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Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (American Empire Project) Hardcover – October 13, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. One of the CIA's first great moments of institutional reflection occurred in 1953, after American covert operatives helped overthrow Iran's left-leaning government and restored the Shah to power. The agency, then only six years old, had funded ayatollahs, mobilized the religious right and engineered a sophisticated propaganda campaign to successfully further its aims, and it wanted to know how it could reapply such tradecraft elsewhere, so it commissioned an internal report. Half a century later, the most prescient line from that report is one of caution, not optimism. "Possibilities of blowback against the United States should always be in the back of the minds of all CIA officers," the document warned. Since this first known use of the term "blowback," countless journalists and scholars have chronicled the greatest blowback of all: how the staggering quantities of aid that America provided to anti-Marxist Islamic extremists during the Cold War inadvertently positioned those very same extremists to become America's next great enemy. (Indeed, Iran's religious leaders were among the first to turn against the United States.) Dreyfuss's volume reaches farther and deeper into the subject than most. He convincingly situates America's attempt to build an Islamic bulwark against Soviet expansion into Britain's history of imperialism in the region. And where other authors restrict their focus to the Afghan mujahideen, Dreyfuss details a history of American support—sometimes conducted with startling blindness, sometimes, tacitly through proxies—for Islamic radicals in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria. At times, the assistance occurred openly through the American private sector, as Dreyfuss describes in a fascinating digression on Islamic banking. But ultimately, too few government officials were paying attention to the growth and dangers of political Islam. A CIA officer summarizes Dreyfuss's case when he says, "We saw it all in a short-term perspective"—the long-term consequences are what we're facing now. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

In an effort to thwart the spread of communism, the U.S. has supported--even organized and funded--Islamic fundamentalist groups, a policy that has come back to haunt post-cold war geopolitics. Drawing on archival sources and interviews with policymakers and foreign-service officials, Dreyfuss traces this ultimately misguided approach from support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the ultraorthodox Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, and Hamas and Hezbollah to jihads in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. Fearful of the appeal of communism, the U.S. saw the rise of a religious Right as a counterbalance. Despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the declared U.S. war on terrorism in Iraq, Dreyfuss notes continued U.S. support for Iraq's Islamic Right. He cites parallels between the cultural forces that have promoted the religious Right in the U.S and the Middle East and notes that support from wealthy donors, the emergence of powerful figures, and politically convenient alliances have contributed to Middle Eastern hostilities toward the U.S. A well-researched and insightful book. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: American Empire Project
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (November 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805076522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805076523
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.3 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #525,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Gianmarco Manzione on March 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Anyone interested in learning about the true dynamics behind Hamas's reportedly "shocking" victory in recent Palestinian elections may want to pursue this book's many stirring revelations about Hamas's roots. Dreyfuss reports that Israeli intelligence--particularly the Mossad--not only endorsed but participated in the creation and development of Hamas as an organization that could be used to defeat the PLO. "In the early 1980s", Dreyfuss writes, "Israel supported the Islamists on several fronts. It was, of course, supporting the Gaza and West Bank Islamists that, in 1987, would found Hamas . . . They were trying to defeat Arab nationalism with Muslim zealots." Hamas's recent electoral victory was hardly the surprise that mainstream media reported it to be. In reality, it was a rather predictable response to a gradual increase in support for Hamas over recent years inspired by the marginalization of Arafat and the PLO by Bush and Sharon (conspicuously absent from Dreyfuss's analysis, however, is that corruption within the Fatah party also contributed to Hamas's surge in popularity). As Dreyfuss's book documents, "in 1996, only 15 percent of Palestinians backed the Islamists", but, by 2002, that support had risen to 42 percent.

Contrary to what some may think, "Devil's Game" helps readers understand that Islamic fundamentalists are adamantly opposed to Arab nationalist movements such as Arafat's PLO on religious grounds. This includes opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state, a concept of far less importance to Islamists than their agenda of "first Islamizing Palestine and the Arab world.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on September 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Devil's Game" is an account of our efforts over six decades to cultivate the Islamic right in an effort to dominate the Middle East. Dreyfuss contends that this is greatly to blame for the emergence of Islamist terrorism in the 1990s.

In the 1950s, the enemy was not only Moscow, but also Third World emerging nationalists in Egypt and Iran. Thus, the CIA tried to overthrow Nassar, despite his immense popularity, because of his independence vs. the Cold War, and worked with the Muslim Brotherhood - a member even tried to assassinate Nassar. Meanwhile, in Iran the CIA got the most political ayatollahs to support an overthrow of the elected government (it had nationalized oil assets) and restore the Shah (the U.S. got 40% of oil rights in return); what was not recognized at the time was the key importance of a young ayatollah involved - Khomeini's mentor, as well as Khomeini himself. In the '60s Arab socialism spread from Egypt to Algeria, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. To counteract this seeming threat the U.S. joined with Saudi Arabia to export its Wahhabi religious right and Muslim Brotherhood factions. Even after the Iranian revolution of '79, the U.S. failed to recognize that Islamism was a dangerous force.

Carter's inauguration alarmed the Shah and encouraged Iranian opposition groups - both due to U.S. pressures and memories of Kennedy's earlier thoughts of replacing the Shah with a less authoritarian regime. Sensing blood the clergy began to mobilize the wealthy landed population against land reform, the Shah was overthrown, and soon we were in the midst of the 444-day hostage crisis.

Dreyfuss's most stunning account, however, involves the CIA's assistance to Afghan rebels PRIOR to the Soviet's invasion, and that it was INTENDED to provoke that reaction.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Steven E. Neiner on February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East over the years has helped to create a monster. Adapting a policy of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", without understanding Islamic fundamentalism, has empowered the jihadists and backfired on us. Devil's Game begins with how the British used the fundamentalists to try to maintain their empire, by preventing Egyptian pan-Arabism, and supporting Saudi Islamism. Dreyfuss details how the United States, in its war on communism, abandoned secular Arab nationalist leaders in favor of militant Islamic radicals. The abandonment of Nasser and the support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are given a lot of focus in this book. The fear was that the nationalist leaders would lean towards communism, since they were engaged in such abominations as nationalizing industries.

In the case of the Shah, we ignorantly hung on to a peacock feather dictator on his way out, who had no popular support, all the while grossly underestimating the fundamentalist threat in Iran. The failure to anticipate the Iranian revolution was a huge intelligence failure. The CIA was focused on clandestine minutia, while ignoring the political winds by watching mundane sources. Then there were attempts at courting Iran's fundamentalists, figuring they would be tough on communism and a bulwark against the Soviets. Ironically, they may have hated us more than they hated the Soviets, since Iran opened some trade with them.

Israel also made its mistakes. The chapter on the Mossad's clandestine support of Hamas is timely, considering Hamas' electoral victory in Palestine. The Mossad used Hamas to drive a wedge in the secular PLO.

Timely and important, read this and watch daily events in the Middle East unfold as a result of the blunders of our foreign policy.
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