No Room For Small Dreams / Rabin / My Country, My Life (Very Long Post)

The First Book of the Week is “No Room for Small Dreams–Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel” by Shimon Peres, published in 2017. This is the autobiography of the late prime minister (in the mid-1980’s) of Israel.

Born in 1923, Peres spent the first decade of his life in a shtetl on the Russia/Poland border. In 1934, his (Jewish) family moved to Palestine seeking religious freedom. At fifteen years old, he put his natural leadership skills to good use at the kibbutz Ben-Shemen. The institution was like boarding school, but it emphasized the teaching of skills for agriculture and use of weaponry more than academic subjects.

In 1941, Peres moved to Kibbutz Alumot, where he herded sheep amid olive and date groves. The youths there lived in tents lacking electricity and indoor plumbing.

After WWII, when the Jews were pushing for statehood, Peres became a disciple of David Ben Gurion. He favored a partition between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. In 1947, Ben Gurion recruited him for the Haganah, one of the intelligence services of Palestine. However, his lack of fluency in the English language was a handicap. This was remedied in June 1949, when he began to attend the New School for Social Research in New York City. Three years later, he and his family moved back to Israel, where he took a position in the Defense Ministry, and assisted with the founding of El Al Airlines.

In the early 1950’s, neither Great Britain nor the United States was in the mood to sell arms to Israel. Peres found an unexpected supplier in France. In addition, in the summer of 1957, France allegedly mentored Israel in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In connection therewith, Peres claimed that he planned and organized the construction of a top-secret corporate village in the Negev desert near Beersheba to give the world the impression that Israel was a superpower.

In 1959, the author was elected to the Knesset and also kept a position in the Defense Ministry. In the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Egypt and Syria limited the spoils of their victory to territory they lost in the 1967 Six-Day war. According to the author, in the 1973 war, Egypt’s leader, Anwar Sadat refrained from attacking Israel’s central cities for fear it would retaliate with weapons of mass destruction. Apparently, threat of retaliation was not a deterrent to small-time terrorist groups, such as the PLO, who intermittently killed the Jewish state’s citizens, a few at a time, for decades.

Nevertheless, read the book to learn of Peres’ brilliant political career (according to him) as an economic genius and peacemaker with Jordan and the PLO. Yet, Peres admits he played the former role thanks to Israel’s cozy relationship with the United States. Yassir Arafat could not really guarantee and did not take responsibility for, violence perpetrated by the organization he headed; foolish Peres failed to take heed of the following cliche: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The Second Book of the Week is “Rabin, Our Life, His Legacy” by Leah Rabin, published in 1997.

Born in April 1928 in Prussia, Leah Rabin met her husband Yitzhak in Palestine’s co-ed military intelligence service– the Palmach– in the 1940’s. The group was actually a secret society because it was deemed illegal by the British authorities.

In Palestine, the author and her beloved lived in a kibbutz or a tent and did farming, herding, hiking and jogging. And firearms training, not to mention military-attack drills. In the summer of 1946, due to Leah’s sixth sense about imminent danger, she avoided getting arrested by the British, but Yitzhak was caught. However, the weaponry hidden in the women’s body cavities went undiscovered because frisking of females by the authorities was chivalrous in those days.

In 1948, after spending more than four months in jail, Yitzhak became a commander in the Harel Brigade, one of three newly formed Palmach divisions. The group became part of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF)– the Israeli military– in 1949. Ten years later, Yitzhak was chief of operations of the IDF.

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel (which achieved its independence in spring 1948), belonged to the Mapai (Labor) party.  Yitzhak didn’t, and therefore Ben-Gurion favored other men over him when he staffed his government and formulated military policy.

In November 1963, the Rabins made a diplomatic visit to the United States. Just after they returned to Israel, they learned that President John F. Kennedy was dead. “Yitzhak… had just completed an intensive study of state-of-the-art defense and security practices from the most powerful nation in the world, and suddenly we learned that this country’s chief executive was slain by a lone gunman.”

Shortly thereafter, Yitzhak took a break from military matters to become a social butterfly– an ambassador to the U.S., from Israel. Such a lifestyle involves having cocktails, attending parties, making small talk and gossip mongering. In 1973, Yitzhak tried his hand at elective office. He won a seat in the Knesset in the Labor party, and an appointment as Minister of Labor.

In April 1974, Golda Meir felt obligated to resign as Israel’s fifth Prime Minister due to the mishandling of the Yom Kippur war, which had occurred about six months prior. Yitzhak was voted in as her replacement. He was battered about by political contentiousness and decided after three years to resign his Prime Minister post. He remained a member of the Knesset, though. Political comebacks are not uncommon in Israel. Yitzhak staged his in the autumn of 1984. He became the Minister of Defense.

That was when the Mapai and Likud (Conservative) parties merged in order to form a major voting bloc. The new entity was called the National Unity Party. In 1985, Yitzhak helped supervise the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Jordan. He became Prime Minister again in 1992.

In the first half of the 1990’s, Yitzhak Rabin sat down at the negotiating table with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat. Many people thought Arafat was a terrorist who led a terrorist group and would never be trustworthy, and Yitzhak was being way too nice.

Further, U.S. president Bill Clinton, the mediator of the peace talks, had a credibility problem. So– it was kind of like a diplomatic charade because sincerity wasn’t a strong suit of at least two of the three parties there. Further, regardless of the ulterior motives of the three parties involved– history had already shown grave doubts as to whether durable agreements could be reached between the two centuries-long rivals.

Israel had previously had a policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists such as Arafat and had refused to meet with them under any circumstances. However, Rabin believed in appeasement of the Egyptians and Jordanians as well. He was willing to hear them out and sign documents that were supposed to foster peace in the Middle East. In this way, he garnered a lot of political enemies. Ironically, he was shot at a peace rally.

Read the book to learn the details of what transpired, the aftermath (especially the aftermath– through Leah’s eyes) and many more details of Israeli history and Rabin’s role in it.

The Third Book of the Week is “My Country, My Life– Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace” by Ehud Barak, published in 2018.

Born in 1942 in one of the early kibbutzim– Mishmar Hasharon– the small village north of Tel Aviv, Barak pursued a military career from the 1960’s into the 1980’s, alternating it with his education. He led special forces on secret missions. He eventually earned a degree in physics from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a master’s degree in operations management from Stanford University.

Barak seemed a bit resentful about Israel’s dependence on the United States for its very existence; for, when describing the Yom Kippur War, he omitted the inconvenient fact that the United States sent weapons to Israel when the nation’s ability to defend itself was in serious doubt.

Barak began his political career in summer 1995 when he joined Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet. At his first vote, he abstained, holding onto his belief that Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories pursuant to the Oslo agreements was the wrong thing to do.

However, during peace talks with Syria, Barak thought the major question was whether, if Israel were to withdraw from the Golan Heights, it could still have a secure border. As a former (military) chief of staff, he argued in the affirmative.

In late winter and spring 1996 during election season, the terrorist group Hamas tried to reduce Shimon Peres’ chances of an election victory by killing tens of Israelis in terrorist attacks. It and Islamic Jihad viewed him as a traitor for conducting negotiations with Yasser Arafat. Peres was forced to retire at 73 years old.

In June 1996, Barak was elected leader of Israel’s Labor Party. It seemed Barak changed his tune and wanted to comply with the Oslo accords in the next couple of years. He got angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for delaying Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories. Netanyahu was desperate for power, and withdrawal was politically unpopular.

In summer 1999, Barak was elected prime minister. In May 2000, he ordered the departure of Israeli troops from Lebanon, despite the shenanigans of the PLO in its territorial / recognition / non-belligerence discussions with the Israelis. He rambled on for page after page, detailing the summer 2000 back-and-forth with Arafat, still moderated by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Arafat turned out to be a tease for two weeks (before Barak realized he’d been played for a fool)– not budging an inch, not counter-offering any concessions while Barak bent over backwards to offer the Palestinians sovereignty over East Jerusalem, a large portion of the occupied territories and the holy sites.

Barak lost his reelection bid in 2001, so he retired. Read the book to learn more about Barak’s life, his views on various political issues, the current situation regarding the Israelis and Palestinians, and Netanyahu’s leadership.

ENDNOTE: A distracting grammatical error that is becoming more and more widespread was made repeatedly throughout the book (the word before the gerund should be possessive):

“Though I wasn’t sure about legal provisions for officers leaving the army…” [It should be officers’ leaving the army]

“What were the prospects of Arafat reining in Hamas and Islamic Jihad?” [It should be Arafat’s reining in …]

I Should Be Dead By Now

The Book of the Week is “I Should Be Dead By Now, The Wild Life and Crazy Times of the NBA’s Greatest Rebounder of Modern Times” by Dennis Rodman With Jack Isenhour, originally published in 2005. Despite its sensationalist title, this slim volume somewhat repetitively, but in detail, gave good reasons for why the subject should be dead, in the form of an expletive-laden, extended reality-show monologue.

Rodman, a former professional basketball player, told a series of anecdotes about himself– the world’s biggest attention whore– that involved his professional and personal antics, love life, and his handlers– the people who tried to keep him safe.

Starting in the 1980’s, Rodman got the media’s attention with his dyed hair (various colors), cross-dressing, tattoos, piercings, makeup, etc. By the new millennium, thanks to his high-paying: athletic career, promotional gigs and celebrity appearances (notwithstanding his expensive on-off relationships), he owned a luxury apartment in Newport Beach, California. “Meanwhile, the parties grew bigger and bigger and the neighbors got madder and madder” about the noise.

In early 2003, Rodman did a reality show called “Rodman on the Rebound” on ESPN, but he wasn’t ready to return to the NBA. The show should have been called, “Rodman on the Rehab.” One reason why occurred in the autumn of 2003 shortly before the start of basketball season, when the Denver Nuggets had agreed to hire him after every team in the National Basketball Association had been scorning him for about three years.

One late night, as he did every night, at a strip club, Rodman consumed a vast quantity of alcohol; even for his six-foot, eight-inch frame. The members of his entourage had to pick their battles with him, as his risky behavior was constant but not always extreme or predictable. On a whim, in the wee hours of the morning, Rodman decided to fly to Las Vegas.

Once there, in the parking lot of another strip club, a stranger allowed Rodman, sans helmet, to ride a new motorcycle. Rodman attempted to do a wheelie. To his credit, he did not gloze over the unpleasant consequences. At the hospital, he claimed that he refused “Novocain.” Also, he hadn’t been wearing underwear, and his torn-up legs needed 70 stitches. There went his NBA-comeback opportunity. The media had initially given him his celebrity status, and had a field day highlighting his stupidity.

Rodman claimed that “… there are many things stats just don’t measure: … how well you can get in another guy’s head, and the number of Redheaded Sluts you can drink and still get it up– all categories in which Dennis Rodman excelled.”

Read the book to learn much more about guess who?

Hold On, Mr. President – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Hold On, Mr. President” by Sam Donaldson, published in 1987. This is the career memoir of an aggressive TV journalist who covered politics.

Donaldson was born in 1934. By his mid-thirties, he had an all-consuming career, working seven days a week for about a year at ABC-TV in Washington D.C. He covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, Vietnam on-location for three months in 1971, the Watergate scandal, and, glutton for punishment that he was– president Jimmy Carter in 1976. He asked hard questions of presidents, especially president Ronald Reagan, on whom he spent a lot of time reporting.

Donaldson felt that Reagan’s unwavering stance on all issues was a liability because it resulted in “thoughtless and false certainty… Deciphering Reagan-speak is a constant in the White House press room… But give Reagan a TelePromTer (sic)… and he can communicate without ambiguity and, in the process, sell you a defense budget that will reduce you to rags or a Nicaragua policy that will curl more than your hair.” Countless erroneous facts and figures emanated from Reagan’s mouth, of which Donaldson provided numerous examples.

In the late 1980’s, Reagan held political rallies whose attendees “… had to apply for tickets from local Republican organizations, and people who were not already true believers, didn’t get them.” Some things never change.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Donaldson and his generation of TV journalism in Washington, D.C.

The Defense Never Rests – BONUS POST

The  Bonus Book of the Week is “The Defense Never Rests” by F. Lee Bailey with Harvey Aronson, published in 1971. This is the career memoir of a criminal defense attorney best known for the Sam Sheppard and Boston Strangler cases.

Born in 1933, Bailey served in the Marines, and later started practicing law at a firm in Boston. He became a polygraph-test expert, and later argued that test results should have been admissible in all courts. When he started his career in 1961, Massachusetts law still required that in court, a murder suspect be confined to a wire cage.

Read the book to learn of various cases litigated by the author, including those of Sam Sheppard and the Boston Strangler and his own, when he found himself in trouble (not for murder, though). Perhaps that is why he provided no: Notes, Bibliography, Sources, References or Index in this book, although he did provide verbatim excerpts of court transcripts.

The Dean

The Book of the Week is “The Dean, The Best Seat in the House” by Rep. John D. Dingell, with David Bender, published in 2018.

Born in July 1926, Dingell was appointed a page (messenger boy) beginning when he was eleven, helping a Republican U.S. Congressman, thanks to his father– Rep. John Dingell, Sr. (D., MI); his boss was Republican, to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

Dingell, who had a younger brother and sister (who died of illness at a year old), was of Polish Jesuit extraction. The family lived in Detroit. In 1932, his father ran against a Congressional opponent who had ties to the KKK. In his teens, he went hunting for squirrels and turkeys at his boss’s farm in Northern Virginia.

In 1955, Dingell won a special election to fill his dead father’s seat in Congress. This, after serving in the military at the end of WWII, and graduating (via the GI Bill) from Georgetown University with a degree in chemistry.

According to the author, only in the past few decades has politics in the United States become nastier than ever. And he knew. He served 59 years in Congress.

In August 2009, he held a Town Hall meeting in Romulus, Michigan to speak about the healthcare bill (Obamacare). The hundreds of protestors and hecklers who filled the meeting hall weren’t even from Michigan. They were from other midwestern states.

They believed the propaganda that had sparked fear and outrage against Obamacare. “This was an ambush organized by that evil Dick Armey and his lunatic Tea Party crowd. The Koch brothers were funding the whole damn thing in order to stop the Affordable Care Act from passing in Congress.”

The brainwashed attendees rudely, childishly yelled slurs nonstop at the tops of their lungs the whole time. Dingell was used to such abusive treatment however, having had a cross burned on his lawn more than once, as he supported Civil Rights laws. Like his father before him, however, he didn’t put up with corruption.

It is little known that in 1943, Dingell’s father submitted the first national healthcare proposal ever in the United States. The American Medical Association railed against it because the plan would have reduced its power.

Another surprising bit of information is that President Richard Nixon was a great advocate of environmentalism (only in the United States, of course), supporting the EPA and clean air and water legislation in 1970; this is curious, given Nixon’s track record in connection with the desecration of Vietnam.

Dingell played well with others, befriending even Republicans by going hunting with them for all kinds of animals (not the kind who showed up at his Town Hall meetings, though).

Read the book to learn more about Dingell and his views.

Turmoil and Triumph

The Book of the Week is “Turmoil and Triumph, My Years as Secretary of State” by George P. Shultz, published in 1993. This tome described the author’s every conversation, meeting and diplomatic action, complete with historical backdrop– the behind-the scenes issue-wrangling that occurred among top U.S. officials and world leaders during the author’s tenure as secretary of state under president Ronald Reagan.

Shultz came to office in the summer of 1982, after Alexander Haig’s resignation. Shultz was very careful to minimize conflicts of interest– resigning as president of Bechtel and from teaching at Stanford University. He put his assets in a truly blind trust– not managed by family members.

The policy of the administration with regard to most matters of international diplomacy seemed to be “Might makes right.” Cold War hysteria was still in full force, and the United States continually stockpiled weaponry and sent its troops to foreign shores on various continents to deter the Soviets from taking over more territory. Starting at the tail end of the 1970’s through the 1980’s, hostage-taking was all the rage. Terrorist groups sponsored by evil regimes were using people as bargaining chips to achieve their political goals at every turn. The U.S. therefore used the threat of its weaponry and armed forces at every turn.

When Shultz took office, controversy was raging over the Israelis’ attack on the PLO in Lebanon. Various countries– Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iran, NATO countries, and the United States were jockeying for position in the complicated situation. Shultz, of course, tried to represent the interests of the United States– oil accessibility and continued goodwill with Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel had been and continued to be unnecessarily militarily hostile in various ways. Reagan simply decided to have the United States troops leave Lebanon altogether rather than risk additional deaths of Americans– which wasn’t necessarily a cowardly act. That would avoid a quagmire like Vietnam. But a year later, in the autumn of 1983, the American military was back in Lebanon. And in Grenada.

According to Shultz, “The report was sharp and clear:  some Western democracies were again ready to use the military strength they had harbored and built up over the years in defense of their principles and interest.”

Eighteen American troops died in Grenada during the “rescue” operation of one thousand American medical students (who weren’t in immediate danger, according to some people who were physically present, contrary to Shultz’s account) at the school there. The CIA had convinced Shultz that Grenada was a weapons-transporting-Cuban-aircraft refueling stop between Cuba and Angola or Ethiopia.

In summer 1983, there was a power struggle between the National Security Council and Shultz over America’s policy in Central America, when he learned that both he and Congress weren’t informed of the agency’s activities. In summer 1984, the Council authorized U.S. peace-keeping forces to engage in a secret mission in Honduras.

This was ostensibly to protect the Contras, a Nicaraguan fighting force (generously rewarded by the United States because they were anti-Communist) that had infiltrated Honduras. According to what Shultz was told at the time, Saudi Arabia was sending financial aid of one million dollars a month to the Contras. Shultz wrote that he wanted that allowance to end by the end of 1984.

The CIA told Shultz that the Soviets were sending the Sandinistas (the Contras’ enemy) Czech-made weaponry. In addition, the spy agency ordered the American military to line Nicaragua’s harbors with land mines. An international court said that was a crime.

In 1985, Shultz agreed with the policy conveyed by America to foreign officials– that it was against sending arms to Iraq and Iran, in order to discourage them from continuing their war.

At that time, Shultz said he himself, at least one member of the State Department, and a counter-terrorist official weren’t informed that National Security Council adviser Bud McFarlane and non-government individuals were arranging arms sales from Israel to Iran. This, in order for strings to be pulled to release American hostages held by terrorist groups in Lebanon. Others in on the deal included John Kelly, Middle East ambassador from the United States– located in Beirut, the CIA, and some people in the White House.

By November 1986, it was revealed that McFarlane and four others flew to Tehran using phony Irish passports to make the secret deal. Shultz did admit to encouraging talks for the release of hostages, but absent arms sales. He felt that selling arms to a rogue state would be an invitation for them to keep taking hostages one by one to acquire more arms.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes claimed that Shultz knew about the deal during its execution. Treasury Secretary and later Chief of Staff Don Regan claimed the same– at least since a November 1985 meeting. Shultz said no, he didn’t know. Incidentally, Congress didn’t know. Reagan claimed he didn’t. Then he did. Then he didn’t. No one will ever know. Admiral John Poindexter contended that he just found out in November 1986.

[Insert scandal here.]

Poindexter changed his story after it was revealed that some Iranian-weapons-sales-proceeds had been sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. It was just by chance that the CIA head William Casey was debilitated by a brain tumor when he was. Otherwise, the scheming co-conspirators would have continued their clandestine activities.

Shultz egotistically wrote, “… we have lied to the American people and misused our friends abroad. We are revealed to have been dealing with some of the sleaziest international characters around… There is a Watergate-like atmosphere around here as the White House staff has become secretive, self-deluding, and vindictive… But almost every aspect of our foreign policy agenda will suffer unless the  president makes the decision now to halt this operation and let me clean up the mess.”

Shultz was aggrieved that in the Reagan Era, foreign policy and intelligence analysis were commingled at the CIA. Shultz– at the State Department, was left out of the loop. Separating those functions previously minimized possible abuses because the State Department used to handle policy; the CIA, analysis.

Further, having people who weren’t currently U.S. government employees, represent the United States abroad in diplomacy was risky. Shultz pointed out that people such as Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson weren’t accountable to the American government. A secretary of state, prior to taking office– like Shultz– was subjected to a rigorous vetting process. Shultz was outraged that during Iran-Contra, clowns off the street who had friends in high places were allowed to be hostage negotiators, unbeknownst to him.

Anyhow, most of the book described the arms-reduction talks between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. There was a tug-of-war over the interpretation of the ABM Treaty. Reagan had agreed to allow the military to begin a research project into the “Strategic Defense Initiative” — a weapons system that was decades away from actual implementation and broke the bank, but was intended to scare the Soviets into agreeing to do away with more of its offensive weapons than otherwise.

There were indications that Reagan was going senile, but Shultz tried to gloze over them and cover for him when he became loopy in public. “Once a certain arrangement of facts was in his head, I could hardly ever get them out.”

Read the book to learn of the untold taxpayer dollars that were wasted making dictatorial shenanigans go away (amid a flurry of propaganda) in Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, Libya, Chile, Angola, Namibia and South Africa; the three skills a secretary of state should have; of every last interaction between the Reagan administration and the Soviets; and how Shultz (according to Shultz) saved Reagan’s presidency.

Leadership

The Book of the Week is “Leadership” by Rudy Giuliani, published in 2002. This was a description of actions the author took in supervising and managing people to accomplish his law-enforcement and political goals.

In general, Giuliani wrote that when he was mayor of New York City in the second half of the 1990’s through 2001, he did his homework and lived by the motto “be prepared.” He held an 8am daily meeting for high-level officials of major city agencies for purposes of communication, identifying problem areas, and monitoring progress.

In 2000, he was planning to run for the Senate. However, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The media behaved the way they usually do. “First of all, a great deal of the coverage was wrong. Reporters were talking about me to doctors I’d never even met… Television networks… asked if I’d be willing to have a camera come with me to my MRI and other extremely private moments– even a digital rectal examination.”

The author felt that it was important to learn the basics about every aspect of his administration- through reading, not just talking to people. He wrote, “It helps you distinguish between authentic and make-believe experts, the truly competent and the ideological knee jerkers.”

Giuliani was a very popular mayor who was credited with cleaning up Times Square and truly taking care of New Yorkers.

However, this book’s structure was redundant. It kept returning to the subjects of his law-enforcement achievements and what he saw and did on and after 9/11. Read the book to learn the details of this bragfest (notwithstanding the fact that the man has bragging rights.)