Editor’s note: Michael Doran reviews America’s Great Game, by Hugh Wilford, a book that examines the role of a front group created by the CIA in 1951 to promote an anti-Zionist view of the Middle East and weaken American support for Israel.
Kim Philby, the British turncoat who spied for the Soviet Union, described Kermit Roosevelt as “a courteous, soft-spoken Easterner with impeccable social connections, well-educated rather than intellectual, pleasant and unassuming as host and guest.” Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Philby thought, was “the last person that you would expect to be up to the neck in dirty tricks.”
Roosevelt, who headed the CIA’s Middle East division in the Eisenhower administration, is best remembered today for engineering the coup that toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. But in “America’s Great Game,” Hugh Wilford reminds us that Roosevelt was also deeply involved in the Arab world. Indeed, he was the agency’s foremost “Arabist.” The term usually refers to State Department regional experts who were the intellectual, and often biological, descendants of American missionaries in the Arab lands. These officials were fiercely anti-Zionist, convinced that American support for Israel was a strategic blunder of the first order. This was because, as Mr. Wilford writes, they believed “in the overriding importance of American-Arab, and Christian-Muslim, relations.”