American Diplomacy

Books of Interest
February/March 2018


Margaret Pearson is American Diplomacy's Contributing Editor for Books and a former State Department Senior Foreign Service Officer. She is a strong advocate for the importance of public diplomacy in the conduct of foreign affairs. In her 27-year career with the Department of State she has held posts in Asia and Europe as well as Washington, D.C.

After two years of Chinese language training in Washington and Taibei Ms. Pearson became a Cultural Affairs Officer in Beijing in 1981 where she worked on the recently minted Fulbright Program, developed U.S. Film Festival in China, and worked with the U.S., Chinese, and foreign press. On her return to Washington she headed the China Desk at the United States Information Agency. Subsequently, she had two assignments at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, one in the US Mission to NATO's press office and the other seconded to the NATO International Staff as Deputy Director of NATO's Press and Cultural Service. In this position she chaired NATO's Public Affairs Council, managed the awarding of public affairs program grants among NATO member nations, and oversaw the NATO Press and Culture budget. Additional assignments included Public Affairs Advisor for the State Department's Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Bosnian War. Later she took assignments as Press Spokesperson and Director of Information at the US Embassy in Paris and Special Advisor for Eastern European Community Property Affairs (Holocaust and Post-WWII property provenance issues) which she managed from Turkey with frequent travel to Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Prior to her retirement, she was a Senior Examiner and head of the Final Review Panel at the State Department Board of Examiners, the office responsible for evaluating candidates for the US Foreign Service. Ms. Pearson holds a B.A. degree from Tulane University and an M.A. degree from California State University, San Diego.



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New Books Of Interest, February/March 2018

BookCover BookCover BookCover BookCover

How Democracies Die

by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans

By James W. Pardew

Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World

By Michael Ignatieff

Collapse of a Country: A Diplomat's Memoir of South Sudan

by Nicholas Coghan

BookCover BookCover





Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination

By Robert Bickers

Pakistan Unders Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State

By Madiha Afzal

Directorate S
The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

By Steve Coll


BookCoverHow Democracies Die

by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
Crown Publishing Group/Random House, January 2018
ISBN 9781524762933 (hardback)
ISBN 9781524762940 (paperback)
320 pages

Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism.

Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.


"Cool and persuasive… How Democracies Die comes at exactly the right moment. We're already awash in public indignation—what we desperately need is a sober, dispassionate look at the current state of affairs. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two of the most respected scholars in the field of democracy studies, offer just that."
—The Washington Post"

Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies have collapsed elsewhere—not just through violent coups, but more commonly (and insidiously) through a gradual slide into authoritarianism…. How Democracies Die is a lucid and essential guide to what can happen here."
—New York Times

"The great strength of Levitsky and Ziblatt's How Democracies Die is that it rejects the exceptionalist account of US democracy. Their lens is comparative. The authors say America is not immune to the trends that have led to democracy's collapse in other parts of the world."
—Financial Times

"Two years ago, a book like this could not have been written: two leading political scientists who are expert in the breakdown of democracy in other parts of the world using that knowledge to inform Americans of the dangers their democracy faces today. We owe the authors a debt of thanks for bringing their deep understanding to bear on the central political issue of the day."
—Francis Fukuyama, author of Political Order and Political Decay

"In this brilliant historical synthesis, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how the actions of elected leaders around the world have paved the road to democratic failure, and why the United States is now vulnerable to this same downward spiral. This book should be widely and urgently read as a clarion call to restore the shared beliefs and practices—beyond our formal constitution—that constitute the essential 'guardrails' for preserving democracy."
—Larry Diamond, author of The Spirit of Democracy

About the Authors:

Steven Levitsky is an American political scientist and Professor of Government at Harvard University. He is notable for his work on competitive authoritarian regimes and informal political institutions.

Daniel Ziblatt is Professor of Government at Harvard, specializing in the study of European politics, state-building, democratization and historical political economy.


BookCoverPeacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans

By James W. Pardew
University Press of Kentucky (Studies in Confict, Diplomacy, and Peace), January 2018
ISBN 978-8131-7435-8 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-8131-7437-2 (epub)
ISBN 978-8131-7436-5 (PDF)
424 pages

Peacemakers is the first inclusive history of the successful multilateral intervention in the Balkans from 1995-2008 by an official directly involved in the diplomatic and military responses to the crises. A deadly accident near Sarajevo in 1995 thrust James Pardew into the center of efforts to stop the fighting in Bosnia. In a detailed narrative, he shows how Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. envoys who followed him helped to stop or prevent vicious wars in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Pardew describes the human drama of diplomacy and war, illuminating the motives, character, talents, and weaknesses of the national leaders involved. Pardew demonstrates that the use of U.S. power to relieve human suffering is a natural fit with American values. Peacemakers serves as a potent reminder that American leadership and multilateral cooperation are often critical to resolving international crises.


Ambassador Pardew's memoir is a fascinating narrative and an important assessment of humanitarian intervention. Its recommendations on activist diplomacy, the relationship of force and diplomacy, and the importance of European stability for US foreign policy are a valuable guide for public officials and international citizens today.
—David L. Anderson, California State University, Monterey Bay

Soldier-diplomat James Pardew skillfully employs the tools of memoirist and historian to construct an engaging account of America's vital role in the Balkan Wars of 1995-2008. This richly detailed and highly significant book recounts in immensely readable prose a major success story in American diplomacy.
—George C. Herring, author of The American Century and Beyond: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1893-2014.

Ambassador Pardew provides an insightful insider account of Washington's approach toward that troubled part of the world that will be of interest to scholars and the general public alike. The shrewd and thoughtful descriptions he provides of important American and international players in the Balkans diplomatic game are particularly valuable.
—Louis Sell, author of Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, and From Washington to Moscow: US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR


James W. Pardew was at the heart of U.S. national policymaking throughout the humanitarian crises in the Balkans from Richard Holbrooke's negotiations on Bosnia in 1995 until the independence of Kosovo in 2008. Ambassador Pardew was the primary U.S. negotiator of the Ohrid Agreement in Macedonia. He also led Balkan task forces for the Secretaries of Defense and State and served as a policy advisor at NATO. Prior to his diplomatic service, he spent twenty-seven years in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer.


Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World

By Michael Ignatieff
Harvard University Press, September 2017
ISBN: 978-067-497-6276
272 pages

What moral values do human beings hold in common? As globalization draws us together economically, are our values converging or diverging? In particular, are human rights becoming a global ethic? These were the questions that led Michael Ignatieff to embark on a three-year, eight-nation journey in search of answers. The Ordinary Virtues presents Ignatieff's discoveries and his interpretation of what globalization—and resistance to it—is doing to our conscience and our moral understanding.

Through dialogues with favela dwellers in Brazil, South Africans and Zimbabweans living in shacks, Japanese farmers, gang leaders in Los Angeles, and monks in Myanmar, Ignatieff found that while human rights may be the language of states and liberal elites, the moral language that resonates with most people is that of everyday virtues: tolerance, forgiveness, trust, and resilience. These ordinary virtues are the moral operating system in global cities and obscure shantytowns alike, the glue that makes the multicultural experiment work. Ignatieff seeks to understand the moral structure and psychology of these core values, which privilege the local over the universal, and citizens' claims over those of strangers.

Ordinary virtues, he concludes, are antitheoretical and anti-ideological. They can be cheerfully inconsistent. When order breaks down and conflicts break out, they are easily exploited for a politics of fear and exclusion―reserved for one's own group and denied to others. But they are also the key to healing, reconciliation, and solidarity on both a local and a global scale.


The author grapples with whether globalization is drawing us together or tearing us apart, and represents a triumph of execution over conception. Ignatieff travels around the world to speak with civic groups and ordinary men and women about democracy and human rights, and his conclusions suggest that locality, rather than globalization, is the book's true subject.
—New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

The Ordinary Virtues combines powerful moral arguments with superb storytelling. What is perhaps most interesting about The Ordinary Virtues is the contrast between the hopes and aspirations of the 1990s and the realities of the early 21st century. What does this say about liberalism and about the debate between confident liberals such as Ignatieff… and the darker visions…? The liberal revolution, so optimistic about progress, democracy and human rights, is not looking great almost 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela.
—David Herman, New Statesman


Michael Ignatieff is Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest and former Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.


BookCover Collapse of a Country: A Diplomat's Memoir of South Sudan

by Nicholas Coghlan
McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017
ISBN-13: 978-0773551268 (hardback)
320 pages

A rare first-hand account by a diplomat of the violent implosion and ongoing humanitarian tragedy of the world's youngest state.

The first Canadian diplomat to be posted to war-torn Sudan, Nicholas Coghlan lead Canada's representation in the new Republic of South Sudan soon after the country was founded in 2011.

This action-focused narrative, grounded by accounts of meetings with key leaders and travels throughout the dangerous, impoverished hinterland of South Sudan, explains what happened in December 2013 and why. In harrowing terms, Collapse of a Country describes the ebb and flow of the war and the humanitarian tragedy that followed, the scramble to evacuate South-Sudanese Canadians from Juba, and the well-meant but often ill-conceived attempts of the international community to mitigate the misery and bring peace back to a land that has rarely known it. Coghlan's stark narrative serves as a lesson to politicians, diplomats, aid workers, and practitioners on the breakdown of governance and relationships between ethnic groups, and the often decisive role of international development representatives.

Fast-paced and poignant, Collapse of a Country gives an insider's glimpse into the chaos, violence, and ethnic conflicts that emerged out of a civil war that has been largely ignored by the West.


"A highly personal and timely memoir that will be useful and compelling to students, scholars, and general readers, especially those who have worked and lived in South Sudan within the last two decades."
—Marv Koop, former director of the AECOM Sudan / South Sudan program

"Collapse of a Country is a book that must be read by anyone who wishes to understand the complexity of the birth of this new nation. It details the demands and moral dilemmas that can arise from undertaking a challenging Ambassadorial posting. Nick's personal account of how he managed his role as an ambassador during this time is a remarkable reflection of his passion and integrity."
—Roméo Dallaire and Shelly Whitman from the foreword


Nicholas Coghlan, author of Far in the Waste Sudan and The Saddest Country, served in five Canadian embassies overseas before he was appointed Canada's first resident ambassador to South Sudan


BookCover Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination

By Robert Bickers
Harvard University Press, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-674-97687-0 (hardcover)
576 pages

Nationalism matters in China, and what matters in China matters to everyone. China's new nationalism is rooted not in its present power but in shameful memories of its former weaknesses. Invaded, humiliated, and looted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by foreign powers, China looks out at the twenty-first century through the lens of the past. History matters deeply to Beijing's current rulers, and Out of China explains why.

Bickers tracks the long, often agonizing process by which the Chinese regained control of their own country. He describes the corrupt, lurid modernity of prewar Shanghai, the often tiny patches of extraterritorial land controlled by foreign powers, the entrepôts of Hong Kong and Macao, and the myriad means—through armed threats, technology, and legal chicanery—by which China was kept subservient until, gradually, it emerged from Western control. This plural and partial subjugation of China is a story that involves not only European powers and Japan but also the United States.

This complex history must be grasped not to atone for the sins of the past but to recognize China's internationalized landscapes with all their contradictions, violence, cosmopolitanism, and ambitions. The story of the foreign presence in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is too important to be left in the hands of the Chinese party-state and its approved script. Out of China is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what shapes China's view of the world in the twenty-first century.


"[Bickers's] thoughtful, engaging, and well-written analysis helps to separate fact from myth when it comes to understanding the nature of Chinese nationalism… Out of China is a panoramic examination of the increasingly powerful articulation of China's national identity in the twentieth century and the country's painful encounter with Western imperialism… Out of China, underpinned by extensive research in archives and written in warm and often witty prose, seeks neither to condemn nor celebrate the Western presence in China. Instead, it is an important reminder that even when our shared history is forgotten in the West, it is very much remembered—and sometimes resented—in Beijing and Shanghai today."
—Rana Mitter, The New York Review of Books

"A beautifully written history of China's 20th-century interactions with the outside world. But instead of the narrow, legitimacy-enhancing story peddled by the Chinese Communist party, Bickers tells a far more complex tale of the forces of attraction, rejection and interdependence that have consistently defined China's varied dealings with the world… Out of China demolishes many favorite motifs of official history in China… Interweaving political and cultural history, the detailed narratives of this book are essential correctives to the tale spun by Beijing's current rulers. Each regime chronicled in this book sought to contort history to serve its purposes, and Xi's today is no exception… Teeming with nuances while assailing the Communist party's nationalistic narrative, Bickers' book is a reminder of the importance of uncovering the past's messy, contradictory truths."
—Julian Gewirtz, Financial Times


Robert Bickers is Professor of History at the University of Bristol.


BookCoverPakistan Unders Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State

By Madiha Afzal
Brookings Institution Press, January, 2018
ISBN: 9780815729457 paperback)
208 pages

Over the last fifteen years, Pakistan has come to be defined exclusively in terms of its struggle with terror. But are ordinary Pakistanis extremists? And what explains how Pakistanis think?

In this book, using rigorous analysis of survey data, in-depth interviews in schools and universities in Pakistan, historical narrative reporting, Madiha Afzal gives the full picture of Pakistan's relationship with extremism.

The author lays out Pakistanis' own views on terrorist groups, on jihad, on religious minorities and non-Muslims, on America, and on their place in the world. Afzal explains how the two pillars that define the Pakistani state—Islam and a paranoia about India—have led to a regressive form of Islamization in Pakistan's narratives, laws, and curricula. These, in turn, have shaped its citizens' attitudes.

Afzal traces this outlook to Pakistan's unique and tortured birth. She examines the rhetoric and the strategic actions of three actors in Pakistani politics—the military, the civilian governments, and the Islamist parties—and their relationships with militant groups. She shows how regressive Pakistani laws instituted in the 1980s worsened citizen attitudes and led to vigilante and mob violence. The author also explains that the educational regime has become a vital element in shaping citizens' thinking. How many years one attends school, whether the school is public, private, or a madrassa, and what curricula is followed all affect Pakistanis' attitudes about terrorism and the rest of the world.

In the end, Afzal suggests how this beleaguered nation—one with seemingly insurmountable problems in governance and education—can change course.


This is an important book, bringing to a foreign audience a nuanced understanding of Pakistan's challenges: how Islamization has affected society in recent decades and how institutions have responded. It's a tough and often disheartening story. Yet with diligent research and an open mind, Madiha Afzal leads us past stereotypes of violent extremists and cynical elites. She demonstrates that there is indeed a vital center in Pakistani society—and that this center can be the basis for the stability and prosperity that Pakistan could enjoy.
—Cameron Munter, President, East-West Institute, and former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan (2010–12)

Madiha Afzal has pulled off the rare feat of writing a well-balanced and thoughtful account of extremism in Pakistan, describing its roots and also the extent of its influence, and offering some ideas about how Pakistan can move forward to a more tolerant future.
—Peter Bergen, author of United States of Jihad: Investigating America's
Homegrown Terrorists


Madiha Afzal is a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is also an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins SAIS and was previously an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. She writes regularly for Pakistani and international publications and has been a consultant for the World Bank and DFID. For her writing on education in Pakistan, she was named to Lo Spazio della Politica's list of Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2013.


BookCoverDirectorate S
The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

By Steve Coll
Penguin Publishing Group, February 2018
ISBN: 978-4-204-586 (hardcover)
779 pages

Prior to 9/11, the United States had been carrying out small-scale covert operations in Afghanistan, ostensibly in cooperation, although often in direct opposition, with I.S.I., the Pakistani intelligence agency. While the US was trying to quell extremists, a highly secretive and compartmentalized wing of I.S.I., known as "Directorate S," was covertly training, arming, and seeking to legitimize the Taliban, in order to enlarge Pakistan's sphere of influence. After 9/11, when fifty-nine countries, led by the U. S., deployed troops or provided aid to Afghanistan in an effort to flush out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the U.S. was set on an invisible slow-motion collision course with Pakistan.

Coll makes clear that the war in Afghanistan was doomed because of the failure of the United States to apprehend the motivations and intentions of I.S.I.'s "Directorate S". This was a swirling and shadowy struggle of historic proportions, which endured over a decade and across both the Bush and Obama administrations, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of players, including some of the most prominent military and political figures.
Coll excavates this grand battle, which took place away from the gaze of the American public. With unsurpassed expertise, original research, and attention to detail, he brings to life a narrative at once vast and intricate, local and global, propulsive and painstaking.

This is the definitive explanation of how America came to be so badly ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia. Nothing less than a forensic examination of the personal and political forces that shape world history, Directorate S is a complete masterpiece of both investigative and narrative journalism.


"[A]journalistic masterpiece… Coll succeeds on all levels… Coll is masterful at plumbing the depths of agencies and sects within both Afghanistan and Pakistan…. In this era of fake news, Coll remains above it all, this time delivering an impeccably researched history of "diplomacy at the highest levels of government in Washington, Islamabad, and Kabul."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"With his evenhanded approach, gift for limning character, and dazzling reporting skills, he has created an essential work of contemporary history."
—Booklist (starred)

"The most comprehensive work to date on the U.S. war in Afghanistan… Coll's vital work provides a factual and analytical foundation for all future work on the Afghan War and U.S. policy in Central Asia."
—Publisher's Weekly (starred)


Steve Coll is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars and the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and from 2007 to 2013 was president of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington, D.C. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and previously worked for twenty years at The Washington Post, where he received a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 1990. He is the author of seven other books, including On the Grand Trunk Road, The Bin Ladens, Private Empire, and Directorate S.



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