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Shadow of the Sultan’s Realm: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East Asia Turkey Daniel Allen Butler Potomac Books Inc.

29th December 2012 History Books 3 Comments

Daniel Allen Butler is the bestselling author of many books, including Unsinkable: The Full Story of RMS Titanic (1998); Distant Victory: The Battle of Jutland and the Allied Triumph in the First World War (2006); and The First Jihad: The Battle for Khartoum and the Dawn of Militant Islam (2007). He lives in Culver City, California.

The history of the Ottoman Empire spanned more than seven centuries. At the height of its power, it stretched over three continents and produced marvels of architecture, literature, science, and warfare. When it fell, its collapse redrew the map of the world and changed the course of history.

Shadow of the Sultans Realm is the story of the empires dissolution during a tumultuous period that climaxed in the First World War. In its telling are battles and campaigns that have become the stuff of legendGallipoli, Kut, Beersheebawaged by men who have become larger than life: Enver Bey, the would-be patriot who was driven more by ambition than by wisdom; T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), the enigmatic leader of an irregular war against the Turks; Aaron Aaronsohn, the Jewish botanist-turned-spy who deceived his Turkish and British allies with equal facility; David Lloyd George, the prime minister for whom power meant everything, integrity nothing; Mehmet Talaat, who gave the orders that began the Armenian massacres; Winston Churchill, who created a detailed plan for the Gallipoli campaign, which should have been the masterstroke of the Great War; Mustafa Kemal, a gifted soldier who would become a revolutionary politician and earn the name Atatrk; Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary who would promise anything to anyone; and Edmund Allenby, the general who failed in the trench warfare of the western front but fought brilliantly in Palestine.

Daniel Allen Butler weaves the stories of the men and the events that propelled them into a compelling narrative of the death of an empire. Its legacy is the cauldron of the modern Middle East.

Shadow of the Sultan’s Realm: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East

Desert Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia

Once its troops defeated the fading Ottoman forces, Britain had to deal with unanticipated long-term responsibilities. In a book packed with colorful personalities and military and political details, Townshend’s focus on these painful war years spurs the reader to wonder whether 21st-century American leaders would have been more cautious about Iraq if they’d understood this history.
–Elizabeth R. Hayford (Library Journal 20110615)

[A] riveting history of Britain’s initially ill-fated invasion of Mesopotamia (it only became Iraq when the British created that country and gave it a king in 1921), it is difficult to escape the conclusion that foreign powers invariably receive a bloody nose when they intervene in Iraq.
–Justin Marozzi (Literary Review 20110829)

This book is an exquisite history of the excruciatingly difficult, perhaps pointless, often disastrous British invasion and occupation of Mesopotamia between 1914 and 1924…Townshend skillfully limns the diverse and amazing characters who populated Britain’s imperial “moment” in the Middle East. He has a nice touch for personality as well as a prodigious ability to relate military conflict, from the insane courage of soldiers in insect-infested swamps and the acrid, parched hellhole of Kut, where a British army starved and surrendered, to the grander conversations among field marshals, generals, and viceroys. His rendition of the giant battle of British egos, especially among the adventurous upper class, is among the best that I have read…But the great joy in reading Townshend comes from his intimate knowledge of the British Army. Townshend is an historian of movement: the reader can see clearly the British and Indian units attacking–the intrepid engineering on land and water that made the British military so feared and respected in the nineteenth century. With Townshend as a sure guide, the reader can feel the suffering and admire the sheer doggedness of the empire’s soldiers, who in the Mesopotamian campaign fought in some of the worst conditions imaginable.
–Reuel Marc Gerecht (New Republic online )

It is a harrowing story of a failure of strategic vision, policy drift, a massive disunity of effort, and poor execution. For the soldiers tasked with implementing the campaign, it truly was a “desert hell.”
–Mackubin Thomas Owens (Weekly Standard )

The U.S.-led conquest and occupation of Iraq have kept that troubled country in international headlines since 2003. For America’s major Coalition ally, Great Britain, however, this latest incursion into the region played out against the dramatic backdrop of imperial history: Britain’s fateful invasion of Mesopotamia in 1914 and the creation of a new nation from the shards of war.

The objectives of the expedition sent by the British Government of India were primarily strategic: to protect the Raj, impress Britain’s military power upon Arabs chafing under Ottoman rule, and secure the Persian oil supply. But over the course of the Mesopotamian campaign, these goals expanded, and by the end of World War I Britain was committed to controlling the entire region from Suez to India. The conquest of Mesopotamia and the creation of Iraq were the central acts in this boldly opportunistic bid for supremacy. Charles Townshend provides a compelling account of the atrocious, unnecessary suffering inflicted on the expedition’s mostly Indian troops, which set the pattern for Britain’s follow-up campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next seven years. He chronicles the overconfidence, incompetence, and dangerously vague policy that distorted the mission, and examines the steps by which an initially cautious strategic operation led to imperial expansion on a vast scale.

Desert Hell is a cautionary tale for makers of national policy. And for those with an interest in imperial history, it raises searching questions about Britain’s quest for global power and the indelible consequences of those actions for the Middle East and the world.

Desert Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia

  • 3 responses to "Shadow of the Sultan’s Realm: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East Asia Turkey Daniel Allen Butler Potomac Books Inc."

  • Steve Contardi
    8:58 on December 29th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Daniel Allen Butler has written a very good history of the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire and especially how all this translated into the modern Middle East.
    While the book is only slightly more than 200 pages, it is by no means an opuscular study. In reading this book, you will have an excellent background concerning the Ottoman Empire, how it once was spread over three continents until it became known, prior to World War I, as the “sick man of Europe.”
    Complete background is provided of the history building up the Ottoman Empire, as well as their vast accomplishments and their decline, which lasted over centuries.
    Just prior to the Great War, their possessions in the Balkans were slipping away and the power of the sultan was nothing like it had been in the days of Suleiman the Magnificent.
    The Ottomans were victims of European power plays in the Balkans and by 1908, the “Young Turks” had overthrown the sultan. While their possessions were spread into the Middle East, Arabs were dissatisfied with their ideas of a secular instead of cleric government, and their lack of support meant that over the years, the Ottoman Empire could barely lay claim to the area, as their ability to govern and regulate was minimal.
    Kaiser Wilhelm looked to make the Ottomans a vassal state dependent on Germany and provided military assistance during the war. The three pashas governing at that time were in over their heads, and even though they were successful in beating off the Allied invasion at Gallipoli, the rulers stayed in the war to the detriment of themselves and their nation.
    The book also presents a thorough accounting of the war in the Middle East, which was ultimatly an Allied victory, even though one British army surrendered (for more detail on this, read “Desert Hell The British Invasion of Mesopotamia” by Charles Townshend).
    Butler lays out the geography of the area and the reader can begin to understand how the area was cut up and divided and quickly became a boiling pot of frustrations for many of the native people.
    The massacre in Armenia is covered and the author rightly shows how horrible it was and how very controversial it still is today, with disputes raging as to the number of victims and whether or not it could be or should be classified as genocide, as well as information on the prominent figures of that time, including Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, General Edmund Allenby, Mustafa Kemel, and a host of others.
    This book will provide the reader a good base of knowledge not only of the Ottoman Empire but the developments in the world map after the collapse at the end of the war.
    I would highly recommend.

  • Eran Davidov
    18:40 on December 30th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This is an outstanding book about the campaign in Mesopotamia in World War I. It differs from A.J. Barker’s book The Neglected War(1967)/The First Iraq War(2010) in that Townshend spends more time discussing the strategic and political sides of the conflict instead of the purely military fight. Townshend believes that the conflict was less a well thought out enterprise but instead a case of mission creep on a massive scale. He points out that at several critical moments in the conflict, the mission creep assumed a momentum of its own. Townshend continues the book after the war ended to discuss the creation of Iraq and the first few years of its existence. He explains what that meant for Iraq and its future. He also discusses the Kurdish question and how they wound up as part of Iraq. The book does not supplant Barker’s book but certainly complements it very well. This book is an important one and a must for every major library, those wanting to understand the early history of Iraq and those interested in World War I.

  • Javik
    1:05 on December 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This book provides and excellent and detailed history of the UK’s military experience in Iraq during WWI. The British involvement in what was then called Mesopotamia (between two rivers) was the result of the unexpected entry of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire into WWI on the side of the Central Powers. The Ottoman Empire at that time included Mesopotamia which the Turkish Government had divided into three provinces (vilayets). The British Government of India (the Raj) considered that Mesopotamia under hostile Turkish control was a direct threat to India. Of course the UK was also concerned about the safety of the petroleum resources in the area. In any event the Raj diverted some elements of the British Indian Army (initially a brigade of the 6th Division) to capture Basra at the head of Persian Gulf to establish a strategic presence in Mesopotamia. Eventually the entire 6th Division under its newly appointed commander General Charles Townshend (no known relation to the author of this book) arrived in Basra. It was followed by even more troops of the Anglo-Indian Army over the course of WWI despite the soon to be notorious parsimony of the Raj.

    The book details the often ill-planned and badly supported efforts by the Anglo-Indian invasion force to advance from Basra along the Tigris-Euphrates River valley to capture Baghdad. Much of the problems the British forces had in Mesopotamia were geographic and logistical largely due to the ignorance of senior officials of the physical difficulties presented by the hot, unhealthy, and frequently impassable river valley between Basra and Baghdad. The advance to the strategically unimportant town of Kut (-al Amara) by Townshend’s entire 6th Division and its subsequent defeat and capture by the Turkish Army demonstrated the difficulties of supplying and supporting forward operating troops in such a geographically hostile place as Iraq. In the end the British built up an overwhelming force that drove the Turkish Army from Mesopotamia and won control of what was soon renamed Iraq (Irak) for the UK and Anglo-Indian Governments.

    At the end of WWI the chief concern of the UK Colonial Office that was given control of Iraq was how to get UK military forces out of Iraq yet still maintain the mandate over that country given to the UK by the newly formed League of Nations. Which was done in the end, although not without a lot heartburn and confusion on the part of both the UK and Anglo-Indian Governments.

    So the book provides the reader with a good account of one of the last great British Imperial adventures as well as a cautionary tale that should have informed U.S. Policy Makers prior to the ill-starred Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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