Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East

In This Review

Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East

By Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac
Norton, 2008
480 pp. $27.95
Purchase

The years from the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 to the British debacle in the 1956 Suez crisis spanned what Elizabeth Monroe in her classic work called "Britain's moment in the Middle East." It was a period of imperial domination characterized not by outright colonial rule, as with the British Raj in India or British rule in the African colonies, but by a mix of treaties, mandates, and kingmaking. Meyer and Brysac use a dozen short biographies to tell the story of this era. Their list of characters includes, as would be expected, T. E. Lawrence, Lord Cromer, Gertrude Bell, Sir Mark Sykes, and Glubb Pasha. Among the others are Lord Lugard, Harry St. John Philby, and several other individuals involved in the United Kingdom's post-World War I initiatives in Iraq and Iran: Sir Arnold Wilson plus "the three Percys" -- Cox, Sykes, and Loraine. The authors then, in an intriguing innovation, turn to three American "kingmakers" in the Middle East: two from the CIA -- Kermit Roosevelt (leading the 1953 coup in Iran) and Miles Copeland, Jr. (championing clandestine activities during the 1950s) -- plus Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (pushing for the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq). It all adds up to a well-researched and readable account of first British and then U.S. efforts to manage the Middle East.