Inside the Five-Sided Box / With All Due Respect

The first Book of the Week is “Inside the Five-Sided Box, Lessons From A Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon” by Ash Carter, published in 2019.

Beginning his career as a physicist, Carter served in various capacities in presidential administrations starting with Ronald Reagan’s. He served as U.S. Secretary of Defense in 2015 and 2016. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even if other people disagreed with him. Of course, as a scientist, he gathered data and then provided evidence to back up what he was talking about.

Such was the case when he said, “So for both technological and systemic reasons, the [‘Start Wars’– er, uh,] ‘Star Wars’ missile defense scheme was pure fantasy.” Members of Reagan’s inner circle (power-hungry political hacks angry at anyone who criticized the president’s agenda) told the media to trash Carter, and they did.

The year 1993 saw Carter supervise the disarmament of the former Soviet Union and its satellites. All the parts, equipment and materials that went into making nuclear weapons had to be secured, lest they be sold on the black market to terrorists.

Carter described president Barack Obama as an organized, concise, decisive, clear communicator who ended meetings with a call to action, unlike Susan Rice. The president didn’t say one thing and do another. Carter bragged about revamping the topsy-turvy compensation system in the Joint Strike Fighter Program, and how he implemented improvements in military equipment and logistics that reduced casualties during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Carter commented that unsurprisingly, Congress members use semantic tricks in order to dishonestly brag to their constituents that they passed a law that funds a specific initiative. In reality, the money is actually going nowhere, and nothing is ever going to get done on whatever it is. He barely scratched the surface on why American foreign policy is so inconsistent, underhanded, politically fraught: “The Saudi leaders ply U.S. politicians, journalists and think tanks with abundant cash.”

Yet, he also made a few ridiculously naive statements, including: “… Practically all these institutions are government dominated; few Chinese institutions are truly independent, as U.S. think tanks and universities are.”

Read the book to learn: the details of why, beginning in 2015, fighting ISIS was so difficult (hint– it would be like Vietnam all over again), the details of relevant planning operations in 2016, what eventually happened, and who falsely took credit for it; Carter’s take on Russian interference in America’s presidential election in 2016; various other of Carter’s career highlights, and a few of his views on now-president Donald Trump.

The second Book of the Week is “With All Due Respect, Defending America With Grit and Grace” by Nikki R. Haley, published in 2019. This volume was a combination memoir / history textbook / Obama-bashing self-bragfest. At times, the book read like a few strung-together episodes of a pundit’s TV show, what with the omission of inconvenient facts. The brief historical backgrounds on the places she visited, were too brief.

Haley served as governor of South Carolina for about six years prior to becoming the United Nations ambassador for the first two years of president Donald Trump’s administration. Working for the president, Haley had an infuriating, depressing, thankless job; nevertheless, she insisted it was fulfilling for her.

In January 2016, she was tapped to provide commentary on president Obama’s State of the Union address, for the media. Her public relations people gauged viewer reactions to her commentary via public comments on TV and Twitter. Another indicator of the tenor of the times occurred in September 2017 when president Trump tweeted, “I tweeted this morning, and it’s killing on Twitter” in reference to having called North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man.”

Haley helped negotiate the imposing of three sets of increasingly harsh economic sanctions on North Korea with China’s help (even though it is in China’s best interests to keep Kim Jong Un in power) in order to get Kim to stop testing nuclear weapons. No matter. Brutal dictators rarely change their spots; more of their citizens suffer, rather than their weapons programs. North Korea has continued testing to this day. It is naive to think that people such as Kim Jong Un can be shamed into better behavior.

Also in connection with North Korea, Haley was tasked with securing the release of 21-year old American Otto Warmbier. He was tortured and taken hostage. It was a bad editorial decision for her to mention him at all in her book. For, she never did explain a burning question: Why was Warmbier in North Korea in the first place? The U.S. State Department presumably had a travel ban to North Korea. Haley did, however, take credit for securing his release, even though he died shortly thereafter.

In addition, Haley showed that she let her detractors psychologically control her, as she spent several paragraphs discussing smears against her. The president never appeared to be bothered by what other people thought of him; even when his provocative tweets got him in trouble.

Haley spoke her mind, even to the president. He behaved in a way that showed lack of leadership. Whenever high-level staff members disagreed on a specific action to take on a major issue, Haley wrote, “Once again, the president told us to resolve our differences and come back and see him.” Whoever had his ear at the right moment, got their way.

As ambassador, Haley encountered two megalomaniacs: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. They thought they alone could save the United States by being able to do what they thought best. No one should get in their way. Not even the president. They thought they were always right.

Anyway, often, Haley tried to salvage other hopeless situations, too. “It takes a lot to move the UN Security Council to action. Even after this gruesome report on all the violence that followed yet another meaningless cease-fire, some on the council still argued that a weapons embargo would hurt the ‘peace process.’ ” This describes most any Third-World nation. Haley thought her job was to get Americans to care about oppressed peoples. She visited some of them, such as those in South Sudan. She got asked a lot, why should Americans care?

The cynical answer is that South Sudan is a backup source of oil for the United States– which has invested billions of dollars in it already. The hopeful answer is that a rising tide lifts all boats and what comes around goes around — any generosity toward human beings (even downtrodden ones) anywhere in the world helps improve the world, it reduces the suckiness in the world, if only just a little. Although the problems of Third-World countries might seem overwhelming, the few individuals (who win the international aid / sympathetic journalist lottery) have limitless appreciation for appropriate assistance.

Haley sat on the UN Security Council, which was concerned with only “peace and security” of nations, not with human rights abuses. Another UN division, the Human Rights Council (HRC), handled the latter; hypocritically and corruptly, after a while. That is why she helped the United States withdraw from HRC in summer 2018. Some of its remaining member-nations were run by brutal dictators. It had become a joke– like the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in recent decades.

Read the book to learn of Haley’s opinions on economics and immigration (which she should have covered in whole other books); mind-boggling evil she heard about from peoples she personally visited in Palestinian refugee camps, Iran, Congo, South Sudan and elsewhere, and other traumatic events in her career (for more information on brutal dictators, see the post, “Ian Fleming – BONUS POST” and scroll down to the spreadsheet; for more background on the aforementioned countries, type in their names in the search bar of this blog).