'Britain's Moment in the Middle East': was it an imperial triumph or a decisive staging post in the end-of-empire story? Sir Percy Cox (1864-1937) was a vital figure in the history of the British Empire in the Middle East, part of the pantheon with such legends as T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell. As High Commissioner in Iraq from 1920 to 1923 he presided over the birth of modern Iraq - the climax of his career - but left an infant state fraught with political, ethnic and religious problems which have bedevilled Iraq and the Middle East to the present day. John Townsend paints a convincing picture of Britain's global empire - an empire outwardly all-powerful, serene and self-confident but beginning to show the underlying fissures which would bring its end later in the 20th century. And the problems with which Cox grappled were never more pronounced than in Britain's empire in the Middle East. Townsend brings Cox to life as an archetypal patrician proconsul - a dry and self-effacing image which concealed formidable diplomatic, administrative and military skills. He came from landed gentry and, after Harrow and Sandhurst, he served in the Indian Army and the Indian Political Service. He spent the bulk of his career in the Middle East, as a political officer in the Gulf, Chief Political Officer and Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, Acting Minister in Persia, ending his career in Iraq in the Military Government and finally as High Commissioner. But even Cox's inner self-confidence, founded on his belief in Britain's imperial mission, could not conceal his growing anxiety for the future of Iraq and the region. He did not live to see Britain's retreat from the Middle East but on leaving Iraq he seemed to reflect the despairing phrase of his Oriental Secretary, Gertrude Bell, 'the weariness of it all'. This is the first major biography of Cox, based on extensive research in original sources and long experience in the region. It strikingly illustrates the troubled contemporary history of Iraq and the modern Middle East and will become the standard work on Cox.
Proconsul to the Middle East
Sir Percy Cox and the End of Empire