JORDAN King's Counsel: A Memoir of War, Espionage, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, by Jack O'Connell. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 266 pages. $26.95.
The late Jack O'Connell was a career CIA official and international lawyer who maintained a strong interest in Jordan throughout most of his professional life. He eventually rose to serve as the CIA's Amman Chief of Station from 1963 until 1971 and later became King Husayn's personal attorney after retiring from government service. Many people who are interested in Jordan are aware of O'Connell's involvement with King Husayn, but this book adds an interesting and valuable perspective to the literature on Jordan. Avi Shlaim, the author of the brilliant and voluminous biography of King Husayn, Lion of Jordan, has noted that O'Connell had a closer relationship with the Jordanian monarch than any other American (p. xv). It might also be noted that O'Connell wrote this book late in life, and died in 2010 shortly after he completed it. At this stage of his life, he clearly allowed himself the luxury of be ing forceful, blunt, and sometimes even angry in stating his views.
An important theme throughout the book is how O'Connell's CIA service in Jordan increasingly convinced him of the value of King Husayn as an ally and the importance of supporting the Jordanian monarch. He chides a number of Washington policymakers for failing to recognize King Husayn's defining integrity or his strong identification with the United States and US interests. He is also highly critical of a variety of policymakers whom he viewed as so pro-Israeli that they would not consider the value of working with friendly Arab states. He occasionally uses the word "betrayal" to describe US treatment of Jordan, particularly with regard to Jordanian efforts to regain the West Bank from Israel. He further singles out various Israeli politicians and especially Binyamin Netanyahu for fairly harsh criticism. In one of the more uneven parts of the study, he describes an incident at King Husayn's funeral where he scolds Mossad head Efraim Halevy for Israel's lack of receptivity to Jordanian peace overtures. Halevy seems like a singularly poor choice for such a dressing down, as he is widely regarded as one of Israel's most pro-Jordanian leaders, certainly in the same league as assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Yet, this book is not simply about Jordan and Israel. One of the most interesting aspects of this memoir involves King Husayn's sometimes friendly relations with Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn. Such dealings were mostly pragmatic, but there were also some unexpected jolts in dealing with Saddam. In one instance, O'Connell relates an incident when Saddam's wife telephoned King Husayn and asked him to prevent her husband from ordering the planned execution of his son Uday. While it is well known that Saddam briefly jailed Uday for publicly murdering one of his favorite servants, O'Connell's revelation that he had made a decision to execute his son has not been so clear. O'Connell maintains that King Husayn secretly flew to Baghdad and talked Saddam out of capital punishment for his own son. In another stunning assertion, O'Connell also claims that Saddam sought to "replace the Shah as America's man in the Middle East and to form partnerships with major U.S. firms" (p. 163). This is a powerful statement that may need to be placed more firmly in context since Saddam's sincerity on this matter is difficult to take seriously. …