Sleeping with the Devil
How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude
by Robert Baer
New York: Crown Publishers, 2003. 226 pp. $24.95 ($13.95, paper).
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
Baer's main theme in this informal memoir by a colorful ex-Central Intelligence Agency operative is that the Saudi ruling family is doomed because of the country's socioeconomic problems. Trouble is, this same prediction has regularly been made for decades. Indeed, the problems faced by Saudi Arabia today pale in comparison to those of forty years ago when the country was ruled by a total incompetent, when oil income did not suffice to provide what the subjects expected, and a radical firebrand Egyptian president had dispatched 50,000 troops to nearby Yemen with the menace of invading Saudi Arabia. The royal family has proved itself much tougher than most outsiders expected; its survival instincts should not be underestimated.
Saudi officials like to complain about mindless Saudi-bashing by those in Washington who should know better, using this argument to change the subject from well-deserved criticism of Saudi policies. Sleeping with the Devil illustrates that some former U.S. Middle East hands are indeed ready to blame the Saudis for things they have never done. That is a shame, because the list of unhelpful, indeed, outrageous, actions by the Saudi government vis-à-vis the United States is long enough to fill a book, without the need to throw in such extraneous material.
Also, quite a few of the many fascinating stories in Sleeping with the Devil have little if anything to do with Saudi Arabia, and they certainly do not show why the Saudi government should be considered perfidious or injurious to U.S. interests. For instance, Baer tells a long and interesting story about Al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Muhammad's relationship with the Qatari government. Similarly, Baer provides only the most tenuous of connections to Saudi Arabia from his tales from Sudan or his dealings with Russian arms sellers staying in Israel. Sleeping with the Devil is worth reading for the "war stories" from Baer's CIA glory days, but these barely relate to the stated purpose of the book.
Related Topics: Saudi Arabia, US policy | Patrick Clawson | Fall 2004 MEQ
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