The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East
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By turns admiring and critical play-by-play of CIA Arabists as they directed the Cold War’s Middle East chessboard.

As the blowback from America’s meddling in the Middle East continues to return in the form of the toppling of dictators long supported by Washington, Wilford (History/California State Univ., Long Beach; The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, 2008, etc.) spotlights the activities of several prominent CIA Arabists who helped manipulate the Cold War regimes in Egypt, Iran, Syria, Jordan and others, often to contradictory and devastating effect. Grandsons of Theodore Roosevelt, raised cavorting around Long Island, and educated at Groton, Archie and Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt, close in age, both gravitated toward action in North Africa and the Muslim world during World War II under the aegis of the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA) in Cairo. With the British imperial presence in the region on the wane, the U.S. officers moved to fill the gap: These included the Roosevelts, Miles Copeland, Stephen Penrose, Harold Hoskins and others, who were steeped in Arabic and resolved to encourage a more nationalistic, anti-Zionist approach in Palestine. Working with the American oil industry and Jewish groups like the American Council for Judaism, they attempted to galvanize U.S. public opinion against Zionism. This was defeated, however, by President Harry S. Truman, who, facing re-election, instantly recognized Israel in 1948. Wilford tracks the Arabists as the Cold War ensued from capitals in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as the “crypto-diplomats” worked to put in place nationalistic strongmen who were supposed to be pro-Western and anti-Communist but often proved problematic and intractable, culminating in the Iranian coup of 1953 and the Suez Crisis.

A mostly insightful examination of these “Mad Men on the Nile.”

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-465-01965-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2013


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