Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East

By Priya Satia | Go to book overview

8
Covert Empire

At the basis of bureaucracy as a form of government… lies [the]
superstition of a possible and magic identification of man with the
forces of history. The ideal of such a political body will always be the
man behind the scenes who pulls the strings of history.… The two
key figures in this system, whose very essence is aimless process, are
the bureaucrat on one side and the secret agent on the other.

—Hannah Arendt, The Origins of
Totalitarianism
, 1951

Agents’ individual acts of cunning were but a drop in an ocean of lies; even the Arab Revolt, particularly the freedom that was its object, was a ruse, one that troubled some agents (Lawrence’s pricks of conscience are famous), although never enough to cause them to desist from complicity in it. They knew its aim was merely, as Sykes put it, “the façade of an independent Arab Empire.” Likewise, the Baghdad civil administration was informed in no uncertain terms that “free” Mesopotamia was to be a British protectorate administered behind an Arab “façade.” Such were the auspicious foundations of the postwar empire in the Middle East for which air control provided the material, if ethereal, coercive foundation. On the ground, the agents ran the show. “The British agent-Orientalist… during and after World War I took over both the role of expert-adventurer-eccentric… and the role of colonial authority, whose position is in a central place next to the indigenous ruler,” writes Edward Said. In fact, their position was not so

-263-

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Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents xi
  • Note on Arabic Spellings xiii
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I- War and Hope 21
  • 1- The Foundations of Covert Empire 23
  • 2- The Cultural World of the Edwardian Agent 59
  • 3- The Failure of Empiricism and How the Agents Addressed It 99
  • 4- Cunning in War 137
  • 5- Imperial Expiation 165
  • Part II- Peace and Terror 199
  • 6- Official Conspiracy Theories and the Wagers of Genius 201
  • 7- Air Control 239
  • 8- Covert Empire 263
  • 9- Seeing like a Democracy 287
  • Conclusion 329
  • Notes 339
  • Selected Bibliography 409
  • Index 443
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