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2034: A Novel of the Next World War”  (2021©)  —  book review
The book subject to today’s review was written by Elliot Ackerman, James Stavridis Admiral USN (ret.).  Ackerman is a former White House Fellow and decorated Marine veteran.  Stavridis is, of course, best known as a four-star Admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.  Ackerman is a working journalist / opinion writer and both are authors of multiple books.  That’s pretty much their bonafides for writing a “future – history” about world war / combat.
This novel is set thirteen years in the future.  Putin is still in charge of Russia.  The U.S. has a female President from an Independent party.  And, we don’t really know much about anyone else in charge around the world.  We know China is pushing its claims in the northern Pacific, yet Taiwan remains an independent “nation” state.  India has somehow “resolved” the Pakistan issue in its favor, but we don’t know what that means for either India or Pakistan.  NATO is in disarray without strong U.S. leadership.  And, finally, Iran has had some success against Israel.  What isn’t exactly made clear, except Iran has somehow “freed” the Golan Heights.
Background:  The first third of this book was published as a special “full dedicated issue” recently in Wired magazine, which I subscribe to.  I have read EVERY issue of the magazine since inception back in 1993.  The company I worked for back in 2000 had all of the back issues on a shelf and I would “borrow” them one at a time, read cover to cover and then bring them back.  As far as I know, no one else EVER read any of them, as once I was hired, I kept the current ones on my desk and no one ever asked for them.  Shortly before leaving the company, I got a personal subscription and have continued reading them for the last 20 years.  Anyway, Wired‘s issue left you hanging with the promise of a future novel publication in March 2021.  My review is of the full publication.  This book was one of two I received as a birthday present from my wife.
And,…  This book is about a military conflict between China and the United States.  Supposedly, China is an ascending world power and the U.S. is a descending / failing world power.  China stages a confrontation in order to demonstrate its military superiority – and the world slips into war.
Is the book interesting?  Informative?  Entertaining?  Accurate – technologically, politically or militarily?  Is it worth the time to read it?  To be honest, the magazine promised more than the book delivered.  The answer to all five of those questions is mostly so-so…
It is a fast read at barely over 300 pages.  The problem is there isn’t much there – there.  I don’t know how much (if any) current military capability Ackerman has access to.  It is a given (to me) that Stavridis would have had nearly unlimited access (pre-retirement anyway).  The problem is, of course, the book would have had to be submitted to and cleared through State and DOD before it was published and neither agencies (nor the authors) would have been inclined to offer much useful information in a novel.
With nothing but the most general capabilities described we get a lot of implausible “magic” technology under the guise of “AI” (Artificial Intelligence) which seems to work perfectly and then not at all.  We get very poor strategic decisions / action by the U.S.; we get some oversimplification of other technologies (overseas internet cabling);  side tracks by Russia and Iran, which seem to have been added to make the conflict global rather than China vs. U.S.;  and then we get a couple of miracles at the end by India to conclude the novel / war.  That pretty much covers the “informative and accuracy” portion of this review.
What about interesting and entertaining?  Again, so-so…  There are five main characters: female American Admiral, male American fighter pilot, male American (Indian immigrant) NSC advisor, male Iranian officer (he ends up with various ranks), and the main Chinese (half-American) Admiral.  The story is told from each of their viewpoints.  (Yes, there are also another handful of secondary but important characters, but this is really about the big five.)
The problem I had was the number of characters made for a long, deep story which developed each character to the point where you cared about them without giving away too much plot / ending.  Unfortunately, this book is neither long nor deep, which meant you almost cared, but not quite.  And, again unfortunately, it was almost entirely predictable and therefore, while I finished feeling entertained, I didn’t feel satisfied – emotionally or intellectually.
Then is it worth your time, then?  Yes!  It raises the interesting question if military technology is useful if it is subject to (can be negated by) a less expensive counter-measure.  In this case, the apparent answer is that if the elephant is blinded, it is still an elephant and not easily overwhelmed.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong.  This is not Tom Clancy or Sir John Hackett level political, military or strategy writing, but I did find it entertaining even if not informative or militarily consistent.  I’m grateful to have received it as a present, because I’d have waited for the paperback or a very reduced price before buying it myself.  So I got to read something almost literally hot off the presses…
Final disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
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On This Day In:
2020 First Buds
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2017 Winning So Much I’m Already Tired Of It (Not)
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2014 More Beef, Less Bull
2013 Where Are Your Mountains
2012 Spherical Knowledge Of Hamsters
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Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned today (20 December 2018) – effective 28 February 2019, to allow time for a replacement confirmation.   Secretary Mattis (Retired Marine Corps General) resigned due to differences with the policies of President Trump.  Below is Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter (and transcript below that).
Page 1 of Sec. Mattis Resignation Letter
Page 2 of Sec. Mattis Resignation Letter
Dear Mr. President:
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance.  Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.  While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.  Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world.  Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances.  NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America.  The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.  It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies.  That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.  We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.  The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February.  Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.
I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.
I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.
[Whenever a high-ranking military officer disagrees so fundamentally with the policy, course of action or directions being given by the President (Commander-In_Chief), it is their duty to resign from their position and bring their objections to the American public.  This is an “honorable” resignation.
In our nation’s history, there have been senior officers objecting to their political commander who have acted contrary to lawful policy and direction (both Democratic and Republican) and who have stayed in post and attempted to ameliorate policy / directions they objected to.  Only historians can judge whether these officers acted with honor (or not).
President Assad rules Syria and wishes us to leave so he can continue to crush his opposition and remain in power indefinitely.  Putin wants us to leave Syria to increase Russian influence in the area and to gain access to “warm-water” ports in Syria.  Iran wants us to leave Syria in order to establish an arc of influence through Iraq to Syria (and the Mediterranean).  Turkey wants us to leave in order to crush the Syrian Kurds (and along with them, the Turkish Kurds).  The Turkish Kurds assisted us in Iraq and are now doing the same in Syria.  They want us to stay.  The Syrian Kurds want our help and want us to stay.  Israel and Saudi Arabia foolishly support President Trump because they feel he will support them.  Between Israel and Russia, Trump will support Russia.  Saudi Arabia is the enemy of Iran because Iran is not Arab and because Iran believes in the Shiite version of Islam while the Saudi’s believe in the Sunni version.  Trump supports Saudi Arabia over Iran (in theory), but he doesn’t seem to realize the long term effect of increasing Iranian influence in Syria will be to the detriment of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
As for ISIS / ISIL, they are one of the factions seeking to over-throw Assad.  They are Muslim and Assad is Ba’ath.  Assad seeks to destroy ISIL because that’s what he does to all of his enemies.
If the U.S. abandons Syria and the Kurds, we will pay for this policy failure for decades and generations ALL around the world – not just in the Middle East.
I happen to agree with President Trump, that we should get our troops out of Afghanistan and reduce our military footprint in the Middle East – not just Syria.  In Afghanistan, as soon as possible.  In Syria, only after we have secured land for the Syrian Kurds and, after that, for as long as the Kurds need our protection from Russia, Turkey and Iran – and, of course, from Assad.  Unfortunately, this may mean decades…
Israel and Saudi Arabia will pay for supporting President Trump.  Sooner or later he will turn on them, too.   After all, Trump is a snake, they know he is a snake, and to quote candidate Trump’s campaign speech:  “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”
Just sayin’…   —    KMAB]
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2011 Humane Writers

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The continuing efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. intelligence community are a useful reminder to Trump, Putin and the rest of the world.  Whatever the fallout from the Helsinki summit, no one man ultimately controls the enforcement of America’s laws or the defense of its national security.  And nothing Trump says or does will change that.
  —    Brian Bennett
From the article: “A Crisis Of His Own Making
Appearing in Time Magazine, Dtd: 30 July 2018
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2010 Fascinating Discontinuity
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An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.
    —    Republican Sen. John McCain
On Tuesday (20 March 2018), the senior GOP senator from Arizona criticized US President Donald Trump for congratulating Vladimir Putin on being reelected as president of Russia.
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On This Day In:
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Andrew McCabe was the Deputy Director of the FBI under Director James Comey.  Director Comey was fired by President Trump, who then appointed McCabe to replace Comey as Director.  Comey refused to “pledge” his loyalty to Trump and when McCabe supported Comey’s statements in Congressional testimony, Trump subsequently forced McCabe from his position, too.  McCabe “fell on his sword” to protect the FBI after an Inspector General’s report of improper handling of the Hilary Clinton’s e-mail investigation during the 2016 Presidential campaign.  The result of the “improper handling” was to the benefit of Trump and hurt Clinton’s campaign.  I am not aware of any evidence this effect was intentional by Comey, McCabe or the FBI.
I have heard some Republican supporters / Conservative analysts offering up the suggestion Attorney General Jeff Session fired McCabe in order to maintain his own (Session’s) position and thereby “protect” Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.  In essence, Session has fired a man with over 20 years of distinguished FBI service for personal and political reasons to punish McCabe and satisfy President Trump’s vindictive personality.  Session is himself a pitiable (if not tragic) figure in this drama because he has been subject to Trump’s “personality” and diminution, but that still (in my opinion) does not justify his actions in this matter.
My reaction to the Session’s firing of Andrew McCabe from the FBI at 10PM on a Friday night less than two days before his scheduled retirement can be summarized by a few quotes from the movie “Judgment At Nuremberg”  (1961)…  (in these quotes Janning represents Session and McCabe is the “one” man.)
Judge Dan Haywood:  Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure.  We believe he loathed the evil he did.  But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and death of millions by the government of which he was a part.  Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial.  If he and the other defendants were all depraved perverts – if the leaders of the Third Reich were sadistic monsters and maniacs – these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake or other natural catastrophes.  But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men – even able and extraordinary men – can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination.  No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget.  The sterilization of men because of their political beliefs…  The murder of children…  How easily that can happen!  There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the “protection” of the country.  Of “survival”.  The answer to that is: survival as what?  A country isn’t a rock.  And it isn’t an extension of one’s self.  It’s what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult!  Before the people of the world – let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth… and the value of a single human being!
Later in the movie…
Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood…  the reason I asked you to come:  Those people, those millions of people…  I never knew it would come to that.  You must believe it, You must believe it!
Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.
Also:
The following is the reaction of the former head of the CIA to President Trump’s mocking Tweet about this firing:

Former CIA Director John O. Brennan’s reaction to Trump’s mocking of McCabe firing.

History will be a harsh judge of Trump and those in Congress who protect his Administration by trying to halt an unhindered and complete investigation of Russian interference in our last Presidential election and Trump and his campaign’s collusion with Russia in their efforts to get him elected and undermine our country.
America will triumph over Donald Trump and Vladimir Putkin.
Please do not take anything above as a defense of AG Session.  I did not like him as a Senator and did not support his nomination to Attorney General because I did not (and do not) believe Session is able to defend the laws of the United States independent of his own opinions – particularly laws supporting Civil Rights or Equal Justice under the law.  I also believe he knew early on that the Trump campaign was involved with Russia.  I am not (yet) convinced Session was personally involved in the collusion with Russia, but I feel it is highly probable based on his “selective memory” and failures to recall (29 times) during his testimony before Congress.
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Russia has acquired territory but lost credibility.  Putin has bought himself a pile of problems at the cost of the international ties Russia needs to prosper.  He has betrayed Russia’s best resource —  its people — who will eventually realize his rhetoric is nothing more than a fantasy inside a delusion wrapped in a tissue of lies.
    —    Madeleine Albright (describing Vladimir Putin)
Former U.S. Secretary of State
Quoted in Time Magazine, 5 May 2014 issue, “The 100 Most Influential People
[Ms. Albright obviously playing off of Winston Churchill’s famous quote describing Russia:  “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”   —    KMAB]
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