Happy Book Birthday to David J. Dunford’s Memoir

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a books life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to From Sadat to Saddam: The Decline of American Diplomacy in the Middle East (Potomac Books, 2019) by David J. Dunford.

About the Book:

From Sadat to Saddam offers a fresh perspective on the politicization of the U.S. diplomatic corps and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. This book begins with the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, continues through two Gulf wars, and ends with the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq in 2011. 

This firsthand account of thirty years in the diplomatic trenches of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East addresses the basic questions of how and why we find ourselves today in endless military conflict and argues that it is directly related to the decline in reliance on our diplomatic skills. From Sadat to Saddam offers an in-depth look by a career diplomat at how U.S. soft power has been allowed to atrophy. It chronicles three decades of dealing not just with foreign policy challenges and opportunities but also with the frustrations of working with bureaucrats and politicians who don’t understand the world and are unwilling to listen to those who do. The book makes clear that the decline of our diplomatic capability began well before the election of Donald Trump. It recommends that instead of trying to make soldiers into diplomats and diplomats into soldiers, we invest in a truly professional diplomatic service.


“Former United States ambassador David Dunford delivers a fascinating personal history of a 30-year diplomatic career in his new volume, From Sadat to Saddam. It is studded with the kind of insights that only a practitioner steeped in the arts and wiles of both the diplomatic life and the bureaucratic jungle can offer.”—Middle East Journal

“This is a smart and insightful book, and you don’t need a degree in international relations enjoy it. Dunford’s memoir is as much personal as it is professional and his recollections—from rescuing Barbara Bush from an overdose of incense at a presidential dinner in Saudi Arabia, to coping with the primitive conditions his team encountered when they were stationed in Saddam’s opulent but filthy palace—provide an engaging, and often surprising behind-the-scenes look at life in the trenches of the Foreign Service.”—Tuscon.com

“David Dunford’s From Sadat to Saddam is a terrific read and is an interesting contribution to the growing number of books by former ambassadors. His insight provides an honest appraisal of the decline of US diplomacy and provides an outline of how America’s diplomatic corps can rebuild.”—The Middle Ground Journal

Interview on the Buckmaster Show

On the Blog:

From the Desk of David Dunford: Why Experienced Diplomats Take Notes

News and Reviews

On Twitter:

A Word from the Author:

I have enjoyed most of the feedback I have received from the publication of From Sadat to Saddam last December. Many former colleagues that I hadn’t talked to in years got in touch when they learned of the book. The biggest surprise was hearing from a colleague from my first Foreign Service assignment in Ecuador over fifty years ago. Paul and his wife Kathleen shared a duplex with us in Quito in 1967-8. Paul read a review of the book in the Foreign Service Journal and wrote me a letter. We were then able to exchange photos and memories.

The book has had modest success. Reviews have been positive; it was listed as one of the best new books on diplomacy in 2020 by the BookAuthority and it was nominated for the Dillon Award given out by the American Academy of Diplomacy. I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to write about the book for a British website and to see a review of the book in a European publication. It was nice to get a royalty check that was ample enough to take my wife out to dinner (when the COVID-19 crisis is over) more than once.

While most of the book is a memoir of the years I spent working on Middle East issues, the last chapter provides several suggestions for improving our diplomatic competence. With a new administration taking over the formulation and execution of U.S. foreign policy next month, the book remains a timely resource for those seeking to fix U.S. diplomacy.

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