Archive for February, 2007

Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars

I will admit that prior to September 11, I paid very little attention to America’s counterterrorist efforts, or even, really, to politics. Seems surprising, considering what a junkie I’ve become, but my youthful politics tended to revolve more around issues of women’s equality and anti-capitalism than foreign policy.

Of course, I’m still a feminist and an anti-capitalist, but it’s almost impossible not to pay attention to foreign policy, especially Middle East affairs, these days. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the history of American involvements in the Middle East is paltry, or rather, it was until I read Steve Coll’s excellent book, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Coll’s exhaustively researched and detailed narrative covers American covert involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia over the last 35 years, revealing decision-making processes, relationships between key players, factions and their supporters, and a picture of near endless warfare.

Coll’s well-written portraits of the key players in the region are some of the most compelling things about the book. The same people have been orchestrating events in the region for several decades, and after reading Ghost Wars, I read the current news with a much better sense of who these people are, and what their relationships are to each other. Coll manages to piece together a comprehensive picture from the many convoluted bits, to reveal the mistakes and miscalculations that resulted in the attacks of September 11, and more significantly, to place our current actions within a greater historical context.

I will likely never agree that the United States makes the right decisions in our foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Reading this book did nothing to dispel my sense that foreign policy is a too deadly game played by men whose only drive is to be the strongest one in the room. So many of the mistakes that were made, and that continue to made, stem from a national character among our politicians and policy makers that isn’t going to change anytime soon. But at least now I have a more thorough understanding of each step in that game, and of all the players making them. And this book will hold a place near the top of my list of recommendations for quite some time.

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Well, I certainly floundered at the starting block with this one. In the month since setting up this fancy blog, dedicated to books and libraries and other nerdy ephemera, I have written all of…oh wait, yup…nothing. It’s not that I’m not reading something. I’m always reading something. Usually multiple somethings. Currently, the hot ticket on my bedside table is Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 11, 2001. And it’s pretty freaking good. Detailed, compelling, well-written.

Over the last month I’ve also re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as part of my housemate’s and my project to give each book a close reading, and figure out the real role of Snape, before the final book publishes. I’ve read Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, and actually had legitimate critical thoughts about it. I’ve been catching up on all my New Yorker reading, and I feel certain there was another book or two read sometime in there.

Yet I have not once felt ready to sit down and write about them.

Not only that, but I’ve been working on my personal statement for my Library School admissions application, and reading up on Library 2.0, important collections development information, Google Book Search, and other various important Library School related things. Haven’t felt ready to sit down and write about that yet, either.

In the interest of not being another person who registers domain space and lets it languish, I am committing to writing something every week for this site. I promise. Tomorrow: a review of Stone Butch Blues, for your perusal.

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