A cogent, detailed policy review, effectively studded with first-person recollections, that probably won’t sway Obama’s...

THE LONG GAME

HOW OBAMA DEFIED WASHINGTON AND REDEFINED AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD

A measured insider’s account of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that the very aspects that bring conservative derision represent subtle, long-term strengths.

Chollet (co-author: The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World, 2011, etc.), who served Obama for six years in positions including assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, relies on his heavyweight credentials and personal perspective in a spirited, thoughtful defense of how Obama responded to both George W. Bush’s missteps and the spiraling chaos that has greeted his own goals. He argues that the cool, cerebral Obama has pursued an oft-misunderstood “long game,” relying on long-term planning that has minimized the risks of Iraq-style quagmires. “Obama is like a foreign policy version of Warren Buffett,” writes the author, “a profoundly pragmatic value investor.” Like a tycoon’s discreet adviser, Chollet positions himself as a defender of Obama’s ambitions, portrayed as feckless by those for whom “the answer is almost always for the US to do more of something and to act ‘tough.’ ” Aptly, the author begins with the “red line” crisis presented by Syria’s chemical weapons; Obama was called weak for a restraint that led to the repressive regime relinquishing those munitions. Chollet then looks backward, arguing that Democrats felt a mandate in 2008 to remake foreign policy in line with Obama's broader advocacy of change: “The ascendance of the Bush/Cheney foreign policy was a key impetus behind Obama’s rise.” Yet despite Obama’s mandate to take a leaner approach to fighting terrorism while resolving conflicts in the Middle East, cascading crises in Libya and Egypt and the rise of the Islamic State group seemingly point out the limitations of Obama’s long-distance planning. As Chollet avers, “for Obama, the greatest threat that ISIS poses is that in responding to it, we lose sight of the Long Game.” With respect to Vladimir Putin’s aggressive Russia, the author notes, “Obama’s alleged ‘weakness’ did not drive Putin’s aggression.”

A cogent, detailed policy review, effectively studded with first-person recollections, that probably won’t sway Obama’s conservative critics.

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61039-660-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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