Whether you’re preparing for The Islamist Entanglement or just reading on your own, here’s a suggestion for a great background story to the modern Middle East – Britain and the Middle East, From Earliest Times to 1952 by Sir Reader Bullard.
You’ll find out that the United States was not the first Western power to conquer Baghdad, nor the first whose population clamored to “bring back the troops.” The story of Britain in the Middle East is rife with lessons for the today’s only superpower. The Empire that once dominated the globe had its “doves” and “hawks”–its advocates of “direct colonial rule” and “indirect rule”–its free traders and protectionists. There is little that the United States faces today that the British Empire didn’t face in its heyday.
Then, if you’d like another take on the story, to supplement this treatment and to see nearly the same picture from the perspective of a key rivalry for central Asia between Britain and Russia, you can try another book, that is also available both through Amazon.Com and as a free on-line edition at GoogleBooks: Sir Henry Rawlinson’s England and Russia in the East.
This work has its drawbacks. If often goes into too much detail, perhaps a reflection of the author’s intimate contact with the subject in the diplomatic service of the British Empire. But the detailed table of contents allows one to read the book selectively, and to examine particularly interesting topics, such as the justifications provided for different foreign policies. Bullard’s work is a superior work, but this is a good supplement.