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Post George Packer's "Our Man"
Created by John Eipper on 10/15/19 7:39 AM

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George Packer's "Our Man" (Enrique Torner, USA, 10/15/19 7:39 am)

The Government Department at Minnesota State University, Mankato--where I teach--is trying to bring in a guest speaker this coming spring: George Packer, bestselling author of The Unwinding and Our Man.

Packer is a National Book Award winner. Walter Isaacs claims about Our Man, "If you could read only one book to comprehend America's foreign policy and its quixotic forays into quicksands over the past 50 years, this would be it."

Here is a link to a webpage about him:


Does anyone in WAISdom know Packer or has read any of his books? If so, could you please provide your thoughts?


JE comments:  Who can comment on Our Man?  The "only book you'll need" label is quite an accolade.

The Lavin agency, broker of A-list keynoters, describes Packer's presentation as "gripping."  I'd like to learn more about the rarefied world of lecturing for pay.  Some WAIS colleagues have dabbled in it.  So far, except for my regular employer, I've always shared my wisdom for free...

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  • An Interview (and Lunch) with George Packer (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 10/16/19 3:02 AM)
    To answer Enrique Torner (October 15th), George Packer interviewed me during the 2004 Athens Olympics for an article published by the New Yorker (the only time I have been mentioned in that magazine, as far as I know). I invited him to lunch at my place, so I got to know him somewhat.

    I have read two of his books. The Assassins Gate is a very good book on the early phase of the Iraq War of 2003, with much on-the-ground reporting from Iraq.

    Blood of the Liberals is a collective biography of his family going back to his grandparents' generation and tying it with major themes in American politics. There is a Stanford angle. His father was a Stanford professor who served as vice provost in the late 1960s when anti-Vietnam demonstrators caused much damage on campus. As a result, or so George Packer maintains, he had a crippling stroke and later committed suicide.

    JE comments:  I found the link to the 2004 New Yorker piece--the WAIS Effect again!  Harry, would you still describe Greece as the most anti-American nation in Europe?


    Our much-missed colleague Gene Franklin referred to "the late Professor Packer" in this October 2006 post.  The topic was international sanctions.  Thirteen years later we're still talking about sanctions:


    Herbert L. Packer was only 47 when he committed suicide a few years after the paralyzing stroke:


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    • In Greece, Anti-Americanism has been Replaced by Anti-Germanism (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 10/17/19 3:49 AM)
      John E asked whether I would still describe Greece as the most anti-American nation in Europe, as I had claimed in a 2004 New Yorker piece by George Packer.

      In fact, Germany replaced the United States as the most antipathetic nation among Greeks in the years of the Greek crisis. Under the Radical Left and Nationalistic Right coalition government of 2015-2019, US-Greek relations became better than probably ever before, in spite of the anti-American past of both parties. The United States supported the remaining of Greece in the euro and seems to have been instrumental in bringing this about against the desires of the German Finance Minister Schaeuble at the height of the Greek crisis.

      More recently under both Obama and Trump, we have witnessed growing military cooperation between Greece and the United States, in large part because Erdogan's Turkey has become an unreliable ally. The United States joined the Greece-Israel-Cyprus East Med collaboration, making the formula 3 plus 1. Pompeo's highly successful visit in Athens two weeks ago lasted for several days without any significant hostile demonstration, unthinkable as late as even ten years ago.

      Attached is a not very good photo from Pompeo's public speech in Athens (I was present).

      JE comments:  See below.  Harry, did Pompeo have anything new or interesting to say?  If my chronology is correct, the visit preceded the Trump bombshell in northern Syria.  I'm curious if Pompeo knew what Trump was about to do.

      What's the word in Greece about Erdogan's offensive against the Kurds?  Is it outrage, or relief that an age-old enemy is bleeding himself elsewhere?  Some pundits are predicting that Turkey will be expelled from NATO.  I doubt this will happen, but would such a scenario actually benefit Greece?

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    • Antiwar Protests: Then and Now (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 10/17/19 8:12 AM)
      Speaking of the anti-Vietnam war protests at Stanford and elsewhere, I assume that probably some US WAISers participated in these protests in the late 1960s and early '70s.

      By now I wonder if they have changed their minds about their attitudes, considering the following developments.

      At that time the Vietnam war was in defense of an ally attacked mainly by communist forces.

      My favorite actress Jane Fonda even went to the other side of the front to show support for the enemy.

      She should have been jailed for treason. Instead she was arrested on fake accusations of drug trafficking.

      After the Vietnam war we had many other wars, silly but devastating with many refugees arriving in Italy.

      The Empire classified these wars as humanitarian, to bring democracy and so on. In reality they were only self-defeating regime-change wars and no big protest has been seen.

      In reference to betraying an ally, we should address the situation of the Kurds. The US forces have been ordered to leave in a hurry. At least one of their bases has remained intact, with tents with air conditioning and even some personal effects. These are a nice present for the new Russian occupiers.

      JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia raises an uncomfortable question:  is there any difference between US involvement in Vietnam then...and Syria now?  More uncomfortably, is the liberal outrage at Trump for abandoning our Kurdish allies hypocritical, given their correligionists' demands 50 years ago to abandon the South Vietnamese?

      So--will the Russians have nice new quarters?  I have heard about US forces bombing some of the abandoned facilities.

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  • My Memories of Herbert L. Packer (Henry Levin, USA 10/16/19 3:38 AM)
    I knew Herb Packer, the father of George. Packer was a distinguished law professor who died at only 47 years of age after three severe strokes. He had a history of depression, and the death was an apparent suicide.

    Herb was friendly, smart, intense, and deeply involved in both Stanford affairs and in world affairs. The last years of his life were in the early seventies when the Stanford campus was aflame with anti-war protests, and the university was accused of complicity in the Vietnam War with charges against its important leaders, including Packer, who was Anti-War. There are many who believe that these pressures and his depression led to the strokes. I have no idea how George experienced this at the age of 12 in 1972. (I joined the Stanford faculty in 1968, so witnessed this closely.)

    In my view, Packer was a valued colleague and faculty member, always ready to sit down with a colleague to discuss or debate issues. He would have been a great addition to WAIS. I don't know what relation he had with Ron Hilton, but remember that Ron was constantly angry at administrative decisions such as the closing of the Department of Architecture (over a summer, when faculty were not around), and Packer may have been viewed as friendly to the Stanford decision-makers).


    JE comments:  Strokes aren't supposed to happen to people in their early forties.  I will check my notes from the Ronald Hilton archives (Hoover Institution) for references to Prof. Packer.  As Hank Levin notes above, Prof. H was quite the gadfly on the Stanford campus.  His preferred weapons were letters fired off to the Administration and/or any newspaper that would hear his story.  He was very critical of the Stanford higher-ups, but even more so of the student protestors of the late '60s-early '70s.

    Prof. Packer indeed would have made a model WAISer.  What a sad story.

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