A key player on the U.S. "peace team" during three administrations, Miller is well-placed to compare and evaluate the different approaches, personalities, and outcomes of the efforts of these three U.S. administrations. The author adds to the flood of memoirs, often covering the same ground—the embrace of Palestinian victimization; surprise at Arafat's treachery; Jimmy Carter's doctored accounts. Ultimately, the main contribution of this book lies in its illumination of the perceptions and misperceptions emanating from Washington.
The most substantive sections cover the 1989 to 1992 period, which started and ended with U.S. pressure on Israel, though interrupted by the 1991 Kuwait war. In this phase, Secretary of State James Baker and his colleagues used the threat of blame for failure ("the dead cat on the doorstep" model) to press Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir for concessions. The attempt did little other than increase tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the U.S. invasion of Iraq amplified Washington's power of persuasion—saying "no" to Washington became more costly. After months of pressure, Shamir, Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, and a thinly disguised Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) delegation agreed to the 1991 Madrid conference. But the investment produced little more than a photo-op. The bilateral talks that followed simply regurgitated old slogans while multilateral efforts designed to promote visible cooperation between Israel and the major Arab countries were ignored—as they are in Miller's history.
However, the pressure eventually produced the Oslo experiment, which ended seven years later in a mass terror campaign and the Israeli response to it. One of the main causes of this failure was (as Miller shows indirectly) the top-down process that relied too heavily on PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. On the Palestinian street, no effort was made to challenge the core mythologies centered on refugee claims, Jerusalem, and (crucially) on the rejection of Israel's right to exist. In contrast, as terrorism grew, Israel's hyperactive democracy lost any initial enthusiasm for risk-taking—another aspect of the so-called peace process that is missing in Miller's version of events.
Eight years later, as the Obama team tries again, it might consider Miller's contribution to the literature of failure—concentrating, perhaps, not so much on what he has included in his book but on what he has left out.