15 October 2004

National Book Award surprise finalist

Last Wednesday, finalists were announced for the National Book Awards, and
there’s a bit of brouhaha over the fiction finalists, because they are
all very small, unknown novels.
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But the Tom Clancy of the nonfiction set, the 9/11 Commission Report,
got a nomination for at non-fiction award.  The first eleven (of
thirteen) chapters are compelling reading.  They provide,
alternating between action in the United States by intelliegence
communites and among the terrorist plotters, an overview of the whole
situation leading up to September 11, 2001.  Not only does the
report have an organization that lends itself well to narrative, but
the style and tone of the report comes across as very unified, as if
written by a single author (as I suspect for this reason that it was),
rather than the joint product of ten or twelve people.

The last two chapters are somewhat disappointing.  The solution to
the ideological crisis of Islamism requires bureacratic
re-organization.  But the failure wasn’t just one of
intelligence.  When George Kennan wrote the Long Telegram in 1947,
outlining the structure of a US foreign policy to oppose Soviet
hegemony, he didn’t propose a bureacratic change, a tactic; he posed a
strategic plan, that of “containment.”  The “solution” chapters of
the 9/11 report strike as missing just that element, a comprehensive
strategy.  I think the bureacratic reorganization provides a
fairly good tactic, and the report’s suggestions should be
implemented.  But it lacks an overall vision of what needs to be
done, and thus doesn’t go far enough.

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