When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful)

One of George Orwell’s keenest insights in 1984 is the kaleidoscopic character of modern state-to-state relations, wherein countries go from being allies to enemies and back again, and government spokesmen and the press report on each situation (friendship or enmity) as though it was eternal.

As the US prepares a possible missile attack on Syria, it is worth remembering the times in modern history when Syria was cooperative with the US or even an ally (yes). I’m not sure on whom this record of cooperation reflects worse, but it shows it is a Realist world out there…

1. In 1976 as the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Muslim and Druze allies were poised to take over Lebanon, Syria received a green light from the US and Israel to invade and put them down, strengthening the right wing Christian militias that were rivals to the PLO.

2. In 1985 Syria intervened with hijackers holding passengers on a US airliner hostage in Lebanon to free them, and was thanked when it succeeded by president Ronald Reagan.

3. In 1989, Syria supported US and Saudi attempts to broker a deal among Lebanon’s warring factions, leading to the Taif Accords that brought the Lebanese Civil War to an end.

4. Syria fought as an ally of the US against Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991.

5. In the 1990s, Syria attended several peace summits aimed at ending the Israel-Palestinian struggle. Then President Hafez al-Assad accepted George H. W. Bush’s invitation to talks, and later he met with President Clinton during the latter’s diplomatic push.

6. After 2001, the US sent captured al-Qaeda operatives to Syria to be tortured by that country’s secret police.

7. Syrian intelligence let the United States know when it discovered an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US Fifth Fleet navy HQ in Bahrain.

36 Responses

  1. After more 100,000 deaths, maybe it is time to for the USA to depart from these kind of allies.

  2. They also right after 9/11 handed over a list of locations in Europe of al-Qaeda to the former cia station chief they trusted. Then he sent it to his counterparts in Europe before returning home to a mad as hell bush wh they didn’t want share the info. I’ve never been able to find the link for this and maybe someone here can.

  3. It is worth remembering the times in modern history when Syria was cooperative with the US

    Similar to Libya, also attacked by U.S.
    Remarks by Ambassador Gene A. Cretz
    at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Friday, June 4, 2010 (excerpts)

    “The United States and Libya have just embarked on the second year of fully renewed diplomatic relations – including the first exchange of Ambassadors in 36 years. In previous speeches, I have made – and will continue to make – the case that continued engagement with Libya is in our long-term national interest. . .Today, Libya remains a strong ally in countering terrorism in a volatile region. . .”

    Which then changed to..
    Clinton on Qaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.”

  4. Professor Cole,

    I was curious if you had any thoughts or reflections on Friedman’s column on Syria in today’s New York Times?

    • This comment by a reader provided me with some catharsis; I hope it does the same to you. I cannot believe the NYT allows Friedman to defecate all over their paper, every time.

      “Until quite recently, Europeans too had been killing each other for centuries. And the atrocities they committed in the 20th century make Assad look like a rather pleasant and civil man.

      So please, Mr. Friedman, drop the ethnocentricism. We would all do well to remember the part that we in the west played in bringing these dictators to power and sustaining them. We would do well to remember the more peaceful and incremental democratization we snuffed out in Iran in 1953; the chaos that our client state Israel helped bring about in Lebanon in the eighties; the dictatorship that was so unnaturally sustained in Egypt for so long so as to protect Israel; the chaos we in America brought to Afghanistan by supporting radical jihadists in the eighties, some of which would later rise to power as the Taliban; the support we gave to Saddam Hussein in the eighties as he and the Iranians bled each other white.

      Of course, we have also done some good in the region. While it may be true that the transitions they must negotiate throughout the Middle East are incredibly difficult, this has been the case almost everywhere a democracy has arisen, and about half the world is now “fully free” according to Freedom House.

      This was a really cynical opinion piece.” -Theo Horesh

  5. Skepticone:
    For the AMERICAN PEOPLE why not show the body bags containing the remains of the fifty thousand young draftees of the Vietnam war returned from serving the dream of our leaders of the day ?

    Background music; “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before”

  6. Dear Professor Cole:

    According to Al-Arabiya, all the intelligence info about Assad’s involvement in Gouta attack is still classified:
    link to english.alarabiya.net

    According to the usual norms of reasonable discussion, there is nothing to talk about. Or maybe I am missing something?

    So, could you please explain, why do you take all this for granted?

    Thanks
    Henry James

    • -
      I just watched WH Chief of Staff McDonough on CNN. He was speaking directly to you and me, Henry James.

      If I understood him correctly, he said that the WH has already proven their case against Assad, and they don’t need evidence. “This isn’t a court of law,” one quote.

      He gave some “circumstantial evidence” about why it makes sense to him that it was Assad behind the attacks, and told me that if he was convinced, that should be good enough for me. I should trust him to make this decision for me.

      What he wouldn’t address was the “intercepted phone call.”
      Maybe the Obama Team realized that we Americans aren’t quite as gullible as they had first assumed.
      -

      • “I just watched WH Chief of Staff McDonough on CNN. He was speaking directly to you and me, Henry James. ”

        On CBS Screw the Nation McDonough indicated that the latest videos on the gassing in Syria were all that was necessary to convict al-Assad. Bob Schieffer had the temerity to suggest that the video didn’t necessarily prove the Syrian military did it. McDonough ignored Schieffer who knew his role in the fawning corporate media and had by that time exhausted whatever powers of interrogation he brought to the show let McDonough stiff him. McDonough clearly indicated that Congress is expected to just accept the videos without any connecting evidence.

  7. ” After 2001, the US sent captured al-Qaeda operatives to Syria to be tortured by that country’s secret police.”

    And at least one totally innocent person, Maher Arar.

  8. Silly little article in the NYT:

    With the World Watching, Syria Amassed Nerve Gas

    …Crucial chemicals and the missiles to deliver them have come not just from nations long allied with the Assad government, like Iran and Russia, but also from China (sometimes operating through North Korea) and a variety of Western nations, the cables and other documents show. In a few instances, American companies became players in Syria’s efforts to add to the sophistication of its stores.

    One of the best-known cases in the United States involved a Waterville, Me., company once known as Maine Biological Laboratories. The company and several top executives were found guilty of allowing a series of shipments to Syria in 2001, including restricted biological agents.

    That was one of several instances that involved deals with American firms, the cables show. In another case, …

    A March 2006 State Department cable from the American Embassy in Damascus described how Syrians seemed to be exploiting trade with the West. “Syrian businessmen regularly report on the ease with which their fellow businessmen illegally import U.S. commodities with seeming impunity, as well as express concerns that the USG’s lack of enforcement of the economic sanctions” are “hurting those that choose to play by the rules.”

    Those transactions presumably included chemicals that could be precursors for chemical warfare.

    The Americans were not the only ones concerned…

    BAAAD SYRIA, BAAD BAAD SYRIA! Go lie down!

    [That headline and various sidetracks in the article are just a little misleading: a good part of "the world" was making a profit and furthering their "national interests" and knocking pawns off the Great Game board.

    Isn't it just fascinating to look behind the BS Mythscreen at what the Great Game actually involves, includes, incurs? One wonders what stake the apologists and other Players might have in continuing the Idiocy of all those little sales transaction that happen because of wink, winkery, and the global and profitable and career-boosting amassing and distribution of weapons of retail, wholesale and MASS destruction.]

    link to nytimes.com

    BAAAD SYRIA! BAAAD BAAD SYRIA! Go lie down! (“Syria” = Assadalawite + Deplorable Bugsplat??)

    • “One of the best-known cases in the United States involved a Waterville, Me., company once known as Maine Biological Laboratories. The company and several top executives were found guilty of allowing a series of shipments to Syria in 2001, including restricted biological agents.”

      Of course, the response to your comment is implied in the New York Times article itself. I read the article in the NYT as well, and if your intent is to implicate the US in this sordid commerce, it fails on the face of it. The top executives of Main Biological Laboratories were charged and found guilty in US District Court. In other words, the US judicial system did its job, and that speaks well indeed for the US Government in this case.

      • If I recall correctly, there are supposed to be organs of the US government, State, CIA, FBI, et cetera, that analyze commerce, even deals that don’t on their face require licenses for technology transfer or because the items being sold for a profit have military applications. In the Modern Environment of “NSA Panopticonia” there’s even more of that. As with 9/11, an ounce of prevention would have been worth the “pound of pretend cure” you want to credit the US Government with. Cat out of bag, bag in jail for a little while? Horse out of barn, barn door locked for 9 months? Oh, and a $3,000 or even $30,000 fine?

        People who want context on this one particular incident can look here, for contemporary reporting. link to mathaba.net Or just search on the company name for more.

        This is only one of hundreds of instances of this kind of behavior, ignored, overlooked, winked at, or actively encouraged by the complex Behemoth personification that is the “US Government.”

        Short Bill: “Comfort ye, my people…sleep, baby sleep…” Short JTM: “Why, again?”

        • Obviously the company in question evaded or circumvented the US export control regime, as when the activity was discovered the top executives were charged and convicted in US District Court. This type of clandestine commercial activity occurs more than you think.

  9. I think it would be more accurate, Dr. Cole, if you substituted “the al-Assad family” most everywhere that you refer to what “Syria” did for us. I’m assuming that the Syrian people, as a whole, did not authorize or necessarily give their consent to all of these actions?

  10. This is a side note, but it seems to me that the primary reason Americans aren’t rallying to Obama’s attempts at persuasion regarding attacking Syria isn’t that Americans were lied into the Iraq war – Obama didn’t lie us into the Iraq War – or because Americans are tired of war (which we are), but because most Americans realize that Obama has been actively lying to us about NSA spying, and this is a very current and fresh set of lies and untruthful downplaying that is obvious to all. This lying by Obama about NSA hasn’t had time to begin to fade from memory.

    • The NSA spying issue is very important to a very small number of people, and they would all have opposed strikes on Syria regardless.

      • Got any cites to support that “very small number of people”? Polling, maybe? Does the universe include people outside the MSMiasma? And it appears that a “very large number of people” as you put it “opposed strikes on Syria.” but keep hammering those talking points… Maybe repetition will make up for idiocy.

    • It wasn’t the first time Obama lied.

      He had Anwar al Awlaki – a US citizen – killed without trial violating his rights under the 5th and 6th Amendments, I believe. Then shortly after Anwar al Awlaki was murdered (is there another word for extrajudicial killing?), Obama gave a speech full of lies about Awlaki. I am not saying he was an angel although shortly after 9/11 TV stations frequently came to him to interview a “moderate imam”. The war on Islam radicalized him and his writings became ever more inflammatory. However all the terrorist deeds Obama ascribes to him do not seem to have been committed by him.

      link to youtube.com

      Jeremy Scahill Dirty Wars is a book that everybody should read. I mostly take my information from this book, two episodes on Democracy Now and some miscellaneous reading on the web.

      link to democracynow.org

      link to democracynow.org

      • Since when does a country need judicial consent to kill an enemy at war? AlQaeda and Awlaki are at war with the US and the rest of west. Why would that be murder?

    • The Detroit Free Press reports that 100 protesters appeared in Detroit’s Hart Plaza to oppose the prospective Syrian intervention by the Obama administration.

  11. “…it seems to me that the primary reason Americans aren’t rallying to Obama’s attempts at persuasion regarding attacking Syria isn’t that Americans were lied into the Iraq war … but because most Americans realize that Obama has been actively lying to us about NSA spying,…”

    Many people among the minority paying attention became skeptical of Obama long before the NSA scandal which was just another reason to not trust him.

    This is from a blurb promoting the book, “Hopeless”:

    “Edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. The election of Barack Obama sparked long-dormant tingles of optimism in even the most entrenched political cynics. But the promise of an Obama revolution fizzled out even before his inauguration, as the president-in-waiting stocked his cabinet with corporate hacks, cut secret deals with Wall Street titans and plotted a bloody escalation of the senseless war in Afghanistan.”

  12. It is tragic that 400 children died in that Gas attack, and any conscientious person would be upset about it. But how about the 500,000+ Iraqi children who died due to the US pushed/enforced UN sanctions against Iraq. Madeleine Halfbright said “it was worth it”. Actually that 500K was only the youngest ones that got counted; it was more like 1,000,000+ that died.

    The US government is such a hypocritical, bullying and corrupt entity that I am ashamed to be a US citizen. Obama is just serving as a useful idiot to complete the NeoCONS master plan for the middle east. He is a coward, always trying to prove his manhood to the military and NSA/CIA/FBI by giving them an open checkbook and permission to violate our rights and the rights of others worldwide. The worst vote of my long life was for Obama, but his administration and lies and the support of the elite Dems has led me to decide to never vote Dem again, only third party or not at all.

  13. Abraham Foxman and leaders of other Jewish organizations have been supporting U.S. interventiion in Syria and some have even been recruiting their membership to send correspondences to their elected representatives to encourage them to vote for such intervention:

    link to palestinechronicle.com the-middle-east/

  14. How few children have to die in a distant country”s civil war before the leaders of the USA, who ever thez are, decide they should not stick thier nose in where it does not belong?

  15. ” After 2001, the US sent captured al-Qaeda operatives to Syria to be tortured by that country’s secret police.”

    That was to give them an appreciation of American values.

    • Assad’s family has been torturing Syrians for 40 years and that is a daily event in Syria. The numbers are in the 100,000s.

      I guess all of that is just dandy, as Assad is suficiently anti-West, except for the three that US sent back home?

  16. Conspicuously missing is the hideous case of Canadian Meher Arar, kidnapped in transit by the USA & delivered for torture to Syria, a Crime against Humanity for which the US refuses to take responsibility, even going to the extent of refusing the wholly cleared Arar from entering the US to pursue criminal charges against the agencies involved.

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