Kurlantzick’s comprehensive account provides new insights into the CIA’s objectives in the Laos war and the way that they...

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A GREAT PLACE TO HAVE A WAR

AMERICA IN LAOS AND THE BIRTH OF A MILITARY CIA

A history of the CIA’s involvement in the Laos war and the effect it had on the structure and evolution of the organization and its future role in foreign conflicts.

The longest covert war in American history was fought in Laos, from roughly 1961 to 1975. While no American troops fought on the ground, the CIA led a massive anti-communist campaign against the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao, a pro-communist Laotian group. Kurlantzick (Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, 2013, etc.), a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, describes the evolution of the CIA’s entanglement in Laos. President Dwight Eisenhower, writes the author, viewed Laos as “a nation where the United States could make a stand to prevent communism from spreading west out of China and North Vietnam into Thailand and India and beyond.” By the end of the decade, it cost the U.S. upward of $500 million per year in 1970 dollars, and tens of thousands of lives were lost—Lao, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Thai among them. Since the U.S. government “had little desire to send American troops to fight more foreign wars,” the CIA took the reins, launching air strikes, managing battle strategy, and providing advisers to Vang Pao, the brutal Hmong leader whose forces were instrumental in fighting against the communists. According to Kurlantzick, the CIA was eager to expand its role, and the Laos war allowed it to “become a paramilitary organization whose primary purpose was killing and war fighting.” In his well-researched argument, the author relies on extensive materials prepared by other historians as well as first-person interviews with relevant characters (including Vang Pao) and recently declassified documents. The book is dense with information and might be difficult for lay readers unfamiliar with the Indochina wars, but it’s an important demonstration of the U.S.’s ongoing, not-so-secret hand in world affairs.

Kurlantzick’s comprehensive account provides new insights into the CIA’s objectives in the Laos war and the way that they were incorporated into its broader mission.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6786-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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