Sunday, February 16, 2014

CW Book Reviews

Henry Kissinger is one of the most compelling thinkers of our time, and this book, written as he neared ninety years of age, is proof positive of why.  "On China" is a fascinating look inside the Middle Kingdom, from its ancient history to its current (re)rise to world power status.  Anyone who spends time thinking about great power politics should read this book and should think deeply about Kissinger's views on how to contend with China. 

Relying on transcripts/verbatim notes from many of the meetings in which he was directly involved, Kissinger's retelling of Nixon's opening to China is riveting.  China's need to use us to balance the Soviet Union, our need to use China to balance the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union's seeming befuddlement at what it all meant show both Mao and Nixon at their best. 

Where I tend to deviate from Mr. Kissinger is in his tendency to urge readers to treat China "differently" than Western powers; that its history, its Confucianism, its Maoism, its strategic culture, etc. create a situation in which it ought to be understood quite differently than other rising powers.  I think there is something here, and it is worth considering.  But in the meantime, I'd rather play it safe and look at a "worse" case scenario, one in which China's rise is something to be warily watched and shaped.  But, then again, I'm no Henry Kissinger.

Next, in an effort to get a little better acquainted with the contenders for the 2016 Republican nomination, I read Marco Rubio's memoir "An American Son".  Rubio, as some of you may remember, captivated America with his 2012 Republican National Convention speech introducing Mitt Romney.  It was an electric performance, one that put him firmly on the map for 2016.  This is not a great book, or even a good one, but it is worth reading for anyone looking to get a better sense of who Rubio is.  It comes across as authentic, with some effort made to address what he believes are both his strengths and weaknesses.  The book reinforces my view that state politics is a morass, and Florida was no different.  Rubio's rise was through the Florida House of Representatives, where he eventually became Speaker.  I was a little uncomfortable with this portion of the book, as it was during this time that many of the charges Charlie Crist made against him in the 2010 Senate Race were occurring.  Primarily a question of using a Republican Party credit card to charge personal expenses (which Rubio says were all paid off from personal accounts), Rubio chalks up the errors to basic human mistake making.  Whether or not this is true, I hope that his recordkeeping and management improves as he continues his rise.

Rubio is at his best in the telling of the story of the 2010 Senate Race.  Charlie Crist was thought unbeatable in that race, and Rubio pulled off a huge upset.  First he drove Crist out of the Republican nomination, then when Crist ran a third party candidacy, he beat him (and Kendrick Meek) in the three way race.  I remember being captivated by this young force of nature, especially as Charlie Crist exposed himself as the charlatan he is.  Rubio's secret weapon in this campaign was his wife Jeanette, who time and again put a little starch in his shorts when he doubted his prospects or when she thought that his ambition was getting in the way of doing what was right.  We should all have such helpmates.

The bottom line is that very few people in a modern age of nearly 80 year life-spans should be writing autobiographies in their forties.  I don't care of you are Barack Obama or Marco Rubio, there is a certain pretense in it.  But such is our time, and such is the lot of national politics, that one must write a book to "introduce" oneself to the electorate.  In this regard, Rubio has done a good job and generally comes off in a positive light.

No comments:

Newer Post Older Post Home