America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East by Hugh Wilford - review by James Barr

James Barr

Going Freestyle

America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

By

Basic Books 342pp £19.99 order from our bookshop
 

On 18 September 1947, just as the CIA formally came into being, two cousins drove over the mountains from Beirut to meet a friend in Damascus. Archie Roosevelt was the spy agency’s new head of station in Lebanon; his cousin Kermit (known as Kim) was supposedly researching a book. Archie was toothy, short-sighted and identified with the ‘losers in history’. Kim, on the other hand, was debonair and stocky. ‘Pleasant and unassuming’, said his namesake Kim Philby: ‘the last person you would expect to be up to the neck in dirty tricks’. The man they went to see was Miles Copeland, a talented jazz trumpeter and Archie’s Falstaffian counterpart in Damascus. Under the guise of touring the crusader castles, the three men then headed northwards on a talent-spotting trip. 

Archie, Kim and Miles – referred to by their first names throughout this book – nursed different ambitions. Archie saw parallels between the Arabs’ consensual way of politics and American democracy, and wanted the United States to establish itself as ‘the great unselfish friend of the Moslems’. Kim venerated his

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