Military Industrial Complex!

Dereliction of Duty, by H. R. McMaster, the current National Security Advisor.
In Dereliction, General McMaster describes how President Johnson, like Kennedy before him, enabled Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to sidestep the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their tradition role of War Planning and Execution.

McMaster chronicles the enormous troop build-up in Vietnam between 1963-65, deceiving Congress and the American People. George W. Bush’s SecDef, Donald Rumsfeld went even further, in the run-up to the mysterious War on Terror, in Afghanistan and Iraq, by disregarding both the JCS and the CIA.  Is Donald Trump taking such schemes even further?

Breach of Trust:  By Andrew J. Bacevich.
Bacevich, a West Pointer who spent 22 years in the Army, and is now a Professor of History and International Relations, describes the transformation of the U. S. Army, after Vietnam until today. His conclusion is that America should return to the Citizen-Soldiers, that served us well, at Concord, Bull Run, as well as Leyte Gulf and Normandy Beach, rather than the Professional Warriors of today.

America’s War–For the Greater Middle East:  By Andrew J. Bacevich.

Bacevich follows-up his book, “Breach of Trust”, by describing America’s continuing unnecessary, and open-ended engagement in the Greater Middle East.  Rather than 2001, when President George W. Bush sent the U. S. Military into Afghanistan, and two years later into Iraq, our open-ended involvement in that Region goes back to 1980.  And what have we accomplished?

My Lai 4:  A Report on the Massacre, by U. S. Troops in (hen South) Vietnam, and Its Aftermath:  By Seymour M. Hersh.
Sy Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering, what I believe, was the very darkest hour of the U.S. Army. Elements of the Army’s Americal Division massacred some 550 Vietnamese old men, women, children, even suckling babies—for no other reason, perhaps other than “scoring body counts”. The Courts Marshall went nowhere.

The Coldest Winter:   by David Halberstrom.
This is about “The Forgotten War” (as some Vets called it)–Korea.  The story runs from the highest political offices, Truman, State, the Pentagon, to General MacArthur, who believed that he out-ranked God, and on through the chain-of-command, from generals to grunts in the foxholes.The politics of this War, including MacArthur being relieved–and rightfully so, makes for a compelling story of that Era.  I had not been aware of the divisiveness within America–similar to today, which was caused by MacArthur’s quite quickly-deflated political aspirations.

Code Warriors:  NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union:  By Stephen Budiansky.
This story begins with the joint British-American Cryptologists during World War II, who broke the Nazis Enigma Code, and follows the feuding military factions, in the Battle of Signals (all electronics) Intelligence, and then some.  As NSA was formed, in the 1950s, to coordinate the entire SIGINT effort, the feuding continued, but with another Agency, the newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency.  Washington politics and in-fighting at its worst

Monsoon: By Robert D. Kaplan.
This would be an excellent read for anyone interested in Foreign Policy, or perhaps Chess. Mr. Kaplan, suggests that today’s Atlantic-Pacific Ocean focus is outdated. A new Two-Ocean Policy is becoming more relevant—one based on the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. Besides China, Kaplan suggests that a rising India will become increasingly evident, as the two Asian Giants counter one another.  Related blog post.

The world’s trouble spots—the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia—are all in, or near, the Indian Ocean. Also, with Energy Security currently of the highest importance, the two choke holds in the global transit of Oil and LNG—the Malacca Straits and the Gulf of Hormuz—are both in its path.

Asia’s Caldron, By Robert D. Kaplan.
This is apparently a follow-up to Mr. Kaplan’s “Monsoon” (cited above), in which he suggested that America’s strategic focus should be on the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans, rather than the Atlantic. In Asia’s Caldron, he narrows that focus even further—at least, with regard to where the U. S. Military is most needed—to the South China Sea, which lies between Indonesia and the Philippines.  Related blog post.

Imperial Grunts, By Robert D. Kaplan.

Mr. Kaplan, the author of the two books, listed above, is a journalist who writes about various Foreign Policy issues.  In Imperial Grunts, he describes two U. S. Military units–twelve-man Army Special Forces A-Teams and the U. S. Marine Corps, both of  which prefer to deploy in small units.  Both seem to agree that the larger deployments are less effective, and that decisions are best made by the leaders who are directly involved.  Kaplan covers the various units by being imbedded in various SF a “Grunt” teams, around the world.

Note:  There are a number of Special Ops units, among the various services; but, the “Green Berets” do much more than just engage in Unconventional Warfare.  Their missions are patterned after those of the World War II OSS, in which they form the nucleus of local military units, instructing, advising and, when permitted, engaging in combat along side them.

Against All Enemies, By Richard A. Clarke
When terrorists attacked America, using jetliners, on September 11, 2001, just think of the questions that Richard Clarke, the “Counterterrorism Czar” had to deal with:  close our skies, land all flights, none leave or enter; what about flights in-bound from Europe, low on fuel; where’s the President and where do we take him; First Lady, VP; casualty report; get first responders rolling, and call for back-ups; close harbors; casualty report; etc.  And, that’s just part of Chapter One.

Flash Points—The Emerging Crisis in Europe:  By, George Friedman.
If you have an interest in the direction(s) in which Europe might be transforming itself, this is an in-depth analysis, on a geopolitical basis. Mr, Friedman, the founder of Stratfor and, now, on-line publication “Geopolitical Futures”, is a recognized authority on Geopolitical Intelligence. In essence, Friedman takes the past and projects it forward!

I Was Told to Come Alone:  By  Souad Mekhennet.

Undoubtedly the best, most compelling book that I have read all year!  Non-fiction, no less!  As a young journalist, born in Germany to Turkish and Moroccan parents, Saoud Mekhennet began a journey, which included interviewing leaders of al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban.  Ms. Mekhennet’s journey was an attempt to answer a poignant question, posed by Maureen Fanning, the widow of a firefighter, who was killed at the World Trade Center.

Mrs. Fanning, knowing that Souad was a young Muslim woman, of Arab descent, looked directly at her and asked:  “Why do they hate us so much?”  Ms. Mekhennet realized that there was no simple answer, and that the question must to be considered from both perspectives:  that of the West, as well as that of the Islamic World!

One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the brink of nuclear war:  By, Michael Hobbs.
Most books written about The Cuban Missile Crisis, in October of 1962, were published, within the decade or so afterward—when all of the glorified facts and selective remembrances were still in mind.  “One Minute,” however, was published in 2008, and had access to many previously unavailable papers from the U. S., Russia and Cuba.

The book focuses mainly on the 13 days, during which Kennedy and Khrushchev each realized that their roles were, indeed, not a game of one-upmanship, but of trying to put the Nuclear Holocaust genie back into the bottle. The book includes: detailed descriptions of what goes on in U-2 cockpits; the unpreparedness of all three nations to fight a war of such Armageddon madness; and a flashback to the movie “Airport,” when an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel had to use his personal Mobil Card to gas-up several Boeing B-47 Stratojet bombers at Logan Airport, Boston.


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