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The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower Paperback – August 18, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former CIA operative Baer (See No Evil) challenges the conventional wisdom regarding Iran in this timely and provocative analysis, arguing that Iran has already half-won its undeclared 30-year war with the United States and is rapidly becoming a superpower. In Baer's analysis, Iran has succeeded by using carefully vetted proxies such as Hezbollah and by appealing across the Muslim sectarian divide to Sunni Arabs, and is well on its way to establishing an empire in the Persian Gulf. Baer claims that since Iran's dominance in the Middle East is a fait accompli, the United States has no viable choice but to ask for a truce and enter into negotiations prepared to drop sanctions against Iran and accept a partition of Iraq, which is already, and irretrievably, lost. Baer's assumptions are often questionable—most tellingly that Iran is now trustworthy—and his conclusions premature: he states unequivocally, for example, that the Iranians have annexed the entire south [of Iraq]. But his brief adds an important perspective to a crucial international debate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A masterpiece…Baer's brilliant analysis of Sunni versus Shia, Arab versus Iranian, and Christian versus Muslim is shocking, revealing, and provocative.  Baer lifts the veil of Western media hype and challenges the simplistic solutions offered by ‘experts’ whose vision is blurred by the past. Through his knowledge, long-term experience, and ability to assess the changing landscape of this vital region, he not only shatters the foundations of conventional thinking, but also offers a practicable blueprint for turning things around.”
—John Perkins, author of the New York Times bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

“The most important and original book on the Middle East to appear in many years. Baer’s subject is the growing power of Iran; his goal is ending the pattern of American failure; his message is that we’ve been backing the wrong horse. This is a book McCain and Obama should ponder.”
—Thomas Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Man Who Kept the Secrets and Intelligence Wars

"The Devil We Know, Bob Baer has once again peered into the future and has brought back uncomfortable truths that won't satisfy any partisan. But his book does force us to do something that, unfortunately, doesn't come naturally to the chattering classes. Think.”
—James Risen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration

“An important text studded with keen insights into a nation about which America remains dangerously misinformed.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Timely and provocative...adds an important perspective to a crucial international debate.”
Publishers Weekly

“Challenges conventional wisdom…[a] timely and provocative analysis.”
Denver Post

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (August 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307408671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307408679
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ROBERT BAER is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: Sleeping with the Devil, about the Saudi royal family and its relationship with the United States; and See No Evil, which recounts Baer's years as a top CIA operative. See No Evil was the basis for the acclaimed film Syriana, which earned George Clooney an Oscar for his portrayal of Baer. Baer writes regularly for and has contributed to Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on the Middle East.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

157 of 173 people found the following review helpful By Gio on October 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Baer's take on the Middle East is deeply supportive, without electioneering, of the position of Barack Obama on negotiations with Iran and with other 'suspect' regimes. "If you can't talk with them, you can't know them," is the implicit wisdom of this position, to which I would add the necessary corollary that "if you don't know them, you can't talk with them effectively." Baer has the experience and credentials to assert that he knows Iran rather well, with twenty-some years in the CIA, mostly in the Middle East.

Baer's central arguments depend on our willingness to consider Iran a rational, self-interested country with a structure of leadership beyond the theatrical postures that Americans take for hopeless enmity. Yes, Iran is different, and indifferent to America's self-image of exceptionalism. Yes, Iran does aspire to a leadership in the Middle East, and even to a moderate super-power role in the world at large, which the USA has been and will still be very loath to recognize. However, according to Baer, Iran's aspirations will best be realized by establishing a mode of co-existence and shared influence with the USA, and important people among the Iranians well understand that need.

Once again, according to Baer, the Shia-Sunni antagonism is far more serious and determinant of conflict than Americans yet comprehend, even after the strife in Iraq. Thus the natural rival - even enemy - of Iran is not Israel but rather Saudi Arabia, and one of the reasons for the anger of Iranians toward the USA is the bed-fellow ties the USA has maintained with the Saudi autocracy.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Ian on October 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Once again, Baer comes flying in with the sorry-but-it's-true reality of the Middle East. I've read all his books and couldn't wait to read this one. The first two dealt with exposing what Saudi Arabia is really up to and their involvement in terror and, most importantly, why it is beyond insane to call them an "ally."

Now he takes on Iran and details in very convincing manner (having dealt with Iran for decades) how Iran is much more powerful in the region than we currently believe, and how all this talk of them being the third prong of the "Axis of Evil" that is going to nuke Israel is completely 9/10 thinking.

He correctly summarizes how they, via Hezbollah, were able to beat Israel in the 2006 war and galvanized public support for them. He also points out, which is pretty obvious, how they have immense sway over Iraq and its Shia majority.

What's eye-opening is his pointing out that Hezbollah/Iran hasn't launched a terror campaign (meaning, bombings, kidnappings) since the 80s because there's a "pragmatism" to their thinking and they realized this kind of thing wasn't helping their cause. And what is that cause? To be, and be realized, as the superpower in the region.

NOT to wipe out Israel, not to do anything that the fool Ahmadinejad keeps talking about, not to eventually bring Islam to our doorstep and force it down our throats.

The epiphany of the book is that Baer positions Iran not as an enemy to be attacked or feared, but rather a historic opportunity to form an alliance in the region.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Kostoff on December 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bob Baer's The Devil We Know is well worth the time. He essentially takes the Neo-con premise that Iran is a threat in the region and turns it around. He argues that Iran is a real regional power with a centuries-long cultural history and a far more rational player in the region than near-failed states like Pakistan. Instead of trying to confront Iran, the US, with two very expensive wars they cannot sustain, needs to find a new policy direction in the region in order to more effectively further their national interests. Iran, is not near the problem that many seem to think it is, and this is Baer's essential position.

The complete lack of footnotes in the book is a problem, but one cannot entirely dismiss Baer's arguments because of it. He clearly has substantial knowledge and experience in the region, but he is not infallible.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By R. Bassam on December 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As an Iranian in exile whom left Iran in my middle teens, I found this book both insightfull, and very easy to read. The author has clearly done his homework, and given an unbiased, thoughtfull and logical plan of action for U.S. and the western world to follow. I must admit being an Iranian I felt a bit proud of what Iran has done, even though I don't agree with process they had to go to achieve their goals thus far. U.S. must stop listening to AIPAC and other special interest groups and clearly define its purpose and a path to its prosperity. This book begins that process for a better future for all Americans and perhaps Iranians as well.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By T Newman on December 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Robert Baer continues to delight with his extraordinary base of knowledge on the Middle East. His analysis of Iran both past, present, and future, leads one to question how the u.S. has been dealing with this country since before the Shah of Iran. Baer primary argument is that Iran has changed from the Iran of hostages and indiscriminant terrorist actions to a pragmatic and calculating nation state. Baer's writing style is easy to read and, if anything, almost journalistic in nature - I found at times that his sources were poorly defined and wondered if his former employer reviewed the manuscript (I don't think so...). Other reviewers have done a great job of summarizing Baer's points - I'll simply cast my vote for the book as a great read for anyone wishing to know more about Iran and the future of the Middle East. Baer paints a bleak picture for the U.S. and our "allies" if we do not engage Iran.
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