FDL Book Salon Welcomes Malcolm Nance, An End to Al-Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden’s Jihad and Restoring America’s Honor

[Welcome Malcolm Nance, and Host Matt Duss]

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread.  – bev]

An End to Al-Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden’s Jihad and Restoring America’s Honor

Few Americans can claim the knowledge of radical terrorist ideologies that Malcolm Nance can. With almost three decades of experience in the intelligence field across the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Balkans, Nance was also an eye-witness of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon, rushing onto the crash site to help with the rescue and recovery effort.

In 2007, Nance published The Terrorists of Iraq, a detailed description of the various factions and movements then fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. Now Nance, who currently works as a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies, has published a new book with the purposeful title An End to Al Qaeda, which describes the nature and extent of the Al Qaeda threat, and suggests that the key to ending Al Qaeda is to vigorously challenge them in the realm of ideology. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Michael Signer, Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies

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Demagogue: The Fight To Save Democracy From Its Worst Enemies.

The problem of demagogues – political figures who fashion themselves as leaders of the masses and who will go to almost any extreme to hold and expand their power — is one that has stalked democracy from its very beginnings. It is one generated by the tension at the very heart of democracy – if political power is invested in, and derived from the will of the people, how to protect against leaders who stir up the people’s passions for their own destructive ends? In this book, an impressive work of philosophy and political science that is both rigorous and accessible, writer, analyst, and current candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia Michael Signer explores the problem of the demagogue from the ancient Greeks down to the present day.  

Signer defines the demagogue – from the Greek “leader” (agogos) of “the people” (demos) –according to four rules: “(1) They fashion themselves as a man or a woman of the common people, as opposed to the elites; (2) their politics depends on a powerful, visceral connection with the people that dramatically transcends ordinary political popularity; (3) They manipulate this connection, and the raging popularity it affords, for their own benefit and ambition; (4) they threaten or outright break established rules of conduct, and even the law.” Huey Long, Muqtada al-Sadr, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, and of course Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler are among the figures analyzed by the author, who suggests that “these political leaders are players in a drama much larger than themselves: The struggle of democracy to survive.” 

Signer begins by looking at the different ways in which Plato and Aristotle perceived and proposed to deal with the problem of demagogues. Plato proposed to create and strictly maintain an elite class of “Guardians,” who would be conditioned from birth to rule over the people. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed in the ability of the people to learn to resist the demagogue. In Signers interpretation, “the demagogue is the product of the people, and only the people can stop him.”  (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Stan Greenberg, author of Dispatches from the War Room: In the Trenches with Five Extraordinary Leaders

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[Welcome Stanley Greenberg, and Host Matt Duss of Center for American Progress, The Wonk Room – bev]

"I confess," writes Stan Greenberg in the introduction to Dispatches from the War Room, "I’m a member of ‘the pollster industrial complex.’" Greenberg’s fascinating new book recounts his experiences working as a consultant to five leaders – Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Britain’s Tony Blair, Israel’s Ehud Barak, and Bolivia’s Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada – all of whom knew or discovered that engaging with popular opinion was necessary to govern effectively in a democracy.

Greenberg is at pains to dispel the image of the pollster as "the Rasputin-like consultant" who "assumes a hidden control over the political leader," tempting her to abandon her principles for the sake of electoral victory. Greenberg quotes the noted political scientist and writer V.O. Key on the idea that "the preferences of the [governed] should be accorded weight by the governors constitutes the moral basis of popular government, an ethical imperative." Watching and learning from polls enables leaders to better engage the public in a broader political conversation, to more fully understand the concerns of the governed, and to develop narratives that speak to those concerns. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Peter W. Galbraith: Unintended Consequences

unintended-consequences-peter-w-galbraith1.thumbnail.jpgIn his 2006 book, The End of Iraq, Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith drew upon his years of experience in the Middle East to analyze the multiple failures in judgment and decision-making that resulted in the fracturing of Iraq between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. Galbraith has now written another important and timely book about Iraq, entitled Unintended Consequences: How the War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies.

In the book’s introduction, Galbraith lists some of those consequences:

– A war intended to fight terror has helped the terrorists.
– A war intended to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq now has U.S. troops fighting for pro-Iranian Shiite theocrats alongside unreformed Baathists.
– A war intended to undermine Iran’s ayatollahs has resulted in a historic victory for Iran. Iranian-backed political parties control Iraq’s government and armed forces, giving Iran a role in Iraq that it has not had in four centuries.
– A war intended to promote democracy in the Middle East has set it back.
– A war intended to showcase American power has highlighted the deficiencies of U.S. intelligence, the incompetence of American administration, and the limitations on the American military.
– A war intended to boost American global leadership has driven U.S. prestige to an all-time low.
– A war intended to make America more secure has left the country weaker.

Galbraith’s argument is simple and devastating: The Iraq war is lost, and George W. Bush lost it. Certainly, Bush had help — the inexperienced and incurious President was surrounded by a gallery of ideologues and ultra-nationalists whose only successes have been the discrediting of their ideology and the weakening of their nation — but history will record the Iraq war as President Bush’s failure. At times, this failure was the result of bad decisions, such as the decision — made mere months after the September 11 attacks — to invade Iraq.

(more…)