Salem, in charge of foreign affairs during the whole of Amin Gemayel's presidency and a distinguished professor of politics, provides a detailed insider's view of his country's politics during some of its most turbulent years. His candid and full account offers much new information on the May 17, 1983, agreement with Israel, the withdrawal of American troops from Beirut, the discussions to reform Lebanon's political system, and Gemayel's unsuccessful effort to appoint a successor.
But even more interesting are the many vignettes salted through Salem's personable memoir. In late 1987, at a time when Saddam Husayn and Hafiz al-Asad were aligned on opposite sides of the Iraq-Iran War, the two men met at an Arab League summit and "were seen walking together and joking." A mere fifteen minutes before his presidential term was about to expire, Gemayel invited Michel Aoun to form a government; to make matters stranger yet, Gemayel had previously been close to firing Aoun from his position as army commander.
Judging from Salem's anecdotes, jokes play an important role in diplomacy. In a get-acquainted breakfast with Ronald Reagan in the family quarters at the White House, the affable host's efforts at humor left a nervous Gemayel ever more tense. When Salem went to Damascus to lobby the Syrians to accept the May 17 agreement, Syria's foreign minister signaled his government's rejection of the accord by making a joke about it: "[H]umour was substance," Salem wryly comments.