War!

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Warfare has been a fact of life from the time that man first created weapons and used them against other men who presented threats to them.

I have been reading about warfare from the time I began my Navy career decades ago, and am always on the hunt for books that help me understand this phenomenon.

That’s why I found the New York Times article: “War Stories” by Thomas Ricks so valuable. He summarizes eleven new books that cover a wide array of scholarship on this subject.

Want more? You can read the entire article here.

The Islamic State Threat

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Earlier this spring, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” The Islamic State (ISIL) is the “condition.”

There are longstanding challenges that the Islamic State pose to the West, among them:

  • Dedicated to establishing a caliphate across the Middle East and North Africa
  • Unlike other terrorist groups, takes and holds territory
  • Intent on conducting attacks in the West as well as Middle East and North Africa
  • Demonstrated ability to reappear after territory is taken

But It’s fair to ask, since the “4+1 construct” was posited a year-and-a-half ago, have things gotten better or worse vis-à-vis our ability to contain the Islamic State? I fell it’s worse, because:

  • Coalition fissures hamper coordinated military action against ISIL
  • Demonstrated willingness to hold civilian population hostage
  • Losing territory in Iraq and Syria has not ended violent extremism
  • More troops are being requested for both Iraq and Afghanistan
  • ISIL continues to hold on to portions of Mosul, Iraq
  • Difficulty marshaling coalition support to oust ISIL from Raqqa, Iraq
  • Mastered the use of social media for propaganda and recruiting

When we came up with the high-concept for our third Tom Clancy Op-Center novel (Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Scorched Earth), some thought ISIL would be long-gone by the time the book was published in mid-2016. That hasn’t been the case. Here is part of what we said in our Author’s Introduction:

Few would argue against the statement that ISIS (or ISIL—the preferred term used by U.S. national security officials—the “L” standing for Levant,) presents a profound threat to the West. As President Obama said in a widely-watched speech in September 2014, “Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

Almost two years later, U.S. national security officials remain perplexed as to how to deal with ISIS. No one is talking today, in 2017, about defeating ISIS, only containing them. What is happening in the greater Mideast in areas where ISIS roams freely will not resolve itself in the next several years. For Western nations, and especially for the United States, today’s headlines are looming as tomorrow’s nightmare.

ISIS will remain a threat to the West—and especially to the United States—years into the future because America has not come to grips with how to deal with this threat. As Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger describe in their best-selling book, ISIS: The State of Terror, and as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan describe in their best-seller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, the very nature of ISIS makes attempts to deal with it by employing the conventional instruments of national power all-but futile. Here is how Michiko Kakutani framed the challenge ISIS presents in his Books of the Times review of these two books:

The Islamic State and its atrocities—beheadings, mass executions, the enslavement of women and children, and the destruction of cultural antiquities—are in the headlines every day now. The terror group not only continues to roll through the Middle East, expanding from Iraq and Syria into Libya and Yemen, but has also gained dangerous new affiliates in Egypt and Nigeria and continues to recruit foreign fighters through its sophisticated use of social media. Given the ascendance of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), it’s startling to recall that in January 2014, President Obama referred to it as a “J.V. team,” suggesting that it did not pose anywhere near the sort of threat that Al Qaeda did.

Life imitates art, and these are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

 

Published Praise for Dark Zone

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In Rovin and Galdorisi’s absorbing military thriller, the fourth entry in the reboot of the Op-Center series created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik (after 2016’s Scorched Earth), Galina Ptrenko, a Ukrainian spy, contacts Douglas Flannery, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, in New York City. Ptrenko is seeking information concerning a possible attack by Russia so the Ukrainian military can organize a preemptive strike. Soon after Flannery declines to help, Ptrenko is assassinated. Meanwhile, the operatives at the Op-Center turn up a virtual reality game based on simulated attacks on three Russian bases near the Ukraine border. Unknown forces in the Ukraine military have been using the VR game to train for an actual attack. It’s up to the Op-Center to find out who’s planning the attack and how to defuse it before a war becomes reality. While there isn’t a lot of actual fighting, the procedures involved in puzzling out what is real and what is not, who is involved and when the attack will happen, generate plenty of suspense. Agent: Mel Berger, WME. (May)

– Publishers Weekly

Solitude

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Much ink has been spilled regarding the way that social media impacts our lives. Some say it now dominates our lives. Many pay big bucks to “detox” from social media.

It’s no surprise, then, that there are a wave of new books – perhaps inspired by the fact that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the most famous believer in solitude, Henry David Thoreau.

Here is how Ellen Gamerman teed up the subject in her piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “New Books Celebrate Being Alone:”

“It’s time to go it alone, whether finding strength in self-imposed exile, surviving at sea without a soul in sight, or fixing a marriage without help from a spouse.”

Intrigued? Need solitude? You can read the full article here.

Is Your Bed Made?

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Few recent military leaders have inspired the kind of confidence and admiration that Admiral William McCraven – former head of the U.S. Special Operations Command and now the chancellor of the University of Texas System, overseeing 14 institutions with more than 200,000 students.

 

Admiral McRaven’s much anticipated book, Make Your Bed, was recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Here is part of what the reviewer, John Nagl, said about the philosophy Admiral McRaven shares in his book:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald was completely wrong when he suggested “there are no second acts in American lives.” If America stands for anything, it is reinvention, renewal and second chances. Take the Navy SEAL who oversaw the most important manhunt in history and rose to command all of U.S. Special Operations Forces. What did he do for an encore? Only give the most successful college graduation speech in history—at his alma mater, the University of Texas, wearing Navy dress whites.”

“In “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . and Maybe the World,” retired Adm. William H. McRaven admits that he was nervous before the address in May 2014. He was afraid that contemporary college students wouldn’t welcome a military man, even one who had once been, just like them, a slightly hung-over Austin senior eager to graduate and get on with life. They loved his speech, and word spread. It has been viewed more than 10 million times online, and Mr. McRaven has expanded the talk into a little book that should be read by every leader in America.”

Want more? You can read the full review here.

And remember to make your bed…

Google and Libraries

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Google can bring you 100,000 answers, but a librarian can bring you just the right one. We all know that intuitively, but Mahesh Rao brings it home in her piece, “Lost in the Stacks.” For me, it brought me a new appreciation, maybe a renewed love, of libraries. Here is part of what she shared:

Libraries are a place of refuge. It offers a respite from the heat, from office life, from noisy households, from all the irritations that crowd in. They also offer the intangible entanglements of a common space. One of my favorite descriptions of the public library comes from the journalist and academic Sophie Mayer, who has called it “the ideal model of society, the best possible shared space,” because there “each person is pursuing their own aim (education, entertainment, affect, rest) with respect to others, through the best possible medium of the transmission of ideas, feelings and knowledge — the book.”

Libraries may have their idiosyncrasies, but the fundamentals of their ecosystem are universal. They are places of long breaks, of boredom and reverie, of solace and deliberation. They offer opportunities for unobtrusive observation, stolen glances and frissons, anticipation and nudging possibilities. And when the sensible realization strikes that a thrilling plan is better left unaccomplished, they might also become sites of abandonment.

Intrigued? You can read the full article here.

America and the World

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Few writers have helped readers make sense of geography better than Robert Kaplan. In over a dozen books, such as the best-selling The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan has made geography make sense and tied it to history. He’s done it again in Earning the Rockies. Here is part of what Jonathan Rauch shared in his review in The New York Times.

For all the turbulent change swirling about us now, America was and remains the product of an exceptional geography. North America has more miles of navigable inland waterways than much of the rest of the world combined. Better still, its rivers run diagonally rather than (as in Russia) north and south, forming an ideal network for internal communication and trade. Moreover, America’s continental span and rich resource base shield it from external threat and dependency. Thus the United States is uniquely blessed by geography to form and sustain a cohesive continental union. Union is not the same as unity, but it’s a good start.

America’s geographical and hydrological blessings ramify not only inward but also outward. “The United States is not a normal country: Its geographic bounty gave it the possibility of becoming a world power, and with that power it has developed longstanding obligations, which, on account of its continued economic and social dynamism relative to other powers, it keeps,” Kaplan writes. “We are,” he says (his italics), “fated to lead.” For a host of reasons, ranging from geography to culture, no other country can play the same role.

Read this intriguing article here.

The Undoing Project

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Michael Lewis has brought us provocative books in the past such as Liar’s Poker and The Big Short. He thinks big and presents what he discovers in eminently readable form.

His latest book, The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, is not only a great read, but it makes us think about how we think, and that’s its purpose.

Here is part of what David Leonhardt shared in his review of The Undoing Project in The New York Times:

In the fall of 1969, behind the closed door of an otherwise empty seminar room at Hebrew University, two psychologists began a collaboration that would upend the understanding of human behavior. Those first conversations were filled with uproarious laughter and occasional shouting, in a jumble of Hebrew and English, which could sometimes be heard from the hallway.

When it came time for the two professors to write up their papers, they would sit next to each other at a single typewriter. “We were sharing a mind,” one would say later. They flipped a coin to decide whose name would appear first on their initial paper and alternated thereafter. The two names were Amos Tversky — the winner of that coin flip — and Daniel Kahneman.

Their work revealed previously undiscovered patterns of human irrationality: the ways that our minds consistently fool us and the steps we can take, at least some of the time, to avoid being fooled. Kahneman and Tversky used the word “heuristics” to describe the rules of thumb that often lead people astray. One such rule is the “halo effect,” in which thinking about one positive attribute of a person or thing causes observers to perceive other strengths that aren’t really there. Another is “representativeness,” which leads people to see cause and effect — to see a “narrative” — where they should instead accept uncertainty or randomness.

For writers, there is an important nugget in this review that ought to be stated in capital letters: “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”

Read the entire killer-good review here.

The Need to Read

How do you engage with the world? We all have our own ways. And there is the inevitable factor that some of us are extroverts while some of us are introverts.

I’ve found that reading books remains one of the best ways to engage with the world. For me, it’s helped me understand many of life’s questions.

That’s why I was intrigued by Will Schwalbe’s article in the Wall Street Journal. Here is part of what he shared:

We all ask each other a lot of questions. But we should all ask one question a lot more often: “What are you reading?”

It’s a simple question but a powerful one, and it can change lives.

Here’s one example: I met, at a bookstore, a woman who told me that she had fallen sadly out of touch with her beloved grandson. She lived in Florida. He and his parents lived elsewhere. She would call him and ask him about school or about his day. He would respond in one-word answers: Fine. Nothing. Nope.

And then one day, she asked him what he was reading. He had just started “The Hunger Games,” a series of dystopian young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins. The grandmother decided to read the first volume so that she could talk about it with her grandson the next time they chatted on the phone. She didn’t know what to expect, but she found herself hooked from the first pages, in which Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the annual battle-to-the-death among a select group of teens.

The book helped this grandmother cut through the superficialities of phone chat and engage her grandson on the most important questions that humans face about survival and destruction and loyalty and betrayal and good and evil, and about politics as well. Now her grandson couldn’t wait to talk to her when she called—to tell her where he was, to find out where she was and to speculate about what would happen next.

Other than belonging to the same family, they had never had much in common. Now they did. The conduit was reading. We need to read and to be readers now more than ever.

Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page.

You can read this insightful article here.

Scorched Earth

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The focus on our latest Tom Clancy Op-Center book, Scorched Earth, is Iraq and specifically Mosul. When we began writing the book in 2015 we anticipated a long-drawn-out battle for Mosul and that is where, in December 2016, the battle still rages. And most experts predict the battle for Mosul if far from over.

We’re pleased that Tom Clancy Op-Center: Scorched Earth continues to receive positive reviews. Here is what the latest reviewer had to say:

When George Galdorisi took on Tom Clancy’s series we didn’t know what to expect; could he fill the giant shoes left with Clancy’s passing.  In Out of the Ashes he answered that question with a flourish.  Now, with Scorched Earth, Galdorisi continues to amaze.  He has pulled a page from today’s headlines making Scorched Earth relevant with your morning coffee.  This next installment of the Op-Center series takes us back into the envelope of potential world conflagration.

The novel starts off with an unexpected and gritty assassination, throwing us into the action from the get-go.  The situation unstoppably escalates to the point where the Op-Center needs to get involved.  Chase Williams and his somewhat incorrigible cast of characters jump into the fray feet first.  The action is fast and furious and takes very few prisoners.  Just when you think there’s resolution, another wrench is thrown into the machinery taking the situation in a new direction.  New characters, both good and bad, are added with the great character development that Galdorisi has come to be known for.

Scorched Earth twists and turns, leaving the reader with resolution, but at the same time, open to something new.  It’s a “page-turner” taking you from the politically incorrect environs of DC to IED laden byways a half a world away.  Even though it seems the terrorist are going to have a field day with this one, the Op-Center geeks and operators get into action keeping you guessing.  Galdorisi’s novel is an enjoyable and satisfying read, introducing new characters and concepts for future development.  Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.