Seven Books Every Presidential Candidate Should Read. (But Won't)

Advice to War Presidents by Angelo Codevilla

If they would read it, I'd be delighted to buy copies of this well-researched book for President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and all the GOP Contenders. It's a must read for officials and everyone interested in foreign policy. It can hardly be described as a liberal or conservative book. Dr. Codevilla eviscerates all sides for their blunders and lack of seriousness: Bush and the "Neo-cons," the CIA, Kissinger and the "Realists," and every liberal internationalist from Wilson on. After reading it you will never again put complete faith in what the CIA or FBI says it "knows." He uses historical examples from ancient Greece to the War of Terror to illustrate his points. There is something here to offend every viewpoint. Some Quotes: "For European Governments and the U.S. State Department, calling a conference is the 'school solution' to any problem." (P. 86) " Today as ever, in public life as in private, leaving no favor unrewarded and no offense unpunished is the key to respect and a rule of life that you neglect at your risk." (P. 159)

There were things that made me uncomfortable and that I disagree with, but I'm willing to concede that the author has both more experience and has thought more deeply that I have about the subject. This is a book that will challenge your viewpoints and make you defend them. It may, and should, change your views of both war and statecraft. I highly recommend this book.

The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower by Michael Pillsbury

This is a terrific but frightening book, well written and well documented by one of the U.S. government's leading China Experts for about 40 years. China places a very high strategic value on deception and making us believe they are weak and have no intentions of surpassing the U.S. He cites a Chinese proverb from the Warring States period that China's military and civilian leaders often use: Wai ru, nei fa -- "On the outside, be benevolent. On the inside, be ruthless." He believes that all recent presidents -- -Republican as well as Democrat, have been fooled by the benevolent outside, as have most China experts, himself included until he started reading things he wasn't supposed to read. The book details how China has stolen technology and IP, built up its cyber-attack forces, developed "Assassin's Mace" asymmetric weapons to counter our much more expensive weapons, and is working on all fronts to replace us. The military buildup, in their strategic thinking comes last, so as not to alert the "old Hegemon" to their intentions. Pillsbury speaks and reads Mandarin, and has had access to top Chinese leaders, hawks as well as moderates, and Chinese defectors, as well as obscure books and documents that most Westerners never get to see.

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 By Charles Murray

Despite the subtitle, this is a book about class, not race. The author is looking at a lot of data that suggested the upper class that runs the country, which he calls the Narrow Elite and the Broad Elite, is increasingly wealthy, increasingly takes in both liberals and conservatives with high IQs, and is increasingly isolated from the experience of the rest of America. He focuses on whites because that Narrow Elite is overwhelmingly white. He also focuses on the white lower class, so the comparison will not be between a white upper class and a minority lower class. He looks at a lot of data suggesting the white lower class is being destroyed by several trends: decreasing industriousness and ability to hold jobs among males, decreasing participation in civic organizations or churches, decreasing marriage rates, decreasing rates of trust and neighborliness, and sharply escalating non-marital birth rates, all trends that suggest the destruction of both happiness for these folks and what he calls the "American Project." Interestingly, after detailing the rolling disaster that is overtaking the white lower class, he presents data that suggest the minority lower class is not much different, contrary to what many might expect. This reinforces my long-held belief that while race doesn't matter, culture matters a great deal.

The New Class Conflict by Joel Kotkin

Well and widely sourced (footnotes make up about 35% of the book) Kotkin quotes favorably from Marx and Elizabeth Warren among others on the left as well as many conservative thinkers. The book deals with the rise of a new oligarchy of tech billionaires and the clerisy who support them to replace the old oligarchy of energy and industrial barons. He goes into depth about the growth of income inequality and the decline of the middle and working classes in ways that will resonate with both progressives and conservatives. He spares neither party in his apportionment of responsibility for the current state of economic affairs. Kotkin weaves solid economic history from the fall of feudalism to the rise of the middle class into the narrative. Minds that are open to learning cannot fail to learn from this book. Some of the quotes that stuck with me: "Increasingly, American politics resemble not so much a rising democracy as an emerging plutocracy, with dueling groups of billionaires right and left determining most political choices." "Middle-class taxpayers have been transformed into unwitting underwriters of over $20 billion in bonuses paid out in 2013 by Wall Street." "The tax system penalizes the Yeomanry (his term for the low and middle income earners) but rewards the oligarchs." "In the absence of a focus on how to grow economies more rapidly and broadly, both political philosophies (liberal and conservative) fall short." I highly recommend this book to those with the cognitive ability to understand it, open minds and a concern about the direction of this country.

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell

I learned more from this book than any other book I have ever read -- and I had economics in high school and it was covered in my college political science classes. Sowell is not only brilliant, but writes well for the average reader explaining concepts that can seem arcane. It has been translated into six languages and is a required text in economic courses on hundreds of campuses. If you don't understand basic economics you can do little good as you don't understand what is possible and what is wishful thinking.

Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination? By Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams, like Dr. Thomas Sowell, grew up poor and black (Williams in the Philadelphia projects) to become a nationally-known economist. They both have put a lot of focus on the intersection of economics, race and culture. This well researched and documented book contains his data-driven conclusions on the subject, and details how government interventions, sold as benign, have too often disadvantaged blacks and other minorities, while protecting white racists in unions and in the trades and professions. It also offers alternate possibilities for what is seen as racism which are thought provoking. I highly recommend it.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. By Jonathan Haidt

I suppose the best compliment is that throughout this insightful and well-written book, I kept wishing the author was present so I could discuss, and often argue points with him. To be fair, many of the points I wanted to argue he addressed and resolved further on. Haidt is a self-described left-wing academic and atheist, though of Jewish heritage. He is a Kerry and Obama supporter, a bias he is very open about and references throughout this work. But he is also an intellectually honest man and -- so rare on today’s campuses -- open to diversity of thought, the only kind of diversity that really matters. A “Moral Psychologist,” Haidt makes a very solid academic research effort to understand the moral foundations of both conservative and liberal political thought, as well as why religion is important in human societies. The book held my interest throughout, and will be of great value to thinkers on both the right and the left of our political divide, who will gain understanding of why they hold the views they do, and why others hold different views.

Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East. By John Keay

I’ve recommended this before, but given what is going on there, if you and Obama and Clinton haven’t read it, now might be a good time. A broad look at an area we will be engaged with for a long time. This is an excellent one-volume history of the Middle East, from 1890 through the Suez crisis in 1956, with an epilog to bring us up to date. The catalog of crime and invasion, contention, execution, and insurrection, siege and betrayal of Hashemite vs. Wahhabi, Sunni vs. Shia vs. Kurd vs. Turk, Allies vs. Ottomans, Britain vs. France, Zionists vs. Muslims, and other groups great and small would give a tourist pause, never mind a diplomat or soldier.