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Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power Hardcover – June 5, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A must-read for policy wonks and a good primer on how American power works beyond our borders." --Kirkus

"Penetrating history of the presiden'ts effort to grapple with a world in flux..." --New York Times 

"Sanger is one of the leading national security reporters in the United States, and this astonishingly revealing insider's account of the Obama administration's foreign policy process is a triumph of the genre.'' --Foreign Affairs

"Meticulously reported, immensely readable..." --The Washington Post

About the Author

DAVID E. SANGER is the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times and bestselling author of The Inheritance. He has been a member of two teams that won the Pulitzer Prize and has received numerous awards for coverage of the presidency and national security policy. He also teaches national security policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307718026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307718020
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Piggybacking on GW Bush's earlier forays into cyber warfare, President Obama, in lieu of having to launch (or having to prevent Israel from launching) a full-scaled air attack, elected to launch instead, a joint cyber attack with Israel on the centrifuges at Iran's Natanz nuclear plant. In retrospect, it can be seen that Obama's motive for pulling Israel into a highly secret cyber project was designed primarily to dissuade our closest Middle East Ally, from launching its own unilateral (but what would have probably been a highly destabilizing) military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. This well-written book goes into such scary detail about the whole enterprise, that like John McCain in his recent call for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the matter, I too wondered how a New York Times Reporter could get access to so many intricate details of such a closely held national security secret?

Here is a rough summary of the most interesting part of the book in my view: the author's description of how a Bush initiated project called "Olympic Games," unfolded and got played out under Obama's direction:

Following up on previous efforts to surreptitiously install faulty parts into Iran's German made computer systems and power supplies, General James Cartwright, of the U.S. strategic command, convinced President GW Bush that launching a cyber penetration effort could be at least as effective as the stratagem of trying to introduce faulty parts. Bush bought into Cartwright's idea, which outlined a way of gaining access to the Natanz plant's industrial computer controls by the innocent introduction via a thumb drive of a small bit of "sleeper" code called a "beacon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book and a few related articles have riled political Washington for the past week. Sanger obviously had very high access, has sourced his open facts very well and wrote an excellent book. Here's a great inside look at the past three years of diplomacy, covert action and internal Administration deliberations.

I won't give another summary here; others already have. I will echo another reviewer's irritation at Sanger's introduction of Obama as "typical dovish Democrat" and transition to "Hawk." Sanger needed to tell a story here; like many in the Washington press corps, he is shocked (SHOCKED!) to find the President would act like either a "Hawk" or a politician. Sanger has difficulty moving away from that bit of conventional wisdom, an understandable problem given his own position as a New York Times reporter.

The only other point the book seems to lack is a deeper discussion of the legal and geo-political ramifications of nation-states' use of cyberwarfare in peacetime. Sanger brings up the point of nations using military-designed computer programs to weaken or spy upon other nations. Is this an act of war? Where is that line to be drawn? Sanger asks the question but doesn't search very far for his own position, nor does he look to any other outside voices on the subject.

So, we have an extended news article here, focusing on several challenges to the United States around the world and how this Administration has met them, for good or ill. Sanger doesn't take much of a position of his own, but this won't stop reviewers, talking heads, the left-wing blogosphere or right-wing shriek radio from spinning this book to their own ends. I believe this book is worth the money to read and decide for yourself.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Confront and Conceal is, in many ways, the sequel to The Inheritance. The Inheritance was about the foreign policy challenges Obama inherited from Bush. In Confront and Conceal, Sanger examines how Obama has faced those changes and attempts to pin down an "Obama Doctrine." In Inheritance, Sanger presented America's foreign policy challenges as almost siloed. Here, he makes clear that our continued presence in Afghanistan is largely driven by our strategic interests in Pakistan, and those strategic interests are amplified by our interest in not leaving Pakistan with the alternative of China as their major ally and benefactor. And the money to pay for it all comes from the same place. Everything is linked.

Confront and Conceal is organized into five parts, covering: Afghanistan & Pakistan, Iran, drones & cyber warfare, the Arab Spring, and China & North Korea. The section on Afghanistan & Pakistan is the longest by a fair margin, taking up almost one third of the book. China & North Korea, by comparison, is given short shrift. In my mind, it's hard to argue that the Arab Spring deserves twice the space as China & North Korea.

A renewed exuberance for the Afghan war (reflecting Obama's campaign rhetoric) soon faded under sober inspection. Transforming Afghanistan into a modern nation was not and never had been feasible. There is simply no way to replace the development aid and military spending that accounted for the vast majority of Afghanistan's GDP. So our focus shifted to warily watching Pakistan and (rightly) putting our pursuit of al-Qaeda first, even if it means jeopardizing our relationship with Pakistan, as the mission to kill Osama bin Laden did.
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