Lessons from the Early 20th century for the Chaotic, Modern Middle East
By James Stavridis
A Colleague of mine recently watched the Oscar-winning classic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. His brief comment on its merits in regard to understanding the Middle East of today: a cynical shrug of his shoulders and the words “nothing has changed.”
Obviously, in the aggregate, a great deal has changed since the early 20th century, something of which he is actually quite aware. But there is a central grain of truth in his comment, which is that we could profitably spend some time looking at the life and times of Thomas Edward Lawrence, otherwise known to posterity as “Lawrence of Arabia.” From his story emerges some potentially helpful insights that could inform our badly constructed policy, such as it is, toward the region generally and Syria in particular.
Lawrence was born in Victorian England, and his parents moved to Oxford when he was a child. He intensely studied the Arab world there from 1907 to 1910, taking first-class honors in archaeology. He spent time excavating and traveling through the Near East in the run-up to World War I. In the months before the war’s outbreak, he surveyed the Negev Desert (strategically important, as an Ottoman army would have to cross it to attack British Egypt).
Read the Remainder at Foreign Policy