Here are a few interesting pieces of reading from the past months or so. Most are news articles or analysis pieces.
The first two are books. The first, The Eccentric Realist, is a critique of Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy worldview by an Italian academic Mario Del Pero (published in Italian in 2006; the English translation came out in 2010). In some areas it could be more rigorous in supporting assertions and claim about the logic or rigor of specific points, which make some of it appear like an ideological polemic and in others it is supported by analyses of Kissinger’s writings. There is trouble there, though: he offers critiques of certain writings from Kissinger’s pre-1968 work while admitting that he did not consult the original text, meaning he relies on paraphrasings or descriptions of these works found in other authors’ books (whose interpretation he generally tends to agree with). Del Pero’s basic line of attack is that Kissinger’s “realism” was not really so realist as American partisans frequently claim and that it was full of inconsistencies born out of ideological and opportunistic instincts that were more conventional than Kissinger himself liked to admit. He is strongest in taking apart Kissinger’s bi-polar conception of the world system and its reliance on linkage which contributed to disaster for Chileans and Cambodians; Del Pero is weaker when it comes to examining the origins of Kissinger’s worldview, discounting the German Jewish background which many other writers dwell on heavily. It seems likely that this background is an in-escapable element in Kissinger’s political outlook, not merely as a “representation” but as a serious part of the background that forms Kissinger’s political psychology — even if it is exploited by the man and his supporters for political purposes. Del Pero often cites and critiques Jeremi Suri’s Henry Kissinger and the American Century (Belknap, 2007). Suri, perhaps more ably than any other writer on Kissinger, puts this background into the wider experience of American minorities during the Cold War period and Del Pero steps over it without actually engaging in these terms; if he had it might have strengthened other arguments he makes about Kissinger’s role in supporting and re-tooling consensus points and his obsession with “stability” at the expense of liberty overseas (he does mention areas where he agrees or disagree with Suri and in some instances why, but not enough especially considering how much common ground their differing analyses cover). Del Pero’s book is worth reading as a general critique of American geopolitical discourse and for adding to our understanding of Kissinger’s ideological and political place in American foreign policy, though not all readers will be satisfied with its conclusions or assumptions.
The second is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s short book of aphorisms — The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms. Taleb is an enjoyable and insightful writer in general. There are times he appears full of himself and his ideas (which be more problematic if he were not so often on the money). In his “literary” works (as he describes them), he often tries to be more literary than what seems natural to his voice. This is sometimes the case in his newest book. But there is wit all through out his book of aphorisms. There problems is mostly the bits where women are concerned — this is not a man to turn to when it comes to understanding females. Some reviewers dislike his insults at consultants, journalists, economists, statisticians and other professions; these people protest too much. There are several lines, though, that reflect the intellectual and political imperatives discussed in his more substantial works (The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness) and make them more obvious for a wider audience. It is a smart way to spread good ideas.
Note the four links related to the Brazilian and Turkish foreign ministers; these are men with vision and purpose. Whether one believes their objectives or methods are desirable there is no denying that their actions reflect a deliberateness and a sense of self not found so strongly in leaders in more powerful and advanced countries.
There are of course links on the Tunisian protests, AQIM and American policy in the Middle East as well.
- The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy by Mario Del Pero (Cornell, 2010).
- The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Random House, 2010).
- “Neoliberal Pregnancy and Zer0-Sum Elistism in the Arab World,” parts 1, 2, and 3 by Bassam Haddad, Jadaliyya.
- فشل النموذج التونسي “The failure of the Tunisian model,” by Ali Anouzla, lakome.com
- قصّة حكم بن علي: «مافيا عائليّة» وقمع وفساد “The story of Ben Ali’s rule: “Mafia family,” suppression and corruption” Al-Akhbar.
- “America and the Middle East: Great sacrifices, small rewards,” The Economist.
- “Hooked on America,” by Issandr El-Amrani, The National.
- “How a man setting fire to himself sparked an uprising in Tunisia,” and “This week in the Middle East,” by Brian Whitaker, The Guardian.
- “Brian Whitaker on Tunisia: ‘Most important story’ of the year?” and “Ben Ali Keeps Interior Minister; Fires Communications Minister,” and “The Tunisian Troubles,” by Michael Collins Dunn, Middle East Institute Editor’s Blog.
- “Tunisia is backtracking on women’s rights,” by Kamel Labidi, The Guardian (2009).
- “The Battle of Sidi Bouzid,” Larbi Sadiki, Al Jazeera English.
- “Scores hurt in Algeria protest,” Al Jazeera English.
- “Les sept plaies de l’Algérie,” Jeune Afrique.
- “The rebirth of Arab activism,” Lamis Andoni, Al Jazeera English (see the links on the side bar as well).
- “Arab democracy: A commodity still in short supply,” The Economist.
- “New York Times on Al-Akhbar,” and “Al-Akhbar in the news again: or how to argue with ignorance (B.S. Cohen) [sic],” As’ad AbuKhalil, Angry Arab News Service.
- “Ennui Becomes Us,” by Randall L. Schweller, The National Interest.
- “Imperial by Design,” by John J. Mearsheimer, The National Interest.
- “The Great Arab Traveller Ibn Battuta: Contemporary Witness or Impostor?” by Lew Gropp, Qantara.com.
- “Why Turkey is not turning Islamist,” Gonul Tol, Foreign Policy.
- “The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers”: Celso Amorim and Ahmet Davutoglu. (They are among the few serious “thinkers” among the foreign officials on the list.) Foreign Policy. Also, the FP interviews with both men.
- “Les difficultés économiques poussent les Touaregs vers Al-Qaida,” Interview with Seidik Abba, Courrier International.
- “Al Qaïda récolte 50 millions d’euros dans les kidnappings au Sahel,” Le Temps.
- “South American drug gangs funding al-Qaeda terrorists,” Telegraph.
- “Mali: changement quasi-général dans le commandement militaire du Nord,” AFP.
- “Turmoil and dissent in North Africa’s al-Qa’eda,” by Olivier Guitta, The National.
- “Values Added: The Blue Devil Imam,” Mona el-Tahawy and Abdullah Antepli, BloggingHeads.tv.