Update: Hear our interview with Amanda Matti, author of A Foreign Affair, (originally aired on KNSJ radio) by clicking the audio link here.
A Foreign Affair, by Amanda Matti (W & B Publishers, Kernersville, NC, 2016, 343 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
December 1, 2016 (San Diego) - Amanda Matti, an El Cajon (San Diego) resident who served six years in the United States Navy, including a 2005 deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, has written a riveting true story of romance and war; A Foreign Affair. Matti provides graphic details of her experience in a war that many in this country felt never should have been.
This is a well-written book by Matti that gives rare and personal insight into what it must have been like for our soldiers on the ground, in a very controversial war. She takes the reader to this desolate area by describing the sometimes 120 degree weather and the clear and starless sky, in such a way that one feels as if they are actually there.
Can love exist between two diverse individuals whose countries are at war? When Amanda, a 22-year-old US Navy Intelligence Analyst, deploys to Baghdad, Iraq in the summer of 2005, she does her best to prepare mentally and physically to face the horrors of war. What she isn’t prepared for is to fall in love…with someone on the “other side.” For Amanda and her Iraqi translator Fahdi, it’s love at first sight. While serving together near the front lines of the Iraq War, the two realize their connection transcends cultures, countries and politics. Amanda knows she may have to choose between Fahdi and her career in the military, but actually finds herself at the center of an international criminal investigation spearheaded by a trifecta of US government agencies – the NSA, CIA and NCIS.
This is a very revealing book about us as a society, about us and human nature, the frailties of life! Matti’s frailties comes across quite succinctly in this heartfelt memoir, which at times seems no different than those of myself or the reader.
Yes, A Foreign Affair is a love story in the midst of the Iraq war, but what intrigues and resonates with me is a profound statement made by the author in this book; “Our main mission was to help the Iraqis become self-sufficient in conducting intelligence operations to support their own free government. Our secondary goal was a simple public relations mission to prove we didn’t invade only to kick Saddam’s ass and leave, but that we were genuinely interested in helping Iraq establish a functioning democratic government.” Of course, all this could be considered revisionist history by Matti!
Spurred by a draconian double-standard, investigators quickly compile a speculative list of offenses Amanda may have committed; one being having fallen in love with an Iraqi native. Together Amanda and Fahdi defy governments and cause international scandal as they fight for justice and love. A true story of romance and war, but above all, an epic love that overcomes incredible odds. Matti finds herself being accused of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Articles #192 and #34 for failing to disclose an unauthorized foreign contact and improper transfer of classified information, due to her falling in love with an Iraqi national.
Matti was expected to sign a form presented to her by the government stating: “Due to these violations, I understand that I am suspected of illicit disclosure of classified information and espionage.” All this possibly due to her own naivete, which is what love sometimes does to you! And speaking of naivete and vulnerability, Matti shares in this book a revelation with Fahdi that she had a failed marriage at the tender age of 18, during one of those open and poignant moments that they initially shared with each other in Iraq.
Not to appear judgmental, but was Matti really that naïve? Especially considering the revelation she made in her memoir, of her current husband, Fahdi, was once one of Uday Hussein’s personal body guards. Mind you, Uday Hussein was the son of Saddam Hussein! Once this was revealed to Matti by Fahdi, she vehemently stated to him: “I don’t believe this. The simple fact that you’re a native Iraqi has us in deep enough trouble already. The fact that you used to fucking work for Uday Hussein does not help our situation at all!”
Incredulously, Fahdi actually admitted to Matti in this book that he enjoyed working for Uday Hussein in a response to her inquiry, by stating: “Honestly, yes. I made good money. I was given privileges and benefits that were really pretty awesome. It was a good time. I got to go to awesome parties and do a lot of cool stuff.”
Readers of this insightful and well-written book will draw their own conclusions, as I have, despite and because of what the author has written.
The way Matti describes Iraq and her involvement in this book, it was reminiscent of the movie Zero Dark Thirty with Jessica Chastain. Perhaps A Foreign Affair could be developed into a movie also, as the author has provided the type of riveting and emotional material worthy of a screenplay or movie. It has the intrigue and drama seen in a number of movies. Brad Pitt’s new movie Allied also come to mind, with his wife in the movie suspected of being a Nazi spy.
This epic memoir could very well have been titled Love is Blind or Sleeping With the Enemy, as opposed to A Foreign Affair.
Many people came down hard on Matti besides the government, for her illicit affair with Fahdi, including and especially her ex-boyfriend Shawn. As a matter of fact, Matti indicates in her book that it was actually Shawn that turned her in to the authorities. Shawn indicated that his pride was hurt, due to his finding out through the internet that Matti was sleeping with what he described as a “sand nigger.”
This revelation on the part of Matti’s ex-boyfriend Shawn is actually quite revealing in and of itself, as one could possibly see it as his actions towards Matti when they were together and prior to her going to Iraq, driving her into the arms and affections of Fahdi. In a poignant moment when coming back home from Iraq, Matti actually strikes out at Shawn by attempting to justify her relationship with Fahdi, indicating that in the few short months she was with Fahdi he treated and respected her better than all the time they were together.
Her own father came down hard on her, by stating: “The government doesn’t play around with stuff like this, Mandy, they don’t want you to associate with this guy and, quite frankly, neither do I. They can put you in prison. Do you understand that? Ever heard of a place called Leavenworth? If you don’t cut him out of your life, they will do it for you. You’re playing with fire and you’re going to get burned. This man is not right for you. He is from a completely different culture and he will never accept or understand who you are. I know you think you’re in love, trust me, you’re not; there’s no way. You spent less than four months together. You two hardly know anything about each other. You’re from two opposite worlds and the odds are stacked against you. A successful marriage is an impossibility.”
The author even had her sympathizers, among those assigned to investigate her on suspicion of illicit disclosure of classified information and espionage, who stated: “You’re a good person, Amanda, and I know how awful you’d feel if you were responsible for helping a person with bad intentions get into this country. But even putting that aside, you have to at least acknowledge the possibility that you are at least being used. Fahdi could very well simply be using you to get to the U.S. And I’m not even saying he’s a terrorist mastermind or anything even close to that – chances are, he isn’t. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still using you just for a green card.”
Matti references Fallujah and the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in such a way, that resonates with me and I am sure will all other readers of this book. The horrific scenes of murder in Fallujah, as well as the documented torture of Iraqi citizens by our government at Abu Ghraib are shameful. A video documentary that I have been provided by the ACLU; “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, by Rory Kennedy, puts into perspective what Matti had to endure while in Iraq.
Matti actually found herself apologizing to Fahdi while she was in Iraq for what we (USA) did in and to his country, which is quite poignant.
The aftermath of the Iraq war has shaped and determined our society and politics, and elevated Barack Obama and Donald Trump to the presidency, along with bringing about the rise of ISIS. It has destroyed and subjugated what was once known as Iraq, and brought about such brutality and torture, as depicted in Abu Ghraib. Matti’s book even questions if it was all worth it, through the words of her husband Fahdi: “You guys shouldn’t have ever come here – well, you-you know what I mean. I’m glad the U.S. invaded because it brought me you, but that’s the only good thing that came out of this whole ridiculous mess.”
While Matti was undergoing the scrutiny of a military tribunal here in the U.S., Fahdi was being beaten and tortured by Iraqi and Iranian insurgents in a jail in Iraq for his perceived complicity with the American government. It seemed as if Matti and Fahdi were catching it from all sides, their own and opposing governments.
The author notes that on March 7, 2006, she received the news that she had been hoping to hear for months, that the joint NCIS/NSA criminal investigation against her had been closed as no substantial evidence was found to merit the pursuit of any charges in a federal court.
There is actually a silver lining to this story, for after all Amanda and Fahdi had to endure because of their love for each other in Iraq, they now currently reside in El Cajon (San Diego) as husband and wife – and the proud parents of their two young daughters, Elise and Elaina. I can’t wait to see the movie! The podcast interview below with the author on our "East County Magazine Live!" radio show is most revealing.
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine and he is the book review editor of SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, along with being a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore can be contacted at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.