U.S. Policy / Middle East

Baer, Robert. Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. 238 pages.

Robert Baer was a case officer in the CIA from 1976-1997, mainly in the Middle East, and has handled agents who infiltrated some of the governments and liberation groups there. His previous book was titled "See No Evil" (2002), about how the CIA lost its way in the fight against terrorism. In this book, the devil is Saudi Arabia and its oil-rich princes. Behind them are the Wahhabis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda. The corrupt princes are obliged to support these movements at one level or another, as the price for staying rich and forestalling social instability.

The Brotherhood was closed down by Nasser in Egypt in 1954. By the 1970s, they were established in theological and educational institutions in Saudi Arabia, along with the Wahhabis. Al-Qaeda grew out of this, at a time when the U.S. needed them to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. When the Soviets withdrew and the cold war ended, the militants continued on theological overdrive, and Western-styled corruption and immorality was the new target. Baer doubts that the Saudi princes will hold it together for much longer. He also has harsh words for U.S. policy wonks, some of whom are eager to accept money from Saudi princes. In exchange, these think-tankers turn a blind eye toward the threatened collapse of the Saudi regime, and the possible loss of Saudi oil.

Chatterjee, Pratap. Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004. 248 pages.

Pratap Chatterjee works at CorpWatch (www.corpwatch.org), and his investigative articles have appeared in various publications. In 2004 he visited Iraq and spoke with many natives, as well as many of the low-level occupiers. He discovered that most Iraqis are not happy with U.S. efforts. "Indeed many are downright angry at the lack of basic services such as electricity and telephones. They fear the uncertain future held out in the privatization of Iraqi industries and hope for an end to the chaos in the hospitals, and most importantly, the growing danger in the streets."

Halliburton, Bechtel, Titan Corporation, CACI International, Dyncorp, Blackwater, and SAIC are some of the U.S. companies with contracts in Iraq that are covered in this book. Chatterjee shows that private security is a waste of money, the quality of the recruits is poor, and accountability is lacking. To a large extent, the occupation has turned into a boondoggle. Newly-minted corporations with good connections got fat U.S. contracts, recruited unqualified people as quickly as possible, and sent them to Iraq to hit the ground running. Some are security guards, some are interrogators, and many are infrastructure bureaucrats who skim extra profits. The people of Iraq pay the most, but U.S. taxpayers pay also, because none of this is working very well.

Emerson, Steven. The American House of Saud: The Secret Petrodollar Connection. New York: Franklin Watts, 1985. 450 pages.

Numerous books have been written on the Israeli influence in U.S. politics, and others have been written on the big oil companies. But this is the first book to look at the power of Arab petrodollars ($661 billion between 1973 and 1984) as they buy their way into a hungry American economy. Unlike the Israeli lobby, which achieves its success with support from American Jews, the Arabs can rely exclusively on the power of money.

BCCI and former Saudi intelligence head Kamal Adham became common fare on network news programs by 1991; both are mentioned in this 1985 book. Emerson had an inside track, because in 1978 he served on the staff of Frank Church's Senate subcommittee investigating Aramco and Saudi oil production. The use of subpoena power eventually persuaded SoCal and Exxon, two of the slimier members of Aramco, to produce some information.

In addition to big oil and other corporate interests, Emerson examines the 1981 Senate vote on AWACs, the role of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (a DC spooktank), PR mercenaries like Robert Gray, and lobbyists such as Frederick G. Dutton and John Carl West. He also includes a chapter on the academic connection, detailing how a little grease in scholarly directions was able to produce impressive results.

Eveland, Wilbur Crane. Ropes of Sand: America's Failure in the Middle East. New York: W.W. Norton, 1980. 382 pages.

Eveland spent much of his adult life in the Middle East or working in Washington for the government as a Middle East specialist. Beginning in the late 1940s, he worked at various times for or with the State Department, the National Security Council, and the CIA.

This book provides a history of Middle-East politics and the U.S. involvement in same from post-World War One to the 1970s. Written as a personal account, the book is very readable and contains a number of significant revelations, such as U.S. plots to overthrow the government of Syria in 1956 and 1957 and to assassinate President Nasser of Egypt, as well as American involvement in several other conspiracies, alone and with the British, to fashion the Middle East to their own specifications.

There is also material on covert Arab-Israeli relations, the CIA overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953, and on British mole Kim Philby, with whom Eveland spent time in Lebanon right up until Philby avoided arrest by fleeing to the Soviet Union.

-- William Blum

Kaplan, Robert D. The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite. New York: The Free Press, 1993. 333 pages.

This book was made possible by the conservative Bradley Foundation, whose funds were administered by the Foreign Policy Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. (In 1967 the New York Times reported that FPRI had received money from the CIA, so Bradley is an improvement.) It's not surprising then that author Robert D. Kaplan, who is otherwise quite informative, manages to treat U.S. policy in the Middle East without any serious discussion of the role of the CIA or Mossad. The one exception is a chapter on the secret 1984 exodus of Falashas (Ethiopian Jews) from Sudan to Israel -- a story that's safe now because it ruffles no feathers.

As the title suggests, Kaplan is more interested in personalities than in secret history. He reports the experiences of first the missionaries and then the diplomats, from the beginning of the century to the Gulf War, as they dedicate their lives to understanding Arab culture. The missionaries were motivated by religion, and the diplomats by a romantic, Ivy-League appreciation of things foreign that sometimes captivates those with the resources to be different. It all adds up to "a diverse and colorful cast of characters." It's more interesting than it sounds, if only because in America we are overexposed to the saga of small-but-mighty Israel, and find it refreshing to meet these Arabists as a sort of necessary counterweight.

Levins, Hoag. Arab Reach: The Secret War Against Israel. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1983. 324 pages.

Even after twenty additional years of Arab-Israeli conflict, this book by Philadelphia reporter Hoag Levins has much to offer. His point of departure is America's dependency on oil; the growing Arab wealth and influence in the U.S. due to the ability of Arab nations to control oil supplies; and finally, Israel's nuclear monopoly in the Middle East and the likelihood that she will use these weapons in the next major war. The chapters on outrageous Arab spending around the world are particularly fascinating, as well as perversely entertaining.

A few things have changed. Arab spending and investment was sharply curtailed when oil prices dropped after this book was published, and OPEC lost power. (However, prices could go up again, as alternative energy and conservation efforts were abandoned as well.) Secondly, this book describes how Arab leaders were concentrating on nuclear weapons development in Pakistan and other countries; now Pakistan has the bomb. But the big change is that the Cold War is over, and today organized terrorism has largely replaced warfare between nations. Globalization and U.S. unilateralism is finally making America a prime target. Along with this there is a new awareness that chemical and biological weapons can be devastating, which means that nuclear weapons are no longer the only option.

Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John. The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq. New York: Jeremy P.Tarcher/Penguin, 2006. 258 pages.

This is the fifth book by these authors that is indexed in NameBase. All of them are similar, in that they pull examples from the press of how public relations firms and policy spin-meisters distort reality in the interests of higher profits or more power. The authors work out of the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, WI (www.prwatch.org). Sheldon Rampton also founded the Wikipedia-styled www.SourceWatch.org.

One chapter is on the Valerie Plame affair. It is well-written, but it was always much ado about nothing. In the end it was only White House clumsiness that made it more interesting. Other chapters cover the faulty U.S. intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi and his CIA-funded Iraqi National Congress, and deceptive body counts in Iraq. The Chalabi chapter includes 13 pages on Judith Miller, who really deserves a book of her own. She sat in jail for 85 days over the Plame affair for refusing to testify. But she should have been jailed, along with her editors, for her inaccurate reporting in the New York Times. Chalabi was her major source for a series of fear-mongering articles about WMDs in Iraq over a period of ten years. This coverage by the NYT created an environment of anti-Iraq public opinion that paved the way for the U.S. invasion. NYT eventually fired Miller, long after it was much too late.

Ritter, Scott. Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. 256 pages.

In 1991 the U.N. Security Council set up UNSCOM, a commission to inspect for weapons in Iraq. Scott Ritter spent seven years with UNSCOM, including two as head of the unit investigating concealed weapons. At first UNSCOM was chaired by Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish diplomat. In 1997 Ekeus was replaced by Richard Butler, who tolerated CIA penetration of UNSCOM. Support for UNSCOM was also undermined by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during Clinton's second term, when she said that sanctions would not be lifted even if Iraq fulfilled its part of the U.N. agreement concerning disposal of weapons. Ritter resigned in 1998, disillusioned with U.S. policy.

This book is not a dry analysis of high-level policies, but rather a fascinating, detailed account of Ritter's experiences in Iraq. There is background on Saddam's rise to power, interspersed with cat-and-mouse confrontations between Ritter's inspectors and Saddam's armed guards. Dusty documents are sometimes discovered in unlikely places, which also makes it something of a detective story. It's a good read, but it's also important to remember, as Ritter points out, that the policy of sanctions was ill-advised from the start -- innocent children and adults should not be punished because of crimes committed by their leadership.

Unger, Craig. House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties. New York: Scribner, 2004. 370 pages.

With over a thousand end notes and a hundred books in the bibliography, this is a rather good overview of the information and literature available on the Saudi connection to the Bush family. It's about the oil-cash pipeline between Houston and Riyadh, with the slick deals and greased palms from BCCI to the Carlyle Group, that preceded and followed the two Bushes into the White House. If you loved Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," you'll like this book. If you think the problem runs deeper than two generations of greed in two privileged families, then you'll find something lacking in the party-partisan assumptions that motivated this research.

Author Craig Unger finds little fault with Bill Clinton, except that Monica made it easy for his enemies. Unger primarily does magazine pieces, and sometimes CNN or ABC Radio. This book succeeds within the limited scope of its title, but Unger, it must be said, is a sound-bite expert. Here he expands bites into chapters and end notes, but it still falls short. Would Al Gore would have stayed out of Iraq? Unger probably assumes so, but we don't. The problem isn't that the wrong person ended up as President. Rather it's that no one with the values needed to make a difference has even a slight chance of getting his message out and running a competitive campaign. The entire system is corrupt, not just one political party.

NameBase book reviews               CloudFlare Watch