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King's Counsel: A Memoir of War, Espionage, and Diplomacy in the Middle East Hardcover – May 19, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

O'Connell, a former CIA agent and attorney for Jordan's King Hussein, recounts four decades of Middle East history in this provocative memoir. The author, CIA station chief in Amman from 1963 to 1971, was delegated to "keep King Hussein in power" and served as the young king's main point of contact and channel to the U.S. Following his retirement from the CIA, O'Connell became Hussein's U.S. attorney and Jordan's American lobbyist until the king's death in 1999. Drawing on his unique access, the author argues that while the Arabs wanted an end to hostilities and Hussein relentlessly pursued secret negotiations with the Israelis, neither Israel nor the U.S. wanted or actively pursued peace. O'Connell characterizes U.S. diplomacy in the region as hypocritical and charges that Kissinger fomented the 1973 Yom Kippur war. He also contends that the U.S. was doing Israel's "dirty work" in opposing Saddam Hussein in 1990 and could have negotiated an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait without resorting to war. O'Connell's eyewitness account of a tragic era in a tumultuous region is long on drama, revealing vignettes, and controversy, but short on balance. More than memoir, this is a passionate brief for King Hussein and the Arab pursuit of peace. (May)
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About the Author

Jack O'Connell (1921-2010) served as CIA station chief in Amman, Jordan, from 1963 to 1971 and was King Hussein's most trusted American adviser. He then became the king's attorney and diplomatic counselor in Washington for three decades.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (May 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393063348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393063349
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,054,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Author Jack O'Connell used his connections as a former CIA agent and his years in the Middle East to write with a degree of behind-the-scenes knowledge that is remarkable. There is a lot of insight here of a kind that cannot readily be acquired from a distance or through standard journalism. The writing also is extremely good purely as prose, flowing along easily and vividly.

This is not a scholarly or broad history book. It is very much a memoir, one man's exceptionally knowledgeable view of many significant developments in the Mideast over the course of about half a century. To compare it to a few other books by former CIA agents, this book is wider ranging and less cautious than Bruce Riedel's excellent "The Search for Al Qaeda," and more focused and less emotional than Michael Scheuer's "Marching Toward Hell."

The relations between Jordan, Israel and the United States take center stage. The details are fascinating, to such an extent that I wondered whether this book had any trouble with the CIA possibly wanting to suppress some details. The author died before publication, but I do not know whether the author planned on posthumous publication to give himself more freedom in his writing.

O'Connell describes many of the cynicisms, misjudgments and outright stupidities of U.S. diplomacy, but his overall characterization of U.S. Mideast policy is: Whatever Israel wants, Israel gets. Whether that is a fair judgment, each reader can decide. But even a reader who feels O'Connell's judgment is skewed by fondness for King Hussein can learn a lot here.
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Format: Hardcover
This memoir represents a pro-Jordanian outlook and a strong critique of Israeli policy. It is also critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 (now widely regarded as a strategic mistake) and more surprisingly of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 (when Saddam was a lot more dangerous). The author's approach will therefore almost certainly anger a number of readers, while others will agree with him. Under these circumstances, readers are advised to consider the book an opinionated but sincere last testament of a CIA officer who believed the United States needed to fundamentally alter its Middle Eastern policies. The remaining question is did he lose perspective on key issues and especially the nature and goals of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. However one answers this concern, O'Connell was definitely a part of the history that he describes, and while his views can be criticized, the importance of his vantage point makes him a valuable historical asset. Additionally, Jordan has over many years proven to be an important U.S. ally in the struggle against terrorism and other forms of violent extremism, and to this extent O'Connell was clearly correct in his analysis. For a more in depth assessment, please see my review in Middle East Journal (Winter 2012). W. Andrew Terrill, Ph.D.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As one who worked for the Intelligence Community for 48 years, taught strategic intelligence warning at the national level and facilitated case studies of past intelligence successes and failure, this book filled in so many knowledge gaps. I have always admired King Hussein, but often wondered how he walked the fine line between being the guardian of the Heshamite Kingdom and truly wanting peace in the Middle East. The author's direct knowledge of King Hussein's initiatives is priceless and I am so thankful that he wrote this book. He omits at least a couple of conversations between the King and Sadaam Hussein, which my still be classified or he just chose not to discuss, which may have darkened the King's role ever so slightly, but overall this book rates as one of the best I have ever read. He tells a story that no one else could possibly know. Highly recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An good read from someone who had unique access to one of the middle east's most interesting and misunderstood leaders. King Hussein could have been the region's Mandela, but he was taken too soon. O'Connell has a perspective that sometimes lacks nuance when it comes to Israeli decision makers. While many of his observations are correct he doesn't take into account the domestic give and take inside Israel. Jordan largely made its decisions based on the King's will, but in Israel that wasn't the case. It might have seem that way to an outsider, but there was never the kind of consensus about the West Bank that he implies.

Overall a good read with some interesting insights. I'd recommend it for anyone already familiar with the middle east who wants some behind the scenes drama.
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Format: Hardcover
A friend recently gave me a copy of "King's Counsel" by Jack O'Connell and I found it an exciting, educational read. It terms itself "a memoir of war, espionage, and diplomacy in the Middle East," but I found it to be a story of a maturing friendship.

It begins by outlining the roots of modern-day Jordan. Only a few decades ago, the kingdom came into existence and since it was a fragile enterprise, it is amazing that it survived as an independent state.

Jack O'Connell became a legal counsel to King Hussein when the king and the country were young. It provides an admiring depiction of the King who became widely known as a peace-maker and as one who sees "what is possible," rather than holding onto past grievances. Oftentimes, the King's good nature and generosity were taken as weakness and other allies took advantage of him, but the story in the long-run shows the admirable vision he had for Arab unity and a new way of life for the Middle East.

It is a story of what might have been. Mistakes were made by many countries throughout the past sixty years. Peace could have been achieved years ago if someone had just reached out for the outstretched arm of peace and conciliation. We would be living in a different world today where extremism never would have reared its head in the way it is doing now.

Jordan's history is remarkable. It has grown from a small desert community to one of the most important places of stability and progress in the Middle East. It had a fragile existence for many years and it is now showing others that it made many correct decisions in its development.

Jack O'Connell speaks warmly of Jordan and I find myself having the same amount of feelings.
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