Friday, January 8

"America's Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East,

America's Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East is by Hugh Wilford. I seem to recall John Batchelor interviewed the author in the year the book was published, 2013 or last year, but anyhow the JBS podcast of the interview was published or republished January 6, 2016. Well worth the listen if you're trying to understand the roots of crises in the modern Middle East. 

As to how these Americans got away with so much in the Middle East -- because they could. To this day most Americans are checked out when it comes to U.S. actions abroad, as the Syria debacle underscores. 

The Batchelor reviews are often more fun than the books themselves but the Amazon introduction shows Wilford's effort is interesting stuff:

In America’s Great Game, celebrated intelligence historian Hugh Wilford reveals the surprising history of the CIA’s pro-Arab operations in the 1940s and 50s by tracing the work of the agency’s three most influential -- and colorful -- officers in the Middle East. Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and the first head of CIA covert action in the region; his cousin, Archie Roosevelt, was a Middle East scholar and chief of the Beirut station. 

The two Roosevelts joined combined forces with Miles Copeland, a maverick covert operations specialist who had joined the American intelligence establishment during World War II. With their deep knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs, the three men were heirs to an American missionary tradition that engaged Arabs and Muslims with respect and empathy. 

Yet they were also fascinated by imperial intrigue, and were eager to play a modern rematch of the “Great Game,” the nineteenth-century struggle between Britain and Russia for control over central Asia. Despite their good intentions, these “Arabists” propped up authoritarian regimes, attempted secretly to sway public opinion in America against support for the new state of Israel, and staged coups that irrevocably destabilized the nations with which they empathized. Their efforts, and ultimate failure, would shape the course of U.S.–Middle Eastern relations for decades to come.

Based on a vast array of declassified government records, private papers, and personal interviews, America’s Great Game tells the riveting story of the merry band of CIA officers whose spy games forever changed U.S. foreign policy.


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