In This Review

Lords of the Desert: The Battle Between the United States and Great Britain for Supremacy in the Modern Middle East
Lords of the Desert: The Battle Between the United States and Great Britain for Supremacy in the Modern Middle East
By James Barr
Basic Books, 2018, 464 pp
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The British Labour government that took power in the summer of 1945 soon concluded that keeping as much of the Middle East’s oil as possible under British rule—and thus within the sterling zone—offered the best, perhaps the only, hope of maintaining the United Kingdom’s place in the first rank of world powers. This conviction became the lodestar of postwar British policy. At first, the prospects looked good. Pro-British monarchs ruled in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, and the Gulf kingdoms. There were, however, two problems with the plan: Arab nationalists wanted no part of British rule, and the United States was willing and able to displace the United Kingdom as the dominant regional power. As Barr describes, the United States did indeed gradually marginalize the United Kingdom in the Middle East. This is a gripping story, and Barr, a gifted narrative historian, tells it well, casting light on both the history of the U.S. presence in the modern Middle East and the dilemmas U.S. policy continues to face there today.