Intelligence in Public Media

A Great Place to Have a War: America and the Birth of a Military CIA
Reviewed by Thomas L. Ahern

Joshua Kurlantzick says that over the course of a full decade he talked to numerous participants in the so-called “secret war” in Laos. The book that emerged from those interviews, A Great Place to Have a War, rather reads like the result of an attempt to find a new narrative in which to fit the interviews. Following a current fashion in popular history, Kurlantzick treats policy as mostly a byproduct of personalities or bureaucratic competition—and any untoward outcome as the result of someone’s incompetence and/or bad faith. Kurlantzick asserts that in 1961 CIA found in Laos “a unique opportunity to increase the agency’s powers.” It had “already amassed influence, in the heart of a Cold War battlefield” that the US military was ignoring and could use the little kingdom as the site of an “inexpensive—in American money and lives, at least—proxy war [that] could be a template for fights in other places around the world.” No documentation is furnished for any of these claims, which are presented as the CIA’s justification for becoming “focused increasingly on killing rather than spying.”

The result is an intellectually rickety account based on the allegation that the war represented the culmination of a calculated CIA effort to compete with the US armed forces as a military arm of the US Government.

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Posted: Dec 22, 2017 12:04 PM
Last Updated: Dec 22, 2017 12:04 PM