Rathmell accomplishes two very useful and quite distinct tasks. The subtitle signals his first goal, adding to our meager knowledge of Syria in the 1950s by uncovering information in the British, American, and Israeli archives. He fills out many details on the difficult relations between Damascus and its neighbors in Cairo, Riyadh, Beirut, Amman, and Baghdad. Western and Israeli documentation prove especially helpful on the subject of their own connections to Syria, which turn out to be deeper and more complex than hitherto realized. But on the great question of the decade -- what caused Syria's turn toward the Soviet Union -- Rathmell reaches the dubious conclusion that the key factor lay in the anti-communism of the Eisenhower administration, and not in Syrian or Soviet decisions.
The title points to Rathmell's second goal: to focus on the "almost constant intrigues" in which Middle Eastern politicians indulged, and to show just how important these are. He concludes, correctly, that Middle Eastern phobias about the West are partly justified, but that the main source of covert action lies within the region itself. He shows how the persistence of intrigue turned the weak states of the 1950s into the strong states in place in the 1970s. And he locates the origins of today's rogue activities, especially terrorism, in the activities of forty years ago.