Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power

Published in Daily Times / 20 Feb 2010

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: David E Sanger

Today, US Vice President Biden believes that American foreign policy is once again respected in the world. While the new face of this policy - composed of something old, something new & something borrowed - unveiled a year ago was prelude to Obama’s uphill battle to regain military/political high ground, fallout from the old policy is the dominant theme here.

‘Inheritance…’ is a dramatic playback of events that follows parallel timelines to determine how certain parts of the world were shaping during ‘Iraq’. David Sanger has logged 7 years covering the White House and uses insights gained during his time as Chief Washington Correspondent for New York Times to ascertain the opportunities missed by one president, identify forthcoming challenges for the next and explore options still left in the smouldering ruins of disastrous decisions. He uses solid arguments based on interviews (on/off record) with key officials to crucify - where needed and credit - where appropriate.

This skilfully drawn sketch captures key moments that defined the Presidency and redefined history. Post Iraq, the troika (think axis of evil) are emboldened to pursue dangerous agendas , abandoned nations become epicentres of trouble while savvy ones find ways to profit. An unsparing look at the Bush administration shows the unintended side-effects of Iraq leading ‘‘Dear Leader’ in North Korea to build a nuclear arsenal and ‘Supreme Leader’ in Iran to assemble a nuclear capability’ . There are several instances where the administration also concedes its failure .

He leads with the winners of Iraq war - Iran’s Mullah Manhattan Project, uncovering the brief window of opportunity (quickly squandered) in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that brought Iran and the US on the ‘same side of a common fight’ - albeit briefly. Then there is the tragic irony where actual evidence of nuclear proliferation was held back because of the WMD fiasco.

He demonstrates Iraq as a vortex that sucked away aid - $18B for Iraq in 2004 vs. $720M for Afghanistan - and resources from the primary war at a critical juncture that might have prevented a resurgence of Taliban. Along the way he appreciates that America is a nation that wields the largest hammer, but not every problem is a nail .

David’s visit to Strategic Plans, home to Pakistan’s nuclear keys betrays the prevalent fear about the safety of its nuclear arsenal and widens the discussion to build a case for the invasion of an ally. The composite drawn from talks with US Director of National Intelligence, bolsters his view of a Musharraf as master of the double game ; a government which is complicit based on one officers fiery speech about supporting Afghan Taliban and an intercepted call where Pak Army Chief Kiyani allegedly calls Hekmatyar a ‘strategic asset’.

Heightened distrust, backed by credible sounding ‘intel’ led to a gradual shift in the US administrations attitude towards their ally, giving greater latitude to drones and ‘special’ forces. Among the accusations are repeated claims of Pakistani forces actively supporting the Taliban with Pakistan quietly arming/training militants and other insurgent groups in an effort to gain greater influence over the tribal areas . Of course, to conclude that these are not rogue ISI agents but sanctioned polices is pure conjecture. There have been enough attacks on Pakistani security forces to disprove the theory. Referring to the trim houses and well tended lawns in Chaklala Cantt., he is left to conclude that ‘….both army and ISI have reserved society’s best privileges for themselves’ . Perhaps if the local bodies took better care of their districts, the disparity between the two halves would not be so striking - or embarrassing for that matter.

While some of the suspicions (that militants and intelligence agencies are hand in glove) are shared by Pakistanis as revealed by Imtiaz Gul’s book ‘the Al-Qaeda Connection’, they are just that - suspicions. Confronted with such a devastating brew of insinuations and ‘cherry picked intelligence!’ the reader wonders why would you not invade such an ally, If, of course, one truly believed said ally was in effect blatantly subverting American interests from the safety of its well tended lawns. Fortunately, the recent capture of a key Afghan Taliban figure (no. 2) in a joint CIA-ISI operation goes against the carefully built up case against Pakistan. Besides these maddening declarations, ‘Inheritance….’ slips up is when it asserts that the Pakistani cabinet was to dine at Marriott the day it was bombed in 2007. The government did try to portray itself as a target but the author missed Marriott’s owner - Hashwani’s testimony (see BBC, CNN) where he dismissed the government’s claim.

A jaded world view of Pakistan aside, the books strength lies in its ability to infuse excitement in an otherwise drab subject matter. This widescreen view also ponders on the implications of China’s burgeoning economy already slated to overtake Japan, credits Bush with getting several China priorities right and seeks ways to manage, not contain the Chinese given their increasing interdependence on each other. A very delightful, if imaginary conversation between Obama and the Chinese has also been thrown in. Finally, we flash-forward to a couple of nightmarish scenarios, to demonstrate America’s preparedness against a nuclear/biological/cyber attack.

David Sanger retrofits history with his version of a GPS to serve a dual purpose – as a navigation device it gives the new administration manoeuvring space, the benefit of hindsight provides a nicer looking roadmap.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: Of Clarion Calls and Golden Statuettes / By Afrah Jamal

First Published in Daily Times /Saturday, March 17, 2012

Elegiac laments for a fading film industry are interrupted midway with news that could give the documentary film medium at least a new lease of life. It owes its resurrection to a young filmmaker, who mined troubling sound-bytes overheard in theatres where war, injustice or social disparity reigns supreme. Clips aired at the third Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) held earlier this year provided glimpses of her work, including the internationally acclaimed ‘Saving Face’. At the time, she had an Emmy stacked away for one documentary and was just weeks away from winning an Academy Award for another. At the time, she had been relentlessly crusading to rid societies of those anachronistic practices (among other ills) that weigh them down in the modern world. And — despite these glittering credentials — her work was largely unknown amongst Pakistanis.

The young Oscar nominee who took the stage that day would soon be the face of a bur…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

SERIES REVIEW: THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS / Rick Riordan (2013)

First Published inDaily Times / 5 Jan 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…

BOOK REVIEW: No Easy Day : The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

First Published by Daily Times / Oct 06, 2012

Authors: Mark Owen & Kevin Maurer
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published under the Title:Signed, SEAL(ed) and Delivered



The men who paid Pakistan a hurried visit in the dead of the night typically do not leave calling cards. Or talk shop with strangers. And they are expected to shun the limelight. One broke the commandment recently. As a member of the SEAL Team 6 — Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU, Mark Owen (not his real name) had been in the downed ‘helo’ (helicopter) — the one Pakistanis discovered lying in their backyard.

His book provides a valuable timeline of events leading up to ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ in Abbottabad (or ‘Abababa’ as they insist on calling it), cutting through the official haze. With 13 consecutive combat deployments to his credit, the author paints a group portrait of America’s finest that had been handpicked for the job in an attempt to overturn the media-created hype. He calmly reasons, “If my com…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…