Author du jour: Alex Berenson

Prisoner-Berenson-small-FullCoverThe Prisoner,” by Alex Berenson

(Putnam, pp 426, $28.00)

In this age of great distrust, when even the most open-armed neighbor turns out to be a blood-thirsty sleeping cell waiting to enact some extremist cause, suspicion becomes the first natural line of defense, a secondary reflex when culture forces us to internalize the prevalence of danger. “The Prisoner” will feel like a fresh twist. The setting works in reverse, as the choice of story attempts to excoriate layers upon layers of phobia and paranoia. You could even venture to whisper that the story has a cleansing effect. In this case, John Wells, the main protagonist, is a Muslim convert who goes into hiding in the very epicenter of al Qaeda jihadist world, and so to infiltrate ISIS. Even though this scenario removes the possibility to see the US soil as the battleground for next collision, a major but remains. Life offers no certainty, no matter how many precautionary measures we think we take. In this case, Wells’s infiltration is to investigate an infiltration from within, a prominent CIA mole passing information to the enemy. In the light of the saga taking place within the current White House, the scenario feels, to say the least, prophetic.

But bombshells come in all shapes and sizes, especially those that take our lives over. John Wells who has retired and now lives in slow-tempo Montana, learns that he is the father of a baby girl, Emma. John discovers in the process an unsuspected side of himself. He actually enjoys playing dad, even though he completely failed at his first attempt with his now-grown son. Being conscious of an idyllic life is like winking at the Gods to take it away. Wells is pulled back into action the day he receives a phone call from a Bulgarian jail where Muslim terrorists have been incarcerated. Unable to convince the higher authority of nearing danger, Wells must once again resume his former disguise within a much broader and brutal al Qaeda to go undercover in Bulgaria and locate the true identity of the traitor, while risking everything to save others’ lives. A pitch-perfect delivery from Berenson. For those in search of understanding of the inner workings of a terrorist group, “The Prisoner” is precision work.


Author du Jour: Richard Haass

Haass_WorldinDisar_smallA World in Disarray,” by Richard Haass

(Penguin Press, pp 341, $28.00)

This book has a lot of merit, and more. Let me start with the merit part. Though I do not subscribe with all the solutions, which would take too long to explain, the author. Richard Haass, clearly chisels a new template for a productive global political environment. Something, which he calls World Order 2.0. Haass’s grasp of the international scene is pragmatic, solidly anchored in a deep experience. One can sense that years in the administration have made him the de-facto expert in foreign policy and international relations. What makes the book so engaging however is its outline. Before offering his conceptualization and solution for the future of American relations, Haass gives a world tour of the current international climate, exposing the traditional triumvirate of power, Russia, China and US, and complementing it with the new disrupters and rule-breakers, the likes of ISIS and North Korea.

Now about the more. When I first reviewed the book three months ago, the world was a different world. With hindsight of the last three months of the Trump presidency, the book can appear prophetic. Lots of the upheavals that have unraveled since the beginning of the year have somehow taken place, as if Haass had his ears glued directly against a geo-political crystal ball. But this would be misleading. Because Haass is just what he is: a fine-tuned expert, woh has sharpened his tools on the stone of history.

What becomes valuable in Haass’s incisive analysis is his understanding of the breaking down of post-WWII models of foreign policies seen as completely unfit to confront the new issues of terrorism, climate change, cyber war and the potential threat of nuclear weapons. The book’s merit lies here. Haass is not afraid to mention the US’s past mistakes in foreign policy and often its failure not to act. As you can imagine the task the new leadership has to face is staggering, and it requires sound minds to deal with it. But what comes through is that if the US wants to reinforce its ties with other sovereign nations, it must do so with a radical change of its understanding in an ever changing world. Haass’s strength rests in his ability to pave the first steps for the nation without fear.