Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hell in Ukraine: 'Where the West Ends"

Review by Bill Doughty
In "Where the West Ends: Stories from the Middle East, the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus," reporter Michael J. Totten takes road trips and detours to describe "scars from the communist era, both physical and emotional."
The road to Borjomi, Georgia from
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to and from communism seems to be paved with potholes. Totten measures the potholes in Eastern Europe by the size of various kitchen appliances that could fit inside.

He has a special view of taxis.  He writes, "No one has given me more trouble in the Middle East than people who drive for a living."

While not quite stereotyping, he tries to explain how the various religious, ethnic and cultural differences evolved in the Balkans:
"Ethnicity in the Balkans, as in the Middle East, has nothing to do with biological characteristics.  Expanding and contracting empires of both the East and the West have mixed up the gene pools everywhere in both regions. American-style racial categories make no sense there. An Orthodox Christian in the former Yugoslavia who speaks Serbo-Croatian as a first language is a Serb no matter where his ancestors may have lived hundreds of years ago.  And that's true whether he attends church or not. Religious belief as such is no more relevant to ethnicity in the Balkans than it is inside Israel. Dark-eyed or dark-skinned Slavs are even more common in Serbia than white-skinned or blue-eyed Arabs are in North Africa and the Levant -- and the Arab world has more white-skinned and blue-eyed Arabs than you might think if you've never been there to see it. Blue-eyed Arabs are often the children of Crusaders. Dark-skinned Slavs tend to be the descendants of Ottoman Turks."
In trips to Kosovo, Georgia, Romania and Ukraine, the dark shadows and ghosts of the former Soviet Union continue to loom. Totten gives us history lessons and insights through his colorful interactions with locals.

He quotes Daniel Apostol, editor in chief of Romania's Money Channel,who recounts the rise and fall of Ceausescu's totalitarian state:
"Communism changed our mentality. We are fighting now to come back to what we were. We lost the culture of private property. We lost this sense of privacy and respecting each other's time and respecting people as individuals, as human beings. That was the worst thing that happened to us. This is why we are struggling so much now to get back to the capitalist society, to the free market, which can run only if there is respect for private property."
Kennan as a young man in 1924
Totten seems to strive to prove a quote from George F. Kennan, America's ambassador to the Soviet Union under President Truman, and a contemporary and colleague of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.

Kennan's quote is used twice in "Where the West Ends": "Russia can have on its borders only enemies or vassals."

Of Ukraine's capital, Totten writes, "Kiev is what Moscow and St. Petersburg wish they were." Totten visited years before the recent uprising that saw street demonstrations and snipers in Kiev in 2014.

Ukraine demonstrations in 2014; photo from World Affairs Journal.
In his blog post this week for World Affairs Journal, Totten writes about Ukraine. "Almost every country I’ve ever written about is either in hell, has only recently recovered from hell, or is on its way to hell. I hoped when I visited Ukraine that it was on its way out, but I did not have a good feeling about it, as you’ll recall if you read my book."

Totten's descriptive power and insights come together at the end of "Where the West Ends," as he attempts a road trip to Chernobyl but instead travels through Ukraine and to the Sea of Azor, which links Ukraine and Southwestern Russia.
"We were technically in Europe, but it looked like the nastiest parts of Iraq.  The sound of machine-gun fire would not have seemed out of place.  I have never been anywhere that looks and feels more like the rotted dead center of the Soviet Empire. This place was so utterly godforsaken and misery-stricken I had a momentary feeling that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had never fallen apart, that, Mordor-like, its malice truly is sleepless, that it's still crushing parts of the world in its totalitarian fist."
The author shares the names of other authors and book titles frequently. Among the books cited in "Where the West Ends":
  • "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" by Rebecca West
  • "Bosnian Book of the Dead"
  • "We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with All Our Families" by Philip Gourevitch
  • "Sarajevo Haggadah"
  • "Mein Kampf" by Adolf Hitler
  • "Azerbaijan Diary," "Georgian Diary" and "Chechnya Diary" by Thomas Goltz
  • "Eastward to Tartary" by Robert Kaplan
  • "Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivism and the Terror Famine" by Robert Conquest
  • "The God that Failed" by Arthur Koestler
  • "Forever Flowing" by Vasily Grossman
  • "I Chose Freedom" by Victor Krauchenko
Michael J. Totten
Totten references thinkers and writers Thomas Friedman and the late Christopher Hitchens.

The 2014 Winter Olympics comes to a close in Sochi, Russia this weekend, and they will be tied forever to human rights debates and images like the horsewhipping of protestors by Cossacks. 

Meanwhile, in nearby Ukraine, people in potholed streets of Kiev have been dying to be free of corruption and totalitarian rule. Totten helps us understand the region and the historical context for what's happening there now.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Antislavery Writings in Resolving Hypocrisy

Review by Bill Doughty
George Washington ensured his slaves were freed but not till after his death.

By the time George Washington died he had resolved the greatest hypocrisy of his life. 

Much of the "Last Will and Testament" of the first American president, a man who fought the Revolutionary War for liberty and equality, is dedicated to freeing his slaves and funding their care and education. In many parts of the young country at the time it was illegal to teach slaves how to read.

Jefferson did not resolve the same hypocrisy and, in fact, compounded it through his actions.

Lincoln confronted and resolved the issue on behalf of the nation five decades after Washington's death.

"American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation," edited by James G. Basker and published by the Library of America, offers hundreds of stories, narratives, poems, letters and songs. The book includes Washington's will related to his slaves.

Among the several passages written by Abraham Lincoln in this book is Lincoln's "Peoria" speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which permitted slavery in the new territories leading to the West. Lincoln argued for the blessings of freedom and against those who found legal and biblical justification for slavery as morally justified.
"Let us turn slavery from its claims of 'moral right,' back upon its existing legal rights, and its arguments of 'necessity.' Let us return it to the position our fathers gave it; and there let it rest in peace. Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south -- let all Americans -- let all lovers of liberty everywhere -- join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations."
One of the highlights in this exceptional compilation is an excerpt from "Twelve Years a Slave," the 1853 narrative of Solomon Northrup.  "Northrup presents a detailed sketch of the sadistic slave master Edwin Epps that is almost mesmerizing in its graphic horror," Basker writes. (Northrup's memoir was depicted in a top movie of 2013 directed by Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt.)
From the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Another highly recommended gem in "American Antislavery Writings" is the poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, "The Slave Ships."

Of course, this book includes abolitionist writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and John Brown.  It also includes words of patriots and poets such as Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, Edmund Quincy, Emily Dickinson, William Cullen Bryant, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Former president John Quincy Adams represented Joseph Cinqué and other African captives who had freed themselves from captivity while aboard a Spanish schooner slave ship. Amistad was discovered off Long Island by the U.S. Navy brig Washington. 

President Martin Van Buren ordered the Amistad's slaves be returned to Spain, but Adams argued before the Supreme Court, "the right of personal liberty is individual." He said, "The moment you come, to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided."

One of the strongest condemnations of slavery in America comes at the end of the book in Charles Sumner's "Eulogy on Abraham Lincoln."
"Traitorous assassination struck him down. But do not be too vindictive in heart towards the poor atom that held the weapon. Reserve your rage for the responsible Power, which not content with assailing the life of the Republic by atrocious Rebellion, has outraged all laws human and divine; has organized Barbarism as a principle of conduct; has taken the lives of faithful Unionists at home; has prepared robbery and murder on the northern borders; has fired hotels, filled with women and children; has plotted to scatter pestilence and poison; has perpetrated piracy and ship-burning at sea; has starved American citizens, held as prisoners; has inflicted the slow torture of Andersonville and Libby; has menaced assassination always; and now at last, true to itself, has assassinated our President; and this responsible Power is none other than Slavery. It is Slavery that has taken the life of our beloved Chief Magistrate, and here is another triumph of its Barbarism. On Slavery let vengeance fall."
This book also includes a chronology of the slave trade in the colonies and efforts to abolish it in the new nation under the 16th president and 13th Amendment.

This week my generation remembered the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles from Britain to the United States. In 1964, the Beatles, like Elvis before them, skyrocketed to fame playing music inspired by African-American Rhythm & Blues. (Recommended: timeline  in Dr. Portia K. Maultsby's "History of African American Music.")

The 50 year marker back to 1964 can be used as a yardstick back in time.
Muddy Waters helped plant seeds of rock & roll.

Subtract another 50 years. What were people listening to in 1914, the year World War I began?  The great blues artist Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield) was born the year before. Big Bill Broonzy, who would be a key influence to John Lennon years later, was already playing music and getting ready to move to Chicago. It was the very early beginning of commercial jazz and blues, but the hot group was the American Quartet, who performed top hits, "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary," "Rebecca of Sunny-Brook Farm" and "Do You Take This Woman for Your Lawful Wife."  Sobering to think that, in 1914, women did not yet have the right to vote.  

Back another 50 years -- 1864, popular forms of music were "parlor" and "minstrel."  That was the year songwriter Stephen Foster died.  Foster's complicated and evolving views about slavery are discussed in an online essay by Matthew Shaftel in University of California at Santa Barbara's "Music and Politics" journal.
Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln fought for emancipation.

Another 50 years -- from 1864 to 1814 -- puts us in the midst of the War of 1812 and four years before the birth of free-thinking philosopher Frederick Douglass. Beethoven and Schubert produced music of the time and Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner ("O'er the land of the free...").  Key was a slaveowner who helped found the American Colonization Society, which strove to send free African Americans back to Africa and led to the establishment of Liberia.

Back another 50 years: Fifty years prior to 1814 takes us to 1764, when Bach and Mozart were producing music 12 years before 1776

Phillis Wheatley, 1753-1784
Those few 50-year yardsticks take us back quickly to the beginning of our nation when slavery was the norm but when the voices of abolition were already building. 

"American Antislavery Writings" includes a number of songs and poems starting with the brilliant Phillis Wheatley, America's first African American woman writer.

Wheatley addressed the hypocrisy of slavery in a letter to the Rev. Samson Occum just two years before the Declaration of Independence, addressing her thoughts to "those whose avarice impels them" to support slavery.  "This I desire ... to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically opposite. How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the Exercise of oppressive Power over others agree, -- I humbly think it does not require the Penetration of the Philosopher to determine."

Basker's compilation includes uncredited Anonymous authors, with many voices rising to a crescendo in the 1840s. Women used verse to illuminate the plight of mothers separated from children and vice versa.

Margaret Lucy Shands Bailey of Virginia wrote for anti-slavery periodicals including "National Era," in which Harriet Beecher Stowe first serialized "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  Bailey's "The Blind Slave Boy" was put to music and published in 1844.
"Come back to me mother! Why linger away from thy poor little blind boy, the long weary day!I mark every footstep, I list(en) to each tone, And wonder my mother should leave me alone! There are voices of sorrow, and voices of glee, But there's no one to joy or to sorrow with me; For each hath of pleasure and trouble his share, And none for the poor little blind boy will care."

The case against slavery was won with a combination of cold logic, warm emotion and hot passion that led to a necessary war to preserve the United States.

This book shows how the nation lived up to the ideals expressed by Jefferson, fought for by Washington and realized by Lincoln.

This is a recommended read for this Presidents Day and during Black History Month.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Football Dreams: Navy's First Black Admiral

Review by Bill Doughty

Long before becoming Navy's first black admiral, Samuel L. Gravely Jr., had his sights set on becoming a football coach.  He loved the game, but his father -- "deathly afraid" about injury -- didn't want him to play.  Gravely Sr., a World War I veteran and Pullman Porter, thought his son's future lay with the Post Office.
Gravely's biography, "Trailblazer: The U.S. Navy's First Black Admiral," is the heartfelt tale of how education, hard work, perseverance and luck came together for a remarkable and inspirational leader, whose training to become an officer actually preceded the Golden Thirteen (first naval officers).

Gravely played football despite his father's fears.  He had to hide his uniform behind the refrigerator during high school -- till his father found it.  

After high school he attended the all-black Virginia Union University in his hometown of Richmond Virginia where football changed his life.
"One difference from high school was that I was able to play football without my father knowing it.  The college had a gym with lockers, so it was no longer a case of trying to hide my uniform at home.  One of the football trips in 1940 had beneficial consequences down the road.  At the time, my sister Christie was going to school at Virginia State College in Petersburg.  I went over there once with a bunch of football players, and my sister introduced me to one of her roommates, Alma Clark.  Several years later, Alma and I were married..."
One year later, World War II started in the Pacific with Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941.  Gravely enlisted in the Navy after the Navy announced a new policy (April 7, 1942) that it would accept black Sailors into general service ratings).
As a young man in 1942.

It was a giant leap for the young man whose only life experiences were in the segregated south where every school he attended was all black and where he had to sit in the back of the streetcar or bus but in the front of the train, "which was the first place the coal hit."

At Great Lakes Naval Training Station and Hampton Institute Gravely excelled in study, but learned "I wasn't as technically minded as I thought I was."  He came out as a nonrated fireman. The East Coast would have seemed like a natural selection as a duty station.

"But I was influenced by one of my roommates to look in another direction," Gravely writes.  "[Roger] Gibbons had been a schoolteacher.  He'd been one of the great football players of Prairie View A&M, a black college in Texas ..." Gibbons suggested they take Horace Greeley's advice and "Go West, young man." They asked for and got orders to San Diego, which at the time was even more segregated than Richmond, he writes.

Gravely studied at UCLA. He considered his future and began taking premed classes, temporarily questioning his childhood dream of becoming a football coach.

He followed opportunity back to New York and Asbury Park, New Jersey and excelled as a midshipman, studying at Columbia University.  He expresses regret that instead of an assignment at sea in 1944 he was assigned to teach back at Great Lakes.

Alma and Sam Gravely married on Feb. 12, 1946, Roanoke, VA.
Soon, though, Gravely was serving aboard PC-1264, a submarine chaser homeported at Staten Island, New York City and operating along the East Coast, especially near Florida.  PC-1264 and USS Mason were the only two combatant ships with black officers aboard during WWII.

When PC-1264 went to Norfolk for a shipyard period to prepare for deployment to the Pacific, Gravely struck up a friendship with a worker there and joined his semi-pro football team, the Brown Bombers.  Sadly, while on liberty in Miami, he was arrested for "impersonating an officer" because the white military policeman had never seen a "Negro Navy officer."

After WWII, like a lot of his contemporaries, Gravely decided to leave the military and use the GI Bill to continue his education.  He attended Virginia Union and got serious about his studies, majoring in history.  And he played football.  His coach was Sam Taylor, who had been the coach for his former roommate Roger Gibbons at Prairie View.

Another turning point came in 1949 when Gravely was invited to come back on active duty.  The year before President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order (9981) which said, "It is hereby declared that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."

It was also a turning point for civil rights in the nation. Like a quarterback (Russell Wilson) and his father would ask in the next generation: "Why not me?  Why not us?"

Gravely became a coach and leader not of football players but of Sailors.  He would go on from recruiter duty to serve aboard the battleship USS Iowa, heavy cruiser USS Toledo, USS Seminole and USS Theodore E. Chandler.  He would serve throughout the Korean, Vietnam and Cold Wars.

USS Falgout in Pearl Harbor
He made history January 31, 1962 when he became CO of USS Falgout in Pearl Harbor.  "I guess it's been said that this was the first time a black had command of a U.S. Navy ship since Robert Smalls captured a small frigate out of the Charleston Harbor and turned it over to the Union forces during the Civil War," Gravely writes.

In 1963 he was invited to the White House where he and Alma met President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson.  He was in Washington DC as part of the Emancipation Proclamation centennial celebration.

Gravely next served at the Naval War College and Defense Communications Agency.  He commanded USS Taussig and then USS Jouett, a guided-missile frigate, later redesignated a guided-missile cruiser.

In 1971, Gravely was frocked to rear admiral, blazing another trail for naval officers.  He served as Director of Naval Communications and Commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Group Two and then Eleventh Naval District.  

In September 1976, back in Pearl Harbor, Gravely assumed command of U.S. Third Fleet, based in Hawaii. (Since then C3F has relocated to San Diego.)

Details of Gravely's assignments, new technologies, housing challenges, duty in the Pacific, "racial disturbances in the fleet," and the profound influence of CNO Adm. Zumwalt and his Z-grams are all included in "Trailblazer."

In addition to his accomplishments, Gravely shares his challenges and personal tragedies.  In 1978 his son Robbie was killed while driving on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.

"Trailblazer" is written with Paul Stillwell, who in the preface notes that Gravely was born just 60 years after the Civil War.  The afterward is a very personal account by Alma B. Gravely, written in 2010, of her life together with her "Sammie."  Admiral Gravely passed away in 2004.

In 2009, the Samuel L. Gravely Jr. Elementary School was dedicated in Prince William County, Virginia.  Inside the front door of the school is the motto that Alma says expresses the admiral's philosophy:  "Success = Education + Motivation + Perseverance."

The dust jacket of "Trailblazer," published by the Naval Institute Press, notes:  "The U.S. Navy commissioned the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) in 2010 in tribute to a man who relished destroyer service and set an example for generations of Navy men and women."  Read a 2014 Naval History Blog post here, written by historian Dr. Regina T. Akers.

And on a separate note, about football...
(Samuel L. Gravely Sr.'s concerns about the dangers of football, expressed to his son more than 70 years ago, are echoed all over the news this Superbowl weekend as Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks defeated Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. President Obama said if he had a son he wouldn't let him play tackle football, and even Brett Favre said something similar as more information comes out about the long-term damage to the brain, including memory loss, from concussions. Fans know the story of Junior Seau and they are hearing from Joe Namath and other former players.  Troy Aikman and John Lynch, high-profile Fox broadcasters, are asking for more information from the NFL. Don't expect the NFL to be complacent or take safety for granted. Already, the game has evolved thanks to new rules and steep fines against violent hits, helmet-to-helmet contact and late hits and other unsportsmanlike conduct. Too much money is at stake for the game to not evolve further. Imagine how much football has already progressed and changed for the better since it began, thanks to instant replay, for example.  As for the violence, just watch rugby to see how physical a game can be without as many serious injuries. BD)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Iran: Twilight War, Nightmare or Daylight

Review by Bill Doughty
"Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-year Conflict with Iran" by David Crist ends on a pessimistic note, with both Iran and the United States in seemingly intractable hardened positions after three decades of quasi-war.

Crist predicted, "the light is dimming."  

Were we heading for a night and nightmare of war with Iran? Crist's book ends in 2012 so is understandably incomplete as history continues to unfold.

Crist walks us through the tense minefields and occasional explosions of the modern U.S.-Iran relationship.
"President Carter inherited a Persian Gulf policy forged entirely on the anvil of the Cold War," Crist writes, beginning with a face-off with Russia over Tehran in 1946. "The United States started from a distinct disadvantage in the nuclear balance in the Middle East. The Soviets arrayed a massive arsenal of strategic weapons toward the Persian Gulf, capable of devastating the area's military bases, ports and refineries and oil fields."
The roots of hostility with Iran itself can be traced to 1953 when the CIA ousted democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and restored the monarchy under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.  The Iranian people's resentment would eventually lead to a revolution.
Hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979.

As tempers flared in the late 1960s, the U.S. couldn't show presence in the Persian Gulf because it was "bogged down" in Vietnam.

Ten years later, during the Iranian Revolution, in which the U.S. embassy was captured and 52 hostages were held for 444 days, defense options continued to be limited.  
"In the aftermath of Vietnam, the U.S. Army had committed itself intellectually and fiscally to building conventional forces poised for a massive clash of tanks and artillery in Germany ... While the admirals shared some of their army brethren's concerns about diverting ships away from the main effort against the Soviets -- in their case, in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans -- the Persian Gulf presented considerable challenges for the U.S. Navy.  Although since 1949 the United States had maintained a small show-the-flag flotilla based in Bahrain called Middle East Force, the navy had little experience operating in this remote, torrid region.  The Persian Gulf lay three thousand miles from the nearest naval base."
Carter, Brzezinski and Vance at the White House.
Crist contrasts the "perennially upbeat" and "energetic" President Reagan with the more detail-oriented President Carter but gives Carter, the former naval officer, credit  for developing "a new plan to defend Middle East oil, "staking out the American policy of freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.  Specifically, Carter authorized the Pentagon to use force to prevent Iran from closing the Strait of Hormuz to oil exports."

By the end of 1980 the U.S. was on a course to develop closer ties with pro-Western Arab nations in the region.  Military ties would fortify defenses for all concerned.

"The first military plans had been refined to combat the Soviets.  While Reagan's supporters touted the dawn of a new, firmer stance against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, in fact it had been Jimmy Carter who laid the foundation for American grand strategy for the next decade," Crist writes.

The creation of CENTCOM and role of U.S. Pacific Fleet in the 80s are underscored.  Crist gives us detailed behind-the-scenes profiles of individuals, incidents and initiatives to deal with conflict.
"On April 29, 1988, President Reagan ordered U.S. forces to broaden the protection of vessels in the Gulf.  This marked a major change in the rules of engagement in the Gulf and muddled the clear distinction about belligerency.  U.S. warships were now free to take any action necessary to end an Iranian attack in progress, including using deadly force, but they could not retaliate for an attack that had previously occurred."
The Iranian frigate Sahand burns after being attacked by aircraft from USS Enterprise in 1988.
Several situations came close to sparking all-out war with Iran during the late 80s and in the years since:
  • Iran's Sabalan and Sahand provocations and Navy's response in "Praying Mantis"
  • USS Samuel B. Roberts mine strike
  • USS Vincennes shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655
  • Arms for hostages in the ill-fated Iran Contra Affair
  • Bombing of Marine Barracks in Lebanon
  • Direct harassment, threats and plots against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Quds Force actions, including bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia
  • Support to Hamas and other extremist groups
  • Threats with Sudan to "the other great maritime choke point": the Suez Canal
  • Hostility and threats to USS Paul F. Foster, USS Hopper, USS Port Royal, USS Ingraham and other U.S. warships
Vice President Bush (right) briefs President Reagan.
Crist describes President George H. W. Bush's overtures for a better relationship with Iran as the 80s ended.  Bush, also a former naval officer, extended "a major olive branch to the Iranians" in the middle of another crisis, in which Iran-influenced Hezbollah held American hostages in Lebanon.

Bush Senior said in his first inaugural address, "Assistance can be shown here, and will be long remembered.  Goodwill begets goodwill.  Good faith can be a spiral that endlessly moves on ... Great nations like great men must keep their word.  When America says something, America means it, whether a treaty or an agreement or a vow made on marble steps."

In the wake of the Iran-Iraq war, death of Ayatollah Khomeini and ascension of Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rafsanjani, rapprochement looked possible.  However, good relations did not materialize in a climate of mistrust and "a list of four issues that divided the two nations," according to Crist: "terrorism, the Middle East peace process, weapons of mass destruction, and human rights."

The night of war seemed closer, Crist says, in 1995 as Iranians perceived provocations by President Clinton's defense department and actions by Congress.
"The new speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, a plump Georgian intellect and not one to shy away from the press, openly advocated overthrowing the Iranian regime.  He argued that Clinton's dual containment lacked any stick with which to beat the intransigent mullahs.  While the Clinton administration immediately rejected the feasibility of overthrowing the Iranian government, Gingrich pushed through a very public $18 million plus-up for the CIA's covert action budget for Iran."
Ironically, instead of buying regime change the money was used for "small programs such as the 'Great Books' program, which sought to smuggle classics of Western literature into the country," such as Kafka and Alex deTocqueville's "Democracy in America."  However, "Gingrich's CIA funding enraged the Iranians," and they saw it as a declaration of covert war, something Iran excelled in, Crist says.

In the wake of he Khobar Towers and on the brink of war, the winds shifted again with the election of President Khatami.

Khatami "pushed for economic reform and political liberalization" that extended to foreign policy and even religion.  Crist writes, "He advocated that there could be more than a single interpretation of Islam, with a more contemporary reading of the Koran."  In an interview with CNN's American reporter Christiane Amanpour, Khatami strongly condemned terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations."
"The election of Mohammad Khatami changed the dynamics in the waters of the Persian Gulf too.  The harassment of U.S. warships transiting the Persian Gulf ceased.  Late on the morning of September 19, 1999, the American cruiser USS Lake Erie intercepted a Belize-flagged merchant ship suspected of smuggling Iraqi crude.  the U.S. warship stopped the ship just three miles from Iranian waters, but in an area claimed by Tehran.  It was just the sort of incident that would have threatened to escalate in the past.  But this time Tehran simply lodged a complaint with the United Nations.  The Revolutionary Guard never displayed the professional attitude of the Iranian navy, but it was clear that Khatami had reined in the bellicose excesses of the guard commanders.  The tension in the Gulf decreased precipitously."
Crist writes, "The next spring Clinton took a gamble by offering another olive branch to Iran." But, "Thus far, American overtures toward Iran had yielded nothing."

Hardliners in Iran, the author shows, conspired to undermine any hopes at rapprochement.  Harassment of the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf continued.
In 2000 USS Cole was bombed in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 Sailors and wounding 39 in the worst attack against a Navy warship since Iraq attacked USS Stark in 1987.  Evidence would show the Cole attack was perpetrated by al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but strong suspicions turned to Iran.

President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld came into power and expedited military plans for dealing with Iran.

But Crist shows how the Bush administration, which included national security advisor Condi Rice, assistant defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, William Luti, Peter Rodman, Doug Feith and other "neocons," also shifted focus to Iraq especially following the attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

Suddenly, Iran became the "enemy of my enemy" in the complicated morass of Sunni/Shi'ite Muslim ideology.
"The perpetrators of 9/11 were harbored by a fiercely anti-Shia, anti-Iranian Afghan tribal alliance, the Taliban. Iran supported the main opposition group, the Northern Alliance, with close ties to the legendary Afghan resistance fighter who opposed both the Soviets and the Taliban, Ahmad Massoud. In 1998, Iran threatened to invade Afghanistan following the killing of eight Iranian diplomats by Taliban forces when they stormed the city of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan.  As a result, Iran increased its support for the Northern Alliance and the anti-Taliban forces."
Nevertheless, President George W. Bush linked Iran not only with Iraq but also with North Korea when in 2000 he called all three nations "an axis of evil."  The comments in his 2002 State of the Union speech were greeted with indignation in Iran.

Unfortunately, after the "axis of evil" characterization, Iran pulled out of "promising talks" with Secretary of State Colin Powell's emissary, Ryan Crocker.

On one point, everyone in the Bush administration and subsequent Obama administration agreed:  the need to get Iran to stop its developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Marine Gen. Mattis meets with then Secretary of Defense Gates in 2011.
That point of contention with Iran led to international sanctions. Tough-minded leaders in the military like General Abizaid, Admiral Gortney and General Mattis built coalitions and strategies and stood strong against Iran without igniting war.

Of the current Commander in Chief, Crist writes, "During the course of Barack Obama's first three years in office, his policy had morphed from one of hopeful optimism and an extended hand of friendship to harsh sanctions and preparations for war ... While critics accused him of being naive in his initial approach, Obama's policy was more sophisticated than many realized.  He knew the sticks of sanctions or military strikes were always there; what he did not know was whether Iran was seriously willing to sit down and discuss the differences that had divided the two nations for more than thirty years."

This book is a comprehensive, extremely well-researched accounting of Iran-U.S. animosity, with many fits and starts toward normal relations, but it does not end on a hopeful note:
"Distrust permeates the relationship.  Three decades of twilight war have hardened both sides. When someone within the fractured governing class in Tehran reached out to the American president, the United States was unwilling to accept anything but capitulation.  When President Obama made a heartfelt opening, a smug Iranian leadership viewed it as a ruse or a gesture of a weak leader.  Iran spurned him ..."
Iranian President Rouhani at the United Nations in September 2013.
Crist's pessimism may be simply because the author's narrative doesn't go beyond 2012.  With the democratic election of President Hassan Rouhani last summer, Iran's signing of a short-term nuclear deal in November, and partial lifting of sanctions in January 2014, there is genuine hope among analysts for a new dawn rather than a nightmare of another war in the region.  

Threatening reconciliation: hardliners in Iran and the U.S. resurfacing once again to move toward conflict and confrontation.  And so it goes.

"Twilight War's" epilogue offers a fascinating account of a thwarted Iranian assassination plot in Washington D.C. against the Saudi ambassador to the United States.  The anecdote reads like an episode of TV's "Homeland" or, with it's Mexican drug smuggler side story, an episode of "Breaking Bad."  

Crist's thorough and engrossing history of America's relationship with Iran is a key read on the CNO's reading list.  This review may be long but it only scratches the surface of what this book has to offer.

Also recommended: Time magazine's recent piece by Robin Wright with a fresh perspective of the issues -- also tied to history and the roots of the Iranian Revolution.