I was military, stationed in Germany in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I do not remember how many times my company was on high alert. There were threats coming from the Middle East, especially on November 4, 1979, when a group of Iranian students stormed the U. S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 American hostages. The rescue attempt on April 24, 1980, known as Operation Eagle Claw, failed, resulting in the accidental deaths of eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian, as well as the destruction of two helicopters. The hostages were held captive for 444 days. They were released on January 20, 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President of the United States. This was only one incident that took place during “Peacetime” or during the “Cold War.” Personally, I didn’t see “Peacetime” so peaceful. We could have gone to war at any given time. I had all of this on my mind as I read The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird.
Robert Ames was a CIA Operative who died in the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1983. He was one of 63 people killed that day of which 17 were Americans.
What does Bird’s title, The Good Spy mean? Ames worked hard and he was a devoted family man. He appeared to be a kind and decent man who had a thirst for Middle East knowledge: he learned Arabic and learned about the history and culture of each area he was stationed at. He made friends, not just contacts. Ames was somewhat of a rogue who operated independently and didn’t always see eye to eye with his fellow operatives. Yet, he was “good” at his job.
The Good Spy, in my opinion, is best read in small chunks so that the reader can get to know Ames and all the many players, movers and shakers of the Middle East. Bird does an excellent job with an overview history of the Middle East and the role that Ames played in that history.
This book left me with this question: If Robert Ames had lived beyond 1983, would the course of history, especially in the Middle East, been changed?
Listen to an interview between Kai Bird and Charlie Rose at:
About the Author: (from Amazon)
Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and biographer. His new book is The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. A biography of a CIA officer, The Good Spy was released on May 20, 2014, by Crown/Random House. Kai’s last book was a memoir about the Middle East entitled Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (Scribner, April 27, 2010). It was a 2011 Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. He is the co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), which also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and the Duff Cooper Prize for History in London. He wrote The Chairman: John J. McCloy, the Making of the American Establishment (1992) and The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy & William Bundy, Brothers in Arms (1998). He is also co-editor with Lawrence Lifschultz of Hiroshima’s Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy (1998). He is the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s writing fellowship, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Study Center, Bellagio, Italy and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. He is a member of the Society of American Historians and a contributing editor of The Nation. He lives in Miami Beach.