Syria and the USA: Washington’s Relations with Damascus from Wilson to Eisenhower
Sami Moubayed has written a fascinating history of the United States-Syrian relationship during the first half of the twentieth century. The role of the US in the Levant during the 1910s–1950s has received relatively little scholarly attention, a neglect that is not entirely surprising. For most of that period the US exhibited little interest in Syria or the broader Levant. American leaders, including President Woodrow Wilson, grudgingly acceded to British and French claims in greater Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. It was only in the aftermath of World War II, toward the closing years of Moubayed’s narrative, that the US hesitantly took on a great power role in the Arab east, endorsing independence for Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, and taking its first tentative steps in support of the newly established state of Israel.
Seen from the vantage point of Washington, Damascus was a minor capital, largely insignificant, its presence registering only when regional conflicts or global crises brought it briefly into the limelight. It was not until August 1952, six years after the country became independent, that the US appointed an ambassador to Syria. As Moubayed’s thoroughly researched account makes clear, however, the perspective from Damascus was quite different. From the Syrian vantage point, Washington loomed large, its presidents and representatives were objects of fascination, its policies endlessly parsed and debated. Washington’s influence and intentions were invariably seen as consequential, if not existential, for Syria, whether for good or, as Syrians increasingly came to believe as the Cold War unfolded, for ill.