Lately I've been dipping into David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. This 1989 volume is a diplomatic history, apparently largely based on British records, of the flounderings of British officialdom in the war years. It is history told from the outside and from above; the unfortunate indigenous inhabitants of the region barely appear as Fromkin describes imperial officials trying to figure out whether and how to overthrow the Ottoman regime, Zionists and their sympathizers in Britain asserting their claims to Palestine, and Arab nationalism(s) beginning to surface amid a welter of local rivalries. A mix of confusion, avarice and imperial competition led to the drawing of the boundaries of states between Turkey and Iran, most of which lines still hold today.
If so many people hadn't died, so many lives not been destroyed, and so many future territorial conflicts set up, this story of imperial folly might be humorous -- or perhaps could have been for a detached western hemisphere observer before watching the very similar flounderings of the US empire over the last few decades.
World War I-era imperial Brits were woefully ignorant of opinion in the lands they intended to re-arrange.
I guess these men were the true ancestors of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld -- it's hard to not be reminded of Bushite Washington's enthusiasm for the Iraqi conman Ahmed Chalabi.
After a stumbling start, troops from British India did overrun Ottoman Baghdad and Basra in 1917 -- and then London authorities realized they had no plan how to govern these Iraqi cities.
Naturally these European imperial diplomats never thought of the possibility that the Ottomans, whose empire they considered moribund, might fight them to a standstill. But in fact in the early years of the war, led by modernizing Young Turks, the old empire did just that.
It never occurred to the British that Middle Easterners might resist domination by European conquerors, fiercely and sometimes effectively; the United States made the same mistake in invading Iraq and continues it today in central Asia.
In an afterward, Fromkin explains that, by the end of the exhausting European war, British society had changed so that entrenching the empire in its new Middle Eastern territories was no longer feasible, even if governments didn't yet understand that. He writes:
I believe United States governments will find that our empire too has hit its limits just at the moment when our neo-conservatives thought they had the whole world under their thumb. Let's just hope they don't kill too many more people before they notice.