Monday, December 7, 2009

Malaysian Maverick

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Book Review: Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times



Written by John Berthelsen
Friday, 04 December 2009
by Barry Wain. Palgrave Macmillan, 363pp. Available through Amazon, US$60.75. Available for Pre-order, to be released Jan 5.

In 1984 or 1985, when I was an Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent in Malaysia, an acquaintance called me and said he had seen a US Army 2-1/2 ton truck, known as a "deuce-and-a-half," filled with US military personnel in jungle gear on a back road outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Since Malaysia and the United States were hardly close friends at that point, I immediately went to the US Embassy in KL and asked what the US soldiers were doing there. I received blank stares. Similar requests to the Malaysian Ministry of Defense brought the same response. After a few days of chasing the story, I concluded that my acquaintance must have been seeing things and dropped it.

It turns out he wasn’t seeing things after all. In a new book, "Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times," launched Dec. 4 in Asia, former Asian Wall Street Journal editor Barry Wain solved the mystery. In 1984, during a visit to Washington DC in which Mahathir met President Ronald Reagan, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others, he secretly launched an innocuous sounding Bilateral Training and Consultation Treaty, which Wain described as a series of working groups for exercises, intelligence sharing, logistical support and general security issues. In the meantime, Mahathir continued display a public antipathy on general principles at the Americans while his jungle was crawling with US troops quietly training for jungle warfare.

That ability to work both sides of the street was a Mahathir characteristic. In his foreword, Wain, in what is hoped to be a definitive history of the former prime minister’s life and career, writes that "while [Mahathir] has been a public figure in Malaysia for half a century and well known abroad for almost as long, he has presented himself as a bundle of contradictions: a Malay champion who was the Malays’ fiercest critic and an ally of Chinese-Malaysian businessmen; a tireless campaigner against Western economic domination who assiduously courted American and European capitalists; a blunt, combative individual who extolled the virtues of consensual Asian values."

Wain was granted access to the former premier for a series of exhaustive interviews. It may well be the most definitive picture painted of Mahathir to date, and certainly is even-handed. Wain, now a writer in residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, is by no means a Mahathir sycophant. Advance publicity for the book has dwelt on an assertion by Wain that Mahathir may well have wasted or burned up as much as RM100 billion (US$40 billion at earlier exchange rates when the projects were active) on grandiose projects and the corruption that that the projects engendered as he sought to turn Malaysia into an industrialized state. Although some in Malaysia have said the figure is too high, it seems about accurate, considering such ill-advised projects as a national car, the Proton, which still continues to bleed money and cost vastly more in opportunity costs for Malaysian citizens forced to buy any other make at huge markups behind tariff walls. In addition, while Thailand in particular became a regional center for car manufacture and for spares, Malaysia, handicapped by its national car policy, was left out.Read more..

7 comments:

Y1 said...

"Mahathir must bear the blame for much of this, in particular his destruction of an independent judiciary, as Wain writes, to further his aims."

That conclusion is reasonable and fair observation.

eddy said...

Dr Mahathir is many things to different people, for those who hates him obviously they would blame him for anything under the sun and more. For those who love him, he is God's gift to Malaysia who against all odds took this once backwater agro based ex colony of the British Empire screaming and kicking towards becoming a modern industry based multiracial and multi religious nation, a success story for many developing economies around the world.

For me Dr Mahathir is my hero and role model, I do not need a Australian Mat Salleh former editor of the now defunct Asian Wall Street Journal(which never write anything good about Malaysia anyway) now residing in Dr Mahathir's arch political nemesis Lee Kuan Yew's island to tell me any different.

Hantu Laut said...

eddy,

I am fully with you on this.No man has done more for this country than him.Those who denigrate him are either misinformed or just jealous of his efforts.Malaysia, would have stayed a tropical backwater if not for his untiring efforts to prove to the West, if you can do, we can do it too.Obviously, there are those who have their own political agenda.

I have written a number of articles on him in the past which I will re-post shortly.

eddy said...

Agree with you too Bro, there are obviously people with their own political agenda(and they are not necessarily from the Pakatan camp) behind this book and the author.

I am not even surprised if the author is being paid to do this dirty job on Dr Mahathir, six years after the grand old man retired.

eddy said...

Agree with you too Bro, there are obviously people with their own political agenda(and they are not necessarily from the Pakatan camp) behind this book and the author.

I am not even surprised if the author is being paid to do this dirty job on Dr Mahathir, six years after the grand old man retired.

Anonymous said...

I agree that "No man has done more for this country than him" which is the base for the support get get. To date, I think he is the best of the bumiputras. But if we look just a little further, he has done little comparing to countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore

Anonymous said...

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