60 of 71 people found the following review helpful
This important book explores the colossal failure of the Bush presidency. It shows us that Bush's policies and decisions were even worse than we knew. And that's really saying something.
It doesn't get into the Iraq war, how we got in and how we are attempting to get out. The focus instead is on opportunity cost. The real price of the war in Iraq is more profound than the $800 billion spent or even the sad human cost in deaths and casualties. The true price tag includes what we should have been doing instead. As author David Sanger puts it, when "the `decider' became the ditherer," the country became distracted from more immediate problems in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea. The winner after eight years of Bush's leadership? China.
The problems were not all Bush's fault, of course. But the way he and his administration responded weakened our country. "At the moment when we most needed to act like a truly enlightened superpower, we let fear trump judgment, we depleted our political capital and moral authority, and we sullied our reputation as the world's safest, best-regulated place to invest. The scorecard at the end of eight years is unforgiving: Barack Obama now inherits a country in far more peril -- both strategically and economically -- than Bush did when he took office."
The Inheritance is full of behind-the-scenes vignettes and insights. The author met with Bush in Crawford, Texas, eight days before the newly-elected president would be sworn in. Bush was joshing and informal, but as they entered the house, he warned, "Wipe your feet well, boys. I may have just been elected President of the United States, but Laura will have my *** if there's mud in her living room." Later, talking about his newly named press secretary, Ari Fleischer, Bush confessed "There's a lot I won't be telling him. There's a lot you won't hear." As Sanger puts it, "He got that right."
The epilogue, titled Obama's Challenge, begins with this quote: "Great crises create the opportunity to forge great presidencies." Here's hoping.
Here's the chapter list:
Introduction: The Briefing
Part 1: Iran
The Mullah's Manhattan Project
1. Decoding Project 111
2. Regime-Change Fantasies
3. Ahmadinejad's Monologue
4. The Israel Option
Part 2: Afghanistan
How The Good War Went Bad
5. The Marshall Plan That Wasn't
The Other "Mission Accomplished"
Part 3: Pakistan
"How Do You Invade An Ally?"
7. Secrets of Chaklala Cantonment
Crossing the Line
Part 4: North Korea
The Nuclear Renegade That Got Away
9. Kim Jong-Il 8, Bush 0
10. Cheney's Lost War
"Everything is Appomattox"
Part 5: China
New Torch, Old Dragons
12. Generation Lenovo
The Puncture Strategy
Part 6: The Three Vulnerabilities
14. Deterrence 2.0
15. The Invisible Attack
Epilogue: Obama's Challenge
Note on Sources
A glossy-page section with 17 color photos shows some of the key people in the book, including Iranian President Ahmadinejad touring a uranium-enrichment centrifuge factory and an Afghan soldier holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Sanger describes what President-Elect Obama will face - results of the costs of distraction and lost opportunities in Iraq. He does not cover our weakened position due to the 2008 market collapse. His best material involves the latest developments in Iran.
The 2007 NIE report on Iran reported that they had ceased working on a bomb in 2003, but omitted the fact that this is the easiest portion - far easier than creating the required enriched fissionable material, especially given the availability of Russian experts and Pakistani help. The classified version also alleged Iran had added covert enrichment sites to the main (known) one. After crying wolf re Iraq, U.S. intelligence was unable to raise the alarm about Iran. The "good news" is that the U.S. tunneled into Irani computer systems and obtained extensive background information.
President Bush then decided to try sabotaging Iran's efforts - eg. arranging power supplies that generated unstable electricity that destroyed centrifuges (about 50) when turned on. The "bad news" is that Iran is now estimated to have 4,000 active centrifuges - enough to build a bomb/year, and is building new centrifuges that are even better. Experts see Iran as having enough material for a few weapons by 2010-12, and being set back only two years by a bombing campaign that would create enormous new problems in Iraq and elsewhere.
During the Spring 2008, Israel requested precision bunker-busting bombs and Iraq overflight rights to do the job themselves. President Bush refused.
The U.S. started Iran down the nuclear path in the 1950s; fortunately, Khomeini ignored it when the Shah was deposed. However, Saddam's use of chemical weapons on Iran rekindled interest. The U.S. had an opportunity to obtain Iran's cooperation post 9/11, especially at the time of "Mission Accomplished." Cheney, however, believed the Iranians were on the verge of collapse and successfully argued for ignoring their proposal.
Sanger now sees the U.S. at another point of strength in negotiating vs. Iran - their economy is at a nadir with the recent drop in oil prices.
Meanwhile, our intelligence chiefs have made repeated secret trips to Pakistan to try and stem a growing insurgency and cope with an ally aiding the enemy. "The Inheritance" also takes readers to Afghanistan, where Bush II never delivered on his promises to rebuild, paving the way for the Taliban's return. General McNeil (2008) tells Sanger that managing troops from 26 nations (mostly NATO), most of whom are under instructions to avoid regions where casualties were likely, and often also required advance approval from their capitals, is not a good way to win a war.
The Afghan government revenue in 2008 was $716 million, vs. a $4 billion narco-trade (per CIA). (Couldn't the NATO troops at least be used to clear the poppy fields?) Bush promised a "Marshal Plan" for Afghanistan ($90 billion in today's dollars), but months after that speech the U.S. had pledged only $290 million (half that from Iran, and only a small portion of the $5 billion total).
Another problem is Pakistan and its history of supporting the Taliban (valued by the Pakistani military and ISI for keeping India out of Afghanistan). Sanger says they have neither the will nor the means to take on al Qaeda and the Taliban. Worse yet, it has 70,000 nuclear workers, including about 2,000 "hard core" scientists and engineers. Our NIE review of the region concluded that Pakistan, with its economy near collapse, is the real prize for al Qaeda.
Then Sanger covers North Korea where actual WMD were built while the U.S. pursued phantoms in Iraq, and the technology then sold to Syria - unknown to the U.S. Sanger also then tells how China used the Bush years to expand influence in Asia and lock up oil supplies in Africa.
Sanger ends with three scenarios that depict terrorism vulnerabilities. The first (nuclear) involves a crude, very-low power nuclear device set off in D.C., and costing $500,000. The parts could either be smuggled into the U.S. in pieces or assembled - the U.S. detectors are outdated and probably couldn't detect it (despite creating 400-600 false alarms/day at Long Beach). New technology would reduce the false alarms, but probably still couldn't detect a nuclear weapon, per Sanger.
The second vulnerability is vs. biological weapons - major cities have detectors, but reading the results takes at least a day. Estimated cost: $500 million.
The third vulnerability involves a cyber attack - requiring about three years and another $500 million, and capable of destroying expensive diesel generators, electricity transmission lines, neutralizing our defenses, etc.
33 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2009
First the good - The book covers Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan very well. Sanger provides us with details that have been either under-reported by the mainstream press or have not been reported at all. The author has clearly invested a tremendous amount of effort in cobbling together these sections of the book. The chapters on China are not so well done. At first Sanger channels Thomas Friedman to write a pean to China's globalization. He then fails to provide the same level of insight as he does for the other three countries mentioned above.
The faults - Sanger fails to take into account the developments in several nations of Africa and South America, Russia and Mexico. For example, the re-emergence of tinpot dictators in South America, the crushing of enterprise and economic growth of the populace, and the diminishing role of several South American nations in world affairs will lead to crises in only a few years. Surely, this will have a huge impact on the U.S. and Mr. Obama will need to address it. Not a word about this entire region.
The book also needs an editor to chop off at least a third that is redundant. The problem is that there is no coherent chronological development of the analysis. The constant flitting around in terms of chronology fails to provide a cogent picture of the situation as it developed and also makes for cris-crossing the same path time and again. Finally, there are several spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that should have been fixed prior to release of the book.
21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
David Sanger is a veteran NYTimes correspondent . In this work he assesses the security- situation of the United States by examining the actions of the Bush Administration and outlining its legacy to the incoming Obama administration. This legacy includes according to Sanger many problems which have been worsened by the Bush Administration. It also includes a number of covert programs including one aimed to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.
As I understand it Sanger's major idea, the one that holds everything together is that the Bush Administration has been distracted by Iraq. It has given Iraq so much of its attention and resources that other areas and problems, potentially more serious, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, relations with China and with Russia - have been neglected.
Iran has pushed ahead with its nuclear program defying U.N. reports and U.S. attempts at sanctions. As Sanger sees it both our sticks and our carrots were far too small. He believes it was a mistake not to speak with Iran and suggests that now that Iran has been a bit humbled by the fallen price of Oil, there is some possibility for dealing with them.
Sanger relates in regard to the Iran crisis a visit of Israeli Prime- Minister Olmert to the White House in the Spring of 2008. President Bush refused the Israel Prime Minister's request to fly over Iraqi airspace in order to attack the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz. Bush was concerned about attacks by Iran on U.S. troops, and also the possible expulsion of U.S. troops from Iraq by enraged Iraqis. Bush tried to assure Olmert that the U.S. has a covert program which will stop the Iranian effort. Sanger himself seems to be resigned to the idea that Iran will attain nuclear weapons and has succeeded in fooling the U.S. and the U.N. As Iran seems absolutely determined to have a nuclear option, and a nuclear Iran would bring nuclear terror and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East with it- this is certainly one of the major problems facing President Obama.
But there is also the very questionable ally Pakistan and its nuclear weapons. Sanger tells of a special unit of the United States military whose job would be to seize the nuclear weapons should the Pakistani regime melt down. However it is not clear that the American military knows exactly where these weapons are. Our ally refuses to tell.
This is much much more in this tremendously fascinating and important book, including considerations of how Terrorists might bring disaster to the United States.
I would only add two points in regard to President Bush. One of his major points of pride is that after 9/11 Terrorists were prevented from hitting the United States. He one day might be given great credit this, should God forbid, the Terrorists one day succeed and pull off some great disaster in the U.S. Secondly, and this not in President Bush's favor. He promised many times to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. If they should do so, this may well go down in history as his greatest failure, more important even than the WMD fiasco in regard to Iraq. For the radical fundamentalist regime in Iran is too the one who has wrought more terror through its proxies than any country in recent years. It is clear that no talk and no carrots will stop it from pursuing nuclear capability. This certainly will be one of President Obama's greatest challenges .And it is to be hoped that he in talking to them will not be as manipulated by them as President Bush was in not talking with them.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2009
Totally excellent book! Easy reading and extremely timely with the current world events. After reading this book, I have a much deeper understanding of the what and why of failed states, history and dynamics of relations in N. Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. I would recommend this book to anyone who desires a deeper understanding of world politics and US responces.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2009
This book is an excellent read for understanding today's complex world and the challenges currently facing the U.S.. However, it does reflect an axiom that I had stated in a book that I recently published and that is: "It is far easier to be a critic than to be correct." With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the author focuses on all of the bad decisions and missed opportunities of the Bush administration. I wished Colin Powell would have required the same response from the intelligence community before the Iraq war that he required from his own subordinates in the military and that was: "First tell me what you know, and then tell what you do not know before you give me your opinion." It appears that many of these mistakes could have been avoided in "real time" with the information that was available (or was not available in some cases) if it had been evaluated with an open mind rather than a pre-conceived objective. As Sir James Dewar once said, "Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open."
Foresight with an open mind is what we need from our government to prevent us from relearning these same mistakes in the future. We spend billions of dollars to obtain information from our potential adversaries and we have the most brilliant minds in the world to evaluate this information before we act. Let's make sure that "all' of the voices are heard and that we also answer the question of what are the global consequences, what do we do next, how long will it take, and what resources are needed "before" we act?
The book is a good history of the turmoil created by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and how that has impacted world leaders and events ever since; however, the most disturbing part of the book is near the end describing the consequences of potential terrorist attacks that "could happen" in the future if we don't have the "foresight" that is needed.
This book should be required reading by all of our elected officials. As George Santayana once said, "If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it!"
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2009
I am glad I bought this book and I thought it was very good in what it presented (and a lot scary). It is a good primer on what we face internationally. My objection to the book is it seems no matter what Bush did according to Sanger, he did it wrong. If he acted early, he didn't follow through. If he acted later correctly (in Sanger's view), his delays were the problem. He doesn't seem to lash out at Clinton in the same way, nor does he give much credit to the positives Bush did. I am not a Bush fan and I agree with Sanger's general viewpoint that we wasted time, energy and lives going after the wrong problem (Iraq), but I wish Sanger would have left out his agenda when he wrote this book. When he sticks to the facts of what is going on, the book is very well written and highly educational. I do recommend you buy the book...just watch out for when he starts his biased commentary.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2009
My husband and I both felt this book was both frightening and informative. I definitely recommend to any American interested in what is going on
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2009
A disapointing book, with a lot of detail but not much in the way of analysis or recommendations. Sanger ultimately concludes that transnational threats are the greatest danger to U.S. security, and yet uses a framework based on specific countries for most of the book. After exorciating Bush for his focus on the "Axis of Evil", Sanger spends a great deal of time discussing- guess what- North Korea and Iran. He does little to connect the dots between rougue regimes and non-state actors. The "blame Bush for nearly everything" routine gets tiresome, and while Obama has inherited a dangerous global situation, Sanger never convincingly makes the case that it is more dire than the crises that the Bush administration was forced to confront due to the inaction of the Clinton administration. Sanger takes Bush to task for refusing to negotiate with NK, yet clearly all of Clinton's deal-making with Kim Jong-Il ultimately failed. Also, while Sanger clearly had to make difficult choices in which topics/countries he covered, his complete omission of Russia as a strategic concern is troublesome. Ultimately, he never makes the connection between the various challanges he lays out and the opportunities that such problems represent.
on March 17, 2012
The premise of The Inheritance is simple: what are the greatest foreign policy problems Obama inherited? It's a difficult subject to address without criticizing Bush, and Sanger pulls no punches, but it's really about what Obama will face. As such, it was an excellent primer on foreign policy when I originally read it shortly after the election. I believe it remains valuable today. Sanger, pointedly avoiding Iraq, identifies five countries as the greatest challenges to the US: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and China (it is not by accident he avoids Iraq, Sanger sees its greatest cost as one of opportunity). Other countries remain troublesome (notably, Russia and Venezuela; more recently, Mexico), but I think these are still our five greatest threats.
Three years later Sanger's work still holds. Iran continues to press forward in its nuclear ambitions while the US balks at Israel's preference for a preemptive approach. Pakistan proved to have been the hiding place of Bin Laden. North Korea replaced its leader, but we would do well to remember it has turned the rope-a-dope into an art of strategic statecraft. Recent events threaten to undo all the good work of the past few years in Afghanistan and China marches on untrammeled by pressure from the US.
Sanger devotes considerable attention to nuclear proliferation. One might be tempted to make this a point of criticism, given its lack of political salience these days, but let there be no doubt--nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat to America. It was in 2004--when both Bush and Kerry immediately answered as such during a debate--and it remains so today. Sanger devotes considerable space to detailing our failures to prevent nuclear proliferation during Bush's presidency. At the epicenter was a Pakistani scientist named A.Q. Khan. He was selling nuclear secrets going back to the administrations of the elder Bush and Clinton. Covert work to thwart his efforts with Libya was highly successful, less so with Iran. It was Khan who sold vital technology to the North Koreans.
At first blush China seems an odd choice for the "Big 5." But it makes a lot of sense when you consider the implications of an autocratic dictatorship as your major economic rival. Sanger sometimes falls victim to seeing the mote in America's eye but failing to see the plank in China's--it's frankly laughable to think of equating the U.S. with China in human rights or regulatory environment--and he can turn a blind eye to history--he compares U.S. reaction to China today to reaction to Japan in the 80s without drawing the connection that neither had a sustainable economic model--but Sanger's understanding of the China problem is generally excellent. Bush's "soft" approach to China is the rare policy to meet Sanger's approval (I don't know that I agree). China is pursuing a "puncture strategy" militarily-- defeat America's superior technology however possible, whether by shooting down satellites, with anti-aircraft carrier missiles, or cyberattacks. Sanger sees China's rise to become a "peer competitor" as inevitable, so we better embrace it. But China will never become our economic equal without massive reforms that are by no means inevitable. But they may, and they will likely remain an second-tier (with America lonely on the first tier) economic superpower. There is some good news, e.g., China has shown a grudging responsiveness to international pressure.
The China section also contains a perfect example of soft power. Emergency relief can be "the single best way to make use of America's soft power while delivering a subtle message about America's hard power." Admiral Keating "recalled an incident from the winter of 2007, when two American C-17 cargo planes were dispatched to Guangzhou Province in China with blankets because the area had been hit with a brutal cold spell that threatened mass deaths from exposure. It took less than seventy-two hours, he said, between the time the Chinese asked for some help and the arrival of the first American planes, which immediately offloaded pallets full of blankets." I assume China got the message.