Title: Arabian Knight
Author: Thomas W. Lippman
Lippman, Thomas W. (2008). Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East. Vista, CA: Selwa Press
New York —
North Africa —
Saudi Arabia: Part One —
Saudi Arabia: Part Two —
Date Updated: January 17, 2018
Review posted at Amazon.com
Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).
Thomas Lippman’s new book (2008) contains fascinating vignettes from the life of an important participant in the development of American policies in the Middle East during the crucial decade 1940-1950. In that period, which included both World War II and the turmoil surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948, Colonel William Eddy served as a vital official link between the US government and Saudi Arabia. As one of the few fluent Arabic speakers at senior levels of the OSS and subsequently the State Department, the Lebanon-born Eddy also had many unofficial but influential contacts throughout the Arab world who gave him unique insights into political issues in the region. The book gives many examples of his prescience about the consequences of the establishment of Israel, including the prospect of extreme radicalization of various Islamic groupings. Anyone interested in this period of Middle Eastern politics in general, and Arab-American relations in particular, will find this quite a worthwhile read.
Be advised, though, that it really is a collection of vignettes, with fragile connecting threads. Colonel Eddy spent a good part of his professional life in intelligence work, and was circumspect regarding the records he left behind. In addition, despite the author’s valiant attempts to provide brief contexts for Eddy’s activities, the period is altogether too rich for these summaries to capture the complexities. Two or three pages, however well written, to cover the background of revolutions in Egypt and Iraq just doesn’t work. In trying to provide both a successful biography of a central but reticent figure, and a historical outline of the relations between the US and Arab states in a turbulent period, the author fails to do a very satisfying job of either.
That said, why is this a worthwhile read? Because Lippman provides insight into the activities of an outspokenly “pro-Arab” figure at an important historical juncture, while accepting Eddy’s sincerity in pursuing what he saw as his country’s national interests. Lippman does not hesitate to point out where the assessments of Eddy and his colleagues were wrong, but he does not obsess about ulterior motivations. It is clear that the author does not entirely understand or share Eddy’s attitudes, but with rare exceptions he refrains from amateur psychoanalysis. As a result, the reader gets an unusually objective description of both the remarkable William Eddy and a historically important period for relations between the United States and the Arab countries of the Middle East.
 On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]