On Barack Obama’s Memoir and Other Letters to the Editor

A President’s Memory

To the Editor:

After having read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s review of Barack Obama’s new memoir, “A Promised Land” (Nov. 29), I have a slightly different take on the former president’s motives.

My read is that he is responding to President Trump’s policies — that is, the past is discussed with an eye toward challenging Trump. It seems less than a completely honest or full explanation of Obama’s years in the White House since he seems to be getting even with Trump.

My best example is President Obama’s interaction with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about foreign policy. There is an extended discussion of why our commitment to treaties, alliances and the like is so crucial to our national interests. It is gratuitous, but it does seem like an implicit slap at Trump and his disregard for America’s global relationships.

Gary Horowitz
San Francisco

To the Editor:

It is revealing that in his memoir, Barack Obama admits that there was an element of “self-interest,” as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie characterizes it in her review, when he thought that the protests outside the White House on George W. Bush’s last day in office were “graceless and unnecessary.” Perhaps that explains why Obama decided not to investigate, let alone prosecute, Bush on charges of authorizing torture and other violations of the law during his war on terror. Obama betrayed his campaign promise to ask his attorney general to “immediately review the information” regarding Bush and determine if an inquiry were warranted. Instead, once he was president, he chose, in his words, to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

Hopefully, President-elect Joe Biden won’t make the same mistake. Biden made a comparable promise to the American people that while he would not direct his attorney general to investigate and prosecute Trump, if “that was the judgment that he violated the law and should be in fact criminally prosecuted, then so be it.”

That’s what Obama should have done and that’s what Biden should do.

Stephen Rohde
Los Angeles

Not So Special

To the Editor:

If you wanted a predictable reviewer of two books on Saudi Arabia — “Vision or Mirage,” by David H. Rundell, and “Blood and Oil,” by Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck (Nov. 22) — you got it with Kenneth M. Pollack, a reliable advocate of the “special relationship” with the House of Saud. I spent my childhood in Arabia, the son of a Foreign Service officer, and know well the C.I.A. and State Department line about the Sauds. What Pollack omits in his kid-gloves treatment of the “foibles of M.B.S.,” the nickname for Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, is that the “brash young autocrat” has not only been accused of personally directing the killing of a Washington Post columnist (and of murder, torture and imprisonment of many other Saudis) but he has obliterated the royal family’s claim to legitimacy — that they rule by consensus among the leading princes.

Instead, M.B.S. has arbitrarily arrested any princely rivals and confiscated their property. He has made powerful enemies within his own family. And yet, Pollack writes that M.B.S. is “exactly the right answer” for Arabia and the United States. Of the two books under review, he gives short shrift to “Blood and Oil” because the “eye-popping tales” unearthed by the muckraking journalists “often appear plausible but it’s impossible to be sure.” I trust the journalists any day over the age-old naïveté of those foreign policy “experts” peddling nonsense about the Sauds. The “special relationship” is a failed relationship, and the Biden administration would do well to distance themselves from this embarrassing alliance.

Kai Bird
Washington

The writer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, author of two books on the Middle East and a forthcoming biography of President Jimmy Carter.

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