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Two Books and One Cheer for Obama

The world as revealed to me last week:

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin [1], by Timothy Snyder

Snyder is a Yale historian of the Holocaust and East Europe. Yesterday I saw this C-SPAN2 Book TV taping of his speech on his new book at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York City. What an admirably organized and passionate historian! If he is as good a writer as he is a speaker–and all the reviews indicate that he is–this is a must-read book for anyone interested in the tragedy of the 20th century.

It’s hard to imagine such a relatively small area of the Earth witnessing the deliberate murder of more than 12 million civilians in a few years (that’s not counting “collateral damage” or soldiers killed in combat). A tidbit that astonished me: Germany deliberately killed more Russian prisoners of war than Jews. It is agonizing to consider the decisions millions of hapless East Europeans faced as the two dictators’ armed forces closed in: whether to flee to the East or the West–what a horrible choice to have to make. This is a book unsparing of both sides. But because Stalin had so many more apologists in the West, that is where the greatest revelations are confirmed. Fortunately for historians, says Synder, the Soviets were even more meticulous in the recording of their crimes than the Nazis. It just required the collapse of the Soviet Empire for historians to have access to those archives.

“When the historian Robert Conquest was asked to provide a subtitle for a new, post-Cold War edition of his book on Stalin’s purges, he suggested, ‘I told you so, you f—ing fools.’ The fools are now looking even more foolish, thanks to the efforts of indefatigable historians like Snyder.” — Reason


Osama Bin Laden [2]
, by Michael Scheuer

From a short interview of Michael Scheuer on Book TV:

Michael Scheuer was head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden desk for years before his retirement. His biography of bin Laden is due out in February, and it promises to be a most revealing read.


Bin Laden is not a raving maniac, says Scheuer, and we don’t do America any good by pretending that he is. He is unsparingly honest about why he is fighting America, and it has nothing to do with disgust of our freedoms and our “way of life.” Can anyone get the idiot Rudy Giuliani to read this book–and Osama bin Laden’s own explanations?

Scheuer says Clinton had 13 opportunities to kill bin Laden, and failed to do so. Bush had one big opportunity, and failed to do so. Scheuer says it is too late now to accomplish that goal or to “win” in Afghanistan; we are hopelessly undermanned for those tasks, even if they were ever possible. We should pull out immediately–it is not worth another American soldier’s life. But don’t pretend otherwise–it will be a significant failure of American military and foreign policy. Oh, our government will lie to Americans about this (so what’s new, pussycat?), but the entire Muslim and Arab world will understand: The two greatest empires of our time were defeated in Afghanistan.


It has been many decades since I have expected anything to be proud of from our presidents and politicians. I have minimal standards today: just don’t give me hives from listening to you. George W. Bush gave me hives. I had to shut off my TV or change channels whenever he appeared on the tube. What a sad commentary on the conservative movement that I was once part of, that they would celebrate stupidity and total inarticulateness–just because he wasn’t a Democrat.

I have made a gallant effort to shove Bush down the memory hole, but I was reminded of him by the visit of China’s President Hu this past week. It was such a relief to see President Obama rather than Dubya interacting with Hu. I don’t expect much from these state visits–and certainly the important work is done behind the scenes–but at least I did not have to be ashamed as an American of my country’s representative. I don’t think President Hu could help but notice that his American counterpart today is probably the smartest and most coherent politician they’ve had to deal with since Richard Nixon. I didn’t say smart–just smartest politician.

Granting that Obama is a front for the Establishment, like all of his predecessors since World War II, at least he has a grasp of the intricacies involved between the world’s two superpowers. He seemed to be studying Hu’s answers and Hu’s face at the press conference, searching for clues rather than looking vapidly into the camera. (Suggestion to Obama: the Chinese are not called “inscrutable” for nothing.) He didn’t try to pin everything on currency manipulation on the one hand or human rights on the other. He understood, unlike Sen. Harry Reid or Rep. John Boehner, that you don’t gain anything at a diplomatic event by being rude and undiplomatic. All of this is a pretty minimal accomplishment, but so much more than I expect from “my” political leaders today.

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#1 Comment By HateHacks On January 24, 2011 @ 10:31 am

Uh, David: Hu is “Ho”? 😉

#2 Comment By SteveM On January 24, 2011 @ 10:58 am

Meh. Behind Obama’s glib veneer is the typical elitist idiot savant who has almost no understanding of unintended consequences.

Bush to Obama is out of the pot into the fire…

#3 Comment By admin On January 24, 2011 @ 11:05 am

Thanks, HH, it’s now fixed.

#4 Comment By Sheldon On January 24, 2011 @ 11:06 am

Steve, by your lights I guess that makes Bush Obama without the “savant.”

Seriously, criticizing Obama as worse than Bush for not having an “understanding of unintended consequences” is one of the most historically and willfully blind comments I have ever read.

#5 Comment By SteveM On January 24, 2011 @ 11:25 am

Sheldon, I’m not saying Obama is worse than Bush. I’m not sure that is possible.

However, Obama is another example of the American power elite who use academic pedigrees as proxies for wisdom. Obama and his cronies went to all the right schools, and as history clearly shows us, those graduates are prone to wrecking economies and engaging in reckless foreign entanglements.

Obama will leave plenty of economic and international wreckage behind regardless of how smoothly he rationalizes his stupidity.

#6 Comment By Red Phillips On January 24, 2011 @ 11:34 am

Does Scheuer offer an opinion on whether OBL is alive or dead? My hunch is that he is almost certainly dead.

#7 Comment By Philip Giraldi On January 24, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

He’s probably dead – the last authenticated contact with him by a reliable source was in 2003.

#8 Comment By K. W. Jeter On January 24, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

Dead, but his spirit lives on. He won; let’s come home.

#9 Comment By K. W. Jeter On January 24, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

This year-old BBC News article quotes Scheuer as believing that OBL is still alive:


#10 Comment By MattSwartz On January 24, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

I second David’s praise for Bloodlands. I knew that the Soviets had killed millions, but Snyder’s account does more to explain Hitler and Stalin than any one book I’d read previously, and he takes great pains to take the death of each victim seriously, and approaches them with the reverence they are due.

If any of you are interested in this book, but are hesitant to purchase it, because it is (after all) a long, sad book about past atrocities, I can only make one suggestion:

Go to a bookstore and read the final chapter. When Snyder writes about the Bloodlands, he is using history to do ethics. It’s serious.

#11 Pingback By Tweets that mention The American Conservative » Two Books and One Cheer for Obama — Topsy.com On January 24, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

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#12 Comment By Scott Lahti On January 25, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

“When the historian Robert Conquest was asked to provide a subtitle for a new, post-Cold War edition of his book on Stalin’s purges, he suggested, ‘I told you so, you f—ing fools.’ The fools are now looking even more foolish, thanks to the efforts of indefatigable historians like Snyder.” — Reason

Robert Conquest attributed the quote to Kingsley Amis:


“the ‘I told you so, etc.’ comment was actually made, and attributed to me, by the ever-inventive Kingsley.”