28 November 2010

"Decision points" by George W Bush

Persons in public life get stuck with an image that might often not do them justice.  (Mary “Let them eat cakes” Antoinette was actually a compassionate queen.  Thomas “Civil liberties” Jefferson owned slaves.  Joe “Loquacious” Biden brings enormous intellect to policy making).

We do not know whether George W Bush deserved his image that provided easy fodder for late night comedy shows for eight years. He had an opportunity to clear things up in his book; but fails.

In his book, GWB hopes history would be kinder to his presidency than media and provides a peek into consequentially decisive moments in his presidency to facilitate history render a fairer judgment. 

History would remember him for Afghanistan and Iraq.  In Afghanistan, he took his eyes off early and the war has become the longest engagement by the American war machine and his successor is striving to avoid defeat rather than ensure victory.  In the other, he did remove a dictator but ushered in a security vacuum and a political vacuum.  GWB fails to address why there was insufficient evaluation of differing views before war.  Was Paul O’Neill right in his accusation that Dick Cheney came to cabinet meetings with pre-written minutes and expected everyone to follow the script?  We would never know.

History would remember him for 9/11.  He did well to prevent recurrence.  However, the safety did have a price tag of erosion of civil liberties. 

History would remember him for Katrina.  Bush thinks the Governor of Louisiana was responsible.  However, a President cannot bide for time in the face of natural disaster and break down of law and order.

History might remember him for failing to address the funding of social security.  Changes in demographics have resulted in a sharp increase in number of retirees (who enjoy the benefits) and a sharp decrease in number of workers (who pay taxes that fund the benefits).  Failure to bridge the gap by cutting entitlements and increasing taxes could make public finances unmanageable in future.

The book lacks the intellectual depth expected of a President’s memoirs.  History may have to look elsewhere for a better insight into the legacy of George W Bush.

04 November 2010

"Inside the Kingdom" by Robert Lacey

Robert Lacey (the renown biographer of Queen Elizabeth II) lived in Saudi Arabia to understand its history and people and provides an amazing mixture of analytical history and anecdotal episodes in this book providing an insight into the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, as someone observed, is a living proof of the law of unintended consequences.

King Faisal is upset with American support for Israel and triggers an oil embargo. Oil prices rise. Saudi Arabia gets rich. Ostentatious lifestyle arrives into the Kingdom. So does modern education. Radicals use religion to decry both and capture the Grand Mosque. The Royal Family build consensus and its brave sons remove the terrorists from the Mosque. Though the radicals are dead, their policy is adopted by the rulers to diffuse popular anger. Religion and religion based education is accorded supremacy. A new generation of radical and poor youth arise. They are exported for jihad against the infidel communists. The jihadists taste victory and develop a sense of their destiny. A Sunni Arab brother invades another Sunni Arab brother. Americans are invited to protect the Kingdom. Jihadists see the Americans as modern day crusaders. A new King with better credentials of austerity tries to ameliorate radicalism and modernize the country without Americanizing the country.

The book provides an excellent insight into the Kingdom’s history. I cannot understand why Saudi Arabia should ban this book. My respect for Saudi Arabia and its rulers increases after reading this book. I disagree with several of the policies of Saudi Arabia. But I disagree with several of the policies of my beloved India too!

"India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Co-operation?" by Stanley Wolpert

Stanley Wolpert provided a fascinating perspective and dispassionate analysis of India’s history in his earlier book “Shameful Flight” (reviewed in this blog).

In this book the author does not disappoint. Some of the insights provided by the author:

One: The distance between Pakistan and India has widened in the last 63 years. India has embraced democracy based on civil liberties and rule of law; a modern education system that produces people of use to the global market; and a strong play in the global market. Pakistan has deteriorated with poor quality politics; poor education and a deteriorating economy.

Two: By denying civil rights and self-governance to its own people, Pakistan has lost moral authority to seek civil rights and self-governance to the people of Kashmir.

Three: India’s failure to provide self-governance to people in Kashmir (with strong presence of its army and significant denial of due processes of law) is an important factor in the alienation of Kashmir’s population.

Four: Prospect for peace would reduce if a Hindu nationalist party gets elected in India. The current Congress Party Administration with its secular credentials offers a better chance for peace. Pakistan must appreciate this. Prospect for peace would reduce if Pakistan becomes a failed state. India must appreciate this.

Five: Given the various entrenched sensitivities, neither country would cede Kashmir to the other; neither would agree to Kashmir being an independent state. The only solution is for the Line of Control to become the international border between India and Pakistan with each keeping the slice of Kashmir it already has/controls; if that border is made irrelevant by free movement of people and products, even better.

Good insight. Good advice.