Book Review: The Ottoman Endgame

The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Sean McMeekin. Published by Penguin Books, 2016

5/5

This is a well written, well researched study of the military situation of the Ottoman Empire before and during the First World War. It provides a refreshing perspective, focusing on the Ottomans themselves, as oppose to the powers that destroyed their empire. It takes the time to review the situation in the Balkans and highlighting the Ottoman’s desperation as the British cooled on them and Russia licked its lips, eying its territory. The only country willing to offer a friendly hand was Germany and thus the Ottoman’s fate was sealed. By siding with Germany, they turned themselves against those who had once protected their land (the British, in their everlasting Great Game against Russia).

McMeekin does a fantastic job shifting the focus from the West (and Britain’s designs on the Ottoman Empire) to the East, focusing on what the Ottoman’s hoped to gained from the war and how Russia dedicated the Allies’ foreign policy in the region-even after the Bolshevik Revolution. It was the Russians who forced the British to launch their Gallipoli Campaign and support an Arab Revolt, it was the Russians who forced Germany to send envoys to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and it was the collapse of the Russian Empire that convinced Enver Pasha that he could reclaim ‘Turkish’ lands in Central Asia-extending his overstretched supply and communication lines and waste the lives of soldiers the Ottomans desperately needed to counter the Arab Revolt and Allenby’s march.

McMeekin also does a great job analyzing internal Ottoman politics, arguing that the Ottomans had masterfully played the German diplomats in 1914, forcing them to pledge their assistance and military support without the Ottomans even formally declaring war against any of the allies.

While the Middle Eastern campaign in the First World War has been written about frequently, those accounts often focused on the British efforts, strategy, and failures. Even when discussing the Arab Revolt, the focus is on Lawrence and Allenby and Bell, not on the Turks or the Arab fighters, such as the Hussein family. Most accounts also try to fit the Middle Eastern campaign within the context of the Western Front, whereas McMeekin fits it where it belongs-within the Eastern Front, focusing the Ottoman’s ancient enemies, providing clarity to what had once been thought of as a haphazard and non-existent strategy.

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