Germany and the Middle East, 1871-1945

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MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Germany and the Middle East, 1871-1945, ed. by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz. Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner Publishers, 2004, 243 pages. Maps, figures, and documents. About the authors. $89.95.

Will the Middle East be the key political region of the 21st Century? The historian, of course, cannot answer this question authoritatively. Nevertheless, in preparing for such an eventuality, the historian can supply basic knowledge about the past, and thus help lay the basis for a far-sighted policy. The anthology published by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz offers valuable insights about the past. It informs readers about the meaning the Orient had as a derivative of intra-European politics from the establishment of the German Reich up to the end of the Second World War.

The "Eastern Question" was a substantial diplomatic constant of the 19th Century. During the 1830s, the European powers made the Middle East a component of the equilibrium among themselves. In the Paris peace treaty of 1856, they internationalized the Eastern Question. Thereafter, any modification of the condition of the exhausted Ottoman Empire required the approval of all of the Great Powers. Within this framework, German Chancellor Count Otto von Bismarck saw the German interests in the preservation of the tensions: other powers, but not the young German Reich, should bind their forces at the edge of Europe and behind.

In a short introduction, Schwanitz describes the development and transformation of the German Oriental Policy until 1945. He recalls the cultural relations of the "German Orient founding years," the German military mission in Turkey, and the economic engagement (notably, the construction of the Berlin-Bagdad Railroad). Not for the first time Schwanitz characterizes the German attempts to provoke rebellions in the colonial back area of their war enemies 1914-18 as a "Jihad made in Germany." After the defeat, Germany lost its influence in the Middle East. For Adolf Hitler, the Middle East had meaning only as a possible battleground. The attempt of Arab nationalists to play the Italian-German card against British and French colonial rule changed nothing. In the conditions of the Cold War, an independant German Middle Eastern policy never recovered its priority. Schwanitz argues that, in the future, Germany has to develop a genuine role in Middle Eastern peace politics.

The seven studies comprising the anthology discuss specific aspects of the German Orientpolitik and its personnel. Thomas L. Hughes' contribution on the German mission 1915-1916 to Afghanistan summarizes this well-known episode. However, the work of Renate Vogel (e.g., Die Persien-und Afghanistanexpedition Oskar Ritter von Niedermayers 1915/1916, Osnabruiick, 1976) is not consulted. Hans Ulrich Seidt's biography of Oskar Ritter von Niedermayer, who led the first German mission in Afghanistan (Berlin, Kabul, Oskau, 2002) is merely tacked on to the notes. …