Wilson Center September 2012 Newsletter



Suggested Reading List




The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert D. Kaplan.  In The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers of the near and distant past to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. Kaplan traces the history of the world's hot spots by examining their climates, topographies, and proximities to other embattled lands. The Russian steppe's pitiless climate and limited vegetation bred hard and cruel men bent on destruction, for example, while Nazi geopoliticians distorted geopolitics entirely, calculating that space on the globe used by the British Empire and the Soviet Union could be swallowed by a greater German homeland.

Kaplan then applies the lessons learned to the present crises in Europe, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, and the Arab Middle East. The result is a holistic interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia. Remarkably, the future can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties: China, able to feed only 23 percent of its people from land that is only 7 percent arable, has sought energy, minerals, and metals from such brutal regimes as Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe, putting it in moral conflict with the United States. Afghanistan's porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India's main enemy. Iran will exploit the advantage of being the only country that straddles both energy-producing areas of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Finally, Kaplan posits that the United States might rue engaging in far-flung conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan rather than tending to its direct neighbor Mexico, which is on the verge of becoming a semifailed state due to drug cartel carnage.


In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It by Thomas A. Kolditz.   In this extraordinary book, BG Thomas Kolditz (USA, Ret)-a former professor at West Point and current Professor in the Practice of Leadership and Management at the Yale School of Management--shows how extreme life-and-death leadership skills can offer profound lessons for leaders in any setting.  In a clear and compelling manner, Kolditz explains that his research on in extremis leadership situations, where followers perceive their lives to be threatened, reveals that the leadership lessons and principles in evidence in dangerous settings also apply to leading in business and everyday life. Kolditz describes a variety of high-risk situations that are ideal settings to seek and find great leaders, assess how they might be different, and glean valuable insights for extraordinary leadership in our everyday lives. Through heart-stopping real-life stories of leaders in these extreme situations, Kolditz insists that leaders at all levels can improve their effectiveness.

The book is filled with compelling in-depth interviews with such in extremis leaders as chiefs of SWAT teams, mountain-climbing guides, leaders of large-formation skydiving events, the U.S. Military Academy's national champion parachute team, and team leaders in football, wrestling, swimming, and rugby, as well as the first armored cavalry commander to roll his tanks into the fiery streets of Baghdad in 2003. Kolditz challenges us to learn from their experiences and honor their commitment and sacrifices by serving the people around us and leading as if our lives depended on it.  This authentic perspective on leadership will help cut through faddish, flavor-of-the-month leadership approaches and make anyone better at leading and being led.



The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror by Garrett M. Graff.  The Threat Matrix is the story of a small group of FBI agents who believed that they could confront a new generation of international terrorists like al Qaeda without sacrificing America's moral high ground. At the heart of this classic good versus evil battle are decades of tensions between the FBI and the CIA, which repeatedly fell short as America's eyes overseas.  Given unprecedented access, thousands of pages of once secret documents, and hundreds of interviews, Garrett M. Graff takes us inside the FBI and its attempt to protect America. From the corridors of the Hoover Building to the cells of Gitmo and the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Graff tells the true story of how a generation of FBI agents taught themselves to confront threats no one had ever seen before.  Brilliantly reported and suspensefully told, The Threat Matrix peers into the darkest corners of this secret war and will change your view of the FBI forever.



Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker.  Schmidt and Shanker provide an insider's tour of the many aspects of the U.S. government's response involving the military, the intelligence community, and law enforcement to terrorist activities over the past ten years.  They describes the evolution of the U.S. approach to confront an adaptive enemy and the complexity of the struggle.  In the process the U.S.  has fashioned an innovative and effective new strategy to fight terrorism.  

Manhunt: The Ten-year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad by Peter L. Bergen. Based on exhaustive research and unprecedented access to White House officials, CIA analysts, Pakistani intelligence, and the military, Bergen provides the details while covering the 10 year pursuit of bin Laden and of the twilight of al-Qaeda.  He paints a vivid picture of bin Laden's grim, Spartan life in hiding and his struggle to maintain control of al-Qaeda even as American drones systematically picked off his key lieutenants.  Bergen takes us inside the Situation Room, where President Obama considers the COAs (courses of action) presented by his war council and receives conflicting advice from his top advisors before deciding to risk the raid that would change history--and then inside the Joint Special Operations Command, whose "secret warriors," the SEALs, would execute Operation Neptune Spear. From the moment two Black Hawks take off from Afghanistan until bin Laden utters his last words, Manhunt reads like a thriller.

The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Service by Henry A. Crompton. This book draws from the full arc of Crumpton's espionage and covert action exploits to explain what America's spies do and why their service is more valuable than ever. From his early years in Africa, where he recruited and ran sources, from loathsome criminals to heroic warriors; to his liaison assignment at the FBI, the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, the development of the UAV Predator program, and the Afghanistan war; to his later work running all CIA clandestine operations inside the United States, he employs enthralling storytelling to teach important lessons about national security, but also about duty, honor, and love of country.

Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power by David E. Sanger.  Sanger had access to a number of high level sources and this book riled political Washington this summer over a number of "national security leaks".  He provides an inside look at the past three years of diplomacy, covert action and internal Administration deliberations.  In the process he explores how the Obama Administration has dealt with challenges in Iran, Afghanistan/Pakistan, hunting Al Qaeda, the Arab Spring, and Asia using a number of tools of 21st century warfare including cyber-warfare, drones, intelligence, and Special Operations Forces. 

James Madison Rules America examines congressional party legislative and electoral strategy in the context of our constitutional separation of powers. In a departure from recent books that have described Congress as 'the broken branch' or the 'Second Civil War,' William Connelly argues that partisanship, polarization and the permanent campaign are an inevitable part of congressional politics. The strategic conundrum confronting both parties in the House of Representatives whether to be part of the government or part of the opposition provides evidence of how concretely James Madison's Constitution governs the behavior of politicians to this day. Drawing on a two-hundred year debate within American political thought among the Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Alexis de Tocqueville and Woodrow Wilson, James Madison Rules America is as topical as current debates over partisan polarization and the permanent campaign, while being grounded in two enduring and important schools of thought within political science: pluralism and party government.


Victory on the Potomac by James R. Locher, III.  War is waged not only on battlefields. In the mid-1980s a high-stakes struggle to redesign the relationships among the president, secretary of defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and warfighting commanders in the field resulted in the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Author James R. Locher III played a key role in the congressional effort to repair a dysfunctional military whose interservice squabbling had cost American taxpayers billions of dollars and put the lives of thousands of servicemen and women at risk. Victory on this front helped make possible the military successes the United States has enjoyed since the passage of the bill and prepare it for the challenges it must still face. Victory on the Potomac provides the first detailed history of how Congress unified the Pentagon and does so with the benefit of an insider's view. In a fast-paced account that reads like a novel, Locher follows the bill through congressional committee to final passage, making clear that the process is neither abstract nor automatic. His vivid descriptions bring to life the amazing cast of this real-life drama, from the straight-shooting chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Barry Goldwater, to the peevishly stubborn secretary of defense, Casper Weinberger. Locher's analysis of political maneuvering and bureaucratic infighting will fascinate anyone who has an interest in how government works, and his understanding of the stakes in military reorganization will make clear why this legislative victory meant so much to American military capability.