• Master of the Game

  • Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy
  • By: Martin Indyk
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 25 hrs
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (41 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A perceptive and provocative history of Henry Kissinger's diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East that illuminates the unique challenges and barriers Kissinger and his successors have faced in their attempts to broker peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

“A wealth of lessons for today, not only about the challenges in that region but also about the art of diplomacy.... The drama, dazzling maneuvers, and grand strategic vision.” (Walter Isaacson, author of The Code Breaker)

More than 20 years have elapsed since the United States last brokered a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. In that time, three presidents have tried and failed. Martin Indyk - a former United States ambassador to Israel and special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2013 - has experienced these political frustrations and disappointments firsthand.

Now, in an attempt to understand the arc of American diplomatic influence in the Middle East, he returns to the origins of American-led peace efforts and to the man who created the Middle East peace process - Henry Kissinger. Based on newly available documents from American and Israeli archives, extensive interviews with Kissinger, and Indyk's own interactions with some of the main players, the author takes listeners inside the negotiations. Here is a roster of larger-than-life characters - Anwar Sadat, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Hafez al-Assad, and Kissinger himself.

Indyk's account is both that of a historian poring over the records of these events, as well as an inside player seeking to glean lessons for Middle East peacemaking. He makes clear that understanding Kissinger's design for Middle East peacemaking is key to comprehending how to - and how not to - make peace.

©2021 Martin Indyk (P)2021 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“A gripping history of how the United States used peacemaking to supplant the Soviet Union as the dominant foreign power in the region.” (Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times)

“When Indyk analyzes the obstacles that Kissinger overcame, he knows of what he speaks. Decades after Kissinger left the State Department, the author dealt with similar issues as U.S. ambassador to Israel and special presidential envoy. His book draws on his experiences as well as extensive research in American and Israeli archives. Most of all, Indyk captures the unique intensity of diplomacy in this region, where every gesture is treated with suspicion, and every concession is a matter of life or death.... Indyk’s book is a brilliant account of how the mastery of personal diplomacy can depart from the diplomat’s true mission of peace.” (Jeremi Suri, The New York Times Book Review)

“Martin Indyk’s lucidly conceived and compellingly written Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy is much more than a tale of long-ago diplomatic tussles in a faraway place. The issues surrounding Mr. Kissinger’s approach to foreign policy remain current, and Mr. Indyk brings to the task of examining them his years of diplomatic experience in the Clinton and Obama administrations. His book deserves careful attention.” (Walter Russell Mead, The Wall Street Journal)

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A very good book on history, diplomacy and negotiation

One of the two best books on American diplomacy in recent years. George Packer’s “Our Man” bio of Richard Holbrooke was also a great read but Kissinger was a much, much more consequential and successful diplomat. Indyk provides interesting perspectives from his personal experience in Mideast diplomacy. Master of the Game is well written and insightful.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating insights into Middle East diplomacy

It was extremely fascinating to hear the inside scoop, the machinations involved in high stakes diplomacy, written by an insider with meticulous knowledge and detail. As an added bonus, the reader has probably the best reading style and voice that I've ever heard. With this combination of story and performance it was always difficult to pause as necessary for other activities.

Insights into all of the major players involved were intriguing with perhaps the most interesting being Anwar Sadat, the outstanding hero of the whole story, and Syria's President Assad.

The Israeli players during this Kissinger period come across as very able people, strongly committed to sheer survival of a still-weak nation in the 1970s, often rigid and then showing surprising flexibility at times.
Kissinger's commitment to Israel is apparent even as he used the circumstances to make the US the dominant player in the region, taking over from the USSR. In other words, he had more than one agenda in play at the same time and, on his terms, he was successful in each of them

Kissinger comes across as a master of manipulation and, at times, a victim of his own attempts to over-control the process. But, love or dislike him, it's difficult to deny that he was a major contributor to Middle East stability - which was his intent.

However, his disinterest in the Palestinians comes over very strongly and one wonders how much has been lost for them and, in the process, a more peaceful Israel. Looking at it now, that's a festering sore for which no healing seems possible and one wonders throughout the story whether it might have been different.

This is a book well worth listening to.

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Fantastic covers the 73 war and aftermath better then any other book I have read

Tremendous detail. Kissinger was truly a genius. Covers every meeting in dramatic detail. What it takes to get a deal done.

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Sad in its lack of creativity

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book as much as this one. Indyk is a great writer and his knowledge on diplomacy and especially diplomacy related to the Israeli-Arab conflict is well past expert level. There are many books written by insiders, and there are many books written by outsiders about insiders. It is rare to find a book by one insider (Indyk) reviewing another insider (Kissinger). Indyk’s research is remarkable. He obviously spent an enormous amount of time and effort into this book, and it shows. The beauty of this book is Indyk’s connecting Kissinger’s diplomatic attempts with Indyk’s own twenty years later. The constant “flashforwards” give a real sense of diplomacy and attempts at ending the Israeli-Arab conflict over the past five decades. If you are a follower of the US-Israel relationship, politics, diplomacy and/or history, I highly recommend this book, you will learn many new things and enjoy it along the way.

Indyk’s theses is the book is that Kissinger never thought an attempt to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict in one shot could work. Kissinger felt a step by step process was the only successful path to peace. Indyk seems to agree with Kissinger that gradualism is the better approach and admits that when he was Ambassador and part of the negotiating teams he took the opposite approach and repeatedly tried for a a comprehensive peace deal. He seems to admit his own mistake and says gradualism is the better approach.

As much as I enjoyed this book I was frustrated at Indyk’s refusal to perceive that the failed attempts at peace by American diplomats, Arab and Israeli leaders weren’t because of poor process, missed opportunities, bad timing or leaders who refused to compromise, but because the foundation at all attempts at solving the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict have been based on an impossible end – two states for two people – that neither side wants nor thinks possible. Indyk and his State Department colleagues (those before and after him) have always assumed what the end looked like, and then tried to pressure, cajole, encourage both sides to get there. Instead of an open ended process where both sides negotiate a final outcome, the push has been to get to a place no one wants to go and get frustrated when they can’t get there.

It’s obvious to any non-biased observer that the two-state solution, a compromise where both Israel and the Palestinians get some of what they want, but not all of what they want, makes sense in the abstract, but when applied practically to the two sides is completely unrealistic and impossible. Yet diplomats like Indyk still insist on trying to make it work. They criticize anyone who refuses to go along with their process, not realizing that attempting the same failed process over and over is always going to result in failure.

The book’s ultimate failure lies in Indyk’s refusal to see that creative attempts like the Trump team’s novel approach are the only way the conflict is going to end. Indyk wrote that President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his refusal to recognize Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, his planned approval of 30% of settlements in the West Bank along with its 133 settlements, only tarnished America’s role as a mediator in the conflict. He claims John Kerry made the last serious effort to solve the conflict. He discounts Trump’s attempts because they didn’t follow the two state solution’s failed script.

Indyk claims the only way forward to solving the conflict is that Israel must recognize it will become safer by withdrawing from land in Area C. The first step in a gradual process ala Kissinger must be Israel withdrawing from certain areas in area C. Once Israel begins withdrawing from more of area C, then both the United States and Israel could recognize a Palestinian state with undefined borders. Indyk outlines three steps to gradual peace making.

The first step is Israel recognizing a Palestinian state with borders to be recognized later. The second step is for Palestinians to gradually gain more control over the West Bank. The third step is for Israel to stop expanding and building settlements.

I was curious about Indyk’s three steps. They all focus on Israeli steps. The Palestinians in Indyk’s eyes have nothing to do to end the conflict, it’s all on Israel’s shoulders. The absurdity of thinking the Palestinians have nothing to do, and the end of the conflict is only being held up by Israel demonstrates why Indyk himself failed at his life’s mission. Although he hopes men like Kissinger and himself, who have toiled for decades with no results, have planted the seeds of an eventual peace deal, the truth is Indyk’s refusal to admit his own mistakes has brought failure and will never produce any success.

It’s sad and pathetic, and those are the feelings the book leaves its reader.

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  • Bradley
  • 05-26-22

Deep Middle East

Great insight to the Middle East diplomatic and political processes over the past few decades. Also demonstrates how to manage difficult relationships to achieve success

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