Forget the misleading title-this is a book about policymaking toward the Middle East in the Reagan administration, with brief reflections on what came before and after. Howard Teicher served on the National Security Council staff through much of this period, and has firsthand information on the foul-ups in Lebanon, the fight against terrorism and the Iran-contra affair, which essentially brought his career in government to an end.
Teicher feels that he was hounded from government service by those in the bureaucracy who resented his access to cabinet-level officers, who found him unwilling to go along with conventional wisdom, who were threatened by his creativity and who thought that a Jew could not deal objectively with the Middle East. Part of this book is a settling of scores, sometimes against unnamed adversaries-Arabists, bureaucrats-and sometimes against specific individuals such as Caspar Weinberger.
According to Teicher, he correctly foresaw the downfall of the shah, Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980 and nearly every other important Middle East development of the 1980s. The only time he admits to a lapse in judgment was in carrying out instructions from Robert McFarlane to ask the Israelis to provide money for the contras. This was the beginning of the path that led him to the infamous trip with McFarlane to Tehran to trade arms for hostages.
Unfortunately, the Teichers have decided to write a book for a general audience, which seems to mean no footnotes and "remembered" quotations instead of real words uttered by real people. This technique makes for a highly readable book, but it is impossible for serious scholars to check many of the assertions. By contrast, George Shultz's recent memoir, which covers the same period, is much more authoritative.
For all the interesting vignettes in this self-serving account, Teicher unfortunately succumbs to the same kind of finger-pointing that he deplores. For example, he is fierce in condemning nameless Arabists, but when he does in fact mention his real betes noires, they turn out to be people like Weinberger, hardly an Arabist, and sometimes Reagan himself, who could not bring himself to discipline his squabbling underlings.
The brief treatment of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is unsatisfactory, consisting of little more than saying that it was inevitable given all the mistakes of the previous decade.