Tag Archives: politics

From Third World to First: the Singapore Story – Lee Kuan Yew

I was also troubled by the apparent over-confidence of a generation that has only known stability, growth and prosperity. I thought our people should understand how vulnerable Singapore was and is, the dangers that beset us, and how we nearly did not make it. Most of all, I hope that they will know that honest and effective government, public order and personal security, economic and social progress did not come about as the natural course of events.

Lee Kuan Yew is the person responsible for the rise of Singapore, from $400 GDP/capita in 1959 when he became Prime Minister to $12,200 GDP/capita in 1990 when he retired. In this book, he tells his memoirs.

When Lee Kuan Yew took charge, Singapore was part of the British Empire, 4.5 times richer per capita than the city-state. By 1990, a Singaporean was richer than a British. Singapore did not have any natural riches to sell, like oil or diamonds, or rich neighbors, not even security guarantees; it had nothing, but its people.

In a towering 750 pages book, Lee Kuan Yew presents chronologically how he achieved this amazing performance. The book is divided in three parts: internal, foreign affairs and legacy.

In first part, the Singaporean leader explains his policies to develop economically and socially the country. He also describes the struggle against the internal enemies: the Malayans and the communists. He took in 1959 an adamant libertarian, free market, pro-capitalism view, in a time where socialism and communism were seem to be on the right part of history. Even in the prosperous years, efficiency and individualism were not abandoned to socialist policies. Meritocracy and a world class civil service were his out-most concerns.

At some point, his views seem controversial, such as recommending marrying your equal in terms of studies. He himself was not though child of such parents and he proved successful.

Nonetheless, he understood that no policy is infallible and he was quick to adapt and abandon inefficient policies, including capitalist or libertarian ones. If it works was what mattered.

Lee Kuan Yew never lost the elections from his sight. He was not a despot, but an elected leader of a democratic country and he always had internal politics in mind. However, the public opinion was not driving his decisions; he pulled and convinced an entire country to follow him. And it followed, because it always came with solid arguments and it delivered.

His critics, however, remind him of his restrictions to several human rights in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew tries to explain himself throughout the book, arguing that no former colonial territory erupted in a democracy; they all needed a steady hand.

In the second part, he recalls his experiences with different countries, leaders and parts of the world. The Great Britain, Europe, the USSR, the United States, ASEAN, Japan, Australia, India, the Commonwealth meetings are featuring in his chapters. But amongst them all, Lee Kuan Yew admires the most China and Deng Xiaoping.

The Singaporean leader is, of course, influenced personally by China, as son of Chinese immigrants. He visited often China and his leaders. He was most impressed by Deng Xiaoping, which he considered a giant among men. In Lee Kuan Yew’s words, Deng was the only leader that could gather the loyalty and respect of his fellow Chinese communist leaders in order to change the economic policies of China towards capitalism. Deng did the change in the smart way, gradually, unlike Gorbachev of USSR. Hence, the country did not collapse. Nevertheless, corruption remains a long-term problem in China, Lee Kuan Yew reckoned.

Th third part is the shortest and looks at the new generation of Singaporean leaders. Learning from Deng’s failure to have his appointees leaders of China, Lee Kuan Yew tasked his government to choose a leader.

Talking about his family in this chapter, he expresses his gratitude towards his wife, a keen reader of people and constant support, sharing the same views as him.

The memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew are truly incredible. He is not politically correct and he forcefully puts forward his arguments for what he thinks it is right. The book is a legacy of a man with keen intelligence, using the best examples life gave him: from the American capitalist policies to communist political tactics, from Chinese caution to the experiences of for colonies.

[Feature photo – Singapore by Nicolas Lannuzel]

Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy 1453 to the present – Brendan Simms

The hatchet with France was slowly being buried, but there were still serious differences to be ironed out over North Africa. Russia remained a huge threat, and it was against her that Britain’s first major diplomatic initiative of the new century, the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902, was directed. The main worry, however, was Germany, which had shown unconcealed sympathy for the Boers and whose naval ambitions were seen as a direct challenge to British maritime supremacy.

At 550 pages, Europe is a very dense book of European history, mainly focusing on German lands, due to their position in the center of Europe. It follows the struggles between kingdoms and nations from an international relations perspective. The depth of detail is impressive, but the way the narration progresses and the events are presented keeps the reader engaged.

The book has everything, from the wars within the Holy Roman Empire to modern Germany, from conquest of Cyprus by Ottomans to Crimean war, from Ivan the Terrible to Putin. While Europe is the main focus, there are historical events from Afghanistan, China or the United Stated which get much attention as well.

Brendan Simms offers a thorough explanation of some crucial questions, such why Germany is so important and why Europe conquered the world. It explains brilliantly the motivations of why some countries acted in a specific way.

International relations in action

Brendan Peter Simms is Professor of the History of International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. He shows an impressive quality of understanding historical events, while not pinning down the reader in an infinite enumeration of details.

Just until the present day analysis, the book is a scholarly masterpiece. The present day  events are a lot less clear as the author wants them to be. Also, international relations and foreign policy are sometimes given too much weight, while other actors, such as technology, leaders at a specific time or culture, were important factors as well.

To sum up, this is a brilliant scholarly book on European history from a primacy of international relations viewpoint.

The Art of Lobbying the EU – Rinus van Schendelen

Two different skills deserve special attention. One is the ability to remain cool and calm during the game, in short unagonized, in spite of all the tricks played by the opponents. Whatever happens during it, an interest group must always remain concentrated on its target in the arena, like the football player challenged by various tricks (like spitting, scolding, tackling) must keep watching only the ball, as otherwise the ball is lost. This difficult skill of remaining unagonized gives highly competitive advantage. The second special skill regards the PA research and development (R&D) for useful new resources. Many resources are so general and widespread that they hardly make a difference. The art is to develop new ones that surprise competitors and attract EU officials, thus making a difference.

The Art of Lobbying the EU – More Machiavelli in Brussels is dedicated to professionals of EU affairs, A slow, but fascinating read for the ones working in EU policies: lobbyists, officials, contractors, PermReps, NGOs, interest groups.

The author nicely summarizes, orders and analyses the techniques, tactics and strategies happening in EU politics. While it looks Machiavellian, this kind of interconnections can only happen in a democracy.

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How much of your earnings goes into taxes, set by politics? Still not interested?

A drawback is the rather poor narrative and choice of words. The text looks like it hasn’t been proofread by a good English speaker. There are  too many business words (U-turn; windows in, windows out) and some acronyms look forced.

It was fascinating to read some behind-the-door stories, see who was behind some incredible outcomes, how some political battles were taken, what mistakes were done. Framing, astro-surfing, narrowing access, influencing the right players were remainders of some realpolitik tactics used for specific outcomes, of which the professional should be aware and counter-act.

Prof. van Schendelen describes quite accurately the political process and how legislation is made, in a practical way. The numerous official and unofficial players and interactions are presented, to each given a special attention. The legislative process is followed, each step presented with the opportunities to influence.

To sum up, the book is quite technical and of interest only to those doing their bidding in EU politics.

Noul aliat – George Cristian Maior

Intotdeauna m-am considerat un adept al scolii realiste, al relatiilor de putere in lumea contemporana, dar cu o deschidere spre valentele noi induse in teorie si practica de curentele postmoderniste si constructiviste.

George Maior este actualul (2016) ambasador al Romaniei in Statele Unite si fostul sef al Serviciului Roman de Informatii (SRI).

Cartea sa, scrisa in 2009, revizuita in 2012, este o colectie de studii, conferinte si articole, scrise in 2001 si 2004. Maior isi exprima ideile despre rolul Romaniei in NATO, el fiind si cel care s-a ocupat de integrarea Romaniei in NATO in acea perioada.

Cartea se plaseaza foarte mult in campul relatiilor internationale, cu toata literatura si curentele de rigoare. Scriitura este foarte academica, iar modul de argumentare este aproape exclusiv teoretic.

maior-noul-aliat
Un ganditor profund al rolului Romaniei in NATO

Maior considera rolul Romaniei in NATO ca agent activ, implicat in actiuni nu numai pe teritoriul national, ci oriunde alianta are de gestionat o criza. De asemenea, Romania are rolul de alarma, fiind la marginea geografica a aliantei.

Modul de atinge aceste obiective il reprezinta personalul uman, bine pregatit si selectionat. O importanta speciala o are puterea software, ceea ce se traduce prin diplomatie, asadar un rol mai activ al ambasadelor romanesti in strainatate. In Romania, de altfel, se afla sediul HumInt (Human Intelligence) al NATO.

Multe din ideile autorului se regasesc in strategia si actiunile ulterioare ale Romaniei. Maior este un ganditor profund al situatiei din regiune, un realist ce considera ca integrarea Romaniei in NATO inseamana si responsabilitati. Maior traseaza clar rolul Romaniei in alianta, in raport cu capacitatile reale ale tarii si raspunde viguros la intrebarea “NATO protejeaza, dar Romania cu ce vine, ce pune pe masa?”

Cartea este dificil de urmarit pentru cei neinteresati de relatiile internationale, dar reprezinta etalonul in ce priveste strategia privind rolul Romaniei in NATO.

Cronica de Cotroceni – Adriana Saftoiu

Prima mea zi la capatul a zece ani de colaborare cu Traian Basescu a fost vineri, 30 martie. Dimineata a sunat telefonul. Nu imi era greu sa-mi imaginez cine ar fi putut sa fie. N-am raspuns. In sfirsit, eram libera de contract. Apoi, telefonul a sunat din nou. «Te cauta Presedintele», m-a informat bine cunoscuta voce de la secretariat. «Nu mai lucrez la Cotroceni. Poti sa-i spui ca nu am raspuns la telefon.»

Cum promiteam cu cateva post-uri inainte, scriu in limba in care am citit cartea.

Adriana Saftoiu a fost consilier prezidential si purtator de cuvint al Presedintelui Romaniei, in timpul mandatului lui Traian Basescu. Ca fost purtator de cuvant si fost ziarist, Saftoiu are verva si stil. Am citit cartea intr-o seara, nu puteam sa o las din mana.

Cartea, publicata in 2015, vorbeste in principal de Presedintele la acel moment, dar nu dezvaluie prea multe, majoritatea faptelor sunt deja publice. Totusi confirma o serie de zvonuri, de exemplu relatia Presedintelui cu Elena Udrea. Memoriile incep si se termina cu activitatea Adrianei Saftoiu la Palatul Cotroceni, doar cative ani, dar sunt destul de savuroase si pline de evenimente.

poarta_cotrocenilor
La Poarta Palatului Cotroceni

Presedintele mi se pare prezentat ca un om furios, frustat, dar determinat; majoritatea lucrurilor sunt improvizatii si se intampla alandala; gastile de mediocri ii imping pe competenti sa plece. Pare destul de gri, insa sa nu uitam ca Romania a intrat in UE, iar ANI si DNA si-au pus bazele in perioada aceia.

Este o lectura usoara, pentru cei vag interesati de politica si o ofera o imagine in timp a Cancelariei Prezidentiale in timpul mandatului lui Traian Basescu.

1984 – George Orwell

In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the police patrol, snooping into people’s windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.

The book is a classic and I absolutely recommend reading it. Orwell presents a dystopia, where things aren’t what they should be. It’s a grey world, with thoughtcrimes, destruction of critical thinking and individualism, total surveillance, nomenclature and historical revisionism.
1984
Orwell’s dystopia is not an alien concept. Please see the excellent 2008 German movie, Die Welle.

The book pairs with the Brave New World by Huxley, published 2 decades earlier. While the dystopia in the Brave New World is sustained by drugs and distraction, 1984 is a brutal, overwhelming totalitarianism. They are both on the same level of crushing critical thinking and blocking any individual initiative. While they look far apart, they are the same facets of total subjugation, with a privileged few.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, we are heading today to the same level of thoughcrimes described by Orwell and brainwashing mentioned by Huxley. So many on social media make their opinion without looking at the original source and without checking the source.
You can read the book online for free at the following link.

Duty – Robert Gates

I concluded by saying that the SEALs in the room truly gave meaning to George Orwell’s observation that “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

[…]Lessons learned from the disaster in Iran in 1980 led to the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command and development of the training and equipment that undergirded the success at Abbottabad. In 1986, as deputy director in charge of analysis at CIA, I agreed to provide more than a dozen analysts to the new Counterterrorism Center in the clandestine service, an unprecedented and controversial assignment of analysts to help inform and plan counterterrorist operations. […] (Duty)

In a surprisingly open and detailed memoirs book, Robert Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, unveils his struggles and challenges while leading the U.S. Military in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden
Gates, on the left, during Operation Neptune Spear, that killed bin Laden.

The ex CIA Director reveals the strings between the Pentagon, the Congress, the White House and the Joint Chiefs, within two administrations, Bush 43 and Obama. A lengthy volume that hides candid comments and many gems of wisdom. A great read.