...[an] engrossing book ... The Laos story has been told many times, in memoirs, academic and popular books, and even internal C.I.A. studies that are now public. Kurlantzick has drawn on these accounts, but he has also managed to get interviews with the memorable characters around whom he builds his story...Since Kurlantzick interviewed them, all four of his main characters have died, which makes his research over more than a decade even more valuable ... If Kurlantzick’s thorough and affecting account is missing anything, it is his own conclusion about exactly where and how the United States went wrong...Even if Kurlantzick doesn’t offer an explicit judgment, his book shows how critical it is for American leaders to be cleareyed about their purposes and honest with their public before embarking on a war that will inevitably take on a gruesome momentum of its own.
Kurlantzick brings out the chaos wrought by a previous era of great power proxy struggles, civil war in Vietnam and genocide in Cambodia ... A Great Place to Have a War challenges the idea, articulated across the US political spectrum, that the country enjoys a status as a force for good in the world ... A Great Place to Have a War is pacy and its discussions of US intra-governmental conflict and the intricacies of Laos politics are leavened with vivid portraits of the main personalities ... a reminder of how much US history in this conflict-scarred region still bubbles beneath the surface — and awaits a proper reckoning.
...an informative and well-researched overview of the covert war the United States waged in Laos between 1960 and 1975 ... A principal early player was Bill Lair, a clandestine operative who drew up a plan to train and arm the Hmong, one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Laos, to fight the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese. Kurlantzick gives us a compelling portrait of this soft-spoken man 'with the bristly buzz cut and the thick Clark Kent glasses who spoke fluent Lao with a Texas accent' — the quintessential quiet American ... It’s a harrowing story, and Kurlantzick tells it well, even if he’s occasionally shaky on the details ... The author’s loose approach to chronology leads on occasion to confusion and repetition. In the main, however, his choices about what to cover are sensible, his assessments persuasive. One puts the book down with a deeper, richer understanding of this sordid chapter in the history of American interventionism.
...the war’s entire compelling tale can be found in the lucid prose and revelatory reporting of Joshua Kurlantzick’s new book, A Great Place to Have a War,/em>. Fresh interviews and newly declassified records document how American involvement escalated and then swiftly ended, leaving America’s Laotian partners holding the bag. But Mr Kurlantzick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former contributor to this newspaper, enriches his study even further by connecting the CIA’s unprecedented paramilitary activities in Laos to the secret wars of today in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
Mr. Kurlantzick’s sections on America’s partnership with the Hmong are generally accurate and informative. He draws the proper contrast between the two central American figures in the drama, Bill Lair and William Sullivan. Lair, a CIA officer, had forged the U.S.-Hmong alliance by virtue of his love for the Hmong people and his friendship with Hmong leader Vang Pao ... When it comes to the international context of the Laotian conflict, the book goes astray...Mr. Kurlantzick neglects to mention that the United States initially complied with the Geneva Accords ... Mr. Kurlantzick endeavors to depict the Laotian project as the wellspring of a burgeoning CIA paramilitary branch. To make his case he must, among other things, ignore the gutting of the CIA paramilitary staff after 1975 and conflate the intelligence work behind recent drone targeting with paramilitary duties. He neglects a more momentous legacy of the Laotian debacle: the damage to American credibility.
Kurlantzick grippingly describes the war’s key battles on the Plain of Jars, Skyline Ridge near Long Cheng, and Sala Phou Khoun. His literary portrait of Vang Pao is one of the highlights of the book ... Kurlantzick calls the covert war in Laos the CIA’s first war. He notes that in the aftermath of the Indochina War, congressional oversight and reaction to revelations of CIA activities overlooked the extent to which the agency had expanded its paramilitary activities.
Kurlantzick, who has written extensively about Southeast Asia, backs up his conclusions with recently declassified material and many, many interviews in a clear narrative that very occasionally is overwhelmed by the compact style of a dedicated researcher ... Historians, particularly those who enjoy military history, will find the book compelling, but it is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to more fully understand our government and how its policies evolve.