The Magazine

Picking Up the Pieces

Britain’s conquest of the Ottoman Empire.

Aug 29, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 46 • By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Finally, another fascinating aspect of the British adventure in Mesopotamia was the influence of the “Arabists” or “Orientalists,” e.g., Mark Sykes (of the Sykes-Picot Agreement that allocated postwar British-French spheres of influence and direct control of “Turkish Arabia”), Gertrude Bell, and T. E. Lawrence “of Arabia,” on British policy. For the most part, these individuals projected a romantic image of the Arabs as what we would call “noble savages.” Sykes, for instance, lamented the “contaminating effects” of Western power in the Arab world. Unfortunately, British policy was based on a serious misreading of Arab identity, a problem that persists to this day.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the author, most recently, of U.S. Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.