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Mediterranean Quarterly 14.2 (2003) 130-132
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John Boykin: Cursed Is the Peacemaker: The American Diplomat versus the Israeli General, Beirut, 1982. Foreword by former secretary of state George Shultz. Belmont, California: Appelgate Press, 2002. 512 pages. ISBN 0-9719432-0-6. $29.95.
This volume is part of the Diplomats and Diplomacy series sponsored by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the Diplomatic and Consular Officers (Retired). It is a timely book. The American Academy of Diplomacy, composed of over 150 former ambassadors and high-level U.S. officials, has selected this study of the life of a legendary diplomat for its 2002 Douglas Dillon Award for a book of distinguished writing on the practice of American diplomacy. This book is indeed distinguished, an extensively documented work about remarkably dedicated and talented Ambassador Philip Habib, "one of the best," as a Washington Post editorial put it aptly and correctly at the time in describing one of his major accomplishments.
It took two years for this hard-hitting, unique, determined negotiator to achieve what many thought was not achievable—the removal of Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon and the withdrawal of Israeli forces in 1982. It is a blow-by-blow description based primarily on primary sources, declassified documents, and over 150 interviews, most of which were with those who knew and worked with Ambassador Habib over the years.
John Boykin captures very well the many strengths of this "kid from Brooklyn." If there are some that still think the Department of State is made up of striped-pants cookie pushers, this book should dispel any such notion. The U.S. Foreign Service may have been so in an earlier day, but today it reflects the diversity of our country in every major respect.
Two fundamental principles emerge from the riveting, lively story: first, that force [End Page 130] and diplomacy are complementary, not substitutes for each other. We are seeing this effectively applied today in U.S. policy to eliminate Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction. And second, that while many foreign policy decisions are primarily influenced by underlying political, economic, and strategic factors, individuals do make a difference. And Habib, indeed, was a difference—a big difference.
Habib's principal adversary was Ariel Sharon, then Israel's defense minister and later prime minister. Many who have dealt with Sharon over the years can attest to the fact that Boykin's portrayal of him in the Lebanon episode is accurate. They include former ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis and former consul-general in Jerusalem Brandon Grove, both key actors in these events (as was Morris Draper) and sources who reviewed this book for accuracy. (Not surprisingly, some would disagree with the stark hero-and-villain portrayals in this work.)
Sharon remains a force in the Middle East. Habib's challenge was to operate in very complex circumstances, to make steps forward and backward, deal with impasses, and see progress. Habib overcame the impasses step by step, displaying tenacity and courage. He was supported by a highly experienced and able team of Foreign Service officers, both in the region and Washington. President Reagan gave him wide latitude, and Habib used it effectively. While Sharon raced to conclude the siege of Beirut by use of force, Habib raced to conclude it peacefully. It in no way diminishes Habib's accomplishments in 1982-83 that his and America's efforts have not succeeded in getting all foreign forces out of Lebanon. Syria is still there some twenty years later.
Boykin's detailing of the Lebanese episode, in both style and substance, recalls Henry Kissinger's breakthrough shuttle diplomacy, which laid the groundwork for the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement. Kissinger's many talents, enhanced by the wide authority given to him by President Nixon, brought about two disengagement agreements between Egypt and Israel and one between Syria and Israel during the shuttle diplomacy of the 1970s. Such talent is rare, and those possessed with it are not "cursed," as...