Thursday, August 9, 2007

America's Secret War (thoughts)

Though it doesn't come up often on the blog, I'm an international relations junkie. It was one of my majors in college, and I once asked for (and received) a subscription to The Economist for Christmas: I still read all of it except the business section every week. I've taken classes in i.r. theory and on politics in every region of the world except Asia (couldn't fit it into my schedule). I love talking about international relations about as much as I hate talking about domestic politics. :D

All of that is a long-winded introduction to George Friedman's book, America's Secret War. A friend and fellow i.r. major from college recommended it to me. And I must say, I found it a very satisfying book. Friedman runs Stratfor, which is a highly respected private strategic studies/intelligence firm. The book is his analysis of America's post-9/11, anti-Al Qaeda manuevers. In order to put it in context, he gives background information on everything from the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan to the effects of new, OPEC-founded Saudi Arabian wealth in the 70s/80s. His analysis lacks the partisanship common in political books today; while it's obvious that Friedman is a conservative, that doesn't mean he supports Bush unconditionally. Instead, he interprets the administration's actions from the unique p.o.v. of decades of experience in intelligence untainted by government service. Well, perhaps untainted is the wrong word. What I mean is, it's not as if he's worked in the government and therefore feels the need to apologize for/justify whatever happened during his tenure.

I wish I hadn't had to return the book to the library: there were several interesting points that I really wanted to discuss. Without the benefit of the book, however, I'll talk about an idea that really stuck in my mind. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a moderate liberal. :)

As Friedman discusses the build up to the Iraq war, he talks about one of the key strategies of the US: psychologial warfare, or disinformation. Now, this has always been an aspect of conflict; we've all seen the propaganda distributed during the World Wars on all sides of the fight. However, the problem is, that psychological warfare involves lying to the enemy. For example, the US, despite not knowing where Hussein actually was, wanted to make the Iraqi generals doubt if Hussein was alive. Obviously, if Hussein was dead, the generals would be more likely to surrender. The US knew that Hussein had been keeping a remarkably low profile, turning functions over to his family, leaving Baghdad, hiding out. So, the military hoped that if they bombed a possible hideout of Hussein, and announced that they had hit Hussein, the generals might decide Hussein was dead. This makes perfect sense from a strategic sense. But here comes the part that stuck with me: it's impossible in a democratic society with 21st century technology for a government to lie to its enemies without also deceiving its own public.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that the "War on Terror" justifies all the sketchy things Bush has done. And Friedman wasn't arguing that either. Nevertheless, it's something that I'd never even considered before. It made me rethink my perceptions of the administration; in fact, the entire book does that. I have no idea if Friedman is giving too much credit to the current US government, but somehow I doubt it. He criticises the administration, as well as speculating as to its motives.

To me, this book is an important contribution to "War on Terror" literature. Friedman approaches the issue from a radically different background than the journalists or politicians that are writing most of the books we see nowadays. It's an intelligent, rational viewpoint that deserves to be heard. If you're at all curious about current events, and you're willing to allow your current conceptions to be challenged, this book would be good to pick up. I can't wait for his new book to be released; I'm sure it will be another insightful analysis of the world, from an unapologetically realist perspective.

On a completely unrelated note, for those of y'all on bookmooch, until the 20th of August I'm doing a 2-for-1 on all paperbacks (sorry-US only). I don't have a huge inventory, but if you're curious, check out the selection.

7 comments:

Sam Houston said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the Friedman book, Eva. It sounds interesting and like something that I'd enjoy. It's getting more and more difficult to find this kind of thing that is not written by a die hard partisan of one side of the debate or the other.

Eva said...

Sam, it is getting more and more difficult, which is why reading this book was such a pleasure. :) Plus, Friedman is obviously a very intelligent guy, so it's fun to watch his mind in action!

Christopher said...

I am currently watching the documentary Why We Fight. It has the same premise of lying to the public while attempting to strike fear into the enemy. It is rather sad that something like 9/11 was used to promote unilateral imperialism on our part. I will definitely check out this book.

Booklogged said...

I've added this book to my TBR list. Sounds interesting and it will be nice to get a not-partisan view. I'm off to check out your bookmooch shelf.

Booklogged said...

Your link to bookmooch opened a list of books being offered by Shari. Is that the right page, Eva?

Eva said...

oy-I just tried to comment on this, but in case it didn't work, here goes again.

Booklogged, that's the right page. My first name is Shari, and since bookmooch works through the mail, I wanted to make sure there wouldn't be any problems. I prefer Eva, which is my middle name. ;)

Eva said...

Christopher, that sounds like an interesting documentary. I haven't heard of it, but if it uses phrases like 'unilateral imperialism,' it's probably at the opposite end of the spectrum from this book. Just to let you know. ;)