Friday News Roundup–May 27, 2022

Good morning from Washington, DC on this pre-Memorial Day Friday. This week has been a painful week in American public life as a result of the heart-wrenching massacre of nineteen children and two teachers in a school shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Events in Uvalde have renewed the long-standing debate on gun control in America, as many have drawn parallels between the nationwide trauma wrought by previous school shootings such as Sandy Hook.

Undoubtedly, nationwide mourning over the killings in Uvalde will color this upcoming Memorial Day, which is always a moment to reflect on those Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of their country. While fractiousness may be a prominent feature of modern American culture and life, it is important that we remain thoughtful of those who have sacrificed so much to preserve American prosperity, liberty, and freedom.

This week, Joshua, reviewed “Spin Dictators” for the Diplomatic Courier. A captivating look at how traditional dictators haven’t gone away, merely traded their iron fists for Instagram, and military uniforms for mass appeal.

Huminski also penned an op-ed in the Hill on the need for the West to look beyond the military aspects of the war in Ukraine, and begin considering the broader geopolitical effects of the conflict, not the least of which will be a militarily weakened, economically hobbled pariah Russia.

As is tradition here at the Center, we like to take the final Friday before Memorial Day to compile a summer reading list for anyone on the hunt for some new books to read by the pool, on the beach, or any other relaxing locale you may find yourself in the next few months. This year features contributions from Dan, Joshua, Ethan, Hidetoshi, Wes, and Veera. Our normal roundup format will return next week, but for now, we hope you enjoy the start of summer and our reading recommendations.

Dan Mahaffee, Sr. Vice President & Director of Policy

Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Battle for Global Cultural Supremacy, Erich Schwartzel

Thanks to the excellent review of our own Joshua Huminski and my own tracking of U.S.-China issues, I was immediately drawn to “Red Carpet”. In this thorough overview of the recent history of Hollywood and China, Wall Street Journal L.A. correspondent Erich Schwartzelf examines how Beijing has influenced Hollywood, often through companies’ own self-censorship to avoid the ire of the CCP. Schwartzel also looks to the future as the United States and China find themselves in greater competition — how will China’s efforts to build its own cultural soft power unfold? If movies and media served as powerful tools of American soft power in the 20th century, what does this mean in the contemporary competition for global influence?

Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing, Peter Robison

Bloomberg’s investigative journalist Peter Robinson exposes the broken cultures, corporate and regulatory, that led to the two Boeing 737 MAX air disasters. With access to records and interviews from within Boeing and the FAA — while also tracking the story of the victims’ families and their quest for justice — Robison uncovers the decisions, some seemingly trivial at the time, in boardrooms, design shops, aircraft simulators, factory floors, on Wall Street and inside the Beltway that led the flawed cultures and unsafe aircraft. It is not only a gripping tale for understanding corporate and regulatory power struggles, but also the importance of engineering and designing for humans working alongside increasingly automated systems.

How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II, Phillips Payson O’Brien

I have revisited O’Brien’s 2015 “revisionist” work on Air-Sea Power in World War II, because while controversial among military historians, his focus on the economic aspects of the air-sea campaign are useful for thinking today about the future of warfare and its economic underpinnings. O’Brien’s detailed analysis of allied and axis production, as well as moments of leadership decisions (e.g. FDR pressuring Marshall to devote resources to air power over tanks) demonstrates how the United States and United Kingdom fought World War II by emphasizing control of the sea and air. This analysis also illustrates the important relationship of science, technology, and military success, as U.S. and British scientists worked far closer with their military counterparts in advancing air and sea power. Looking at the analysis from defeated Germany and Japan, O’Brien also demonstrates how U.S.-UK campaigns focused on infrastructure and transportation — allied bombing of transportation hubs and oil industry in Germany or the U.S. submarine campaign against Japanese shipping — broke the economic spine of the Axis. As we think about the future of warfare, how we fight, and the broader economic considerations from supply chains to future R&D, how do these historical lessons still demonstrate the recipe for victory.

Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One, Sid Watkins

Unlike many Americans, I was not unfamiliar with Formula One (F1) racing before the Netflix “Drive to Survive” series, but like many, my interest in F1 has been kindled by said show as well the advances in coverage since the sport’s takeover by U.S.-based Liberty Media in 2017. Still, to better understand the history of the sport and learn about legendary drivers and the tracks that have become the temples of the sport, neurosurgeon Sid Watkins’s memoir tells the story of F1 and the medical and safety advances he shepherded to keep drivers safe. Mixing the cool analysis of a preeminent surgeon with the intimacy of a motorsport lover, Watkins gives the reader first hand access to the highs and lows of historic F1.

Joshua C. Huminski, Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs

Bad Actors, Mick Herron

Herron’s Slough House series is one of the true literary delights in an overly crowded field of pseudo-spies and fake “espionage”. It’s not about one man or woman saving the day in the face of overwhelming odds, but about a group of washed-up, wronged, and failed spies within Britain’s Security Service who continually find themselves in the middle of complex domestic and international intrigue. Under the leadership of Jackson Lamb, brought to brilliant life on screen by Gary Oldman, these failures save the day but never quite find redemption, forever consigned to the backwaters of British intelligence. In this latest book a Downing Street boffin goes missing and a stand-in for Dominic Cummings — a one-time chief advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and someone who I very much hope writes a book, and soon — aims to take control of the Security Service, but other plans are afoot. An absolutely delightful read as are all of Herron’s books in the series.

Riddle, Mystery, and Enigma: Two Hundred Years of British–Russian Relations, David Owen

This book is perhaps the wonkiest of my selections for this summer’s or Memorial Day weekend reading. A diplomatic history of relations between Great Britain and Russia, it combines my deep Anglophilia and unending interest in Russian affairs. I had found this book when I was in London in February — the week Russia invaded Ukraine — and for the life of me can’t recall why I just didn’t purchase it then. Even prior to the war in Ukraine, bilateral relations between the two countries were particularly poor, even if at a personal financial and kleptocratic level, the relationship was quite beneficial for both the City of London and Russia’s oligarchs. Baron Owen served as foreign secretary under Prime Minister James Callaghan from 1977 until 1979, and is the author of several other books on foreign policy, leadership, and Britain’s role in the world.

Dead in the Water: A True Story of Hijacking, Murder, and a Global Maritime Conspiracy, Matthew Campbell & Kit Chellel

A thrilling one-sitting read about a suspicious hijacking off the coast of Somalia, a murder in Yemen, and the global maritime insurance market. Tracing the twists and turns of this case, Campbell and Chellel pen a fascinating exploration of part of the global financial ecosystem that most will never encounter — shipping. But more than just ships, oil, and containers, the authors detail how this complex market brings together shipping dynasties in Greece, reinsurance markets in London, speculators, and salvage companies, all to ensure that products and energy gets from where it is to where it needs to be, all in the face of criminals like pirates, fraudsters, and more. The crime itself is fascinating, but it’s this broader exploration that is even more interesting.

Who Can Hold the Sea, James D. Hornfischer

At the start of the Second World War there were six great naval powers, but at the end there was just one, the United States. Hornfischer, a naval historian and literary agent, explores how the United States Navy began to demobilize at the end of the war, but was quickly forced back into the fight with the emergence of the Cold War. Undoubtedly there are parallels here with the end of the Cold War, the peace dividend, and China’s rise — a country which now boasts the world’s largest navy. If the latest Navy budget is anything to go by, the Pentagon is still struggling to prepare for strategic competition at a time when Beijing is already solidifying its position around its regional high seas.

Dancing on Bones: History and Power in China, Russia, and North Korea, Katie Stallard

The use and misuse of historical memory is a subject of endless fascinating to me. “Dancing on Bones” explores this subject and how the regimes in Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang have used their respective histories to mobilize and manipulate their populations. A timely book as Russia’s war in Ukraine has brought renewed attention on its use of the Great Patriotic War to justify its invasion. At the same time, China has worked to quash any independent identity in Hong Kong, arguing that it’s always been part of mainland China, and thorough eradicated any reference to Tiananmen Square from the country’s memory. A process made all the easier thanks to technology, China is working to eliminate the history and culture of the Uyghurs, as well.

Ethan Brown, Senior Fellow

Hitler and Stalin: The Tyrants and the Second World War, Laurence Rees

I’m much more interested in the villains in any story, be it fact or fiction, and BBC documentarist Laurence Rees’ descent into the psyches and paranoias of two of history’s most savage and ruthless monsters did not disappoint. We all know the public facade carried on by Stalin and Hitler, but this book delves deeply into the dynamics at play between the two men who spent years trying to out-savage one another, while slouching under the burden of leading the Eastern Hemispheres colossi, as well as their masterful manipulations of the West’s Churchill and Roosevelt/Truman. The section on both leaders’ perspectives during the fateful Russian invasion of Finland was particularly fascinating, made more so by recent events in the Ukraine. The work is produced from meticulously researched archival data, unearthed witness accounts (corroborated across years of cross-examination by the author and his various staffs), and precious scarce resources acquired over his lengthy career with the BBC, which has equipped Rees with the raw data to paint these two captivating and terrifying men in a disturbing new light.

Powers and Thrones, Dan Jones

Gifted to me courtesy of our most well-read teammate Director Huminski, this book was a journey through the rise of western civilization at a level of detail and compelling narrative that quite frankly supersedes contemporary histories to date. I for one, would challenge anyone to find an author who is being published at the height of their powers quite like Jones in this book. Each chapter, organized chronologically, tells a small but pivotal segment of the timeline from the perspective of key power brokers — the Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs, to the Franks, Monks, and Knights, through the Merchants of Florence, Mongols, scholars and architects and everyone in between who contributed to the building of western civilization from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance. One of the more fascinating books I’ve read in a long time (and would pair particularly well with Peter Frankopans “The Silk Roads: A New History of the World”).

Galaxy’s Edge: Legionnaire, Jason Anspach & Nick Cole

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me (note that I abstained from recommending any of the Warhammer 40k lore I’ve been devouring this past year as an escape), and admittedly, I cheated because this was consumed on Audible, and not print. But the suggestion kept popping up, so I opted into the first book of the Galaxy’s Edge series, which follows an elite ground unit of human soldiers onto an alien planet, hoping to spread the concept of rudimentary democracy to a highly tribalized, fragmented species of humanoids. With the plot comes insurgencies, prejudices (between humans and aliens), politics, psychological trauma and the intensity felt during a gunfight with an enemy who wants to end your life with nary a thought. The parallels between Galaxy’s Edge and the narrative recollections of a Marine or Soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are blatant from the first ‘page’, sometimes a little too on the nose. But if the reader considers just how alien the cultures of the Levant and the graveyard of empires are to our western mindset, it’s a stark and compelling analysis of the American role in the War on Terror in far away lands that we do not understand, yet try to bend to the will of progress and modernism.

Hidetoshi Azuma, Senior Fellow

In this book review series, the chief aim is to foster an appreciation of Japan’s grand strategy by reviewing books which are not readily accessible to those outside Japan. As the US president Joe Biden tours Japan for the first time this week, understanding Japan’s various geopolitical perspectives is crucial to thinking about the future of the US-Japan alliance. The three books reviewed here contain many thought-provoking ideas tested through trials and errors in modern Japanese history.

Random Thoughts from Oiso & The Wolrd and Japan (大磯随想・世界と日本), Shigeru Yoshida

Random Thoughts from Oiso & The World and Japan is a collection of essays on Japan’s foreign policy by the former Japanese prime minister and seasoned diplomat Shigeru Yoshida (1878–1967). Written during his final years at his idyllic seaside mansion in Oiso in the 1960s, Yoshida’s essays are vehement, oft-acerbic, polemics in defense of his fateful decision to craft a pro-US grand strategy for post-WWII Japan, which later earned the appellation, the Yoshida Doctrine. They are also simultaneously a scathing indictment of his opponents, ranging from militarists of the 1930 to postwar socialists, for their lack of “diplomatic sense,” the term US president Woodrow Wilson’s adviser, late Colonel Edward House imparted to Yoshida. Colored by witty British-style sarcasm throughout, the Japanese prime minister’s memoir essays are a cornucopia of strategic wisdom with enduring relevance to the US-Japan alliance. In particular, he reveals his rationale behind the making of the Yoshida Doctrine as his shrewd realist attempt to realign the country’s geostrategy as a sea power rather than admiration for the US, whose “cultural insensibility” he was highly critical of. After all, Yoshida was a quintessential 19th-century Anglophile Japanese statesman who admired Britain’s classical liberalism and its imperial glory during its heyday. Therefore, he sought to resurrect postwar Japan as “Asia’s Britain” defending liberty from the threat of communism with its alliance with the US. Yoshida thus dispels the widespread myth that Washington imposed the alliance on the defeated Japan and clarifies that it was his idea and initiative from the beginning. As 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of the US-Japan alliance since it entered into force in 1952, Yoshida’s wisdom merits a sober reflection at a time Japan once again finds itself in another crucible of geopolitics increasingly overshadowed by the global rise of continental authoritarianism.

Memoir of Ichiro Hatoyama (鳩山一郎回顧録), Ichiro Hatoyama

Memoir of Ichiro Hatoyama chronicles the tumultuous political career of the former Japanese prime minister Ichiro Hatoyama, who succeeded Shigeru Yoshida and became the first leader of Japan’s ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). While Hatoyama shared his affinity for classical liberalism with Yoshida, the two remained eternal archenemies after WWII as vividly recounted by the memoir. Unlike Yoshida who hailed from a stellar diplomatic background, Hatoyama was mostly a domestic political operative throughout his life, despite his unusual proficiency in English. Therefore, while exceptionally skilled at power acquisition and even surviving the humiliating purge during the US-led occupation, Hatoyama ultimately lacked what Yoshia called “diplomatic sense” and concentrated his foreign policy energy on his failed bid for a peace treaty with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Crucially, Hatoyama sought to leverage his engagement with the Soviet Union to remedy the perceived lack of the spirit of “self-help” in postwar Japan which he thought was a legacy of the pro-US, neo-mercantilist Yoshida Doctrine. In other words, he envisioned an alternative to the Yoshida Doctrine by achieving a geostrategic equilibrium in postwar Japan’s grand strategy through its rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Only Washington’s timely intervention thwarted the Japanese prime minister’ diplomatic gamble, leaving the Russo-Japanese relations frozen to this date. While ultimately failing to secure peace, Hatoyama did deliver catastrophic blows to the Yoshida Doctrine by abandoning its principle of non-engagement with Russia and China and resurrecting the Eurasian vector in Japan’s grand strategy. Hatoyama’s memoir is a tale of tragedy of a man devoted to the cause of classical liberalism who paradoxically undermined postwar Japan’s fledgling position in the Free World ironically due to his limited “diplomatic sense.”

The Imperial Japanese Army’s Unfinished Anti-communist Corridor: Imperial Japan’s Eurasia Strategy as Revealed by Classified Cables (帝国陸軍見果てぬ「防共回廊」:機密公電が明かす、戦前日本のユーラシア戦略), Hideyuki Sekiguchi

The Imperial Japanese Army’s Unfinished Anti-communist Corridor reconstructs the forgotten history of Imperial Japan’s grand strategy for Eurasia. Written by a prominent Pan-Asianist ideologue in the 21st century, the book unearths declassified cables on the Imperial Japanese Army’s secret operations across Eurasia and reveals its blueprint for establishing a geopolitical corridor unifying the Turanian peoples from Manchuria to Turkey to drive a wedge between Russia and China. Sekiguchi recounts the epic deeds of various extraordinary personalities, ranging from Japanese spies disguised as Mongolian high monks penetrating the Dalai Lama’s Photala Palace in Lhasa to Muhammad Amin Bughra, the Uygur Muslim revolutionary leader who sought Japanese assistance in his failed bid for establishing an East Turkistan Republic in the 1930s. These secret agents were under the careful guidance of the Kwantung Army headquartered in Manchukuo inspired by an obscure army general’s vision for an “anti-communist corridor” along the Sino-Russian border. Sekiguchi’s discovery demonstrates that Imperial Japan’s Eurasian vector had a clear geostrategic logic, but fails to recognize its catastrophic divergence from Imperial Japan’s overall grand strategy largely due to his own anti-American bias. Indeed, while the Army thrust deeply into Eurasia in earnest, the Navy prepared for a decisive naval battle with the US throughout the 1920s and 30s, leading Japan to become a de facto land power with maritime ambitions by 1941. Nonetheless, Japan’s geopolitical interests in Eurasia endure, and the failed history of the anti-communist corridor is a cautionary tale meriting further reflection for post-WWII Japan reborn as a sea power allied with the US. Sekiguchi’s book is worth a read in rethinking Japan’s geostrategy for Eurasia at a time Russia’s irredentism and China’s debt-trap diplomacy increasingly overshadow the future of the continent.

Wesley Culp, Research Fellow

Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger

Spanning hundreds of years of political developments between the time of Cardinal Richelieu and the 30 Years War to the end of the Cold War, Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy” frames the diplomatic history of the world in terms of the epochal shifts which accompany changes in the balance of power. Kissinger’s philosophy of world affairs revolves around how the balance of power has been built and disrupted by successive generations of world leaders, lessons which he considered as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to Presidents Nixon and Ford. While the book ends with Kissinger’s thoughts on the post-Cold War world, his thinking on historical balances of power is still sharply interesting for readers who hope to develop a more coherent view of today’s era-defining great power competition with Russia and China. With a moment of transition and disruption driven by Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine currently underway, Kissinger’s lens on world affairs provides a helpful means to conceptualize how the world continues to evolve, independent of his more recent thoughts on the subject.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré

Argued by many to be John le Carré’s signature work, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a page-turning spy novel of the highest caliber, a true classic of the genre. In his hunt to find a Soviet mole in Britain’s MI6, George Smiley, the novel’s main character whose persona takes a central place in several other le Carré novels, must wrestle with institutional change and the contours of a previously failed mission which brought down the old head of “The Circus” (as the intelligence agency is called in the book). Inspired by the case of the real British double agent Kim Philby and the Cambridge Five, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a fascinating look into the tradecraft of human intelligence. Le Carré’s work is a must-read for anyone interested in how intelligence works in practice, and the intelligence field during the Cold War.

Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition, Andrew Monaghan

“Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition” is a concise and evidence-driven look into the drivers and practical application of Russian grand strategy. While the advance copy Joshua (who reviewed it for the Diplomatic Courier) and I were provided did not include an epilogue on what Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means for the conclusions of the book, Monaghan’s framing of Russian activities in the world as measured actions in support of demonstrated policy was well-argued and evidenced. With chapters on topics as varied as Russian mapping, maritime strategy, sixth-generation war, and Arctic policy, the expertise Monaghan collects from a variety of experts is remarkable and demonstrative of the breadth of Russian strategic thinking. This book is an excellent read for anyone who seeks to better understand the hidden considerations which guide the policy and strategic thinking of the Russian state.

Veera Parko, Visiting Fellow

After moving to Washington, D.C. from Finland, I found a great way to combine my love for reading and spending time with my compatriots: The Embassy of Finland´s Book Club. Each month we read a book from a different US state — the book club has now reached Kentucky (“In Country” by Bobbie Ann Mason). The Washingtonian recently did an article on us: Can 50 Books Capture America’s 50 States? — Washingtonian. I appreciated many books on the list but especially liked Tara Westovers’s Educated, a compelling and harrowing true story about an Idaho survivalist family from a young woman’s perspective.

The views of authors, and their taste in books, are not that of CSPC.

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