Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power
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A bracing rejoinder to those who think Barack Obama is a wimp, to say nothing of anti-American.

Readers who worry about the proper limits of executive power, on the other hand, will keep on worrying after reading New York Times correspondent Sanger’s (The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power, 2009) account of just how far-reaching President Obama’s search for America’s enemies has been. That account begins not with grisly wetwork, though there’s plenty of that, but instead with a worm, developed by “a small team of computer warriors at Fort Meade and their counterparts, half a world away, inside a military intelligence agency that Israel barely acknowledges exists.” The worm’s targets were the computer-controlled centrifuges enriching uranium for Iran’s nuclear program. That sort of use of power arguably befits the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, but what of the heavier ordinance required to, say, “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda,” as the military mantra has it? As Sanger carefully relates, that’s a difficult dance: President Obama may profess, for instance, confidence that Pakistan can keep its nuclear arsenal out of the hands of militants, but he has to verify more than trust, no easy matter when relations between the United States and Pakistan are perhaps at their lowest point in history. The author provides plenty of intriguing news, from the conduct of secret operations within Afghanistan to the dispatch of Osama bin Laden. On the latter matter, he hazards that there was never any question but that bin Laden would be killed and his body secretly disposed of. No one in the administration wanted a grave that would become a site of pilgrimage, nor an endless trial, either. President Obama’s foreign policy, it becomes clear here, is tougher than his mild-mannered, even professorial mien might let on—and particularly in the case not just of obvious enemies such as the Taliban, but also of less obvious ones such as China’s People’s Liberation Army.

A must-read for policy wonks and a good primer on how American power works beyond our borders.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-71802-0
Page count: 498pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2012


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