Thursday, January 23, 2014

America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists And The Shaping Of The Modern Middle East

Veteran journalist and author Joseph C. Goulden offers a good review of Hugh Wilford's America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East for the Washington Times.

Over lunch several years ago, as chaos descended on the Middle East, a retired CIA operations officer sadly mused about the diminished role of the United States in the region. When he was station chief of a nation in the area, he said, the defense minister routinely sent him a list of officers proposed for promotion. “I could put a tick mark against the names of men I approved, or cross out the ones to whom we objected,” he said. “Simple as that.” (Given that this was a private conversation, I am not identifying the officer, now deceased, nor the country to which he referred.)

The officer’s point was obvious: In the not-too-distant past, the United States had the capability to orchestrate events in a broad swath of the Middle East, and the principals through which policy was executed were a trio of CIA officers, two of whom did their tasks well, and a third about whom more shall be said later.

... Despite the richness of his material, Mr. Wilford's book is not an easy read. His sentences tend to wrap themselves into serpentine snarls, which often had me having to start reading again. Another shortcoming is all too common among people writing about 20th-century intelligence. The subtitle suggests that the CIA, on its own, worked in secret to shape American policy in an important region, but Mr. Wilford skirts around an important link in the chain of command; namely, that the agency was acting on White House orders to execute national security policy.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

You can also read my Counterterrorism magazine interview with Joseph C. Goulden via the below link:

I also interviewed Mr. Goulden for a Counterterrorism magazine piece on the history and mystique of espionage and you can read the piece via the below link:

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