As an added insight to the appreciation of Amb. L. Dean Brown by Tex DeAtkine (see separate article), Amb. Hume Horan has made available an excerpt from his interview with the Foreign Affairs Oral History project [click here]. In it, Amb. Horan provides fascinating insights into the events of the civil war in 1970 that led to the destruction of the Palestinian guerrilla bases in Jordan. As will be seen, he, like DeAtkine, lauds the leadership of Ambassador Brown during that trying and most dangerous period.—Ed.
EXTRACT FROM ORAL HISTORY OF AMBASSADOR HUME HORAN RECORDED AND TRANSCRIBED AT FOREIGN SERVICE INSTITUTE
OCTOBER 2000-JANUARY 2001
Q: When did you get to Amman?
HORAN: I must have gotten to Amman sometime in July, 1970. I was there until February 1972.
Q: What was the situation in Jordan when you arrived?
HORAN: It was almost as bad as it could be. Our military attaché had been assassinated a month before by one of the radical Palestinian groups—George Habbash’s PFLP, probably. They had come to his house and shot him through the door. With that, Amman became an unaccompanied post [no dependents, that is]. We had already rented our house in DC. But the lessors, a Foreign Service family, were very decent. They let us tear up the lease. I went on to Amman, and the family stayed in Washington.
Life at the Embassy was like that in an embattled BOQ [bachelor officers quarters] facility. The only effects you had with you, were in your suitcase. There was lots of violence. Bob Pelletreau, the junior Political Officer, was visiting the Intercontinental Hotel when the PFLP seized it. With great presence of mind and wit, Bob made his way down to the basement and escaped through an air duct. An assassination attempt on the mother of King Husain, failed. The streets of Amman were full of “Guerrilleros,” from one Palestinian faction or the other. All of them bristling with arms. “Miles Gloriosus”! They were terribly abusive. They would steal from trades people and give them a lot of lip. After they took over the Hotel, a long-suffering businessman described them as “Abtal al Fanaadiq, wa laa al Khanaadiq,” i.e., “Heroes of the hotels and not of the trenches.” The police didn’t dare to intervene. They were of no consequence, and besides, many were also Palestinians. They found themselves pulled in two directions. The guerrillas went out of their way to show disdain for the Army. The army, especially the East Bank combat units, was smoldering. At one point the King reviewed a tank unit and the lead tank commander rolled with a brassiere fluttering from his tanks’s antenna. It was a very dicey time.
Q: This was when you arrived. What was sort of the thinking in Washington just before you got there, that Jordan was going down.
HORAN: Yes. All the indicators were downward. Nuri Sa`id was long-gone, Naguib had been replaced by Nasser—who was blowing fire and brimstone across the Arab world, King Idris was history, and the PLO factions were the darling of Arab intellectuals and the Arab street. King Husain was extraordinarily isolated. Washington wondered how could Husain last, with half of Jordan’s population being Palestinian, a hostile Syria to the North, an Iraqi tank division encamped at the Jordanian oasis of al-Azraq, and every Arab under 20 thinking him a stooge for Zionism and Western imperialism? Arabic is wonderful for scurrilous invective. Some of the translations that we would get from FBIS [Foreign Broadcast Information Service] Cyprus were just marvelous pieces of writing.
Q: Who was the ambassador?
HORAN: Oh! One of the great officers of my, or any generation. L. Dean Brown. He arrived while all this was going on. We had had a chargé for a time. Underwhelming. Then Dean took over and just electrified the entire staff. He was a great war leader. Irreverent, direct. His motto could well have been that of the Infantry School at Fort Banning: “Follow Me!” With Amman in turmoil, we needed a boss who made us feel we were safe with him. There would still be danger and risks, but you knew those risks were calculated. You felt your boss knew what he was doing. Dean was the always cheerful, irreverent, and often sardonic, “Happy Warrior.” I was saddened to read in the Washington Post on May 11  that he had died. Together with many admirers, I attended his funeral service at Georgetown’s Christ Church (E) on May 22.
A story typical of Dean: I get ahead of myself, but during the Embassy siege, the SO [security officer] and the gunny [Marine gunnery sergeant] took advantage of a lull in the shooting, and one night—unknown to us—sneaked out into the garden. After days in the Chancery, they wanted to bathe with the garden hose. Some Palestinians must have noticed movement. Because hardly were our colleagues outside, than small arms fire poured into the garden. The Chancery’s steel door was ajar! We slammed it shut… and only then noticed the gunny and the SO were not among us. The firing seemed to go on interminably. We feared the worst. But in a little while, after the shooting subsided, we heard a tapping on the door. We heard American voices. We opened the door a bit, and the gunny and the SO crept in. They were naked and covered with blood. But the wounds were not from ordnance. When the firing surprised them, they had both dived for shelter in the Embassy’s luxuriant ROSE GARDEN. THEY HAD BURROWED DOWN AMONG THE THORNY STEMS!
When Dean saw that the damage, though extensive, was superficial, he said to the Gunny: “I thought we were NOT supposed to promise you a rose garden!” I was saddened to read of Dean’s death in the Washington Post’s Metro section for Thursday, May 10. He’ll always be one of my heroes. Mais revenons a nos moutons….
Q: So Brown was arriving….
HORAN: Yes, he came maybe three weeks or four weeks after I arrived. As I recall, we’d all gathered in the garden of the Residence for a “”Welcome to Amman” barbecue for Dean. It was also a welcome to Pat Powers, Dean’s super-nice, efficient, and cool-headed secretary. Right in the middle of the function, alarming messages began to come in. Four international passenger planes—from BOAC and TWA, and two other airlines—had synchronously been hijacked by the PLO. One after the other they landed at “Dawson’s Landing,” a flat expanse of desert not far from Amman. Soon you had like 500 people broiling under the wings of airplanes, surrounded by fedayeen fighters, who were in turn surrounded by the Jordanian Army. In the end, all the passengers were able to leave. Did the Jordan government agree to release some PLO prisoners? That had been one of the hijackers’ demands. My recollection is frankly unclear. But no one was killed or hurt. The Amcits [American citizens], a number of whom were Jewish, got back to the US in time for Yom Kippur. Among them was an American teenager who had decked himself out in the uniform of an Israeli Army major! His mother did some vigorous explaining! The hijackers weren’t punished. The Jordan Army was at the end of its patience.
Q: Did you get involved in the hijacking?
HORAN: You know, I am trying to remember. Everybody was doing something then. I must have written a lot of cables on the question. We didn’t have secure voice [communications] with the States. We had secure teletype with our Embassy in Tel Aviv, but not with the U.S.
Q: I heard he had to go to the palace in an armored troop carrier or something …
HORAN: With yours truly. Yes, after the fighting had broken out. You know, sometimes your nose gets there before your brain. Every day, I’d go wandering around downtown, just to have the feel of the place. Talk to booksellers, small tradesmen I knew. But one afternoon everything was closed. Dead. It all looked and felt creepy. Ambassador Brown would hold a “sitrep” meeting each afternoon, around 5:00 p.m. I went to the meeting and said “Mr. Ambassador, I’ve been all over downtown. I’ve never seen the town look quite so silent, keyed up, ready to go. I think I’d better spend the night here in the Embassy.” I had previously spent a number of nights in the office when things looked especially tense. You know, so that we didn’t get cut off from communications and stuff. He said, “You’re on target. We have just gotten word from the Palace that the Army is going to move against the Fedayeen early tomorrow morning.” There had been a standoff with a new Prime Minister, an “accomodationist.” But faced with what looked to be a new ultimatum from the PLO, the King decided enough was enough.
We spent that night in the Chancery and the next seven or eight days, too.
Fighting broke out the next morning. The firing at and around the Chancery was sometimes intense. The windows, shutters, and upper floors of the Chancery were just riddled with bullets. As my wonderful secretary, Liz Raines, was typing on the floor, a 20 mm slug came through the window and ricocheted off her safe. It dented the steel. In the evenings, everybody slept on the ground floor, in an interior room, on a carpet of mattresses. Fetid. I’d quietly go upstairs and sleep on the floor in my office. We only had a little bit of water every day. Water was rationed. I used a little bit of my water to wash my collar and my cuffs. Every day I had my tie on. The whole Embassy found it humorous, in an affectionate sort of way: “Hume has got his stupid clean shirt on. His collar and his cuffs look just fine.” I’d say, “Well, if I have got to work, I just like to look clean, even if I’m not.”
Q: Tell me some more about security—Marine Guards, the Regional Security Officer, and the other military.
HORAN: Yes, the Marine guards—they were super solid, and the RSO, Pete Roche. Pete later that year received was the Secretary’s Award for Heroism. We had a terrific DATT [defense attaché]—“Tex” De Atkine. Always cool, expert, and low-key humorous. Before the uprising, he and I went out for some area familiarization one weekend. While picnicking, he scanned the terrain with his binoculars. “Are you a bird watcher, Tex?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “I’m looking for tank birds.”
Q: Regional security.
HORAN: That’s right. The Fedayeen had gotten close to the Chancery. We had Jordan Bedouin troops, the super-loyal Baadiya, around the Chancery, inside the high sandstone wall. But the insurgents had fired incendiary rounds into the motor pool. Some cars were burning, and we were afraid of the gas tanks blowing up. If the fires had gotten to the cars that were parked against the Chancery back wall, we foresaw big trouble. So Pete ran out, and I was out there with him. We were moving cars away from the Chancery wall. Rounds kept coming in. In the end, the cars were all a safe distance from the Chancery wall. That Roche! A mensch!
Q: Well, go back just a bit. You talked about when the Ambassador presented his credentials.
HORAN: Oh yes. When the troubles broke, Dean had not yet presented credentials. Comsec [communications security] was bad: the fedayeen had one of our radios—taken from our assassinated military attache. Sometimes the fedayeen would call on our frequency and boast about what they would do when they had seized Jordan, etc. But there was an abandoned police station near the Chancery. One night I sneaked over there—the [telephone] line was working. I called the Palace, and they said: “All right, we want to get your Ambassador up here. Some people will come to the Chancery tomorrow. Be ready to go fast when they show up.”
Anyway, the next morning, I was sleeping on the floor of my office and I heard the most God-awful racket coming. I mean there was firing all the time, but this was firing like I had never heard before. I remember crawling under my office table. Then the firing got even heavier and closer. I figured it was the Jordanians. I heard Dean say, “Horan, get your ass out here. I think this is the Union cavalry coming down the road.” Down they came. They were not tanks, they were armored personnel carriers. They were firing with everything they had, suppressing fire. Dean said, “Move it. Move it!” And we ran downstairs. There was a Jordanian officer at the gate. Like many East Bank regulars, he looked like a real soldier. When they opened up that rear hatch, he actually threw Dean and me in. Off we went. Boom! Boom! Boom! Keeping people’s heads down. The Chancery was in a “bad” part of town. But pretty soon we got to the Queen Mother’s Palace—out of Indian territory. Here, the commanding officer asked “You want to take a picture of this moment, Mr. Ambassador?” So Dean stood chest high out of the turret, and the officer took a picture of us—my head was at Dean’s elbow. The photo became one of the next covers of State magazine. The officer, by the way, was Circassian and had relatives in Newark, New Jersey!
As we rolled on up to the palace, I kept thinking: “I hope we have a good breakfast.” It was excellent. I remember orange juice, and sausages, and scrambled eggs. The Ambassador then presented credentials to the king. It was totally informal. Then we relocated to an AID building near the Queen Mother’s.
Q: Did the king say anything about what was happening?
HORAN: And how! Yes! The king said: “TELL YOUR GOVERNMENT TO STAY WITH ME, AND I’LL STAY WITH YOU. THIS IS MY COUNTRY. I AM GOING TO WIN. THE PLO IS GOING TO LOSE. MY ARMY LOVES ME. DON’T WORRY. I WILL NOT DO A FAROUQ ON YOU AMERICANS OR ON MY PEOPLE.” He clearly meant what he said, because just days before, the Syrians had invaded from the north, while the Iraqis were behaving menacingly at el-Azraq. At the time, we’d wondered whether to Jordanians could handle threats from three fronts—in Amman, from Syria, AND from Iraq.
Q: Well, also the Israelis were cranking up to do something, too.
HORAN: You got it, you got it. This was contingency numero uno. It was pretty clear that if the King looked to be going under, the Israelis would not allow a radical Iraqi-cum-Syrian-cum-Palestinian state to pop up on the West Bank. There was a lot of very sensitive traffic back and forth between us and the Israelis and the Jordanians as to who might do what if certain things happened. Some of these exchanges have surfaced recently in FOIA declassifications. There were some serious cards on the table. But in the event, the Jordanian air force and armor beat the Syrians, and kept the Iraqis in place. The Jordanian military was just better trained and led than its opponents.
Q: This is tape four side one with Hume Horan.
Q: Well, how did the “Battle for Amman” go from your perspective, I mean what, this happened in September because it became known as Black September. It happened rather quickly?
HORAN: The fighting took about a week. It was very messy. The Jordanians didn’t want to send their good infantry against the guerrillas in the slums of Amman. They felt the urban geography would negate the Army’s edge in discipline and weaponry. So they led their assaults with armor (a “pincer movement” our DATT called it), the infantry followed close behind. Through field glasses you could see the tanks roll up toward some buildings. Lurch to a stop. Then the main battle guns would go, “BOOM!” and part of the buildings would collapse. Out would swarm some Palestinians. The tanks would chase them, firing machine guns, with the infantry also in pursuit. Once, after the Army had encircled a rebel neighborhood, they captured some 1,500 guerrillas from various factions. The Jordanian commander, and East Banker, addressed the group: “You Palestinians, now stand before me united as you never have been before.”
There were some human rights violations. I think there were situations where groups of Palestinian rebels were not read their Geneva convention rights and they just vanished from the scene. But these were bad days. They insurgents had meanwhile murdered the mother of the King’s uncle, and tried to assassinate the Army Chief of Staff. It was a time when no quarter was asked by or given to some of these combatants. The good guys won.
Q: Was the embassy at all the focus?
HORAN: Yes, the embassy was in a terrible neighborhood. Lucky for us, the PLO didn’t have anything heavy. I guess a 20 mm cannon was about the biggest they had. That wasn’t effective against solid limestone or sandstone walls. Mortar rounds did no damage to the roof—just messed up our transmission facilities.
Q: Were there any lesson you drew from your experience?
HORAN: Absolutely. Jordan was the reverse of Libya. The King’s victory showed that it was not the size of the dog in the fight, so much as the size of the fight in the dog. King Husain was a fighter, and we all knew—his Army knew—that if he went, it would be feet first. He was a fighter, and Dean Brown was right there with him. They worked together like a pairs skating team. The King’s victorious leadership helped us to shelve some contingency planning of a sort that you can imagine.
THE KING’S VICTORY SHOWED ME HOW IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP WAS IN A CRISIS. AT THE TIME, PERHAPS A MAJORITY OF THE EAST BANK POPULATION WAS AGAINST HIM — THAT IS, THE PALESTINIAN ELEMENT. THE AREA CONJUNCTION OF FORCES WAS ALSO VERY BAD. AND YET HUSAIN WON! AFTER THE FEDAYEEN HAD BEEN DEFEATED, HE GAVE ANOTHER GREAT EXAMPLE OF LEADERSHIP. WHEN THE MACRO-ECONOMISTS FROM THE IMF AND THE WORLD BANK CAME TO SEE ABOUT REBUILDING JORDAN, THE KING WAS OFTEN ABSENT. TO THE EXPERTS’ CONSTERNATION, HE HAD SCHEDULED MILITARY REVIEWS AT EACH JORDANIAN BASE. RANK AFTER RANK, HE WOULD WALK THROUGH THE FORMATIONS, SHAKING EACH SOLDIER’S HAND, THANKING HIM PERSONALLY FOR HAVING STOOD BY HIS KING. THESE WERE VERY EMOTIONAL OCCASIONS, I’M TOLD.
DEAN AND HUSAIN HAD SIMILAR LEADERSHIP STYLES.
Q: At the time, what happened to the Palestinian forces?
HORAN: They were disarmed, put in camps, and then sent to Lebanon—and we all know what they did there. It having turned out that the road to Jerusalem did not lead through Amman, they decided to try Beirut, instead.
Q: Was there any concern on, you know, the part of the embassy at all about them going, I mean within the diplomatic dispatch world or something, about what is going to happen to these guys?
HORAN: We knew many mad and radicalized Palestinians would be added to the refugees already in Lebanon. But the Jordanians did not want to hold them, and after some indecision, the Palestinians concluded Lebanon was their best alternative. Poor Lebanon! The weakest state in the area became a “floodway” for Arab radicalism!
Q: How did Washington react?
HORAN: Remember Viet-Nam was still grinding along! Washington was more than ready for a victory in the Middle East! Secretary Rogers came out in May of 1971. His visit celebrated what was a victory for Jordan … and for the USA. There was also the hope, that with the defeat and expulsion of the PLO, the radical tide might have crested. Might we be about to turn a corner? Secretary Rogers’ visit came off well. I was control officer. The Jordanians just went ga-ga over him. There were foxholes around the airfield, and Dean said, “Hume, pick one out. And if the fedayeen deploy some mortar rounds … take cover.” In the event, no serious crisis marred the visit. WE HAD WON THE BOWL GAME! There was a lot of room for mutual congratulations. I guess that had something to do with Dean going on to Undersecretary for Management.
Q: What was Dean’s background?
HORAN: He’d had a good war. Received a battlefield commission, after landing at Normandy. After joining the Foreign Service [he] dealt with the collapse of the Belgian Congo and the birth of Zaire! What a time! “Mad Mike” Hoar, Patrice Lumumba, the Simbas, etc. Dakar was Dean’s first Ambassadorship. Amman was next. Later of course, he went to Beirut after [Ambassador] Frank Meloy and his Econ Chief were assassinated, same with Cyprus after [Ambassador] Rodger Davies’s killing. Last, I guess, he handled the evacuation of Americans from Vietnam! A full helping of life!
Q: Well, what were you focused on after the Civil War ended?
HORAN: I was doing a fair amount of political reporting with military and political leaders, and officials in the Royal Diwan, that is, the office of the king’s household. I even did some economic reporting on the reconstruction effort. The local Saudi Ambassador was an important figure on aid to Jordan, and he did not speak English. Contact with him thus fell to me. I recall the King had very little interest in discussions of the London Club, the Paris Club, reconstruction repayment schedules. It bored him, that sort of stuff. His eyes glazed over. He’d won the war. The excitement was over. The Palestinians had been dealt with, no more challenges of that sort. Grey, incremental, nation rebuilding did not engage his enthusiasm.
Q: Were we getting any indication that the king was having covert or whatever you want to call it, meetings with the Israelis and the …
HORAN: You know, I think now the public the record shows that there had been a number of encounters between King Husain and Golda Meier, and I would not be surprised if they had had a regular, secure means of communication with each other. There was mutual respect and regard between Mrs. Meier and King Husain.
Q: How did you find when you were doing political reporting, was there a political movement that you could report on that was really trying to sound out what was happening, you know, in the court?
HORAN: Yes. All the radical Palestinian parties were gone. Left was a large mass of Palestinians who were aggrieved and grumpy but not organized in any way. Then you had the Jordan Army commander, plus some of his very hard men—all East Bankers. They had close relationships with some American agencies. They were very helpful and cooperative. I saw a good bit of the head of the super-loyal Bedouin strike force, Major General Haabis al Majali. A very colorful, grizzled, desert warrior. Haabis died in early May, I think it was. He was credited with one of the rare Arab non-defeats during the 1948 was. He’d successfully defended the “Latrun Salient.” He spoke no English, so I used to see him. I had friends in the court circle. That is where the power lay. There was always something for me to do—in support of Dean, but you know, it was the King and the Ambassador. In such times, important decisions quickly rise up to the top of the decision tree.
Q: Was there an appreciable diminution of the influence of Nasser and Nasserism during this time?
HORAN: Yes. Of course, he died that same month, but even by then he had shown himself to be ineffective. His place in people’s hearts was still there, but “Nasserism” as a movement had been checked. The results were pretty depressing for the left wingers, Arab radicals. Poor Jamal! He was so like the Robert E. Lee, the Bobby Lee of Arab nationalism.
Q: What about Syria and Iraq? Did either of these go rumbling off in the sand or were they sort of distant thunder or was it a real concern?
HORAN: The Syrians had been thrashed by the Jordanians. Syria had sent its tanks in without air cover and were mauled by the Jordan Air Force. Jordan had put a blocking force between Amman and al-Azraq, where the Iraqis lay. Whatever the Iraqis intentions might have been, it soon became apparent that the moment had passed. Once the fighting was over, it was over.
Q: Well, then in February ’72, whither?
HORAN: A bit of a fairy-tale story? I had been control officer for Secretary Rogers’ May, 1971 visit. It was a very successful visit, you know. A big love in. All I did was work on the briefing papers, motorcades, and try to smooth out a packed agenda. I did a little interpreting at the State dinner for the Secretary. The Jordanians liked me. “Here’s this khawaja (gringo) who speaks Arabic.” This all by way of background.
Then one day Dean Brown called me in and said, “I have heard that Secretary Rogers passed down word to get Horan a good job.” I said, “Oh!” Dean: “Yes, you’re being considered for DCM in Jeddah.” Unbelievable! I tell you I wanted to dance on the ceiling. I was only an FS0-3.
END OF ORAL TRANSCRIPT EXCERPT
MAY 23, 2001
January 22, 2002