Here's a rule of thumb for books by journalists: the more descriptive-providing new information, conveying moods, recounting anecdotes, quoting memorable conversations-the more likely to succeed. Explanatory and theoretical efforts, in contrast, usually fall flat. Fortunately, Amos's account of the Kuwait Crisis sticks to the here and now, making it an excellent, first-hand account from Desert Storm's front lines. Her very useful information on Syria's contribution to the military effort shows just how recalcitrant Asad was. The chapter on Saudi Arabia rightly dwells on the incident of the forty-seven women who one day drove their cars, for this became a key political event. Liberated Kuwait comes to life as nowhere else. Some of the quotes are wowwers: a young Saudi official announces that "Jordan is Palestine" and a Palestinian in Kuwait tells her that "Israel is paradise." She also provides a miscellany of interesting facts (the first U.S. fighter aircraft refueled seven times in midair on their way to Saudi Arabia; the first Iraqi soldiers surrendered not to soldiers but to a jet plane).
But Amos slips when she interprets. Her comparisons to American life prove wildly inept. For many Arabs, she tells us, "Saddam was like a game show host offering fabulous prizes." Or she tries to conjure up the mood of an Arab summit meeting by calling it "hot-tempered and unpredictable, like a knife fight in Los Angeles." To explain the import of an Iraqi-Saudi non-aggression pact, she inappropriately uses U.S.-Canadian relations as an analogy.