Historian James Barr discussed his book, Lords of the Desert: Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East, at Caabu event in Parliament

Posted by on 04 Dec 2018

On 19 November 2018, Caabu hosted historian James Barr to discuss his new book, Lords of the Desert: Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East. The event was chaired by Caabu Chair Rt Hon David Jones MP.

He started by referring to a story about Enoch Powell.  He had a conversation with Anthony Eden in the late 1940s.  “I want to tell you that in the Middle East our greatest enemies are the Americans.”

Portraying tensions between London and Washington between 1942 and 1967, Barr’s book includes newly declassified records and the rediscovered memoirs of British journalist-cum-spy John Slade-Baker as source material.

Combining official documents with these personal accounts, Lords of the Desert looks at the 25 years of British-US competition for hegemony in the Middle East that really only ended with the decision of the Wilson government to withdraw from east of Suez.

Barr underlined the significance of interwoven factors during the period: Britain’s attempts to preserve its Empire, the economic and political effects of oil in the region, and the personality of Egyptian President, Gamal Abd El Nasser, who was seen as useful by the US and a threat by the British.  The British fears about Nasser centred not on his links to communism but to Nazism.  The Suez crisis of 1956 was a seminal moment not just for Britain’s decline in the region but the fall of its empire.

Barr also discussed the importance of British-Iranian Oil to the British economy, and US fears of dependence on British oil after the war.  This was yet another tale of British failure in the region, with the removal of the popular Mossadegh in Iran, leading to increasing anti-American and anti-British sentiment that in many ways led to the 1979 revolution in Iran.