The Good Spy by Kai Bird

The Good Spy

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames – reminds me of A Bright Shining Lie in that it uses the story of Robert Ames to explain the Mid-East turmoil. Robert Ames is the ‘Good Spy‘ of the story. Bird makes the case that Ames, was one of the best of us (U.S.) as he navigated the hallways of diplomacy, and built relationships with the PLO, Israel, Iran, and other Arab governments, both officially and under the table. Ames tended to side with the Palestinians but he was also fair to the Israelis. However, I kept getting the feeling we would be better off, not spending the money, time, or manpower. It seems everything we have ever tried to do has blown up in our faces. Our successes have been few, and often yield poison fruit years later. That said Bird has written a fine book that is well worth reading.

448 pages

Excerpts From My Kindle

Fuller went on to observe, “Most Agency case officers working in the Middle East at that time did not view Mossad as friendly, or working to the same goals at all. Rather, Mossad was seen as in competition or antipathetic to the work and reporting of Agency officers. That’s because most Agency officers had a view of Palestinian realities that were both based on realities that we were close to, and that we knew were not generally listened to at the Washington policy level–due mainly to Israeli or pro-Israeli domination of all such info at the policy level.” – location 2387-91

The PLO envoy–not Salameh–who met with Walters reminded Walters that when Kissinger had flown into Beirut on December 16, 1973, it had been Ali Hassan Salameh who’d thwarted a plot by the Abu Nidal Organization–the nihilist terrorist group responsible for killing numerous Westerners but also some PLO figures–to shoot his plane down. In his memoirs, Kissinger said he was unimpressed. But the reality was that U.S. diplomats in Beirut were beginning to rely on Salameh and Fatah’s Fedayeen for their security. – location 2513-16

Jumblatt had been a voice of reason and moderation. But he was also a critic of the Syrians–and President Assad almost certainly ordered his assassination. – location 3138-39

Ames was alarmed and frustrated by what was happening in South Lebanon. “The fighting there is foolish and both the Christians and the Palestinians are being used by the Israelis and Syrians respectively to fight their battles by proxy. – location 3148-49

Frank Anderson had a more cynical interpretation: “The Israelis had a policy to eliminate everyone around Arafat who had a tendency to be liberal. I know they deny this, but just look at who they killed.” – location 3622-23

“The tragic irony,” writes Professor Gasiorowski, “is that the radical Islamists who seized the US embassy in early November [1979] did so in part because they thought US officials were plotting a coup or other nefarious activities there. In fact, US officials were warning Iran’s government about Iraqi activities that culminated in the devastating invasion of September 1980.” – location 3768-71

On August 14, Shultz took Ames and several other members of his secret team up to Camp David to brief President Reagan on their progress. They had lunch with Reagan in a cozy dining room lined with knotted-pine boards. The president wore black cowboy boots, jeans, and a bright-red polo shirt. After lunch, the men adjourned to the living room, where Shultz outlined his peace initiative. He then asked Ames and Veliotes to “role-play” how the plan would be presented to Begin, King Hussein, and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak–and how these leaders would react. “The actors were effective,” recalled Shultz. “The play was tense and presumed no sure outcome.” The little drama appealed to the actor in Reagan–which was probably why Shultz put on this production. He knew the plan would inevitably attract intense controversy, so he wanted to be sure the president was on board and engaged–and that he would know his lines. – location 4428-35

Shultz knew he was being spun. “I also felt that I was seeing some of the professional optimism, even wishful thinking, for which the Arabists in the government were known…. My Arabist advisers did not appreciate my reaction and considered me lacking in the sophistication necessary to plumb the Arab mind.” – location 4454-56

But as they were speaking, Teresa could hear loud noises in the background. “What is all that noise?” she asked. Bobby said they were explosions, followed by big flashes of light in the sky. Teresa was just eighteen years old; she had no idea what was happening in Lebanon, but she tried to ask her brother what it was like living in Beirut. Bobby just replied that he’d met a lot of “neat people.” It was their last conversation. – location 4877-80

Shortly before Susan Morgan left Beirut, she ran into a young U.S. Army officer who’d been working on providing military assistance to Lebanon’s national army. He was bitterly disillusioned and told Morgan that “his men had come out here John Wayne-style, believing that they could save Lebanon, only to find themselves being shot at by the Israelis and bombed by the Arabs.” He said, “We should withdraw and let the people here fight it out among themselves. They deserve each other.” – location 5224-28


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