Friday News Roundup — May 28, 2021

Happy Memorial Day weekend from Washington, D.C. While it’s the unofficial start of summer, the forecast for the weekend remains unsettled — both in terms of the weather and whether the Senate will move on measures related to China competition, the January 6th commission, and any room for a bipartisan deal on infrastructure. With legislation on competition on China being held up by border security, we are reminded how the political shibboleths and policy failures of the past decades are now shaping our response to challenges of the future.

We’ll get to those domestic developments, as well as all going on overseas — hopefully your Memorial Day travel plans don’t include Belarusian overflights — but as we have for the past couple years, our pre-Memorial Day roundup instead becomes the summer book recommendations from the CSPC team.

This week at CSPC, we hosted Steve Feldstein to discuss “The Rise of Digital Repression” and that discussion will be available on our YouTube channel. Joshua reviewed the latest work from Niall Ferguson, “Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe.”

Finally, with Memorial Day ahead of us, we are always reminded of the sacrifice of those who have fought for our nation and for what it stands. Men and women of all creeds, nationalities, and races have fought and died to be laid to rest under the stars and stripes. As we remember what they have made possible for us, we also reflect this week with a brief note on the legacy of Senator John Warner — an exemplar of national service and statesmanship.

Remembering Senator John Warner

Glenn Nye

Our nation lost a true statesman with the passing of Senator John Warner, who dedicated a lifetime of service to his country and to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Senator Warner embodied the kind of pragmatic, bridge-building leadership all too rare in politics these days, and set an example for a generation to emulate. He earned the respect of public servants on both sides of the aisle in Virginia, while he helped steward the military affairs of the country.

John Warner was the first Republican office-holder I consulted after my election to Congress in 2008 and he was tremendously gracious in his advice on how to successfully bring people together to better the lives of the people we represented.

Senator Warner was the recipient of CSPC Publius Award for statesmanship in 2008. During the award event, he insisted on taking the time to shake the hand of every single student of the CSPC Presidential Fellows Program, as he imparted his advice about how to incorporate service into their lives. His attention to policy and to the people he served will be part of a lasting legacy

The CSPC Summer Reading List

Glenn Nye, President & CEO

The Spymasters, Chris Whipple

An extremely readable telling of the experiences of modern leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency. The book covers the personalities, personal histories and their bearings on how they lead, plus great insights into the politics of modern intelligence work from getting the job to telling hard truths to Presidents, with every possible consequence. The chapters walk through the history of some of the most seminal intelligence operations and world events as seen and managed from the centers of American power, with an honest take on some of the best and worst moments of the intersection between politics and operational realities in a world where heroes’ stories are seldom told and failures make headlines.

Battlegrounds, H.R. McMaster

This is an interesting deep dive on some of the top hot-button national security issues of the day, told from the perspective of a national security advisor with deep military experience, called upon to serve a president with whom he had little prior connection. McMaster ties his views on the unfolding challenges in China, Russia, North Korea and others in a coherent narrative, with recommendations on how to frame strategy, albeit from his particular point of view. The book is helpfully structured to allow for some geographical jumping around for readers who have a particular region of focus, and gives some insights into the personalities who drove Trump foreign policy.

Still Standing, Gov. Larry Hogan

A biography of Hogan’s introduction to politics and his personal experiences leveraging family legacy to build a career in business and public service. Hogan shares in insider view of running for office and dealing with public and personal crises, including riots and a bout with cancer. It begins with some fascinating review of the politics of the Nixon era and the lessons from his father’s navigating of politics of Watergate and arcs to a reflection on how he, as a Republican leader, handled the challenges of the Trump political persona, with plenty of personal anecdotes of life on the campaign trail and as a governor.

Worthy Fights, Leon Panetta

A political must-read by those who seek to understand Washington by a man who held almost every political job worth having. It’s a great life story connecting time in Congress to White House Chief of Staff and leading the CIA and Pentagon. Panetta gives great insight into how these offices really worth, how they are knitted together, and how one can stay focused on service throughout. His experiences trying to manage the politics of balancing the national budget are particularly instructive given the depth of the problem we face today, as are his reflections on how political incentives make governing increasingly difficult.

Dan Mahaffee, Senior Vice President, Director of Policy

Bismarck: A Life, Jonathan Steinberg

An American’s understanding of modern European history often seems to end at the Napoleonic War and jump ahead to World War I, ignoring the era marked by the statecraft and diplomacy of Otto von Bismarck. In this sweeping biography of Bismarck’s life, Steinberg lays out how Bismarck artfully manipulated the competition between liberal and conservative ideologies that shaped modern western politics, maneuvered amongst domestic and international intrigues, and shaped both the German state and the flaws that would lead to war in 1914 and 1939.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War, Elliot Ackerman & Adm. James Stavridis, USN (ret.)

The most frightening battles of the Cold War took place in the pages of novels, and 2034 picks up that tradition for a new era of great power competition. Melding their experience as authors, scholars, and military officers, Ackerman and Stavridis chart a U.S.-China conflict unfolding on a global stage, where the U.S. reliance on technology becomes an achilles heel. Read more about 2034 in Joshua’s review and check out our discussion with Ackerman and Stavridis on this book and great power competition.

Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: Russia’s War with Japan, Richard Connaughton

On one side is a sclerotic power with broken governance and outdated military equipment; on the other is a rising Asian power. This isn’t 2034 all over again, but the story of the Russo-Japanese War and the tale of how a regional conflict between powers can reshape the global balance of power. Connaughton’s work looks at how both sides were surprised by not only the advances in military technology but also the rapid humiliation of a major world power.

Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars, Jamie L.H. Goodall

Where we now sit in traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was once the coves and inlets used by pirates, raiders, and outlaws. From the golden age of piracy through the Civil War to the “Oyster Wars” between Maryland and Virginia that lasted until the mid-20th century, Goodall tells the tales of the Chesapeake’s maritime rogues.

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

War, Sebastian Junger

Since the events of 9/11, America has found itself at war for over 20 years. With America beginning its final withdrawal from Afghanistan and on the eve of Memorial Day, it is appropriate and worthwhile to reflect on the rawness of war and combat, and what this holiday actual means. It is one of the few things about which outsiders can never truly understand or appreciate, but Mr. Sebastian Junger in his book War offers a rich, if painful, look what combat looks like and how it affects those who engage in the combat arms.

The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in the Pech Valley, Wesley Morgan

Mr. Wesley Morgan offers a penetrating look at the Afghanistan campaign through the lens of one part of the country — the Pech Valley — in his exceptional new book The Hardest Place. In raw, frank, and exquisite reporting, Mr. Morgan tracks American military involvement in the Pech Valley, marrying on the ground reporting from both American and Afghan perspectives with in-depth analyses of intelligence sources and other reports.

This is How They Tell Me the World Ends, Nicole Perlroth

By focusing on the people of her story, more than the technology, Ms. Nicole Perlroth takes what can be arcane and impenetrable techno-speak (both by design and by consequence) and craft a thrilling story of the evolution of the market for “zero-days”. These digital exploits for which there are no fixes, meaning companies have no days to fix the vulnerability, are the currency of the new arms race. Countries and companies alike seek to develop, buy, sell, hoard, and exploit these vulnerabilities for both financial profit and intelligence gain. Check out our discussion with Nicole Perlroth here.

Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, Catherine Belton

Ms. Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People was one of my favorite books of 2020 and is one of the most enlightening looks at how contemporary Russia operates. It finds itself in the news once again as four Russian billionaires and Rosneft — Russia’s state-owned energy company — are suing HarperCollins (the publisher of Putin’s People) for libel and Ms. Belton directly for defamation. The case prompted public debate over reputation laundering and cosmetic lawsuits using English courts.

Slough House, Mick Herron

The spy genre is overrun with over-the-top thrillers in which one individual single-handedly takes down some nefarious geopolitical plot. Mr. Mick Herron offers a much more grounded, if wholly cynical look through his Slow Horse series about a group of washed-up and wronged spies under the command of the perpetually grumpy and vulgar Jackson Lamb, to be played by Gary Oldman in the forthcoming series. Slough House is the latest entry in this superb series and takes a fresh look a current events.

Ethan Brown, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies

Dune (Full Original Canon), by Frank Herbert

Earlier this year, I was laid up for several weeks following shoulder reconstruction surgery, so I had plenty of time on my hands in February/March. Normally, I wait for our colleague Joshua Huminski to expand his lengthy review catalogue and immediately consume the latest offering, but due to my lengthy and painful recovery, I single-handedly needed a profound escape from reality. Enter the greatest science fiction saga of all time: Frank Herbert’s full “Dune” canon.

It still holds up after its six decades in print as a critical take of a future society built on tenuous political intrigue and humanities struggle for, and against, power and control. The delicate balance of religion-sociology-philosophy-ecology-economics, and the richness of every character makes Herbert’s magnum opus a stirring political commentary (with some stark parallels to our current geopolitical environment) while sustaining the high fantasy adventure that makes science fiction so enjoyable.

“Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely, absolute power attracts the corruptible.” — Frank Herbert

Lives of the Stoics, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Holiday is perhaps today’s foremost author of consumable material for the modern stoic panoply, having sold worldwide copies of his “Daily Stoic”, “The Obstacle is the Way” and “Ego is the Enemy” as an easy, straight forward entry into mastery of our own reasoned choice. Whether one subscribes/practices the philosophy of “living well and being ready for death” (Seneca), or merely wishes to peek into the minds of some of history’s greatest philosophers and teachers, Lives of the Stoics is some of the finest collection of wisdom a reader can discover, based on the characters own written works and biographies. Starting with merchant Zeno (the progenitor of Stoicism) and his shipwreck near Athens, through the story of (possibly) history’s only true philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, the reader will discover that the world hasn’t really changed; society and individuals face the same challenges, stress, misery and trauma as our ancestors. But in that, our forebears in social, political, and military spheres found ways of being in control of their own inner souls.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.” — Marcus Aurelius

Michael Stecher, Senior Advisor

Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside, Martin Walker

2020 will not go down in history as a “good” year. It was a year of fear, isolation, and visitations of many of the darker demons of human existence. Through all of that, I was happy to be able to spend time with Benoît (Bruno) Courrèges, the local cop in the (fictional, I checked) town of St. Denis in the Perigord region of France. And I spent a lot of time with Bruno this year; I read all 16 of the novels in the series that have been published to date since the beginning of the pandemic. In many ways, these novels are classic airport novel fare, but at their heart is a deep affection for the local communities in this corner of rural France, their local customs, and especially their local cuisine. If your summer travel plans do not take you far and wide this year, you can do a lot worse than spending your imaginary travel budget walking with Bruno as he collects the vegetables from his garden and vittles from the market, prepares them with mouthwatering detail, and occasionally solves mysteries.

1493: Uncovering the World Columbus Created, Charles C. Mann

In terms of influence over subsequent generations of humanity, there have been few changes as monumental as the opening of the Americas to European colonization. Some of those changes are well understood — tomatoes, peanuts, corn, and potatoes, crops that are indigenous to the Americas, are now staples around the world. Millions of people, including millions of enslaved Africans, crossed the seas, displaced the native populations, and created a new geopolitics. Many are less well known, however, and Mann draws on new insights into population genetics, economics, and epidemiology to illuminate them. When the English landed in Virginia, they set out to make the local landscape conform to their preferred modalities. Even when the Jamestown Colony was near extinction, however, earthworms played such a role in Angloforming the terrain that the indigenous peoples were unable to restore their existing ways of life. In 1545, silver was discovered in what is now Bolivia, a discovery that helped undo the Ming dynasty in China. The modern world grew out of this project, its many missteps, and, most of all, its unintended consequences.

The views of authors (and their tastes in literature) are their own, and not that of CSPC.

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