A close analysis of the late Jordanian ruler, who walked a fine line in his efforts to promote peace in the Middle East.
Ashton (International History/London School of Economics and Political Science; Kennedy, Macmillan and the Cold War: The Irony of Interdependence, 2002) writes from a scholarly point of view, complementing but not overshadowing Avi Shlaim’s journalistic—and far more fluent—biography Lion of Jordan (2008). Indeed, both authors cover much of the same ground, though Ashton is less eager than Shlaim to blame the failure of peacemaking on Israeli intransigence. Instead, Ashton points to the endless complexity of regional politics, particularly in the quicksand of the Cold War, when Iraq, for instance, was alternately allied with Egypt, then Egypt’s rival, then Saudi Arabia’s friend, then Saudi Arabia’s mortal enemy. King Hussein faced considerable opposition from his Hashemite cousins in Saudi Arabia (it did not help matters, in that regard, that the ruling Arab families of the region are related), some of whom argued that “the Jordanian branch of the Hashemite family was not fit to rule, and that the kingdom should have reverted to the Iraqi branch.” In the years following the 1967 War, King Hussein made Jordan something of a buffer state between Saudi Arabia and Israel, requiring delicate negotiations and courting plenty of opposition, including several attempted military coups. By Ashton’s account, though, some of his toughest opposition came from the American intelligence community, which had its own ideas about how to settle differences in the region. Compared to CIA Director Richard Helms, Israeli leader Moshe Dayan seemed an angel of reconciliation. It took sustained effort on the king’s part to steer Jordan out of the gunsights when “his two former friends, Saddam Hussein and George Bush,” went to war in 1991—an episode in which, Ashton reveals, Mikhail Gorbachev offered the Soviet Union as a back channel ally to the United States and Israel, which will come as news to many readers.
Somewhat arid, but a policy wonk’s dream, full of historical data and the implications for war and peace in the world’s most volatile region.