In 1972, Bruce Mazlish wrote a psychohistorical inquiry into the life of Richard Nixon, entitled, IN SEARCH OF NIXON.  Mazlish analyzed Nixon and concluded that “he project[ed] unacceptable impulses onto others.  He identified his personal interest with the national interest.  He exalt[ed] strength and fears of passivity.” (143)  These conclusions were based on a detailed exploration of Nixon’s upbringing, relationship with his parents, and his actions as an adult.  The book was written before the emergence of Watergate, and was prescient as Mazlish concluded that Nixon’s self-destructive nature would come to the fore, but he was not sure how that would manifest itself.  Historians have concluded that Richard Nixon was probably one of the most complex political figures in American history and his career has produced a myriad of books, some praiseworthy, particularly dealing with his opening with China, and detente with the Soviet Union in 1972.  However, the majority have been mostly negative in the light of events surrounding his election to the House of Representatives and the Senate, his pursuit of Alger Hiss, and the actions that brought down his presidency.  Following Nixon’s resignation from the presidency he devoted his time to resurrect his personal legacy presenting himself as a foreign policy sage and authoring a number of books on American foreign policy.  As time has receded, some revisionist accounts of his policies have been written arguing that domestically he pursued a liberal social agenda and that his foreign policy was expertly conducted.  As a result, his reputation seemed to be on the upswing.  Recently, however, a number of books have appeared reevaluating this trend, and the “old Nixon” has reemerged.  One of the books in this genre is Tim Weiner’s ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD: THE TRAGEDY OF RICHARD NIXON.

Weiner’s book is not a comprehensive biography but a history of Nixon’s anguished presidency that “concentrates on the intertwined issues of war and national security.”  The author’s approach to his narrative is best summarized as he writes from the outset in referring to his subject that “his gravest decisions undermined allies abroad.  His grandest delusions armed his enemies at home.” “I gave them a sword,” he said after his downfall, “and they stuck it in.”  According to Weiner his book is based mostly on recently declassified documents that were released between 2007 and 2014. Though that may be true there is very little that is new in what is presented as the author provides the reader the usual litany of crimes and near crimes that Nixon engaged in almost on a daily basis.  Weiner is selective in his coverage of the Nixon administration as he is most concerned with the abuses of power and crimes related to the war in Vietnam, and the domestic espionage conducted against what Nixon perceived to be his political enemies that culminated in Watergate.

(Illegal bombing of Cambodia, 1973)

From the outset Weiner presents a man who is obsessed with being elected to the presidency in 1968.  Nixon firmly believed that the Kennedy machine had stolen the 1960 presidential election and he would not allow that to happen again.  As the 1968 campaign began to come to a close President Lyndon Johnson, concerned with his own legacy, announced a bombing halt for Vietnam.  From July, 1968 Nixon had communicated with President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam that whatever peace deal the Democrats were offering, South Vietnam would be better served if Nixon was in the White House.  As the campaign was coming to a close Johnson was aware of the Nixon campaign’s clandestine approaches to Thieu and how he was undermining any possible political deal.  Weiner presents irrefutable evidence that Nixon was involved in treasonous activity that has been available previously, and explores the reasons that Johnson did not go public with this information.  Weiner will spend a major part of his narrative exploring Nixon’s conduct of the war, detailing the illegal bombing of Cambodia from March, 1969 through August, 1973; the illegal wiretaps designed to stop the leaking of information from the National Security Council, Pentagon, and State Department all in the name of national security; covert operations against United States Senators who opposed his conduct of the war which would result in the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973; the machinations that led to the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvatore Allende; the incursion into Cambodia in April, 1970 that resulted in events at Kent State University; the creation of the “plumbers” to plug leaks that would lead to the break in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and of course Watergate.

(The iconic photo of Mary Ann Vecchio leaning over a dead student at Kent State University after shootings by the National Guard, May 4, 1970)

The details of other abuses of power presented including the selling of ambassadorships, extorting funds from foreign governments in return for favorable American policy decisions, the employment of the IRS to deal with domestic enemies, and the use of the FBI and CIA to deal with political opposition.  Weiner covers it all, but, again nothing really new is presented.  Even in the case of Watergate the reader is exposed to familiar territory as we are taken into the White House as the plans for domestic espionage are laid out.  The familiar names of John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Charles Colson, Alexander Butterfield, Jeb Magruder, and on and on all make their appearance.  The reader is exposed to Henry Kissinger and his role in Vietnam policy formulation and domestic espionage.  The former Secretary of State is as complicit in many of the crimes propagated in the conduct of the war in Southeast Asia and domestic spying, but aside from a few lawsuits has gotten away scot free and today is seen by many as the eminence grist of American foreign policy.

(Construction workers from the World Trade Center accosting people as they march up Broadway on May 8, 1970)

On a personal level, in May, 1970 I witnessed one of Nixon’s plans to weaken the antiwar movement that was burgeoning in response to his actions in Vietnam and Cambodia.  On May 8, 1972, a few days after the shootings at Kent State, according to Weiner, Charles Colson, one of the Nixon officials in charge of “dirty tricks,” communicated with the New York City construction union council led by Peter J. Brennan to arrange a march up Broadway of construction workers, then building the World Trade Center.  As hundreds of these workers marched they assaulted anyone that seemed to be opposed to the war.  I was a student at Pace University on that day and was chased and attacked by two workers as New York City’s “finest” stood idly by.  Little did I know the culpability of the Nixon administration in these attacks.  The irony was that the next day, as a member of the United States Army Reserves I was activated to control student unrest at St. John’s University in Queens, NY.  Later, interestingly, Peter J. Brennan was appointed Secretary of Labor in the Nixon administration.

(Watergate Hotel)

To Weiner’s credit he has written a breezy and well written catalogue of Nixon’s crimes that summarizes a period of American history whose remnants of which we are still dealing with today.  In evaluating Nixon we must recognize the psychological flaws that lent themselves to limiting a self-destructive personality, who because of his abuse of power overshadowed remarkable accomplishments in diplomacy in negotiating with China and the Soviet Union.  But, as Bruce Mazlish predicted in 1972, his presidency would not end well.

If you love Blueberries and live near Portsmouth, NH, this is the place for you!

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Blueberry Bay Farm
A pick-your-own blueberry farm in a serene New England setting
We are open every day for blueberries!!!

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We are now open every day 8:30-5,
and 8:30-6 on Tues and Thurs.

Blueberry Bay Farm is a 12-Acre, U-pick blueberry farm in the New Hampshire Seacoast town of Stratham. Located just a few hundred yards from the Great Bay estuary, the farm sits in a spectacular and unique rural/coastal setting.

While the blueberries from our 1300 bushes are the primary crop, we often have other specials, like cut flowers and herbs. Feel free to call or check back here to see what we are picking now.

We think our farm is a great place to spend time with family or just enjoy the outdoors – we hope you’ll agree.

Our farm is all about the blueberries. We spend all year pruning, mulching, watering, and feeding the very mature and productive bushes. After a visit, you can count on leaving with every bit the berries you came for. Beyond that, you can expect a trip to our farm to be relaxing, because we run a low key, friendly operation with our family. In fact, when in our fields you may likely be picking along side one of our three generations.

When you do come to pick, consider all the other great things to do in the area. The farm is just a few hundred yards from Great Bay and the Great Bay Discovery Center. We recommend a visit to the Center if you have never been, or are looking for more outdoor activity during a visit to Depot Road. It is the perfect place for a short hike along or a canoe ride through this very special estuary. Fifteen minutes away are the historic downtown centers ofExeter and Portsmouth, NH, as well as the main campus of the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Picking blueberries is the perfect complement to a visit to any of these places.

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Blueberry Bay Farm is a New Hampshire Farm of Distinction

All our crops are CHEMICAL-FREE (no spray residue whatsoever)!


As I sat down to prepare a review of Bryan Burrough’s latest work, DAYS OF RAGE: AMERICA’S RADICAL UNDERGROUND, THE FBI, and THE FORGOTTEN AGE OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE I learned that today a gunman had opened fire on a Navy and Marine Reserve Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., leaving four Marines dead, and a recruiter wounded.  These types of what appear to be “lone gunman attacks” symbolize the increase in domestic terrorism in the United States, attacks that I fear will continue and be further exacerbated by the call for even more violence by the likes of the Islamic State.  I hate to say that Burrough’s book is timely as it takes the reader back to a time period in American history when domestic attacks against targets that symbolized the government, in addition to banks, corporations, and other venues was very common.  Over forty years ago the United States went through a period of domestic terror that it had never experienced in its history.  Groups like the Weathermen, Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), the Black Liberation Army (BLA), the Black Panthers, and the Fuerzas Armades de Liberacion Nacional Puertorriquena (FALN) as well as a number of freelance operators conducted bombings, murder, prison escapes, and robberies.  Though they seemed to concentrate on New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Washington, and Detroit, their targets were as far flung as Maine and Oregon.  Many of the names will be familiar; Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Patty Hearst, Donald DeFreeze, and Mutulu Shakur.  However, Burrough’s assiduous research has turned up the work of many lesser known radicals whose deadly campaign caused much greater damage and impact than those mentioned.  What is fascinating is that many people have forgotten how violent this period in our history was.

Burrough’s is to be commended for putting together an exceptional history of the 196o’s through the early 1980s concentrating on the rise of domestic radicalism in the United States that began as a movement against the Vietnam War, but included demonstrations against racism, discrimination against blacks, the unequal distribution of wealth, and a movement for Puerto Rican independence.  Burrough’s contribution to this enormous topic is an almost encyclopedic narrative of every important radical group that appeared during the time period under discussion.  He seems to have interviewed every important radical who would speak to him that is still alive, and spent a great deal of time researching the response of the FBI and New York Police Department to situations that they had a great deal of difficulty containing.  What emerges is a complex story of bombing operations, including planning and implementation; sexual triangles among the radicals; sources of funding from surprising groups in society, particularly radical leftist lawyers; and a federal government that turned to many illegal weapons, from wiretaps, breaking and entering, and other methods to try and control the violence.  The book is not an easy read because of the somewhat disjointed way that it is organized.  There are chapters dealing with the rise of the Students for a Democratic Society and its split with the Weathermen, then it jumps to the development of the Black Panthers and the split that fostered the BLA, then returns to the Manhattan Townhouse bombing that killed a number of Weathermen.  Further, after ending a discussion of the Weather Underground, Burroughs moves on to the SLA, then after discussing the Hearst kidnapping, the Weathermen return.

(William Ayers and Bernadette Dorhn today)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book revolves around the rise of the Puerto Rican independence movement that existed for decades before the FALN emerged as the most dangerous radical group that the FBI and assorted urban police forces had to deal with.  The biographies of, Oscar Lopez and Carlos Torres, the leaders of the FALN, and Guillermo “Willie” Morales, the FALN bomb maker are fascinating as well as disturbing.  The reader is exposed to two young FBI agents, Don Wofford and Lou Vizi, who were tasked to investigate the group, but the government had very little information to work with.  Both men pursued their prey for years, but had little to show for it for a long time.

Throughout the radical “movement” there was a great deal of disagreement.  The leftist underground was more concerned with the plight of black Americans than being against the Vietnam War.  Burroughs discusses the rise of a new generation of black militants who were influenced by Malcom X, the Cuban Revolution, and in particular the work and writing of Che Guevara.  He also spends a great deal of time detailing the split between the Black Panthers and the rising Black Liberation Army.  Black militants had a jaundiced view of the Weathermen because they saw them as white bourgeois types who were not militant enough.  Burroughs explains the different factions within the Weathermen (later underground) movement and how its split with the SDS hindered their growth.  All the important personalities are examined, including their relationships both personal and as soldiers in the “movement.”  What is most obvious about the majority of underground radicals is that these young people, as Burroughs points out “fatally misjudged America’s political winds and found themselves trapped in an unwinnable struggle they were too proud or stubborn to give up.”

(Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN)

Julio, Andrés, and Luis Rosado, with Pedro Archuleta refused to testify before NY grand jury investigating the FALN in 1978.)

Most of Burrough’s work is a narrative of what seems to be every major “action” taken by these radical groups which can make reading parts of the book a grind.  However, throughout the book there are a series of nuggets that are very important.  For example, in 1970, 23 states had little or no regulation for the sale of dynamite.  It will amaze the reader how easy it was to purchase dynamite and other components to assemble a bomb, steal dynamite from construction sites, and the lack of security that existed at banks, corporations, and government venues that allowed radicals easy access to scope out their targets, and leave their explosives in bathrooms, elevators, and empty offices.  Another interesting detail involves the FBI as they created the 47 Squad to try and capture and control the radicals who were determined to overthrow the American government.  The tactics employed were ordered by the Nixon administration at the same time they were involved with dealing with the Watergate break in and investigation.  Despite the resources and the illegal tactics employed, the FBI made little headway in arresting these people, and any successes they experienced were more the result of luck than good police work.  Perhaps the most surprising thing that Burroughs unearthed was the makeup of the radical groups, particularly the SLA, BLA, and FALN.  Many of their members were criminals who had served time in Soledad, Attica, and San Quentin.  Some escaped, others paroled, but a significant number of “ex-cons” made up the membership of radical groups.  They had meshed in prison and they became a working network of soldiers to carry out operations in what they perceived to be a revolutionary struggle.

At times the narrative comes across as a “Bonnie and Clyde” type movement.  Operations were funded by robbing banks, explosives are stolen, and planning takes place in a network of safe houses nationwide.  Burroughs presents the major characters through mini-biographies, as well as their foot soldiers.  There is really no over ridding theme to the book other than the “rage against the system” that all radicals seem to believe in.  There are attempts to link some of the groups discussed and how they interacted, but in many cases it does not work.  For me the material is too bifurcated at times, but overall, Burroughs has written the definitive work on his topic, particularly because of his access to many of the participants forty years later.  If you are interested in this topic this book will be very satisfying, but keep in mind it is not an easy read.

GOD IS NOT DEAD by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Russell Edmonds

(Lt. Col. Bill Russell Edmonds)

In 2008, Joseph E. Stiglitz’s THE THREE TRILLION DOLLAR WAR laid out the financial cost of our war in Iraq.  In the book the author speculated that the cost for our ill-advised invasion would probably be significantly more due to the long term care needs of our veterans who suffered numerous physical and psychological injuries.  One area that was not really spelled out was in the realm of one’s own morality and how it might have affected our soldiers years after they fought and returned home.  In Lieutenant Colonel Bill Russell Edmonds new book, GOD IS NOT DEAD the public is exposed to a new type of wound that is finally being recognized almost thirteen years after our incursion into Iraq – the “soul wound,” or “moral injuries.”  Because of Edmonds’ superb new memoir we as a nation must confront the debilitating effects of such injuries.  For people like Edmonds the answer to the question, “What the hell happened to me?” is not only important for his own sanity, but for the thousands of others who experience similar feelings, but are also at a loss to explain why.  This paradigm is the core of Edmonds’ memoir and its conclusions, and lack of conclusions provide superb insights in dealing with the collapse of ones’ belief system and moral compass caused by his wartime service as a special operations officer dispatched to assist in implementing America’s counter insurgency strategy by overseeing the interrogation of suspected Iraqi terrorists.  It was that experience that Edmonds came to believe could utterly defeat ones’ necessary moral beliefs when faced with the decisions and experiences that he was forced to make.

Edmonds’ left for Iraq in 2005 and spent an entire year working with his Iraqi counterpart, Saedi, in trying to gain information from suspected terrorists.  Edmonds’ task was to apply American rules and regulations to those arrested, and the interrogation process that in many cases brought conflict with Iraqi allies.  For them the confession was the key to their legal system, and it did not matter how it was obtained.  In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, the US military would not approve the type of torture techniques that the Iraqis believed would be successful.  It took until 2011 while stationed in Germany for Edmonds to collapse emotionally.  According to Dr. Bill Nash, the former Director of Combat and Operational Stress Control programs for the US Marine Corps it took Edmonds six years to realize how far he had fallen emotionally because of the nature of moral injuries as compared to physical ones.  “Moral injuries are wounds to beliefs and secondarily, to the identity of the person holding those beliefs, inflicted by events that violently contradict them.  Contradictions between expectations and reality are often not immediately apparent to the person whose brain is laboring to reconcile them…as the contradictions sink in-as they are being processed in sleep and wakefulness-cumulative stress not only continues, but it actually grows over time, as the moral war is slowly digested.”  Therefore, Edmonds has been at war continuously since 2005. (16-17)

(The author on patrol in Mosul, Iraq in 2005)

In the book Edmonds uses alternate chapters taking the reader back and forth from his year of combat in Iraq describing his experiences in 2005, with chapters that take place when he is stationed in Germany in 2011, when his emotional crisis becomes apparent, and how he copes with his feelings and emotions especially as he thinks back to the war, and how it is now affecting his wife and two daughters. Edmonds presents the reader two timelines, the first the 365 days of his deployment to Iraq, and the 30 days in which he grows aware of his personal crisis in Germany.  In conveying his story he intertwines the course of the war in 2005, a year that the United States finally acknowledged that there was an insurgency and created the Iraqi Assistance Group (IAG) that Edmonds volunteered for.  He would spend one year in Mosul, Iraq, “a potpourri of religions, ethnicities, and tribes seeking revenge for some long-past but not forgotten wrong…a city just waiting to boil over.” (52)  An environment whereby it would be very difficult to maintain one’s moral equilibrium.

Edmonds reviews the skills and techniques that are needed to be a successful interrogator.  As he tries to apply American values to an Iraqi detention prison and rein in his Iraqi counterparts from employing the types of strategies used during Saddam’s reign, he becomes frustrated and angry and questions his role and what he can accomplish during his tour of duty.  Edmonds is right on when it comes to describing the war.  The conclusion he reaches that Iraqis have internalized “learned helplessness” is accurate and he correctly points out that it will take a generation for the Iraqi people to do for themselves and create a secure environment.  Eventually Edmonds begins to wonder why he started to care more about why the terrorists fought, and less about how to obtain their confessions.  As he works with Saedi in arresting and interrogating prisoners Edmonds comes to believe that maybe his Iraqi counterpart is correct in his assumptions because if the confessions where not obtained prisoners would be released, and many would eventually return after committing other atrocities against American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, a cycle that would be repeated over and over.  His internal conflict rests with his role of preventing the use of techniques that will make the streets safer.  Edmonds dilemma is clear, his assignment is to provide advice on the rule of law in a lawless society and instill morality in a place devoid of human decency.  He has control over people’s lives, but he no longer feels comfortable with that power.

Edmonds provides insights into his emotional state by discussing his relationship with his then girlfriend, Amy who he believes has no concept of the reality he must deal with, and soon realizes that the woman he loves may not be the person he thought she was.  This is compared to his wife, Cheryl who he loves dearly, and is trying to understand what he is going through and help him.  It is heart wrenching to read what Edmonds is experiencing in 2011 as he tries to deal with his past inner conflicts.  The flashbacks to the torture techniques, his struggle to maintain his belief in god, his feelings about Cheryl and his daughters all tap strong emotions in the reader.  Edmonds adores his family and fears he is driving them away because of his thoughts and erratic behavior.  He is at a loss as to how to cope with his own fragile mindset, and wonders how he will survive.

A turning point in the narrative occurs when Edmonds forms a relationship with an insurgent.  After numerous discussions with the individual, Edmonds internalizes what the Iraqi is experiencing.  As Edmonds writes; ….this insurgent represents a truth I cannot escape.  His words describe a belief I am starting to share: our actions over the decades, over the past years, make this war unwinnable.  Have our past deeds, do our current actions, do these things unintentionally create the anger I now see in this man?  Did we create this insurgent?  I’m conflicted because I am starting to believe this is true, but then I am having a hard time believing that anything is true anymore.” (229-30) As Edmonds begins to recognize why this insurgent and many other Iraqis hate Americans his moral confusion is exacerbated and feeds a state of mind that at times he feels his own persona is slipping away.  How Iraqis see Americans compounds Edmonds’ moral dilemma and he begins to hate seeing “the truth in their words.” (243)  Once Edmonds has crossed over the line and questions his task and sees the world from the Iraqi viewpoint and internalizes it, he becomes almost totally lost emotionally and morally.   Edmonds tries to cope by seeking help from the military.  This exercise is useless, as he does not fit the correct “bubble” in their questionnaire.

The book concludes with a short note from Edmonds’ mother, who correctly points out that the United States government, which made the decision to send our people to fight in Iraq have totally failed them by not providing them with the proper care when they returned.  GOD IS NOT HERE is a troubling journey taken by an exceptional young man who will eventually learn how to cope his conflicted emotions, however those feelings will always be a part of him.


(March 5, 2015, the smiles between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama can be deceiving)

The deadline for a nuclear agreement with Iran passed on June 30th and the odds of eventually coming to an accommodation remain up in the air.  The American realpolitik to reach a consensus dates back to the election of Barack Obama who has stressed the diplomatic card in dealing with Iran since his inauguration, and at the same time offered that “all options were on the table.”  Iran’s nuclear development in addition to the correct approach in dealing with the Palestinians form the major disagreements between the United States and Israel as is related in Michael Oren, who served as former Israeli ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013 new memoir ALLY: MY JOURNEY ACROSS THE AMERICAN-ISRAELI DIVIDE.  Oren’s main goal is to impart to the reader his struggle to maintain the “special relationship” between the two countries, and the difficulties he encountered in trying to do so.  The key was to keep the “day light” between the positions of the two allies to a minimum.  As Oren relates this proved to be very difficult with a new President who had his own agenda for the Middle East.  For Barack Obama, diplomacy and economic sanctions were effective tools in dealing with the ayatollahs in Teheran.  Opposing Israeli settlement expansion and alluding to the pre-1967 borders for a Palestinian state became his mantra.  Throughout his memoir, Oren repeatedly argues why these positions were untenable from an Israeli security perspective and how he went about dealing with an administration that seemed to alternate between pressuring Israel, at times ignoring her needs, and then supporting Tel Aviv when the need arose.  The book also explores in depth the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a relationship that was fraught with land mines.

(Prime Minister Netanyau, President Obama, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas-their faces tell the story)

ALLY is more than a justification for Israeli policies and trying to get along with an American administration that was difficult to trust.  Oren delves into his own background of being born an American and the dual nature of his outlook.  Seeing himself as part American and part Israeli, Oren is conflicted at times as he tries to reconcile the differences between the two countries that form his dual persona.  Oren’s description of growing up in New Jersey, attending Columbia, and finally making aliya (emigration) to Israel is often clouded by a vision of becoming his own version of an Israeli sabra (Israeli born national).  His idealism as it pertains to Israel and Jewish history strongly reeks of a Leon Uris novel.  Every harsh event or training he undergoes, be it as a paratrooper or as private citizen is seen in the context of Jewish history in which he places himself.  I realize this is a memoir, but this approach can be tiresome.  While studying at Princeton in 1983 Oren realized the community of fate that existed between the United States and Israel and the need for a close alliance between the two.  It was at this time that Oren was exposed to the toxicity of leftist’s historians and politicians who saw Israel as a bridgehead of western imperialism in the Middle East.  It seemed to have made a deep impression on Oren and would be a major theme in his memoir – the hypocritical nature of excoriating Israel and treating the Arabs paternalistically.  Oren’s anger is clear as his distress in dealing with the revisionist writings of Israeli historians who question the mythology associated with the 1948 and 1967 wars.

(Israeali Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, 2009-2013)

While touring the United States for the Israeli government in 2008, Oren wrote an article where he predicted that should Obama be elected president problems would arise between Tel Aviv and Washington.  Obama had revealed his opposition to Israeli settlement building and his support for Palestinian rights as Oren writes that “Obama might be expected to show deeper sympathy for the Palestinian demand for a capital in Jerusalem…and greater flexibility in including Hamas in negotiations,” he further stated that Obama would call for “less saber-rattling and more direct diplomacy and pledged to engage with Syria and Iran.” (44)  As Oren details in his memoir these fears came to fruition as soon as Obama was inaugurated.  Once ensconced in the oval office according to Oren the appointment of George Mitchell, the former Maine Senator as America’s top Middle East negotiator did not bode well for Israel as in the past he had exonerated Yasir Arafat from any involvement in the Second Intifada.  Further, Obama appointed Jim Jones as his National Security Advisor who had been very critical of Israel when he was the Department of State enjoy to the region in 2007.  In addition, Obama’s first presidential interview was with Al Arabiya, where he emphasized his Moslem family connections and the desire to restore relations in the region to “where they were twenty or thirty years ago.” (49)  In dealing with Iran as the IAEA reported they had produced enough low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, but instead the United States concentrated on Israel to suspend all settlement construction and endorse a two state solution at the same time Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, turned down Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer for Palestinian statehood.  It seemed to Oren that Obama’s mind was preset no matter what circumstances might hold.  In 2009, Oren was chosen Israeli ambassador to the United States and many labeled him as “Bibi’s mouthpiece” in Washington.  As any ambassador, Oren presented the position of his government as best he could.  Portraying himself as somewhat of a referee between Obama and Netanyahu the reader is presented with a window into the Israeli Prime Minister’s background and belief system, and how he went about bridging the gap between these two diverse men.

Oren offers numerous examples of disagreements, anger, and outright hostility between Israel and the United States during his ambassadorship.  Condemnation of Israeli actions in Gaza, but none against Assad’s murderous policy in Syria or Iran’s crackdown on the Green Revolution was viewed from Tel Aviv as hypocritical.  The overriding issue for Obama was to obtain a settlement freeze to bring Abbas to the negotiating table.  For Oren, Obama was doing Abbas’s dirty work because the President would pressure Israel, but the Palestinian leader would offer nothing in return.  Obama rarely addressed Israeli sensitivities and seemed to always criticize Israeli actions, be it in Gaza or elsewhere, but he never mentioned Hamas rockets that were landing in Israel.  Overall, for Oren, Obama, either did not care to learn, or just chose to ignore the nuances needed in dealing with conflict in the Middle East.  An excellent example would be the Obama administration’s response to the Arab spring.  For the president events in Tunisia and Egypt were a call for democratic government, living in the region, Israel saw events through a different lens as they felt the Arab reaction was due to humiliation and a loss of dignity.  The resulting elevation of the Moslem Brotherhood, a ”political cousin” to Hamas, and American comments supporting the new Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi who immediately began supplying weapons to Hamas was unacceptable to Israel.  Further, Obama stated on May 18, 2011 that “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” raising the question in Israel as to why the Palestinian Authority was being rewarded when they had stonewalled negotiations for two years.

(Ambassador Oren, a reserve officer in the Israeli Defense Force)

Perhaps Oren’s best chapter is entitled, “the Years of Affliction.”  The year 2011 had been rife with crisis.  The flotilla incident with Turkey as Islamic jihadists had joined a supply flotilla designed to arm and supply Hamas forces in Gaza resulted in the death of Turkish nationals when Israeli forces tried to board a ship and were met with gunfire.  A year later, to assuage Obama, Netanyahu agreed to apologize to Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan.  When all seemed under control and the apology was issued, the Turkish president responded by bragging how he humiliated Israel and would break the blockade of Gaza by force.  The Iranian nuclear controversy grew more and more heated throughout the year and Obama pressed for a diplomatic solution employing sanctions and the Israelis worried that there window to stop Iran was fast closing.  More and more Israel felt its “Qualitative Military Edge” over its enemies was narrowing, while Washington, who historically was committed to its maintenance disagreed.  On the Israeli domestic side, the Carmel forest fire was a threat to Haifa and was finally controlled, this time with American aid.  For the United States, its funding of the Iron Dome weapons system to protect Israel from Hamas rockets was enough support, and it refused to condemn Hamas even when it used human shields to protect its launch sites.

Oren’s chapter dealing with Israel’s portrayal in the American media is very interesting.  He sees this as a matter of Israeli national security and spends a great deal of time parsing how Israel is presented.  He is concerned there is an anti-Israel bias that has become so pervasive that even the New York Times, Washington Post, and 60 Minutes seem to be purveyors of an image of Israel that their enemies have created.  He points to a 60 Minutes feature that accuses Israel of persecuting Christians.  The details Oren provides are explicit and argues against the myth that Jews control the American media as even reporters like Thomas Friedman have been inadvertently coopted into this cabal.  If in fact this is true, Oren might be on to something or perhaps Israel has become a victim of the new digital world, and the recent media sophistication of its enemies.

The question as to whether the Obama administration would defend Israel against an Iranian nuclear attack is a major theme in the book and encompasses Netanyahu’s frustration with the president.  This carries over to Obama’s second term when he replaced what Oren viewed as a fairly pro-Israeli group headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with Chuck Hagel, who refused to label Hezbollah as a terrorist group, and John Kerry who Oren believes has a soft spot for the Palestinians.  Whether Oren’s observations are true or not is beside the point, this is an Israeli perception that affects the relationship with the only democratically elected government in the Middle East.  It is obvious that it is very difficult to work with Benjamin Netanyahu at times, as highlighted by his reelection campaign, but the American-Israeli relationship is extremely important in terms of the national security interests of both countries.  At times it seems that Oren goes overboard and is a bit polemical, but that can be the nature of a memoir.  Perhaps Oren should stick to narrative history as his books; JUNE, 1967 and POWER, FAITH, AND FANTASY: AMERICA IN THE MIDDLE EAST are excellent.  Overall, this a provocative “kiss and tell” memoir, and is important in understanding how Israel thinks of their plight living in the midst of a hostile neighborhood.