The Arab Bureau: British Policy in the Middle East, 1916-1920

The Arab Bureau: British Policy in the Middle East, 1916-1920

The Arab Bureau: British Policy in the Middle East, 1916-1920

The Arab Bureau: British Policy in the Middle East, 1916-1920

Synopsis

Founded in 1916, the Arab Bureau was a small collection of British intelligence officers headquartered in Cairo and charged with the task of coordinating imperial intelligence activities in the Middle East. It is most often remembered for its flamboyant cast of characters, particularly T. E. Lawrence, and its role in instigating the Arab Revolt to break Turkish control over the Arab-speaking Middle East. From the beginning, however, the Bureau was vilified within imperial circles as a group of amateurish and incompetent pro-Arab dilettantes. And ever since, it has borne much of the blame for Britain's terrible mishandling of Middle Eastern policy during and shortly after World War I.

In this first full-length study of the Arab Bureau, Bruce Westrate challenges these stereotypes and reassesses the role that the Bureau actually played within imperial policy-making circles that stretched from London to Cairo to Delhi. Through close analysis of personal papers and Foreign Office records, including Arab Bureau documents, Westrate concludes that Bureau members were in fact sober-minded strategists who were skillfully working to secure the region for imperial interests.

Excerpt

The historical rhythms of the Middle East seem timeless. At this writing, nearly one-half million Americans stand at the ready in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, poised to spring against Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and the hegemonic dreams of its new dictator, Saddam Hussein. And while the Middle East assumes, yet again, its place at center stage in world affairs, the recurring image is stark. The actors in this venerable drama change with time, but its plot seems hauntingly familiar. Perhaps this is why Middle East crises, above all others, appear to fit so nicely into the apocalyptic fantasies of biblical literalists.

For all the economic promise afforded by the region's vast petroleum reserves, the transition from the old world to the new remains fitful and despairingly incomplete. Confronted by the eternal hobgoblins of sect . . .

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