- Hero of the Crossing: How Anwar Sadat and the 1973 War Changed the World by Thomas W. Lippman
Thomas Lippman has made many useful contributions to the literature on the Middle East and North Africa;1 this book constitutes yet another. The former Washington Post journalist, who resided in Egypt from 1975 to 1979, was well placed to have personal [End Page 490] contact with the book’s principal figure, Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat, and observe many of the monumental political, socioeconomic, and cultural changes that Sadat set in motion.
As Lippman notes, the Egypt that Sadat inherited from his presidential predecessor, the charismatic Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser, was in a parlous state. And few believed that “Nasser’s poodle,” as many other elite actors referred to Sadat, possessed the ability and acumen to right the Egyptian ship. Indeed, observers across a range of political ideological perspectives remain inclined to denigrate Sadat’s undertakings because they violated their own conceptualizations of “what might have been” if only Sadat had adhered to their own Marxist, liberal, or Islamist prescriptions for Egypt’s (and “the Arabs’”) success. For his part, Lippman sifts the evidence and navigates his way through these critical voices to present what is, on balance, a sober and fair appraisal of Sadat’s strengths and weaknesses.
From the onset of his rule, Sadat’s most important interlocutors, whether domestic or foreign, simply did not take him seriously enough. They could not be sure of his ability even to retain power, surrounded as he was by regime elites with leftist, Nasserist, pro-Soviet leanings. The latter most certainly would have taken their case to the Egyptian public and orchestrated Sadat’s removal from power had they gotten wind of the secret meetings he was holding with agents from the Central Intelligence Agency very early on in his presidency. So it was no mean feat that Sadat was able to outmaneuver his elite adversaries in May 1971, and consolidate his power. Yet even this development yielded no payoff for Sadat. When his peace overtures to the United States were rejected, and Sadat’s thoughts turned to the necessity of warfare, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon continued to underestimate Sadat, and remained unmoved by warnings issued by Secretary of State William Rogers, CIA Saudi Arabia station chief Raymond Close, and State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research analyst Ray S. Cline that Sadat might indeed go to war (pp. 4-5).
Lippman makes brilliant use of the October 1973 war as the organizing principle for this book. He is at his best when discussing the factors leading up to that war, as well as its far-reaching consequences, both intended and unintended. He exposes how and why the war, with its attendant loss of human lives, Arab oil embargo, and quadrupling of oil prices, need not have occurred if Kissinger, in particular, had been receptive to Sadat’s entreaties. Moreover, Lippman makes a very strong case that the 1973 war was of greater consequence to the region and world than was the 1967 Arab-Israel war.
In authoritarian polities like Sadat’s Egypt, fewer institutional checks and balances exist, enabling leaders to make portentous policy changes with greater frequency. In the case of Egypt, as Lippman details, Sadat’s decisions contributed heavily to the United States becoming the ultimate arbiter of Middle East peace-making. The enormous erosion of Soviet influence in the region, beginning with the loss of the developing country in which the Soviets had invested most heavily, and the creation of conditions that — via the impact on oil prices — led to perhaps the greatest transfer of global wealth in human history. Other major consequences of the war included significant shifts in Arab and Israeli sentiments regarding Israel’s vulnerability. These shifts strengthened rightist, extreme rightist, and Jewish fundamentalist forces in Israel; and facilitated the growth in power and influence of Islamist movements, in both their moderate and radical forms...