A chronicle of the failures of Western intelligence operations in the Middle East.
Gerolymatos (History/Simon Fraser Univ.; Red Acropolis, Black Terror: The Greek Civil War and the Origins of Soviet-American Rivalry, 1943–1949, 2004, etc.) delivers an often jaw-dropping account of a century of failure in clandestine attempts to influence Islamic nations. While nearly everyone agrees that the United States rushed into Iraq and Afghanistan ignorant of their politics and culture, the author points out that ignorance of Islamic culture is a hallmark of Western policy. A profound intelligence misstep occurred after World War II when nationalist leaders assumed leadership of newly independent Egypt, Syria and Iraq. None were religious, but they showed a disturbing friendliness toward the Soviet Union. In response, Western policymakers covertly supplied money and military training to their growing, fiercely anticommunist opposition: Islamic fundamentalists. This support flagged in the face of 1970s terrorism but proved irresistible after the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Readers may shake their heads in disbelief, but they will keep turning the pages as Gerolymatos recounts disastrous plots to overthrow the supposedly procommunist Syrian government or Egypt’s President Nasser. The author also looks at how the U.S. military recruited ex-Nazi military and intelligence officers, supposedly (but not in reality) expert in anti-Soviet espionage. Even successful covert operations turned out badly. For decades after the 1953 Anglo-American–backed coup ousted the democratically elected government of Iran and installed the Shah, U.S. leaders considered it a triumph. Since the Shah’s overthrow in 1979, it’s become an embarrassment.
Those who suspect espionage is a mug’s game will find plenty of evidence here, as well as a great deal of amusement.