RECOMMENDED READING FOR OBAMA…. The Washington Monthly has a feature in our new issue with book recommendations for the new president, with suggestions from some of our favorite writers and thinkers. We’re covering the recommendations in an ongoing series of posts, and here are the next two from our list.
We all know the areas in which Barack Obama’s experience, instincts, and long-stated positions make him his own policy expert. Rule-of-law questions, plus management of racial frictions, are the two most obvious illustrations. I assume he is getting a crash education on economic and energy policy from a very strong team, and I bet he quickly shows a good natural feel for dealing with foreign leaders.
The place to worry is about defense policy. Obama said next to nothing about it during the campaign. Of course, he emphasized getting out of Iraq and focusing more on Afghanistan and about the limits of military-firepower answers to complex economic and ethnic questions. But about the cost and nature of America’s defense establishment, the training and nature of the officer corps, the relative roles of the services, and a hundred similar issues Obama has been hazy at best. This is a problem not just because the issues are so important but also because Democratic leaders can so easily be mau-maued into thinking that they must be resolutely “pro-military” — which in practice means never questioning budgets — to hold off attacks from the right. Clearest recent case study: Hillary Clinton’s eight-year role on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
What would make me feel best about Obama on this front? News that he had actually, himself, read America’s Defense Meltdown, by an all-star array of truly expert authors. There is no better, terser, more comprehensive or authoritative introduction to an independent, realistic perspective on the Pentagon — complete with the facts, details, and nuance to give Obama confidence in these views. Plus, it’s free — at this site.
When you campaign on change we can believe in, and suddenly you’re facing change we can’t believe is happening, here are two books for you, Mr. President.
One is The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, by Peter Schwartz. It’s still the most accessible guide to thinking rationally, systematically, and strategically about futures you can’t possibly predict. Scenario planning is the antidote to the kind of futures bravado that caused us to roll into Iraq thinking there was no other possibility but that they’d throw rose petals at our feet. As change accelerates, you’ve got a lot more strange stuff coming at you, Mr. President. This is the conceptual guide on how to prepare.
The other is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s the greatest long-view provider — ever — of fresh reminders why you cared. Cared about these perverse, ornery, unpredictable, cussed people you chose to lead. It never lets you forget that in the face of unprecedented threats, the ragged human convoy of divergent perceptions, piqued honor, posturing, insecurity, and humor will wend its way to glory.