In a book that straddles history and biography, Richter follows the careers of four extraordinary U.S. diplomats: Ryan Crocker, Robert Ford, Anne Patterson, and J. Christopher Stevens, who between them held 14 ambassadorships and deputy chief of mission posts in the greater Middle East. They served mostly in war-torn states, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya (where Stevens was killed in an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in 2012), and Syria. Both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations recognized the unique knowledge and abilities of these diplomats, asking them to return again and again to dangerous, chaotic situations in the region. The ambassadors practiced what Richter calls a “new diplomacy of the front lines,” working closely with their military counterparts. Even so, all four frequently had to decide whether to continue working in service of what they considered “disastrous policy blunders,” and as officials in Washington often ignored their advice. Richter embeds the stories of the four diplomats in a broader narrative that follows floundering U.S. policies in the Middle East. His book is at once inspiring, infuriating, and, as a chronicle of U.S. involvement in the region, deeply sad.
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