March 18, 2005


Syria, US: Honeymoon and heartbreak: Over the past six decades the US-Syria relationship has had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster ride; currently it's in a deep dip. It need not be like this, though, unless that is how the two countries want it. (Sami Moubayed, 3/20/05, Asia Times)

In December 1990, US secretary of state James Baker described Syria as "a major Arab country who happens to share the same goals as we do". In December 2004, US President George W Bush said, "Syria is a very weak country, and therefore it cannot be trusted." The huge difference in US policy toward Syria over these 15 years shows, if anything, how difficult it is today to mend a very fractured and perhaps irreparable relationship.

At the end of World War I, the US became a dream for many Syrians, as the land of equal opportunity, freedom and democracy. Coming out of 400 years of Ottoman occupation, the Syrians were enchanted by the 14-point declaration of president Woodrow Wilson. In 1919, Wilson dispatched a fact-finding commission to Syria to inquire on public opinion toward establishing a French Mandate in Syria. The team, known as the King-Crane Commission, toured Syrian cities and villages, meeting with Syrians from all walks of life.

The result was an overwhelming majority refusing a French Mandate in Syria, claiming that if they were to be tutored on nation-building and democracy by a foreign power, they would prefer that this be done by the United States. Today, 86 years later, if a fact-finding commission were to arrive in Damascus, sent by Bush, it would find results very different from those of 1919. This article tries to show where and why things went wrong between Syria and the US. [...]

President Ronald Reagan was highly critical of Syria throughout the 1980s, and his successor, president George H W Bush, wanted to punish Syria for its alliance with the mullahs of Tehran, accusing it without evidence of the bombing of the US Marine Corps contingent at Beirut's airport in October 1983, which left 241 dead, and the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, killing 17 Americans.

Yet, in light of the Gulf War, Bush realized that as much as he would have loved to punish Syria for its anti-Israel and anti-American activities, he needed Syria to prevent the occurrence of similar activities.

The Realist betrayal of the post-WWI and post-WWII dreams of such nations carried with it an awful price.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 18, 2005 12:00 AM

Even nations have to catch their breath, OJ. 1929-45 was a bitch.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 18, 2005 12:10 PM

46-80 was worse. It was soul death rather than physical death.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 12:20 PM

Point granted. But our national appetite for blood, sweat and tears had been sated.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 18, 2005 2:20 PM

One provocation, real or faked, and our blood would have been back up.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2005 2:41 PM

The US should have killed Hafez Assad when he kept Warren Christopher waiting over 6 hours for an audience. Of course, Christopher was a complete jackass for just not walking out after 10 minutes.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 19, 2005 9:41 AM