Review by Kirkus Book Review
From 1949 to 1951, George McGhee held the new position of Assistant Secretary for Near East, South Asian, and African Affairs--in charge of the first official American contacts with emerging nations in the vast area, from Morocco to India, he calls the Middle World. Unfortunately, McGhee reconstructs his doings almost in memo-form, with little shaping or tonal variation, and with much chat about the ""delightful luncheon"" or ""the charming El Minzah Hotel."" Fortunately, each episode (""Our Next Friend, Liberia,"" ""Introduction to Apartheid"") comprises a chapter: thus, the subject-matter frequently changes; and readers interested in particular areas or developments can seek out the relevant chapters. Overall, McGhee makes just a few points: with British withdrawal, only the US could ""save the Middle World from disintegration"" or Soviet penetration; we were overconfident on the first score but not really overzealous on the second--look how very few Middle World countries are actually in the Soviet camp. (Non-alignment counts as a success.) Also, the French, Belgians, and Portuguese--unlike the British--clearly wished to hang onto their colonies: McGhee, suspected of encouraging African nationalism, was instrumental in blocking the Sultan of Morocco's ouster (for a while); but he had no idea that the docile, almost totally illiterate Congo and Mozambique would soon erupt. (Even in diplomatese, his 1950 reports on those colonies read today like medieval horror stories.) His own two major involvements were with Palestinian refugees--he specifies three solutions that slipped away--and, most crucially, and personally, with Middle East oil: McGhee was then a youngish (37-39) Rhodes Scholar geologist and successful Texas oilman (recently coordinator of Greek-Turkish aid). Apropos of Saudi Arabia, he notes his key role in arranging the celebrated Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco) fifty-fifty profit split with the Saudis--but not its controversial aspects: the American taxpayer, in effect, subsidized the Saudi government (without direct Congressional authorization), and the American oil majors (because the formula was adopted elsewhere) became unauthorized instruments of US foreign policy. Apropos of Iran, and his attempt to persuade the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to offer a similar split (to forestall nationalization), he is more forthcoming--specifically in countering British charges as to his motives and modus operandi. And, saliently, he doesn't think Mossadegh--with whom he tried to negotiate a settlement of the oil-nationalization dispute--was in league with the Soviets, ""as my friend Kermit Roosevelt charges in his recent book, Countercoup."" This single observation, considering the American intervention and its eventual aftermath, gives the book some historical import; but all-too-many of its 495 pages consist, at best, of straws-in-the-wind. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.