As with Lawrence, these other competitors in the field tended to be young, wholly untrained for the missions they were given, and largely unsupervised. And just as with their more famous British counterpart, to capitalize on their extraordinary freedom of action, these men drew upon a very particular set of personality traits—cleverness, bravery, a talent for treachery—to both forge their own destiny and alter the course of history. Among them was a fallen American aristocrat in his twenties who, as the only American field intelligence officer in the Middle East during World War I, would strongly influence his nation’s postwar policy in the region, even as he remained on the payroll of Standard Oil of New York. There was the young German scholar who, donning the camouflage of Arab robes, would seek to foment an Islamic jihad against the Western colonial powers, and who would carry his “war by revolution” ideas into the Nazi era. Along with them was a Jewish scientist who, under the cover of working for the Ottoman government, would establish an elaborate anti-Ottoman spy ring and play a crucial role in creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. If little remembered today, these men shared something else with their British counterpart. Like Lawrence, they were not the senior generals who charted battlefield campaigns in the Middle East, nor the elder statesmen who drew lines on maps in the war’s aftermath. Instead, their roles were perhaps even more profound: it was they who created the conditions on the ground that brought those campaigns to fruition, who made those postwar policies and boundaries possible. History is always a collaborative effort, and in the case of World War I an effort that involved literally millions of players, but to a surprising degree, the subterranean and complex game these four men played, their hidden loyalties and personal duels, helped create the modern Middle East and, by inevitable extension, the world we live in today.
Scott Anderson (Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East)