Good History Reads For Your Springtime

I find myself in a really pleasant place with the current history books I am enjoying, and as often the case on Caffeinated Politics, wish to call them out for my readers. As usual, I have a number of books ‘underway’ at the same time, making it easy to pick up a chapter or two based on the mood of the day.

If you are looking for a book that is ‘timely’ and just well-constructed, then The Romanovs would be a grand idea. With the past few months of Russian military build-up and aggression, I have turned more attention to Russian history. (Russia has long been a region I love to read about.) An online friend gave me this book idea, and it is a very compelling read. As I write today Peter the Great has sent his half-sister, Sofia, far way—oh, to have such power (LOL). Simon Sebag Montefiore’s writing is excelled only by his research. Masterfully done on all counts! The narrative is tight yet expansive with tidbits and pacing of the kind I find to be superb. However, if you are squeamish about being thrown out a castle window onto a pike……

Thomas Jefferson: The Art Of Power was high up on my shelves for a number of years, just waiting to come down. Jon Meacham is a wonderful historian and writer, and while the Founders are a great interest of mine there always seemed to be another book that made for the ‘top of the pile’. The latest unnecessary dust-up over the naming of a Madison school was what brought out my footstool to reach up and start the book. I am to Part Five, 1785, and his journey to Europe as a diplomat. What attracts me now, as always to Jefferson and the whole of the Founders, is the ability to have ideals and yet know that pragmatic reasoning must be undertaken to achieve forward progress. History always bends towards modernity, then as now. Just never at the pace, we desire.

Prisoners of Geography is a short, and snappy around the world read with some background, that while not necessarily new information, is compacted and presented in such a way as to connect the ten maps that Tim Marshall presents.

For the meat of international relations, however, I head to the master. I find Henry Kissinger essential to understanding our world. Some revile him, and I understand that. But for pure realism about not only how the world is constructed with complex relationships but why that is so, there is no one better to explain it. Or pose the questions we need to ponder moving forward. One reviewer for World Order stated the book should be read by every new member of Congress. Presently am at The Multiplicity Of Asia, after Kissinger expounded on the irrationality that is present-day Iran.

Whatever book(s) you pick up to read…the main thing is to read books. I am troubled with too much of our world reading nothing more than what can be typed for a Twitter posting. The knowledge we need, the questions we should wish to be posed and answered, demand books in our lives.

Happy reading.

And so it goes.

Madeleine Albright Respected And Loved Worldwide

It was sad news. But not shocking. We knew over the past months we were losing Madeleine Albright. Her public moments were still filled with resolve about why democracy matters and insight into world affairs, but her frail health was obvious, too.

Today the end came for a woman who was loved and treasured worldwide. The first woman to serve as secretary of state died at the age of 84.

It is never tiring to hear about someone born in a place and time of tribulations, leaving for America, and when reaching our shores embracing democratic values and then over a lifetime working to firm up those values worldwide. I think of Henry Kissinger when writing such a statement.

And, without doubt, I know it to be true for Madeleine Albright, too.

In her case that trek to our shores was harrowing as it took 10 years. In the midst of war and cruel policies in Europe, she had been denied knowing as a child that her family was Jewish. Her parents had protectively converted to Roman Catholicism during World War II, raising their children as Catholics without telling them of their Jewish heritage. She also discovered as a woman decades later that 26 family members, including three grandparents, had been murdered in the Holocaust.

When I reflect on Albright two things stand out.

First, the ease of conversation she used to express as to the course of foreign policy. Her immediate predecessor, Warren Christopher, was seasoned and a deep reader, but at times the ponderous nature of being able to inform the nation on policy was a problem. Add in a sense of humor that she added, effortlessly, and her acceptance on the world stage was made far easier.

Second, there was always a brooch. It might seem sexist to some readers for me to add this aspect to this post, but in our home for decades when she was on the news or being interviewed James and I commented on what brooch she was wearing. She was classy and there is nothing wrong with making that point most clear.

She will be missed because her voice on the most pressing international topic grows ever direr. Over recent years Albright pointed out that fascism now presents a more virulent threat to peace and justice than at any time since the end of World War II. Illiberal democracy is a concern here at CP, and she was one of the strident proponents for not forgetting history, and not taking our freedoms for granted.

We can honor her best by each of us picking up that banner and not letting it fall.

And so it goes.

This Is Just Rich For Politicos

There was one of those famous Sir Kim Darroch parties in Washington and look who was there at the invitation of the British Ambassador. Be mindful, now, that Trump said the ambassador is not well liked in D.C.  But at the party for the International Club were Wilbur Ross, Bill Barr, and Elaine Chao all in attendance!

This feels like when National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger attended all the Georgetown parties where they laughed at Richard Nixon.

Poor Donald.


In Madison–47 Years After Iconic Vietnam Photo Taken–News Makers Give Talk

Forty-seven years ago today, Kim Phúc, then nine-years old, ran down a road near her village in South Vietnam, following an aerial napalm attack, and AP journalist Nick Ut took a photograph.  The photo from June 8, 1972 will make the front page of newspapers within 24 hours, and Ut will be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  This evening Phúc and Ut gave a presentation on the UW-Madison campus.


Phúc held her audience with each word. From memories of a sunny morning in her village, to the  horror that ended her childhood, and then a many-year process of finding ways to release anger and sadness at those who had inflicted the war on her village, the audience sat in rapt attention.  Following the napalm attack Ut will place his camera down, race to the child, and get her to the hospital in his car.


After more than a dozen surgeries, and laser treatments for flexibility of the skin, as recently as a few years ago, Phúc says she never stopped smiling and laughing–like the girl she was prior to the military strike. It would be easy to see how the pain could have also seared her soul.  But at a certain point she knew there had to be a way to seek an avenue for forgiveness and move on with life.

Part of the healing came from a loving husband, two grown college-educated sons, and adorable grand-kids.  But the other part came from finding God and basing her life in faith that lifted her over the pain and anger.

In a filled room of the Pyle Center sat a man about 70 years of age–just off to the left of me.  Tears rolled down his cheeks as she talked.  There was silence at times in the large room which was stunning, given the number of people packed in side-by-side.

But there were also moments of laughter.  Many years ago Phúc was told she would be on the Oprah show.  She was so pleased to do a television program.  But then she asked, “Who is Oprah?”

Oprah found that story funny and cried when hearing it.

The evening was, in many ways, about restorative justice.  She met with a pilot who was a part of the bombing raid that landed napalm on Phúc’s village.  The two have met and still keep in contact.  The video footage of them first meeting and talking was most touching and humane in a way that defies my ability to describe it.


Ut reminded me of someone who could pull up a chair and start reminiscing without missing a beat.  There is no doubt the man has a professional sense of what makes for a news photo which conveys so very much with nary a word needed.  The many photos shown to the crowd had the war-torn qualities that sums up the dreadful policy moves that several American administrations continued in Vietnam.

During the question period I asked if Phúc ever met Henry Kissinger, and if so, had she forgiven him?  I was hoping for an opening that would broaden the discussion.   But she kept to her talking points about forgiving everyone and reiterated her words of faith.

Dan Young, one of my longest running friends in Madison, joined James and myself at the Center.  Afterwards he got both signatures on a First Day postcard.  He wants my readers to know the XX are–as Phúc told him–kisses.



Smart Diplomacy (Kissinger Style) Needed From White House About North Korea

I am going to step back from the headlines in newspapers across the country concerning the news President Trump has decided to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un by May.   I still very much stand by the obvious truth that we need to talk with our enemies.  That is what we call diplomacy.  But I also know there are ways to make such meetings happen for productive ends, and ways in which such meetings should not be allowed.

So instead of talking about current events lets see what lessons can be gleaned from history about international meetings with our enemies.

In November 1982–on the night General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev died–I was back at the family home in Hancock.  I had driven there for a couple days from Sturgeon Bay where I worked in broadcasting.  As a news junkie I recall how pleasing it was to have the night free so to watch the news specials.  I even recall that it was a rainy night.  Odd recollections, for sure.

But it was the words of Henry Kissinger on television that night, and in his books which followed, which still make an impression.

Ronald Reagan had been elected in 1980 with a most determined anti-communist stand which he, again and again, made clear in speeches and policies.  America’s large defense build-up was a result of the bombast that held sway in the land.   But in spite of the elevated language Reagan had made an offer to meet the Russian leader at the United Nations, and even for a possible summit meeting to discuss arms reductions.

But with the death of Brezhnev did not the aims and ambitions of such a meeting between the countries–it was asked of Kissinger–also not come to an end?    No, was the response as international relations should never be built on personalities but instead on the needs of nations.

As the years moved along the U.S.S.R (when was the last time I typed that?) put in power a couple other old men who died shortly after taking office.   The famous line from Reagan underscored the matter.   “How am I supposed to get anyplace with the Russians if they keep dying on me?”

The many years of talks and dealings at the lower levels of government between the two nations had produced enough understanding to merit having the two top leaders meet.  Recall the many laborious efforts to frame the detente accords between President Nixon and Brezhnev?    It would be those same levels of intense background work which took place prior to Reagan meeting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.  Though major military frameworks were not resolved at the meeting six agreements were reached, ranging from cultural and scientific exchanges to environmental issues.

When it comes to the U.S. and North Korea at this time there is nothing but bombastic personalities involved.  Our nation does not even have an ambassador to South Korea.  All the leg-work needed for a meeting between the nations has not even started!  A meeting at this time is not in the best interests of our nation.

Another idea that Kissinger advocates, and which is absolutely correct, is that no leader of another nation should be awarded a meeting with the leader of the free world without certain pre-conditions set.   Raising the stature of a rouge leader, by standing alongside the President of the United States, should never be allowed without the interests of the either the U.S. or free nations getting a benefit.

As we await the continuing drama of Trump, a man who admits to not reading, is not schooled in history or diplomacy, has not been able to strike one single deal (border wall, immigration, gun control, etc.) with congress, to now think he can broker a deal with Kim Jong Un makes me recall one of my favorite quotes from Kissinger.

“It is frankly a mistake of amateurs to believe you can gain the upper hand in a diplomatic negotiation.”

Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson–Cagey Or Powerless?

At this rate Secretary of State Rex  Tillerson will bypass former Secretary of State William Rogers (President Nixon era) for being a potted plant and allowing the White House to call the shots.  While it is early in the Trump Administration the fact is Tillerson has been a blank slate and seemingly molded by others with lots less clout than he has on the international scene.   Perhaps there is a keen mind at work and ready to pounce on the international scene, but from what has happened thus far the Steve Bannon mentality has taken over the White House.

Rogers was, all but in name, replaced by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.    That Nixon and Kissinger were two insightful and intelligent drivers of foreign policy made such an arrangement constructive.   But with Trump having no political or diplomatic background and Bannon nothing more than a prickly nationalist makes for a very shaky foundation for international policy-making.   Unless Tillerson can make a showing–and soon–that he has not only the title but the reins and power in his hands there will be much for us to worry about.

Mr. Tillerson has skipped every opportunity to define his views or give guidance to American diplomats abroad, limiting himself to terse, scripted statements, taking no questions from reporters and offering no public protest when the White House proposed cutting the State Department budget by 37 percent without first consulting him.

He suffered in silence, State Department officials said, when President Trump called, in a matter-of-fact way, to reject Mr. Tillerson’s choice for deputy secretary of state. He has been absent from the White House meetings with key world leaders, and when the State Department issued its annual report on human rights — usually a major moment for the United States to stand up against repression around the world — he skipped the announcement.


Do You Wish To Own Henry Kissinger’s Lincoln Continental Limousine?

I wonder if this car goes as fast as a Mini Cooper?


You could own Henry Kissinger‘s personal Lincoln Continental limousine.

The 1966 car, which was used throughout Kissinger’s career, is going up for auction through Dan Kruse Classics — a boutique car auction house — on Sept. 10 at the 42nd annual Hill Country Classic in Austin, Texas.

The limo is expected to sell for $40,000.

The black car — with blue interior — is also equipped with bulletproof glass. It was purchased through the US government, according to the auction house.

The diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize winner is now 93 years old.

Henry Kissinger And George Shultz To Endorse Hillary Clinton?

Another political earthquake.

When we were at Stanford a few weeks ago, former Secretary of State George Shultz acted viscerally when he was asked about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. “God help us,” he quipped.

But during a visit with our colleagues John Harris and Bryan Bender yesterday, Shultz took it further, signaling that he was discussing issuing a joint endorsement of Hillary Clinton with Henry Kissinger. He didn’t say it directly, but he said “no” when he was asked if there was still time for Trump to earn an endorsement.

“We are going to do it together, ” Shultz told Harris and Bender in Palo Alto, speaking broadly of a possible endorsement. “It will have more impact.” Shultz — who also served as Treasury and Labor secretary — said he was impressed by Clinton, noting a “deep knowledge of Mexico” he picked up on in a personal encounter. “When the next president takes office, if he or she turns inwards, the chaos will only develop more,” Shultz said, in another implicit swipe at Trump. “There is no substitute for the United States.”

When Bender and the boss pushed Shultz on his timing, he said, “It’s not Labor Day yet.” Jesse Ferguson, a Clinton spokesman, said, “We don’t know anything about it.”