My Top Five Reads of 2015

 

Twenty-five books a year – roughly two a month – isn’t a lot of reading compared to some. I am part of a family of speed readers. My father devoured books. My brother turns the pages fast enough to burn his fingers. My wife reads faster than I can talk and my children appear to be following suit. I love to read, but it takes me a while to carve through the text. I usually put out a top ten list of my reading journey for the year, but in 2015 writing took as much of my attention (if not more) than reading. With two book projects, two blogs, weekly sermons, and reviewing some of my children’s writing I only managed to finish reading through seventeen books in 2015. I felt that the data set wasn’t large enough to warrant a top ten list and opted for a top five instead. Though I could easily list ten very good books, you deserve a true cream of the crop listing. So, without further ado, following are my top five reads of 2015 listed in the order I read them.

  1. hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice by Randy Alcorn. If you’ve never read any of Alcorn’s work, do yourself a favor and grab one – any one. Alcorn is a deep thinker who delves into the implications of the plain text of Scripture with a boldness I’ve seldom read elsewhere.[1] This book is his contribution to the Calvinism (God’s will saves and man has no choice in the matter) vs. Arminianism (God’s will saves and man has a choice in the matter) debate. Regardless of which theological camp you find yourself currently in, this book will challenge your presuppositions and give you some appreciation for the other side. Alcorn spent his first ten years in the faith as an Armenian and then slowly moved over to four-point Calvinism (which, to be fair, some would say is no Calvinism at all!). I found that much of my angst toward Calvinism was really a reaction to what could be more aptly termed hyper-Calvinism (which to me is nothing more than pagan fatalism wrapped in Christian terminology). After reading this book, I am still closer to Arminius than I am comfortable with Calvin. But the book helped me temper some of my hyper-Arminian assertions (which at times could be nothing more than secular humanism wrapped in Christian terminology). Alcorn’s book is a fine apologetic for two contrary views that remain orthodox. Not only is the text engaging and provocative, the book also includes great tables and informative diagrams. What’s not to like?
  1. The American House of Saud by Steven Emerson. Published in 1985, I consider this book a classic and a must read for anyone who really wants to understand our government’s response to 9/11, how we’ve prosecuted the War on Terror, and the real power of the petrodollar. My greatest regret in reading this book was that I hadn’t read it sooner – thirty years sooner! The influence of Saudi money in the US reaches beyond government to the business decisions that impact many middle class Americans living blissfully in fly-over country. If you’ve ever wondered why America went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq after 19 Saudi Arabian nationals killed nearly 3,000 US civilians, this book is for you.
  1. The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp by Marin Katusa. I ran into this book while researching the petrodollar undergirding of our financial system. What I found was a treasure: a venture capitalist and energy expert whose telling of the stranger-than-fiction tale of the rise of Vladimir Putin puts Tom Clancy to shame. Great books have great beginnings and I wish I had come up with this one: “I’m going to tell you a story you’ll wish weren’t true.” And he delivers. Katusa is a specialist in his field – he’s made millions at it – but he makes the subject matter accessible to the layman. Making the complex concise and comprehendible is a great talent; which Katusa displays in spades. He doesn’t allow the text to get bogged down in jargon and the statistics are given in great infographics. Though he has skin in the game in the sense that he advises educated speculation in the energy market as a hedge against the impending implosion of the petrodollar[2], he doesn’t say “invest with me and I’ll make you rich” as other authors on this subject do. Katusa’s sense of humor is salted throughout the text in numerous insightful and funny quips. Here is his observation on the succession of the Saudi throne: “Whenever a throne room is crowded with would-be successors, it’s easy for a brawl to break out, which favors the most ruthless over the best qualified. The chance that Prince Right will emerge the winner is remote.”[3]
  1. A Time to Betray by Reza Kahlili. When I was a young teenager, I had a mentor who was a missionary living in Iran when the Islamic Revolution took place. She was a courageous woman and her eye-witness accounts of how demonstrations and riots broke out did much to help me see through what I was watching on the evening news. Some years after the American hostages were released from Iran, I read Ken Follett’s On Wings of Eagles, the story of the two EDS employees that Ross Perot made sure got home. Kahlili’s book rivals Follett’s on multiple fronts. While both are non-fiction, Kahlili lived his. As a member of the Revolutionary Guard from the early days of the revolution, he was a spy for the United States. In America, we incarcerate spies. In Iran, they arrest them and their families, friends, and loved ones. The captured endure untold torture while their wives and daughters are raped before them and their loved ones are executed. Only after extracting its ten pounds of flesh does the regime decide to execute the traitor. Kahlili knew this before he became an agent for the US in the hopes of saving the Iran that once was. True spycraft is the ultimate confidence game. Kahlili walked that tight rope for years while providing vital intelligence to our government. As I read it, I wondered how many hundreds – if not thousands – of foreign agents our government has been able to recruit because the assets really believed in the American ideals of truth, liberty, and justice for all. Kahlili’s belief and honesty are palpable throughout the text. The manner of his handling by the US in light of American foreign policy would certainly justify a fair level of cynicism on his part. But his narrative never falls into it. His hope for his people and his pain in their suffering shines above it all. Any who agree with the Iran Nuclear Deal should be made to read this book.
  1. Agnes Sanford and Her Companions by William L. De Arteaga. This is a complimentary and updating work to Quenching the Spirit by the same author and contains great perspectives on the Charismatic Renewal from the Catholic and Anglican perspectives. They laid the groundwork in many ways for the growth of modern Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement. His explanation of experimentation and his understanding of the graces in sacraments and the energies of God are enlightening and refreshing. I’ve been a fan of De Arteaga’s since reading Quenching the Spirit over a decade ago. Through a series of divine appointments, we wound up being Facebook buddies and I recently attended a healing workshop he held in an Anglican church in North Carolina. De Arteaga is the real deal. He doesn’t just study, write, and teach. He walks the walk and preaches a full Gospel, ministering not only the revelation of the Scriptures but the grace of healing through the power of the Holy Spirit. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

All these titles can be found on Amazon and would make a worthy addition to any library. I certainly enjoyed them and found them enlightening. I trust you will too.

[1] In his book Heaven, he makes 21 brief jaw-dropping observations on the nature of existence in the intermediate Heaven from just three verses (Rev 6:9-11).
[2] The short story: The Saudi’s only sell oil in US dollars. This arrangement causes a demand on US currency that keeps it valued beyond its real worth. For this hedge, we provide the Saudi’s with just about anything they ask for. Russian energy development threatens to upset this paradigm. Should the Saudi’s abandon the dollar, the US economy would suffer greatly.
[3] Marin Katusa, The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp, (Hoboken: Wiley, Stowe: Casey Research, LLC 2015), 189. Since the publishing of the book, King Abdullah died and was succeeded by his half-brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. One of his first reforms was to reduce cabinet level positions, consolidating power in fewer hands. Portents of things to come?

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Dealing with the Devil: U.S. Foreign Policy and Iranian Nuclear Power

Mohammad Mossadegh is seldom mentioned in connection with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. But his memory was alive in the minds of the young revolutionaries who sacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and took over sixty Americans hostage.[1] Remembering one of the many interrogations he endured during his 444 harrowing days of captivity, John Lambert recounted “he asked me about the 1953 coup…that overthrew Mossadegh, organized by Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA. ‘What was your role in that?’ And I said, ‘Well, I was about ten years old at the time. I don’t think I had much of a role.’”[2]

Mr. Lambert may have only been about ten years old when the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran was pushed out of power through the machinations of the CIA, but the Ayatollah Khomeini was fifty-one and he would not forget the impacts American intervention made on his country and his people.

To fully appreciate the causes of Mossadegh’s downfall, one must go back to 1901 when Iran still called herself Persia. It was in that year that William D’Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, negotiated a 60-year concession with Persia’s then Shah, Mozzafar-al-Din of the Dajar dynasty.[3] The concession gave D’Arcy the exclusive right to prospect for, extract, and sell Persia’s petroleum. Discovery of large oil deposits at Masjid-i-Saleiman led to the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the grandfather enterprise of the oil giant we now call BP.[4]

The British government purchased the controlling interest of the company in 1913. Shortly thereafter, Winston Churchill – then an official in the British Admiralty – convinced the navy to switch from Welsh coal to Iranian oil.[5] The world hasn’t been the same since.

WWI saw Persia overrun by British and Russian forces as they slugged it out with the Ottoman Turks. The war’s conclusion found Persia impoverished, broken, and ripe for plucking. Reza Khan, commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, staged a coup d’état in 1921 with British complicity. He had himself crowned the first Shah of the new Pahlavi Dynasty in 1925 and began an intensive program of modernization. Though he had benefited from British patronage, he was never keen on their entrenchment in his country.

Faced with an aggressive political entity to his north in the form of the nascent Soviet Union and the overt power plays of the British Empire within his own borders, the Shah continually played one side against the other in order to retain as much of his sovereignty as possible. Changing the nation’s name to Iran in 1935 is perhaps indicative of who he believed would wind up king of the hill in European and global affairs. Iran is a cognate of Aryan and refers to “the Land of the Aryans.”[6]

By 1941 Germany was Iran’s greatest trade partner. Over 2,000 German nationals were living in Iran working on various industrial projects. Their presence on the main vein of Britain’s oil was certainly cause for concern to the Crown. On August 21, 1941, Great Britain and the Soviet Union made a joint demand that Iran expel all German nationals. The Shah refused. The Brits and Russians invaded four days later. Aryan or not, Reza Shah read the handwriting on the wall and abdicated his throne in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[7] The Pahlavi Dynasty’s second and last Shah would be a tool in the hands of the West his entire reign.

Enter Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. A distinguished public servant of Iran whose career began long before Reza Khan’s coup, he was in 1950 the parliamentary chairman of the committee responsible for negotiating Iran’s oil contracts and concessions. The committee turned their attention fully on the now named Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) to garner a more equitable deal than the D’Arcy concession had bequeathed them. Iran’s share of the profits from AIOC was less than the taxes the company paid to the British Crown. Mossadegh pressed AIOC for a 50-50 deal. They countered with a proposal which increased the payments to Iran but fell short of the requested share. Mossadegh’s committee rejected their offer.[8]

AIOC returned the following year with a 50-50 proposal, but it was too late. Mossadegh’s patience had run out. He rejected the deal and pushed for the full nationalization of AIOC’s properties. Having begun his opposition to the Pahlavi Dynasty in 1923, he was a force to be reckoned with in 1951. When he was elected as Prime Minister, the Shah didn’t have the political or popular clout to keep him from the post.[9] As Prime Minister, Mossadegh pushed forward to nationalize AIOC. The British government would have none of it and they easily convinced the Americans to help them intervene.

Known to the Britain’s MI6 as Operation Boot and to the CIA as TPAJAX, the covert operation to remove Mossadegh from power was led by the Americans under the guise of needing a win against the Soviets in the early years of the Cold War. The “TP” in TPAJAX stood for “Tudah Party,” a Communist political party in Iran. But an official CIA internal history of the operation written in 1954 by Dr. Donald N. Wilber reveals the true cause and aims of the coup d’état against Mossadegh:

“By the end of 1952, it had become clear that the Mossadeq government in Iran was incapable of reaching an oil settlement with interested Western countries…It was the aim of the TPAJAX project to cause the fall of the Mossadeq government; to reestablish the prestige and power of the Shah; and to replace the Mossadeq government with one which would govern Iran according to constructive policies. Specifically, the aim was to bring to power a government which would reach an equitable oil settlement…”[10]

To reestablish the prestige and power of the Shah, the CIA chose as their puppet a Major General in the Iranian Army, Fazlollah Zahedi. Though General Zahedi led the charge and was installed as Prime Minister by the Shah upon the coup’s successful completion, the Americans were not going to leave its continued success to chance. The U.S. sent in Major-General Schwarzkopf – “Stormin” Norman’s father – to form and train security forces that were loyal to the Shah. These security agents, organized and trained by Americans with the assistance of Israeli Mossad officers, developed into what became the dreaded SAVAK; Iran’s secret police and the brutal enforcers of the Shah’s power. Though the Ayatollah Khomeini would repurpose the Shah’s torture chambers to a new class of victims, it was ostensibly against this oppression that he inspired his countrymen to revolt under the banner of Islam.

I remember my glee when after having been held captive, humiliated, and paraded under an incompetent Jimmy Carter for 444 days, the American hostages in Iran were released within minutes of Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office as President. My revelry would surely have been shorter had I known that once in the Oval Office, Reagan would authorize the sell of billions of dollars’ worth of American weapons to Iran through Israeli hands. Not content with this level of interloping, we later sold even more arms and provided intelligence to Saddam Hussein in order to bolster him in his war effort against Iran. [11] The Iran-Iraq war would claim by some estimates nearly a million Iranian casualties in its eight year course.

Though much has changed in the thirty-five years since Saddam invaded Iran, ever so much remains the same. Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran Nuclear Agreement brings together frenemies old and new – the E3/EU+3: China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The plan is practical, measurable, and highly technical.[12] Considering the fact that all five permanent members of the UN Security Council took part in crafting the plan, it is irresponsible to characterize it as the foreign relations debacle of a single man regardless of one’s opinion of President Obama’s politics. And even though the JCPOA specifies the types of nuclear material and facility designs the Iranians may use down to level of their neutron fluxes, the Iran Nuclear Agreement isn’t really about nukes. It’s about oil.

Reminiscent of its reactions to Iranian politics in the 1950s, the West hasn’t allowed the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully function in the global economy since its violent birth in 1979. Her oil fields are still rich and their infrastructure is in dire need of investment and repair. And the world is thirsty for fuel. Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iranian crude will once again flow freely into the world market. The E3/EU+3 will benefit from the sell of equipment and technology to Iran as well as extend and deepen the economic benefit of reduced oil prices.[13] Iran will regain her long-frozen assets and garner better prices per barrel than she was enjoying on the black market as well as increase her production through oil field upgrades. Though Putin’s Russia may lose some European petrol sells in the short term, it gains even greater hegemony in the uranium market as it is where Iran must sell its excesses and who it must turn to to down blend their current stores of enriched uranium. Everyone wins. Well, almost.

America would have been much better served had President Eisenhower and the CIA opted to support Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s. Though nationalizing an industry runs counter to the philosophy of property rights and free trade, it presents much less of an ideological affront than the toppling of a democratically elected leader in favor of a despotic monarch. It is quite possible that an Iran under Mossadegh might have developed into a more modern mindset than she finds herself in today. And if he had had the chance to lead his country through that dangerous decade, it is highly probable that we would have negotiated a nuclear agreement with men of his breadth and caliber: lawyers, financiers, musicians, and tirelessly courageous public servants.[14] As it stands, we are beholden to the Ayatollahs.

The problem with the JCPOA isn’t the wording of the nuclear agreement. The problem is with the wording of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CIRI). Much like our founding documents, the Iranian Constitution presents the reasons for the rise of the Islamic Republic. Its revolution was part of a “devastating protest of Imam Khumayni against the American conspiracy…which was intended to…reinforce…economic dependence of Iran on world imperialism.”[15] Having identified its primary enemy, the CIRI proceeds to declare its global intentions.

“With due attention to the Islamic content of the Iranian Revolution, the Constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad. In particular, in the development of international relations, the Constitution will strive with other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community (in accordance with the Koranic verse “This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me” [21:92]), and to assure the continuation of the struggle for the liberation of all deprived and oppressed peoples in the world…”[16]

“In the formation and equipping of the country’s defense forces, due attention must be paid to faith and ideology as the basic criteria. Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse “Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them” [8:60]).”[17]

The White House estimated as late as July of this year that Iran could have enough weapons grade uranium to build a bomb as early as September and at the latest October.[18] Nuclear weapons notwithstanding, Iran has proven quite capable of exporting bloodshed, mayhem, and jihad abroad with purely conventional weapons and a severely restricted money supply. The JCPOA is definitely a deal with the devil. But who the devil is depends on which side of the table the parties are sitting.

[1] “The Iranian Hostage Crisis”, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/carter-hostage-crisis, (accessed September 6, 2015).
[2] “444 Days: Memoirs of an Iran Hostage”, http://adst.org/2013/10/444-days-memoirs-of-an-iranian-hostage, (accessed September 6, 2015).
[3] “Anglo-Persian Oil Company”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Persian_Oil_Company, (accessed September 25, 2015).
[4] “D’Arcy, William Knox (1849-1917)”, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/darcy-william-knox-5882, (accessed September 25, 2015).
[5] “How the world got addicted to oil, and where biofuels will take us” by Tom Philpott, http://grist.org/article/oped, (accessed September 24, 2015).
[6] David Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, (London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2014), 57.
[7] Michael E. Haskew, The World War II Desk Reference, (Edison: Grand Central Press 2004), 89.
[8] “Mohamad Mossadeq, the Nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Attempted Overthrow of the Shah” by Thayer Watkins, http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/mossadeq.htm, (accessed September 20, 2015).
[9] Pahlavi was insecure enough in his position that he actually left the country.
[10] Dr. Donald N. Wilber, Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953, (CIA, Clandestine Services History 1954), http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/summary.pdf, (accessed September 20, 2015), emphasis added.
[11] “U.S. Secretly Gave Aid to Iraq Early in Its War Against Iran” by Seymour M. Hersh, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/26/world/us-secretly-gave-aid-to-iraq-early-in-its-war-against-iran.html, (accessed September 21, 2015).
[12] The full text of the agreement is available at http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/full-text-iran-deal-120080, (accessed September 27, 2015).
[13] Crude oil prices dropped in mere anticipation of the agreement. It is estimated that Iran’s projected injection of one million barrels per day into the world market could reduce prices by $5-$10 per barrel. [“How Much Pressure Will Iran Put On Oil Prices?” by Ekaterina Pokrovskaya, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Oil-Prices/How-Much-Pressure-Will-Iran-Put-On-Oil-Prices.html, (accessed September 6, 2015).]
[14] Mossadegh held his first post in government at the age of 15 as Chief of Finance of the Khorasan Province. He studied political science in Tehran and Paris and attended law school in Switzerland. He also played the Tar, a traditional Persian string instrument. See http://www.mohammadmossadegh.com/biography, (accessed September 20, 2015).
[15] Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, sec. The Dawn of the Movement. Emphasis added.
[16] Ibid., sec. The Form of Government in Islam. Emphasis added.
[17] Ibid., sec. The Religious Army. Emphasis added.
[18] “6 Things You Should Know About The Iran Nuclear Deal”, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/07/14/422920192/6-things-you-should-know-about-the-iran-nuclear-deal, (accessed September 20, 2015).