Kingmakers' examines the similar phenomenon of Western meddling and imperialism in the Arabian lands of the Middle East and North Africa, through a series of biographical essays. The subjects range in time and nationality from the British consul-general Lord Cromer, who secured control of Egypt during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to the recent American deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz and his adventures in Iraq. Meyer and Brysac have some captivating stories to tell.
There is the coronation of the Hashemite prince Faisal as king of Iraq, crowned, according to one report, upon a throne hastily constructed from old Asahi beer crates. There is the very different ceremony that installed the former stablehand Reza Khan Pahlavi as shah of Iran in , for which Vita Sackville-West delved wrist-deep in trays of emeralds and pearls from Persian jewel vaults to select his regalia.
Above all, there is the career of T. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, who rode around the Middle East derailing Ottoman supply trains, recruiting mercenariesto the British cause and bribing Arab leaders occasionally by mistake: once, he was so careless as to send 25, pounds in gold to the wrong prince. Finally, Meyer and Brysac describe the modern successors to these interventionist Britons: interventionist Americans, whose eccentricities and failures have been neither less colorful nor less evident Meyer and Brysac provide some fascinating material on American relations with Ibn Saud and the exploitation of Saudi oil.
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The essay on how Wolfowitz convinced himself that what Iraq needed was the imposition of democracy is enlightening and commendably balanced. And the tale of C. Meyer and Brysac conclude that their kingmakers 'erred not through malice or ignorance but through excess of ambition.
Had it played more to its strengths of adding color and depth to the story of American involvement in the Middle East, it could have been accused neither of lacking ambition nor of error. The prince, Abdullah, was a scion of the Hashemite clan; the Englishmen were the archaeologist-warrior T. Lawrence and the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill. Abdullah needed a country to reign over, so the British invented one. As Churchill later recalled, he created Jordan with a stroke of a pen one Sunday afternoon.
If that had been the only caprice the British ever allowed themselves in the Arab world, Karl Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac would have had sufficient reason to write their fine new Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East--for Abdullah got Jordan because the Brits had already granted his brother Faisal an arbitrary patch of desert called Iraq. In fact, the history of British misadventure in the Middle East with a late-innings appearance by some prominent American ringers could have enabled Meyer and Brysac to fill a shelf stretching from Cairo to Tehran. But Kingmakers W. Norton manages to encapsulate a century's worth of misjudgment, overreach, and catastrophe in the most accessible of containers: a series of biographical portraits of true believers, artful game players, and a few heedless twits, all in feverish pursuit of glory, trade routes, and land not to mention the ocean of viscous black stuff bubbling beneath it.
For instance: Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, who earned the nickname Over-Baring even before he presided over Egypt so memorably that 80 years after his death, Egyptians in Britain sought out his grave so they could spit on it.
Or Frederick Lugard, the colonialist who promulgated the theory of indirect rule, aspotless euphemism for a massive bribery scheme that was described as a 'rent a sheik, buy an emir' strategy. Or Glubb Pasha, a. Sir John Bagot Glubb, one of the Arabs' most devoted friends, who incidentally perfected the art of aerial bombing as a means of squeezing tax payments out of reluctant colonials.
Of course, thanks to Peter O'Toole, director David Lean, and his own promotional abilities, the best known of the kingmakers is Lawrence-- the Achilles of the Great War, write Meyer and Brysac, the supporting actor who steals the show. But I'll salute him here for something the authors have exhumed for its contemporary resonance: The people of England have been led into a trap in Mesopotamia from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour, Lawrence wrote in They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information.
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Volume 72 , Issue 2 Summer Pages Related Information.