Counter-terrorism and Intelligence
Alice Winocour, director. Alice Winocour and Jean-Stéphane Bron, screenwriters. Distributed by Mars Distribution, 2015.
Disorder, directed by Alice Winocour, artfully imparts some unsettling insights about a world in which transnational terrorism has become a pervasive worry and war a persistently looming prospect. The fine Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Vincent, a French soldier afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – hence the punning title – from having served in the Afghanistan conflict. The problem of battlefield mental disturbance has been thoughtfully plumbed in a number of recent dramatic movies, such as Neither Heaven Nor Earth (France) and A War (Denmark), and in documentaries such as Armadillo (Denmark) and Restropo (United States). Disorder adds a degree of subtlety in portraying the afflicted soldier as a willing and often functional combatant even when removed from the battlefield. While waiting to see if he will be cleared to return to combat, Vincent takes a job guarding the family of a shady French businessman who may or may not be dealing arms to a Lebanese militia. The setting is an opulent villa on the French Riviera. When the property comes under threat from armed bad guys, the story illustrates the insidious reach of terrorism: locales once thought to be insulated from violence become symbolic targets. In that sense, the movie – which competed in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 – anticipated the horrific July 2016 attack in nearby Nice, in which a jihadist-inspired terrorist killed 86 people and hurt another 434 by mowing them down with a cargo truck.
The film also constitutes a convincing depiction of how a shaken soldier might apprehend the world – to wit, as a place bifurcated between predatory villains and victimised innocents who need protection from them, especially those who look like the rich businessman’s comely blonde wife and adorable son – and makes the audience ponder the inherent instability of a peacetime environment increasingly populated with such combat veterans. It is also an exercise in, as well as a statement about, unreliable narration, given that the story is told from Vincent’s presumptively distorted point of view. It is clear that some of the story as depicted cannot be accurate, but, with selected exceptions, viewers cannot be sure what is true and what is false. Accordingly, it is difficult to know how safe or in danger anybody is. Calmer observers consistently point out that the statistical likelihood that a Westerner will die in a terrorist attack is exceedingly low, and that refugees rarely perpetrate such attacks. Yet Western populations rate terrorism highly on their lists of public-policy concerns, and Western governments have restricted immigration in the name of counter-terrorism. Winocour seems to have recognised that magnified anxiety about terrorism among the general population, potentially reaching the level of collective paranoia, is playing an increasing role in shaping everyday behaviour, and to have provided a metaphorical explanation of the phenomenon. But she may also be warning that society’s narrators-in-chief – the government and the media – are as unreliable as some others.
Occupied (TV series)
Created by Jo Nesbo, Erik Skjoldbjaerg and Karianne Lund. Distributed by Zodiak Rights.
If jihadist terrorism has agitated populations, some of the cognoscenti have also developed an advanced understanding of terrorism and how it takes root. The exceptionally sophisticated Norwegian series Occupied imagines that the United States has become energy-independent, that NATO has disbanded and that Norway has joined the European Union while going resolutely green and halting oil and gas production in favour of developing thorium as an energy source, to the short-term economic distress of Russia and the EU. Consequently, Russia, backed by the EU, has staged an initially bloodless ‘silk glove’ coup in Norway to restart its energy production and bring it up to previous levels.
The scenario is unlikely yet plausible, and teased out in an intelligent, nuanced and exciting way. Season 1 includes a covert false-flag operation in which Russia blows up 18 Russian convicts installed as apparent pipeline workers, allowing blame to be cast on Norwegians to establish a pretext for continuing occupation. Meanwhile, Norwegian nationalists – perhaps reminded of Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian fascist who attempted to stage a coup in 1940 and end Norway’s resistance to Nazi Germany, and whose surname has since become an enduring synonym for ‘traitor’ – perceive the grandiose and delusionally conciliatory Norwegian prime minister as a spineless collaborator. Thousands of military veterans, a few Chechen refugees and one senior intelligence official form a violent anti-Russian group known as Free Norway that quickly resorts to assassinating Russian officials deployed to the Scandinavian country. The United States, apparently having learned to put America first and made itself about as un-great as it can be, cravenly opts out of the conflict, providing only tepid mediation and diplomatic protection for the prime minister, then conniving to eject him from the American compound when he finally summons the courage to stand up to Moscow.
In the context of contemporary strategic affairs, perhaps the most interesting themes developed by the series include the unwillingness of nationalistic intelligence officers to allow an iconoclastic, doctrinaire and naive elected leader to undermine national interests, and the continued centrality of occupation in some form to the genesis of old-style nationalistic terrorist movements. In the real world, the former theme has arisen under the mantle of the supposed ‘deep state’ in Turkey and elsewhere; the latter in political scientist Robert Pape’s analysis of jihadist terrorism, which, like earlier and more constrained forms of terrorism, he has correlated most closely with major powers’ physical encroachment on lands regarded by the group in question as proprietary. Western states seem to have absorbed lessons consistent with Pape’s studies, especially from the invasion and occupation of Iraq, while also making due note of extremist ideology as a factor. Occupied suggests that a determined revanchist great power – such as Russia in Syria – might be willing to bear the cost of a terrorist uprising if the prize were valuable enough. But it’s only a television show.
The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State
Lawrence Wright. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. $28.95. 366 pp.
In The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright provided the definitive open-source account of the rise of al-Qaeda, building on Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin’s seminal The Age of Sacred Terror. Wright’s new book The Terror Years is essentially a collection of linked and updated articles originally published in the New Yorker, bracketed by a prologue and an epilogue. The author recaps some of the material in The Looming Tower – in particular, he devotes a chapter each to two unusually perceptive and prescient FBI agents, John O’Neill and Ali Soufan – and extends its grim narrative. Especially interesting, if wistfully so, is his account of the ideological conflict within al-Qaeda in a chapter entitled ‘The Rebellion Within’. In the late 2000s, influential dissident jihadists such as Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (popularly known as ‘Dr Fadl’) sought to moderate core al-Qaeda’s maximalist objectives, and appeared to be incrementally gaining influence vis-à-vis Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the global movement. Jordanian jihadist thinker Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, for instance, publicly condemned the killing of Muslims committed in the name of religion. This trend seemed to suggest a crisis of legitimacy, and perhaps helped diminish the scope and lethality of operations and dampen recruitment efforts.
Then came the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the crystallisation and breakaway of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) – a renewed challenge to al-Qaeda that may have muted the reformist voices – and, most conspicuously to the West, ISIS’s spree of kidnappings and beheadings of Americans and Europeans in the Middle East, which Wright illuminates in the ‘Five Hostages’ chapter. (The book is dedicated to four such American victims.) Wright is a principled, indeed exemplary, journalist. He is willing to take a firm point of view, but this is invariably measured and informed by interviews with reliable and verified sources and direct investigation, as well as his own keen analytic powers. So it is striking that, in the prologue to The Terror Years, he adopts a distinctly condemnatory tone with respect to US counter-terrorism and Middle East policy since 9/11. That policy, he says, ‘has been a long series of failures’, adding that America’s ‘actions have been responsible for much of the unfolding catastrophe’. His assessment of the 2003 invasion of Iraq as ‘one of the greatest blunders in American history’ is relatively uncontroversial. But he also characterises the Obama administration’s largely unsuccessful efforts to free ISIS’s hostages as ‘a tragic reflection of American power neutralized in a world it fails to understand’ (p. xiii).
By Wright’s recounting in the ‘Five Hostages’ chapter, those efforts were dispirited to say the least. But it is not clear that they emblematised a comprehensively misguided policy, especially insofar as that policy internalised the lessons of overestimating US hard power. If the Bush administration’s Iraq intervention foolishly gave al-Qaeda an opportunity to burnish its credentials and expand its base of followers by killing occupying Americans, the Obama administration’s withholding of a similar opportunity from ISIS in Iraq and Syria might have stunted the group’s growth. (It is difficult to know, counterfactual history being a famously knotty undertaking, though Hal Brands and Peter Feaver made a valiant effort in the June–July 2017 issue of Survival.) Ultimately, of course, the sustained US-led air campaign that eventually came to support US-advised local ground forces, initiated by the Obama administration in August 2014, systematically dismantled ISIS’s self-declared caliphate and compressed its trajectory. Yet Syria’s ongoing suffering at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad, abetted by Russia, Iran and Hizbullah, remains an appalling, epic tragedy, and the Trump administration’s approach has been less coherent and no more efficacious than Obama’s. Wright has an intuitively compelling if untested personal theory that helps account for his pessimism: ‘it is a feature of human nature to want to equalize one’s inner and outer worlds’ (p. 348). If this theory is valid, and applicable to Trump no less than the traumatised inhabitants of Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, the region’s troubles with terrorism and instability are not likely to abate any time soon.
The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers
Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac. London: William Collins Books, 2016. £30.00/$29.99. 606 pp.
Bombs, Bullets, and Politicians: France’s Response to Terrorism
Christophe Chowanietz. Montreal and Kingston: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 2017. £24.99/$29.95. 236 pp.
From John Le Carré’s iconic novels to Ben Macintyre’s insightful and knowing Kim Philby biography A Spy Among Friends, the elite clubbiness of the UK’s intelligence community is well documented at the level of popular culture. With it comes the impression that British political leaders must be very cosy with the intelligence community, inclined to consult spies freely and to premise policy on such consultations. Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac provide valuable and abundant historical context for these and other widely held conceptions (or misconceptions), plumbing prime-ministerial relationships with the intelligence services from Herbert Asquith to David Cameron. They do so in a systematic and encyclopaedic way, but with considerable anecdotal flair. According to them, it was Desmond Morton, a senior MI6 officer, who enabled a marginalised Winston Churchill to foresee Nazi Germany’s march to war before his fellow MPs, positioning him to become first lord of the admiralty and then prime minister. Morton then became Churchill’s personal intelligence adviser, and through him the prime minister forged close links with the codebreakers at Bletchley Park (whose efforts were famously critical to the war effort) and expanded the role of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
Churchill’s wartime tenure set the general tone for close Cold War relationships between Downing Street and the intelligence community, but there were significant variations among prime ministers. Clement Attlee studied intelligence intently, especially concerning the emerging threat of communist subversion. Anthony Eden too was a ‘cautious and conscientious consumer of intelligence’ (p. 203) until his temper got the better of him and he undertook the Suez invasion – a risky operation prepared in secret – to the UK’s detriment. Harold Macmillan was an ‘intelligence sceptic’ (p. 206) who minimised its importance, which may have encouraged several scandals (including the Profumo affair), but he performed well during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Harold Wilson had his ups and downs, but twigged to rising KGB infiltration of the UK and the need for closer operational ties between MI5 and MI6. The Northern Irish Troubles, involving as they did an integral part of the UK and a direct and active threat to the British population, necessitated a close bond between Number 10 and the intelligence services. In that case, the services sometimes became overzealous and were able to captivate prime ministers shaken by terrorist acts, as demonstrated by the ‘five techniques’ of abusive interrogation and the shoot-to-kill policy, which perversely galvanised the Provisional Irish Republican Army and tainted the British government.
It was in the context of the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the United States that fluid ties between the UK’s political leadership and its intelligence community became most problematic. During the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the UK intelligence services applied worst-case analysis in concluding that Iraq probably had weapons of mass destruction, and Tony Blair’s office ‘sexed up’ that assessment with a maximally tendentious reading essentially intended to preserve the special relationship (pp. 421–7). This dubious episode, which has indelibly tarnished Blair’s legacy, leads the authors to their harshest condemnation – that despite legal training that had initially informed the prime minister’s reading of intelligence reports (p. 413), he proved to be ‘an incompetent intelligence consumer and a poor manager of secret service’, credulous to the point of dysfunction (p. 432). Since then, interactions between elected officials and the intelligence community have become more structured and formalised at Downing Street, but Aldrich and Cormac prudently note that this could just as well lead to the intelligence services’ undue influence as their careful regimentation.
Political scientist Christophe Chowanietz’s inquisitive book more broadly explores the interplay between elected officials and political elites, focusing on France while providing comparative context in examining four additional democracies. His primary concern is the difficulty of ‘rallying around the flag’ after traumatising terrorist attacks without unduly distorting the larger processes of government and civil society. Programmatic in nature, his study sensibly points to four areas for further research: the impact of terrorism on non-democratic governments; its effect on intra-party dynamics; patterns of behaviour conditioned by terrorist attacks; and comparisons of the effect of different types of crises on political behaviour.
Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat
Jeffrey D. Simon. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2016. $18.00. 331 pp.
The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism
Mark S. Hamm and Ramón Spaaij. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. £27.95/$35.00. 322 pp.
Nexus of Global Jihad: Understanding Cooperation Among Terrorist Actors
Assaf Moghadam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. £27.95/$35.00. 380 pp.
In 2008, an intellectual feud of sorts erupted between psychiatrist and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman and distinguished counter-terrorism analyst Bruce Hoffman. Sageman, in his book Leaderless Jihad, maintained that jihadist terrorism was primarily a function of groups that, though perhaps inspired by al-Qaeda’s vision, formed and operated primarily on a local basis as informal ‘“bunches of guys,” trusted friends, from the bottom up’. Thus, he suggested that self-starter terrorism was more the rule than the exception. (Although the term ‘lone wolf’ has metaphorical appeal and has become irresistible shorthand, it is often a misnomer since many of the people it is used to describe desire and obtain at least some group reinforcement.) In a piquant review in Foreign Affairs, Hoffman countered that al-Qaeda had reconstituted a safe haven and physical base in the tribal areas of Pakistan; that enhanced operational links had been observed between al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan and several of its regional franchises; and that the re-materialisation of training camps in North Waziristan indicated that al-Qaeda had regained some strategic and operational, if not tactical, command and control over affiliated groups. His bottom line was that even local operators almost always needed and received some outside practical assistance.
The debate did not admit of any clear winner. Certain out-of-area operations, such as the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in 2015, were perpetrated by terrorists trained by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and possibly facilitated by the group. But since the ascent of ISIS in 2013–14, out-of-area jihadist terrorist operations – including the Paris and Brussels bombings, the San Bernardino and Orlando shootings, the Nice attack, several London attacks, the Manchester bombing and the Barcelona attack – have tended to involve local actors who were merely stimulated by ISIS rhetoric and public encouragement. Although ISIS opportunistically claimed credit for these operations once it saw that they had been successful, Sageman was certainly on to something. The current literature reflects as much. In Lone Wolf Terrorism, Jeffrey Simon, a thoughtful and searching counter-terrorism veteran with a fine track record, acknowledges the growth of this phenomenon by virtue of internet recruitment and points out that it pertains to all kinds of potential terrorists – not just jihadists. Some of the preventive and responsive measures he prescribes – including heightened use of closed-circuit television and biometrics, internet monitoring, and counter-messaging; building databases of forensically significant information; compiling psychological profiles; and luring suspects to expose themselves (pp. 183–227) – are sensible, if unsurprising.
Perhaps Simon’s most penetrating observation is that not all lone-wolf terrorists are crazy or even irrational, and it is a mistake to caricature them as such (pp. 255–8). In their probing book, The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism, Mark Hamm and Ramón Spaaij drill down on this core idea. Their analysis encompasses some 200 terrorist incidents before and after 9/11, extends well beyond jihadists and seeks to discover what key factors cause the transformation of a merely disaffected or outcast individual into a lethally aggrieved terrorist. Their standing conviction is that ‘violent radicalization is a social process that can be observed, comprehended, and modeled in a clearly comprehensible diagram’ (p. 9; emphasis in original). The authors distil common characteristics among lone-wolf terrorists, including personal and political grievances, an affinity with extremists, the presence of enablers, the broadcasting of intent and triggering events (p. 151). Because the United States has experienced the plurality (40%) of lone-wolf terrorist attacks (p. 261), the authors train their prescriptive eyes on the FBI, recommending that while analytic models such as the authors’ should of course be used to identify terrorist suspects, constructive interventions rather than sting operations should then be employed to avoid inadvertent triggering events and political blowback that also spurs terrorist impulses.
In Nexus of Jihad, Israel-based counter-terrorism analyst Assaf Moghadam disavows neither Sageman’s nor Hoffman’s viewpoint, but rather seeks to reconcile the two by concentrating on the cooperative associations – formal and informal, face-to-face and virtual – that an ostensibly self-motivated terrorist might form, stressing ‘the importance of network analysis as a fruitful methodology for studying terrorism’ (p. 55). For the purposes of analysing and countering terrorism, he concludes, there should be ‘no hard separations between types of cooperation. Instead, they should be seen as occupying a spectrum ranging from mergers, at the highest end, to transactional cooperation, at the lowest’ (p. 265). Tellingly, the term ‘lone wolf’ does not appear in his book. While the prose is a bit heavy on enervating jargon, Moghadam’s primary aim – to move counter-terrorism ‘away from static models of bilateral cooperation between formal terrorist actors’ (p. 277) – tracks with contemporary terrorism as it appears to be evolving.
Hanns W. Maull
The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey
Soner Cagaptay. London: I.B. Tauris, 2017. £17.99/$25.00. 240 pp.
An Uncertain Ally: Turkey under Erdogan’s Dictatorship
David L. Phillips. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. £19.99. 206 pp.
The New Turkey and its Discontents
Simon A. Waldman and Emre Caliskan. London: C. Hurst & Co., 2016. £14.99. 342 pp.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once quipped, ‘Democracy is like a streetcar. You get off when you have reached your destination.’ As this crop of recent books about the ‘New Turkey’ makes clear, he has since taken his party (the AKP) and his country off the streetcar. In the process, he has polarised and deeply wounded anew an already traumatised society. According to Soner Cagaptay in The New Sultan, this has left Turkey ‘in trouble, very deep trouble’ (p. 1), while also calling its reliability as an ally into question.
Erdogan’s record is remarkable, but also deeply contradictory. Together with a determined group of like-minded leaders professing political Islam, he led the AKP to power against the fierce resistance of the old Kemalist establishment in the November 2002 elections. Even then, he had to wait for a suspension of his ban from holding political office and a parliamentary by-election to assume the position of prime minister in March 2003. The party’s (and Erdogan’s) victory can be attributed not just to the abject failure and corruption of the political establishment and its parties, but also to the promise of cautious moderation that the AKP espoused. Unlike previous incarnations of political Islam in Turkey, which had been outlawed by the Kemalist courts and crushed by the Turkish state, the AKP seemingly embraced the Western values of democracy, secularism and human rights, supporting Turkish membership in NATO and the European Union. This allowed the party to attract votes from beyond the core supporters of political Islam in Turkey. Even so, the AKP only won over one-third of the electorate. This was enough, however, to achieve a two-thirds majority in the Turkish parliament due to an ironic twist: the establishment parties had imposed a 10% threshold to prevent the Kurdish minority from securing parliamentary representation, but then failed to reach that threshold themselves, crushed by the fierce disapproval of their record among the electorate.
During the 15 years he has been in office, Erdogan and the AKP have transformed Turkey. In 2002, Turkey’s standard of living approximated that of Syria; today, it resembles that of Spain. As Cagaptay points out, Turkey used to be a country of mostly poor people; now, it is a society of mostly middle-income people (p. 5). During the first half of its reign, the AKP achieved stellar successes in its economic and social policies, taking great strides in overcoming Turkey’s long and bloody struggle with its Kurdish minority and reorienting its foreign policy towards ‘zero problems with neighbours’, to use a phrase coined by Erdogan’s first foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Perhaps most importantly, Erdogan also broke the military’s hold on Turkish politics.
From 2009, however, Erdogan began to change tack. He crushed all opposition, sidelined his old companions and increasingly concentrated power in his own hands. The authors of the three books under review differ on whether Erdogan’s Turkey may still be considered a democracy (Simon Waldman and Emre Caliskan say it can, despite some serious defects; Cagaptay says perhaps; while David Phillips says definitely not), but they largely agree in their assessment of the political changes that have taken place since 2013 at the latest. The only democratic element that persists in Turkey is electoral support for Erdogan. If the country can still be called a democracy, it is only because the government – so far – has a majority of the electorate behind it.
There can be no doubt that Erdogan is one of the most important political leaders of modern Turkey. His personal charisma is striking; he is highly popular with about half of the Turkish electorate, although he bitterly antagonises much of the remaining half. His strong leadership has allowed him to sideline all those within the party who were willing and able to stand up to him, including other founding members of the AKP such as Abdullah Gül and Bülent Arınç. Erdogan’s rule has become authoritarian, with some totalitarian elements: just like Kemal Ataturk before him, he wants to remake Turkish society through social engineering, though in a different direction. For example, he has sought to push Turkish women back into their traditional roles, even telling them how many children to bear. Religious Imam Hatip schools have begun to undermine the universal, secular school system built by Ataturk; as Cagaptay reports, the number of students in religious schools increased from 60,000 in 2002 to 1.5 million in 2016 (p. 190). The aim is to re-educate the Turkish people in conformity with Erdogan’s synthesis of religion and nationalism, thus equipping them to ‘make Turkey great again’. Where the regime encounters resistance, it responds with intimidation, blackmail and terror.
The stark contrast between Erdogan’s impressive performance as a moderate yet effective political leader during his first seven years in office, and his turn towards authoritarian–totalitarian rule, with much more problematic results, since about 2009, gives rise to two questions: what explains Erdogan’s (and the AKP’s) authoritarian turn? And can Erdogan continue to be successful? While the three books considered here share a deep concern over the future stability of Turkey, they offer different answers to the first question. For Cagaptay, Erdogan ‘was never fully committed to liberal democracy’ (p. 178) – which leaves open the possibility that he might once have been at least partly committed, and perhaps could change tack again, away from his present, disastrous course. ‘The choice is Erdogan’s to make’, concludes Cagaptay (p. 206).
Yet Erdogan’s ‘streetcar model’ of democracy suggests another explanation, one that sees Erdogan as a determined yet patient adherent of political Islam bent on destroying the Kemalist Turkish state. Phillips takes this view in An Uncertain Ally. To him, Erdogan is a dictator who sees himself as the new Ataturk, with a mission to remodel the Turkish state and Turkish society in the image of its glorious Ottoman past. As Phillips describes it, Erdogan’s authoritarian personality, his ‘inner Stalin’ (p. 177), comes to the fore whenever he is under pressure. This was the case most recently – and most dramatically – during the botched coup attempt on 15 July 2016 (which all three books cover in detail). Thus, Phillips believes that Erdogan’s turn towards authoritarian rule reflects above all else his political personality and hubris. Waldman and Caliskan tend to explain Turkey’s authoritarian turn with reference to the many defects of Turkish democracy, such as a political culture of corruption, a lack of transparency and accountability in government, the absence of checks and balances, and the persistent meddling of the Turkish military in politics. They also cite a study on Erdogan’s leadership style, in which he is compared to other world leaders. His score was average in terms of power as a personal motive, but unusually high in terms of his belief in his own ability to control events and his general dislike of others. His score was comparatively low in terms of his understanding of complex concepts.
Can Erdogan’s authoritarian policies succeed? Will he become the Ataturk of a new, Middle Eastern and Islamist Turkey? All three books share a sense of foreboding, portraying Turkey, in Cagaptay’s words, as ‘politically brittle, in a state of permanent crisis’ (p. 203). They identify the profound, and still growing, polarisation between Erdogan’s supporters and those he has alienated as a major risk for Turkey’s future domestic stability. They all emphasise the importance of reconciliation between Turks and Kurds, yet note that Erdogan’s policies threaten to further stoke civil war. They criticise the president’s erratic and transactional foreign policies that risk miring Turkey ever more deeply in the Middle Eastern quagmire. And they all sound warnings about the future, though again with somewhat different emphases. To Cagaptay, Erdogan’s Achilles heel is the economy, notably its vulnerability to external shocks. To Phillips, Erdogan seems unable to listen to reason or to heed good advice (which, he suggests somewhat optimistically, could be supplied by a US government willing to end its exceptional treatment of Turkey as a Cold War ally and engage the country in a high-level bilateral dialogue). ‘It is unlikely that Erdogan will accept constructive advice’, concludes Phillips. ‘He does not admit fault or take counsel’ (p. 182). To Waldman and Caliskan, it is the deficiencies in Turkey’s democracy, such as the lack of transparency and accountability, and the absence of any checks and balances on Erdogan’s power, which require urgent redress. None of the authors, however, finds reason to be optimistic about the country’s future.
All three books cover much the same ground, though in different ways. They deal with the rise of the AKP to power against the background of Turkey’s troubled modern history, and assess the successes and failures of Erdogan’s policies at home, towards the Kurds, and towards Turkey’s neighbours in the Middle East and the West. All offer a good mixture of factual detail, analysis and evaluation. The strength of Cagaptay’s book lies in its narrative and judgement; the author also provides the most extensive discussion of Erdogan’s political biography. Phillips’s account is particularly succinct and hard-hitting. It offers the greatest detail on Turkey’s corruption, human-rights violations and involvement with Islamist terror groups in Syria, though it sometimes loses sight of the author’s main concern, which is the situation in Turkey itself, not the war in Syria. Waldman and Caliskan appear to be more deeply grounded in the social-science literature on Turkey, and are particularly strong on the AKP government’s policies towards the media, urban planning and development, which ignited the Gezi Park demonstrations in summer 2013. All three books contribute to a better understanding of what is happening in Turkey under President Erdogan.
Ivan Krastev. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. £15.99/$19.95. 120 pp.
Will the European Union go the way of the Hapsburg Empire? This is the nightmare scenario that Ivan Krastev shares with his readers in this brilliant essay. Krastev, whose Bulgarian background gives him first-hand knowledge of what the dissolution of empires entails, is an astute and thoughtful observer; few European intellectuals are as stimulating and rewarding to read as he is. In this small book, he suggests that while it has become difficult to identify what is holding the European Union together, it is clear what is driving it apart: immigration. For him, this is the ‘primus inter pares crisis’ of the many that afflict the EU; indeed, ‘the refugee crisis turned out to be Europe’s 9/11’ (p. 19). The influx of peoples from the Arab World, Africa and beyond, he argues, creates or exacerbates tensions within Europe between the West and the East, between its rural and urban regions, between winners and losers from globalisation, and – perhaps most dangerously – between democrats and populists. As Krastev sees it, the refugee crisis confronts European democracy with a central contradiction: while human rights are universal, democratic governance is tied to nation-states. Europeans therefore confront a ‘clash of solidarities’ that, Krastev argues, is exacerbated by ‘demographic panic’ (driven by low birth rates) and fears about employment in a future in which workers will be replaced by robots and middle-class jobs destroyed by artificial intelligence.
This central contradiction between democracy and migration, according to Krastev, produces three paradoxes, which he calls the Eastern European, the Western European and the Brussels paradoxes. The Eastern European paradox suggests that the EU has made Eastern Europeans freer, but also left them feeling powerless vis-à-vis privileged minorities. They are citizens of the EU, yet many of them resent its diversity and pluralism, and detest its inclination towards compromise and horse-trading. This paradox is driving populism not only in Eastern Europe but across the continent (and beyond), which only makes the paradox more powerful. Krastev summarises the Western European paradox by saying that ‘the protesting citizen wants change but resents any form of political representation’ (p. 85). This paradox reflects the serious political deficiencies of spontaneous protest movements and civil-society networks: while they can powerfully derail politics, they cannot easily make authoritative decisions, let alone implement sound policies. Finally, the Brussels paradox describes the tension between a meritocratic elite and those who distrust their loyalty to the peoples for whom they work. The recruitment of leaders on the basis of their qualifications tends to produce stars with weak links to political communities that demand loyalty. The widespread distrust of elites, which characterises the present crisis of Western democracies, reflects that tension.
Krastev’s nightmare is troubling, but is it persuasive? Intellectually, certainly, but politically? There are three potential flaws in Krastev’s argument. Firstly, he presents his findings in mutually exclusive terms: one is either a member of the meritocratic elite and therefore footloose, or a member of a political community to which one feels loyalty. Yet French President Emmanuel Macron, to name but one example, suggests that it is possible to be both. Krastev argues that people can either show solidarity with migrants, or with their own community; yet solidarity can encompass varying degrees of responsibility and obligation towards different groups, without requiring the complete abandonment of one’s own community. The second flaw is a related one: real life is often a lot messier than intellectual analysis allows. Do the Baltic states belong to Eastern Europe under Krastev’s analysis? If not, what about Poland? Indeed, Krastev’s ‘Eastern Europe’ exists across the continent – as does Western Europe. In this complex and contradictory world, paradoxes may be much more sustainable than analysts assume. Finally, Krastev sometimes comes dangerously close to predicting the future. He describes his nightmare all too vividly and persuasively. This could be a good thing, however, if it convinces Europeans, including their leaders, to take Krastev’s warnings seriously. If they do, the European Union might yet get back on its feet and remain a ‘Perhapsburg’ (p. 107) that is ultimately able to avoid the fate of the Hapsburg Empire.
Berlin Rules: Europe and the German Way
Paul Lever. London: I.B. Tauris, 2017. £17.99. 276 pp.
What a difference a few elections can make! The emergence of Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and an Angela Merkel somewhat shaken by the second-worst election result in her party’s history means that the configuration of Western leadership at the beginning of 2018 looks rather different from when this book about German power in Europe was conceived, written and produced in 2016–17. Drawing on his rich experience as a top British diplomat both within the European Union and in Berlin (where he served as UK ambassador from 1997 to 2003), Paul Lever paints a richly detailed, astutely observed and highly readable picture of Germany today. He describes and explains the country in terms of its economy, its politics and political culture, its most important bilateral relationships (with France, Poland, the UK, the US and Russia), and its relationship with Europe. In the second part, Lever connects this analysis with his intimate knowledge of the European Union to hazard conjectures about what Europe might look like 20 years down the road.
Will the EU of 2037 have a larger membership than today (minus the UK, of course)? Probably not, he concludes, except perhaps for a few smaller countries. Will it have a truly common foreign policy? This outcome is not wholly inconceivable, but unlikely, he thinks. Overall, Lever’s Europe in 2037 does not look all that different from the EU of today, because this is how Germany wants it to be. The future of the European Union will be made in Berlin, he believes, because ‘this is, for Germany, a golden age of power’ (p. 2). Really? Lever may seriously underestimate the constraints on power in general, and on German power in particular, as well as the difficulties involved in turning power into influence, let alone ‘control over outcomes’ (to quote one authoritative political-science definition of power). Power is not what it used to be, even for the Germans vis-à-vis Europe. Granted, the rise of Germany to dominance in the European Union since 1990 has resulted in a European power configuration in which nothing of significance can happen without a green light from Germany. It is also true that the management of the eurozone crisis has largely followed a German-made blueprint – one, it should be noted, that is consistent with the historical pattern of creditor countries’ policies towards debtor countries. Yet in the final analysis, even the eurozone crisis demonstrates the constraints on German power. Incurring considerable financial obligations, Berlin decided to bail out Greece and to save the euro because it desperately needs Europe to secure its own status as a successful Western democracy. Looking at Germany’s new power in Europe from within, one becomes aware of its fragility and the enormous responsibility that comes with it, and awed by the difficulties of convincing 26 other more or less recalcitrant member countries to agree on anything, let alone Berlin’s agenda.
This reviewer is much more sceptical than Lever that Germany will be able to get Europe to do its bidding. I agree with him, however, that Berlin does not really know, but urgently needs to think about, what it wants Europe to be. There is indeed a presumption among Germans that the importance of Europe is self-evident, a presumption that, as Lever astutely observes, has by and large prevented them from thinking seriously and realistically about Germany in Europe. (The author also mentions the few exceptions to this rule, such as the Schäuble–Lamers paper about the need for a ‘core Europe’ and Joschka Fischer’s speech at Humboldt University in 2000, given not as the foreign minister he then was, but in his private capacity.) With the new leadership in Paris urging Berlin to pursue fresh initiatives, this will have to change: 2018 should be an interesting year for the future of Europe.
David C. Unger
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Arlie Russell Hochschild. New York: The New Press, 2016. $27.95. 351 pp.
This excellent book offers little cheer to those disappointed Democrats who might hopefully imagine that arguments of material self-interest will win Tea Party voters to liberal causes such as environmental regulation, increased public spending on education and infrastructure, and universal health insurance. As Arlie Russell Hochschild discovered in extensive, repeated interviews with Tea Party voters in southern Louisiana who have personally suffered from the environmental recklessness of under-regulated oil and chemical companies, most such voters are already well aware of the direct costs to them of the anti-regulation ideology that pervades Louisiana politics. Yet they vote for it anyway, for reasons more cultural than materialistic.
Hochschild introduces us to Harold and Annette Areno, an older couple whose idyllic life on Bayou d’Inde was destroyed by a deliberate, illegal dump of toxic waste by an employee of the chemical company then known as PPG, just upstream from their home. The fish they used to catch and eat are now, if not killed off, unsafe to consume; their land has been rendered unsuitable for crops; the tall cypress trees that once lined the bayou are dead and toppled; and many, if not most, of the Arenos’ family members are afflicted with chemical-related cancers. They complain to Hochschild about greedy corporations stepping on the little guy, and tell her that the Republicans they vote for (such as Bobby Jindal, whom they twice helped to elect as governor) ‘stand for big business’ and ‘won’t help us’. But they plan to keep voting for these and similar Republicans, because such candidates stand with God and family and ‘we like that’ (p. 47).
Hochschild gets to know other Louisiana residents, including a local environmental activist who lost his family home to pollution, the PPG employee who acknowledges dumping the toxic chemicals into Bayou d’Inde, the wife of a Pentecostal minister, a suburban mayor and a relative of the Arenos who works as an accountant for a land-management firm. All, or almost all, share a set of beliefs encompassing a distaste for government regulation or assistance; the conviction that, to enjoy the benefits of a free capitalist system, trade-offs are unavoidable, including, perhaps, environmental despoliation; and resentment of people who they feel were helped to push ahead of them in line by liberal government. Their issue is not with the collection by others of government benefits such as food stamps, or their employment in secure government jobs with early paid retirement. Hochschild’s interviewees do not want these or other government benefits, considering them shameful. Nor, with very few exceptions, do they want stricter environmental regulation and enforcement. (This is all the more striking given that most of those interviewed cherish a traditional lifestyle that is on the brink of destruction from various forms of pollution attributable to deregulated or under-regulated companies.) Instead, Hochschild’s subjects feel cheated out of what they consider their rightful shot at the American capitalist dream.
Hochschild sets out, explicitly, to climb what she calls the ‘empathy walls’ that divide the worldviews of people like her, a liberal Berkeley sociologist, from those of Tea Party Louisianans. The main point of divergence seems to be very different ideas about the proper role of government in American society. Most of Hochschild’s interviewees long ago gave up on the idea that governments have the will or capacity to do good. Instead, they see government, especially the federal government, as a remote, corrupt, self-serving and condescending bureaucracy staffed by people who they feel do not work as hard as they do and yet enjoy benefits, such as job security and well-funded pensions, that many Louisianans expect never to receive themselves. Any meaningful help, they believe, is likely to come from civil society, especially the churches, if it is forthcoming at all.
Liberal readers are not likely to agree with these views and may, as I did, find some of them mean-spirited in practice. But there is value in scaling Hochschild’s empathy walls to better understand how people like the Arenos see the world, and why many of the arguments made by liberal politicians gain no traction among them, even when the track record of Tea Party conservatives such as former governor Jindal fall far short of their promised results.
The Marshall Plan and the Shaping of American Strategy
Bruce Jones, ed. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2017. $19.99. 132 pp.
This short but useful book commemorates the Marshall Plan and the Brookings Institution’s vital role in securing congressional approval for it. After then-secretary of state George Marshall presented his broad rationale for the plan in a June 1947 Harvard commencement address, president Harry Truman named Harold Moulton, Brookings’ president, to an executive-branch committee charged with shaping its operational details. The next, more significant, challenge was winning authorisation from the Republican-dominated, isolationist-leaning 80th Congress. Moulton was enlisted again, this time by Arthur Vandenberg, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a newly minted internationalist. At Vandenberg’s request, Moulton appointed a team of Brookings scholars to weigh various options for structuring and coordinating the administration of the new aid programme. In barely three weeks, the Brookings team’s report was on Vandenberg’s desk, and three months later, in a cross-party effort that would today be hard to imagine, Congress approved the enabling legislation.
The book begins with a short essay by Brookings’ current president, Strobe Talbott, on the history of the Marshall Plan in the context of the early Cold War, followed by the text of Marshall’s 1947 Harvard commencement speech, the 1948 Brookings report to Congress and Marshall’s 1953 Nobel Peace Prize lecture. Perhaps most interesting for the contemporary reader is the meaty closing essay by Bruce Jones, current director of Brookings’ foreign-policy programme, and Will Moreland, a research assistant, which attempts to apply Marshall’s insights of the late 1940s to foreign-policy challenges facing America today. Jones and Moreland conclude from the Marshall Plan that American foreign policy is most effective when it ties the use of American power to the defence of democracy, accepts the importance of economic as well as military support, and builds and nurtures lasting alliances and institutions, rather than mere ad hoc ‘coalitions of the willing’. Subsequent decades have shown the value of these three considerations, and the costs of ignoring them.
The writers clearly feel that Marshall and his colleagues within the Truman administration made the right decision in shifting from Franklin Roosevelt’s one-world, UN-based collective-security model superintended by four great-power policemen to Truman’s bipolar Cold War model based on NATO, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. But they do readers a great service by reconstructing the alternative (and, for a while, coexisting) model embodied by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA). Marshall’s own military and diplomatic career closely tracked Washington’s transition between these two models.
Turning to twenty-first-century challenges, the authors see a parallel between the Marshall Plan and today’s flagship liberal-internationalist projects, the sweeping transatlantic and transpacific trade and investment pacts now orphaned by the Trump administration. But this comparison is of limited validity because of the very different goals of the earlier and later ventures. Marshall, by offering economic support and cooperation, aimed at reviving industry, trade and living standards in Europe, and thereby the US, to boost the political (and military) resilience of anti-communist democracies. Today’s trade pacts, by contrast, aim to manage globalisation in the interests of American multinational investors, sometimes at the expense of Western jobs and living standards. American policy goals have changed over the past 70 years because the economic and political context has changed. Many of the most relevant changes were direct, if delayed, results of the policy choices made in the late 1940s by Truman, Marshall, secretary of state Dean Acheson and their Washington colleagues.
42: Inside the Presidency of Bill Clinton
Michael Nelson, Barbara A. Perry and Russell L. Riley, eds. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016. £17.50/$24.95. 324 pp.
When this book was published last year, it seemed like the right time for a balanced reassessment of Bill Clinton’s eight-year presidency. After almost 16 years, it should have been possible to rise above the immediate partisan passions of that era – passions that contributed to two government shutdowns and the first impeachment of an elected president in US history – to engage in impartial discussion of the major policy initiatives of that era, from welfare reform and bank deregulation to NATO enlargement and two wars of choice in the Balkans. Scholars could now piece together the internal debates that helped shape these decisions and offer informed judgements on their outcomes.
Alas, it did not work out that way. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and defeat in the Electoral College clearly demonstrated that the political passions of the 1990s, particularly those concerning the Clintons, are still a major factor in American politics. This raises the question of why Bill Clinton’s ‘third way’ style of politics worked so well in the 1990s, but seemed so out of tune when Hillary Clinton tried to revive it in 2016. To what extent can this be attributed to the differing political skills of Bill and Hillary, or to gender prejudice, or to the very different economic and political circumstances of the 1990s and 2010s?
As for the book itself, several (but not all) of its essays on domestic politics suffer from what I call third-way groupthink. In particular, the contributions by Bruce F. Nesmith, Paul J. Quirk and Brendan J. Doherty limit themselves too much, I think, to evaluating the Clinton administration’s political ‘successes’ on their own terms, without attempting a deeper look at alternatives or long-term consequences. To some extent, this goes with the territory of history based on insider oral testimony. But the contributing scholars arguably had a responsibility to press the more probing questions that participants were inclined to evade.
Some chapters do just that: Spencer D. Bakich’s analysis of the administration’s wars and diplomacy in the Balkans, for example, gives due credit to the White House’s immediate successes while also considering the longer-term costs for the crucial US–Russia post-Cold War relationship. Andrew Rudalevige presents a fascinating narrative of the Lewinsky affair and Clinton’s impeachment, showing how these events affected administration insiders as well as policymaking and implementation. Sidney M. Milkis delivers a masterful concluding essay pulling together the most valuable points made by other contributors.
More than ever, we need a probing, balanced analysis of America’s first truly post-Cold War presidency, and the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt 47 years earlier.
Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics
Nicole Hemmer. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. £28.99/$34.95. 320 pp.
Nicole Hemmer has written a readable and timely book about the politically committed, but electorally marginal, right-wing writers, publishers and broadcasters whose activities in the 1950s and 1960s helped prepare the ground for their much more influential present-day successors. The political backgrounds, intellectual pedigrees, attitudes towards elite education and electoral aims of these pioneer ‘messengers of the right’ differed in important ways from today’s much more widely known and financially successful conservative media activists, as did the kind of conservative movement they embraced.
Clarence Manion started out a New Dealer, moved to the America First anti-intervention movement, became dean of Notre Dame Law School and did a short stint with the Eisenhower administration before embracing outsider conservatism with his Manion Forum radio broadcasts. Henry Regnery also worked for the New Deal before joining America First and then, in 1944, founding the right-wing newspaper Human Events along with other former America Firsters and journalists poached from mainstream publications such as the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor. William Rusher was a Wendell Willkie Republican, ardent Second World War interventionist and supporter of Dwight Eisenhower until he broke with the president to become a militant defender of Senator Joe McCarthy. William F. Buckley, the youngest of this group, came from an America First family, made an early splash with his best-selling God and Man at Yale and then, a few years later, founded and edited National Review, which Rusher soon joined as publisher. All these men shared and expounded the view that the mainstream media of their day reflected a pervasive liberal bias that, under the guise of objectivity, shut out conservative voices. Their self-proclaimed mission was not to correct this bias, but to balance it with right-wing commentary.
Hemmer, who teaches Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, writes engagingly on neglected but important topics such as how the militant anti-interventionism of America First morphed into the militant interventionism of the 1950s and 1960s in the lead-up to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for the presidency. She closes with concerns – which we now know were misplaced – about whether the sensationalist, sometimes fantasist, biases of the right-wing media were pushing Republican candidates into unelectability. (Hemmer wrote the book before Donald Trump was elected US president.) Yet recent American history suggests that having a right-winger like Trump in power will likely present right-wing media activists with a new set of problems, just as Ronald Reagan’s presidency ultimately did three decades ago.
When America Liked Ike: How Moderates Won the 1952 Presidential Election and Reshaped American Politics
Gary A. Donaldson. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. £24.95/$38.00. 137 pp.
In this slim volume, Gary Donaldson sets out to argue, as he states in the book’s subtitle and introduction, that the 1952 presidential contest between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson so ‘reshaped American politics’ that it should be considered the beginning of the modern political era. Yet this is an overstatement, and Donaldson, the author of several other books on recent presidential campaigns, knows it. Elsewhere in When America Liked Ike he notes that 1952 was not a realignment election, and that its results turned largely on Eisenhower’s personal popularity, Stevenson’s poor campaign skills and the plummeting popularity of Harry Truman, whose chosen successor Stevenson was rightly believed to be.
Donaldson, who teaches American History at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, is hardly the first author to try to sell a book with hyperbole, and the volume still contains much interesting detail about the 1952 contest and its larger political context. It was, unarguably, the election that put an end to the 20-year New Deal–Fair Deal era, and one which saw the emergence of a new white-collar suburban voting bloc and the first major Republican inroads into the previously Democratic ‘solid south’. And it can fairly be said that some of the trends that first became evident around this time went on to become major themes of American politics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
This is definitely popular history, an easy-to-read summation of the existing literature that makes little effort to break new theoretical ground. It dwells at length on Dixiecrat disillusionment with the Democratic Party over civil rights, but passes too quickly over the terrors of the Jim Crow and Black Codes laws that underlay these political loyalties. Nor does the author say much about why voters were so uncomfortable with the endless time horizons of containment and so impatient for an early end to the Korean War. Yet Donaldson’s book offers a useful starting point for anyone wishing to look back at some of today’s political trends in their earlier and generally more innocent forms.