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Books & Reviews

Archive | Books & Reviews

Remembering Kenneth N. Waltz

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Bonnie Rose Shulman
Bonnie Rose Shulman

Bonnie Rose Shulman

The study of jurisprudence and international relations is evidently far better for your health than actually practising them. Kenneth N. Waltz was no exception, at 88 having left a mark in a field where jostling for primacy was conducted with as much ruthlessness as a civil conflict. Writers on international relations have always nursed various illusions and, when fitting, delusions. Mankind has been variously described as irrational or rational, warlike and peaceful. The temper of a nation or state can be gauged by the thermometer of scholarship. Analysis will show the way as to how states will react in any given situation. That such efforts have been futile, damned by the unpredictable pathways of history, has not stopped the venture.

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The Hitler Diaries and History

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Deutsche Welle
Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle

Frauds in time become historical artefacts, objects of their own worth. As projects, they may not have succeeded in attaining the brand of authenticity – but that hardly matters. Their authenticity is merely of a different sort – the fake as real, the fake as its own genuine worth. And so the fate of the Hitler Diaries, 62 volumes in all, which made such a splash in 1983 as being the actual record of a dictator’s life, have now become part of the historical record. Earlier in the week, the forged Hitler diaries were rendered official documents of history – at least of a certain type, finding their way into the vaults of the German Federal Archives. As its president Michael Hollmann explained, “The fake Hitler diaries are documents of the past.”

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Reflections on Teju Cole’s Open City

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Teju Cole
Teju Cole

Teju Cole

Anyone interested in the world, or for that matter, an affection for the greatest of modern cities—New York—will find Teju Cole’s Open City, a feast for both mind and heart. Cole writes with exquisite discernment about almost everything under the sun, from the details of church architecture to reflections on the lingering impacts of the 9/11 attacks on the urban mood in Manhattan to his childhood memories of Nigeria.

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Reality Economics: Review of the Economists and the Powerful

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jpellgen/flickr
jpellgen/flickr

jpellgen/flickr

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad,” and if they would destroy economies, they first create a wealthy class on top, and let human nature do the rest. The acquisition of power soon leads to its abuse, to economic and social hubris. By seeking to protect its gains, perpetuate itself and make its wealth hereditary, power elites lock in their position in ways that exclude and injure those below. Turning government into an oligarchy, the wealthy indebt and shift the tax burden onto the less powerful. It is an ancient tale. The Greeks got matters right in seeing how power leads to hubris, bringing about its own downfall. Hubris is the addiction to wealth and power, an arrogant over-reaching that involves injury to others.

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Review of Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map

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Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

While in graduate school, I had the opportunity to study the theories and strategies involved in post-conflict reconstruction and security stabilization efforts throughout the world. As in all international relations courses, we delved into case studies and analyzed the successes and inadequacies found in the individual scenarios, and, as a student at a military college, the ones centering on America’s response to situations overseas elicited many fascinating, in-depth discussions on the Pentagon’s role in reconstruction efforts. With topics focusing primarily on how to develop and implement security frameworks to not only end conflicts but also insure they do not arise, again, in the near-term, it seemed to me that the conversations focused primarily on short-term objectives, rather than the long-term dynamics important when implementing post-conflict stabilization efforts.

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Review of Theasa Tuohy’s The Five O’Clock Follies

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Calliope Press
Calliope Press

Calliope Press

“Listen people, I don’t know how you expect to ever stop the war if you can’t sing any better than that. There’s about 300,000 of you fuckers out there. I want you to start singing. Come on.”

This isn’t the only song that sums up the Vietnam War but it’s one of the best sing alongs with its funny, yet despairing lyrics and catchy tune. Country Joe’s “recruiting” song is pitched to big strong young men, students, potential American soldiers, even though he can’t give them a good reason as to why they should be willing to die in Vietnam - in fact, as he says, “don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.” Country Joe names the prime movers of the war and they are not patriots - they’re big defense contractors cranking out profitable weaponry to kill the Vietcong. Patriotism is the final refuge of the scoundrels here - the brute military patriotism that can’t wait to blow all the commies (slants, dinks, pick your crude moniker) to kingdom come. The pearly gates of Heaven are doing excellent business.

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The Social Economics of Thorstein Veblen

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Amazon/Yale University
Amazon/Yale University

Amazon/Yale University

Those who wish to understand the many and deep contributions of Thorstein Veblen to economics will find The Social Economics of Thorstein Veblen by David Reisman falls short of the mark. The title promises to treat the social policy content of Veblen’s economic thought. Describing the ways in which markets were being distorted by predatory finance and other special interests, Veblen was read by every socialist leader and most progressives in early and mid-20th century America.

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Alexander Cockburn, 1941-2012

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Associated Press
Associated Press

Associated Press

“For Chaos heard his voice: him all his Traine…Follow’d in the bright procession to behold…Creation, and the wonders of his might.” – Paradise Lost, John Milton

It was fitting that writer and critic Alexander Cockburn’s funeral should include a passage from Milton. For more than 50 years, Cockburn combined polished, erudite writing with fierce political insight in the tradition of the great 17thcentury English polemicist. Cockburn died July 20 in Germany at age 71, following a two-year struggle with cancer. He was buried July 28 in his beloved Petrolia, Ca.

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The Correctionist: Remembering Gore Vidal

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ABC Photo Archives
ABC Photo Archives

ABC Photo Archives

“Love it or loathe it, you can never leave it or lose it.” – Gore Vidal on the US, in Duluth (1983)

He was very quick, cerebrally deft. Whatever he wrote – be it on the novel (birth, death exaggerated or otherwise), ancient Rome, Richard Nixon or sexual freedom – he was always channelling his interests in the United States. To be a genuine, heart-felt German, argued Friedrich Nietzsche, a good dose of anti-German sentiment was needed. Ditto Vidal on the subject of the United States, country he loved to distraction, even if it was a poison-penned distraction. America’s great scribe was also greatly aggrieved on the pathway the republic had taken – hegemony was a sin that was making the empire fray – rightly so.

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T. E. Lawrence and Foreign Intervention in Syria

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Oak Knoll Press
Oak Knoll Press

Oak Knoll Press

“They were discontented always with what government they had; such being their intellectual pride; but few of them honestly, thought out a working, alternative and fewer still agreed upon one,” thus noted T.E. Lawrence, presumptuously, in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which recounts his exploits as part of the Arab uprising against the Turks during the First World War. “They” are the Syrians, and Lawrence provides a vivid description of the land and its people, which he and a Hashemite led Arab Army where about to wrestle from Ottoman control. The Free Syrian Army recently condemned a meeting of the Syrian National Council and representatives from France, Tunisia and Turkey in Cairo because the delegates are “rejecting the idea of a foreign military intervention to save the people…and ignoring the question of buffer zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters.”

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Brave New Worlds: The Difference Engine and The Murder of the Century

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Amazon
Amazon

Amazon

I recently had the good fortune to read two excellent and complementary books in tandem. One was The Difference Engine, a famous piece of sci-fi alternate history by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It takes place in Victorian England—a different Victorian England, still driven by steam and innocent of electricity, but one in which Charles Babbage’s machine for mechanical computing has been perfected. New but oddly familiar vistas of technology, pollution, wealth, crime, control, and oppression confront the characters and the reader. Gibson has said that The Difference Engine remains his favorite among his books and the only one he re-reads.

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Review of Jennifer Ciotta’s I, Putin

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Jennifer Ciotta
Jennifer Ciotta

Jennifer Ciotta

Russian President Vladimir Putin is difficult to pigeonhole as a world leader and Jennifer Ciotta’s I, Putin illustrates this. He was successful in guiding Russia out of economic despair following years of mismanagement that characterized the Yeltsin years shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and he has been able to rein in the influence of the oligarchs who amassed such wealth when Russian industries went on the auction block in the 1990s. At the same time, Russia amassed huge wealth through its oil and natural gas reserves, which has more or less shielded Russia from the same economic turmoil that has ravaged Greece, Italy and many other Western nations.

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Paul Krugman’s Economic Blinders

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Outside the Beltway

Outside the Beltway

Paul Krugman is widely appreciated for his New York Times columns criticizing Republican demands for fiscal austerity. He rightly argues that cutting back public spending will worsen the economic depression into which we are sinking. And despite his partisan Democratic Party politicking, he warned from the outset in 2009 that President Obama’s modest counter-cyclical spending program was not sufficiently bold to spur recovery. These are the themes of his new book, End This Depression Now.

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Book Review: Managing Country Risk

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Amazon
Amazon

Amazon

The world is full of risks. Whether an average citizen on the streets in Cairo or a CEO of a Fortune 500 country, the international system is a dynamic place, which is often defined by risk. Managing Country Risk, by Daniel Wagner who has had years of experience in cross-border risk management, is a “must have ready” reference and reality guide for any trader, investor, lender or NGO considering any cross-border activity. Failure to properly prepare for the likelihood of risk, leads to entering at your own peril. Take the simple example of a business seeking to enter a new market.

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Vaclav Havel, 1936-2011

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Zbigniew Kresowaty
Zbigniew Kresowaty

Zbigniew Kresowaty

With the death of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, the world has lost a rational humanist and a gentle man who crusaded relentlessly for the establishment of moral values in society and polity. The end of the year witnessed the sad demise of the legendry Czech leader, Vaclav Havel, who died a hero. He crusaded relentlessly throughout his life for the cause of democracy as a means of awakening, Power to the Powerless. A poet, playwright, political dissident, president, philosopher, and a philanthropist, Havel successfully grasped through his rare intellect ordinary people’s feelings and aspirations and provided ordinary Czech’s an outlet in the form of a bloodless revolution known as Velvet Revolution that unseated the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989.

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