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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

November 2018

What to Do About Saudi Arabia


Sometimes, one only misses something when it is gone. This is the case with America?s long-standing foreign policy, our policy of responsibility for global prosperity.

At the end of World War II, we were the only nation not devastated by that war. Shortly before our victory, the US convened a global conference of our allies and made an offer that couldn?t be refused. We wanted all of our allies to emancipate their colonies, just as we did with our one colony, the Philippi more...

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September 2018

Indonesia?s Endangered Democracy.


At the end of the 20th century, it appeared that Democracy was on a roll. The UN published the list of once authoritarian countries joining the roster of participatory governments. It appeared that the US had not only defeated the Communists in the Cold War, but had won the war for hearts and minds. Everyone wanted to be a modern democracy.

An analysis by the US Government-funded Freedom House (a think tank) showed that there was not a single liberal democracy with univers more...

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Why is Foreign Policy So Complex?


Diplomacy is a very old tradition in the world. The world?s first kings 7,000 years ago (Sumeria in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Hrappa in today?s Punjab) exchanged letters and sent gifts to each other. Warfare then was only local, not international. In 300 AD, the Chinese and Persian emperors exchanged gifts, sponsored a trade route across Asia (Silk Route), and never went to war. Diplomacy in those days was peaceful communications between two great empires.

The rules governin more...

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Putin?s Game


History reflects trends and broad sweeps, but also the mark of powerful individuals. The US during the 1930s was divided among the very rich and the jobless or struggling poor; immigrant families trying to become American and demagogues who trashed them; Whites of all levels and Blacks who suffered wherever they were, particularly in the South where lynching was shamefully frequent; and Globalists and America-Firsters. Without the New Deal and the particular president we had then (Roosev more...

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Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels,

Random House, 2018.
Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential biographer, had already written books about George Herbert Walker Bush, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and books about the Founding Fathers, the relationship between FDR and Winston Churchill, and the Civil Rights movement. The election of a most unusual president, Donald J. Trump, in 2016, spurred him to give us a perspective on the American presidencies, the best and more...

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Michael McFaul: From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin?s Russia.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

For those of you who keep up with TV news, Michael McFaul is the go-to person for insight into Russia. He served as American Ambassador from 2008-2010 during the Obama presidency, a somewhat rare appointment of an academic expert rather than political appointee. But he was not new to the White House, having been an advisor to George Bush?s administration before being tapped by Obama.

It more...

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Following Russian Money


Russia attempted to clandestinely manipulate our 2016 presidential election, a fact shared with the voters by President Obama and every FBI and CIA chief, active and former. We unmasked the hackers who muddied Hillary Clinton?s campaign and found the probes into the election machinery of a number of states. What we do not know yet is how many Americans cooperated, colluded, or sought Russian money and help. That question will be answered by the Mueller investigation in due time.
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October 2017

The Eternal Russia


Russia is a victim of geography; everything unpleasant, violent, paranoid, and dark can be traced back to its place in the world: a place that is too far north to be able to feed itself dependably; too wide open from its beginnings to defend itself from invasion; and too big to govern without fear of disintegration unless totalitarian. In the 15th century, one capable noble prince, Michael Romanoff, was selected by all the other princes to be the Czar, a name taken from the Roman Caesars more...

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September 2017

Nation Building in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan has been a problem since Alexander the Great tramped through on his way to India. It became a bigger problem when the Russian Empire (Afghanistan?s neighbor) and the British Empire (recent colonizer of India) kept Afghanistan unstable between 1839-1919. Almost all of their interference ended in defeat for the attackers.

Afghanistan did not exist until the mid 19th century. It was the "wild-east" of the Persian Empire (a wild place with a few silk-route cities surround more...

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"Palace Intrigues" in Art and History.


Governing well is not easy, and governing well under a democracy is not the most efficient system. The ancient Greeks, such as Plato, tried to imagine how to set up a republic, speculating with his friends what running an ideal society should require. It is obvious that the most efficient system of government is a dictatorship; however, that efficiency is trumped when the dictator has a bad character. There are few "philosopher kings" in history; far more, even when beginning with good i more...

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Religious Tolerance in World History


Among primitive humans, the world was frightening and animated by benign or hostile spirits. Our ancestors feared the power of these unseen forces, believing that sacrifices could calm these spirits. Sacrifices ranged from sharing food (burning foods so that the smoke could reach the deities) or, in dire circumstances, human sacrifices to pacify an angry god or goddess.

As we developed as a species, these nature spirits evolved into a system of many gods and goddess, spel more...

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World Law and Reciprocity


After 75 years with a system of global norms that America created, many around the world are challenging these norms. "International laws" are treaties agreed to by nations and "norms" are behaviors believed beneficial to all who practice them. However, global norms and treaties are voided when one side violates the agreements. During World War II, because Germany, the US, and Britain were all signatories to the Geneva Conventions, they all abided by humane rules validated by regular Red more...

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Russia?s Short-term and Long-term Prognosis


If the thugs in ISIS were not so busy decapitating people, we might have been paying more attention to a longer-term hostile force, Russia. Russia has been an important target of Western attention since the 19th century, when this once backward, frozen backwater came to life and proceeded to conquer and colonize all the countries across Central Asia (the old Silk Route), ending on China?s border and the Pacific Ocean. They controlled 11 time zones and warranted watching.

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December 2016

America?s History of Isolationism or Engagement.

November 11, 1918, was Armistice Day. On that date a century ago, World War I ended with a cease fire. The clear loser, Germany, collapsed in exhaustion after fighting on two fronts: France and Britain on one end and Russia on the other. The war was stalemated until the United States, very late in the war, entered on the side of France and Britain and won it. Although we do not make much of this holiday, it is still terribly important to the British and French, who lost a whole generation of yo more...

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Discrediting Wikileaks is Overdue!


On October 17, no doubt under US pressure, the Ecuador Embassy housing Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, cut off his Internet access. About time!

Wikileaks has many supporters in the left-wing of our country and, of course, among the salivating press. This organization began as a righteous outing of political misdeeds by giving whistle blowers an opportunity to condemn what they considered commercial or government secrets. Who doesn?t admire a whistle blower, someone m more...

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August 2016

Russia's Long Romance with Lying and Deception

A spotlight has been turned on Putin's Russia lately: the probability that his government had hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee, sitting on them until being released the eve of the Democratic Presidential Convention. Their agent, Julian Asange, the creator of WikiLeaks, a hacking underworld that only hacks the computers of the West, never Russia or China, dumped these e-mails with the seeming intent of assisting the election of Donald Trump. Russia certainly could not ope more...

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Book Review on Communism's Founding Tyrants

James DeMeo: "The Hidden History of Communism's Founding Tyrants, in their Own Words: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky: Genocide Quotes."
Laina Farhat-Holzman, Reviewer.

Because historic memories in the United States tend to be short, there has been a resurgence of romanticism about Marx and Lenin by those who believe that Stalin's Communism perverted what was intended to be a benign philosophy of creating a just world. Many people on the far left of the political spectrum hol more...

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 2 of 2)


A country as insignificant as Saudi Arabia before oil would have mattered little to the world. In the 1950s, as oil wealth began to pour in, the Saudi princes wanted the same sorts of conspicuous consumption enjoyed by other world millionaires. When they first brought in automobiles (for themselves), the Wahhabi clergy were outraged, considering camels good enough for pious Muslims. Cameras and, later, television, were also on their list of harmful items for Saudi culture.

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 1 of 2)


Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of how complex our alliances can be. I have heard from quite a few people that we should dump them as an ally. In the past, even I have muttered that after 9-11, we invaded the wrong countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) and should have taken down Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Of course we could not do this in a world of complex issues and even more complex relationships. We have needed each other for certain things over the past 60 plus years more...

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Dubious Allies: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey

Countries are not islands unto themselves, even countries protected on two sides by oceans. From the beginning of our country?s birth, we had allies who helped us survive. Our first ally was France, a relationship forged by America?s first diplomats, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. This relationship was a case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friends," both being enemies of England. The French helped us with money, soldiers, and a very useful diplomat, the Marquis de Lafayett more...

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September 2015

The United States of Europe Is Obviously Premature.

Europe is a geographic designation: the westernmost peninsula of the Eurasian continental landmass. For the past 7000 years, it has also been the home of a restless mass of human beings, always on the move, settling and moving on, replacing former residents and coming up with one invention after another, the most important of which, from today?s discussion, came from ancient Greece: participatory government (Athens); Rome: written and progressively enlarging law; and England: that kings are not more...

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We Americans Misread Our Enemies

We are the global giant who never seems to realize our own strength. Unlike so many others around the world who love to boast about how powerful they are, we almost never do this. Think about the Nazi goose-stepping marches in the 1930s, huge swastika flags unfurled, announcing to the world their intentions. Think about the annual Soviet May Day parades with marching Red Armies, tanks, displays of missiles, and aircraft in formation overhead.

These were the warlike adversaries th more...

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Putin Has His Own Private Assassins

I don?t know how many of you remember the story of the "Sorcerer?s Apprentice," charmingly done in the Disney film Fantasia. Mickey Mouse played the Sorcerer?s apprentice, tasked with sweeping out the house. The lazy rascal found the master?s book and tried his hand at magic, turning the broom into an army of brooms who swept and went to the well, nearly flooding the house and coming close to drowning Mickey until the Sorcerer returned and put things to rights, punishing the foolish apprentice.< more...

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History Reveals Presidential Close Calls!


As a historian, I can be pretty dispassionate about reading things that are past and gone. Knowing that President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke and that his wife Edith secretly kept him hidden from October 1919 to April 1920 is certainly alarming, but nothing disastrous seems to have happened. This could not happen today, I hope.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, a weekend when the actions of individuals both in the White House----the cool head of Bobby Kennedy who advised his broth more...

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Defunding Israel but Blind to Islamophobia Ripoffs?

Only in the free Western world can such asymmetrical nonsense take place. Israel, the one western country unfortunately located in the middle of the Muslim world is the focus of accusations of Islamophobia and targeted with boycotts of its industries and products. How ironic. Israel is the one country where Arab citizens can vote, have the highest standard of living, and have any kind of future. Yet young stupid liberals in Europe and the US vent their spleen on Israel and turn a blind eye to th more...

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Asking the Wrong Question Can Lead to War.

The United States has gone to war twice by asking the wrong questions. Fortunately for us, even though we did not "win" either of those wars (in the conventional sense, such as the way we won World Wars I and II), we did not lose them either. No enemy came to our shores and conquered us. But in both of those wars, we made a terrible mess of two countries and suffered a terrible cost of young lives of our own, costs that we are still paying. Those two wars were the Vietnam War and the second Iraq more...

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