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Syria and the USA
Washington's Relations with Damascus from Wilson to Eisenhower. Library of International Relations
The conclusion of World War I and the subsequent breakup of the Ottoman Empire led to the independence of a number of Arab nations and resulted in a Western scramble for roles of control and influence over them. It was not until after World War I that Syria and the United States had a formal diplomatic relationship - prior to then the only Americans who had developed a relationship with the nation were missionaries, particularly those involved with the Syrian Protestant College, established in 1866. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire, however, single-handedly brought Syria into the sphere of influence of the Western world, and as Sami Moubayed here illustrates, particularly that of the United States. The relationship between the two nations was by no means uncomplicated, and there were a number of challenges from the years following World War I to the early years of the Cold War.
Though relations were warm between the United States and Syria while Emir Faisal was ensconced in Damascus, Washington saw little point in pursuing an American-Arab alliance, and Faisal's reputation suffered greatly as a result of his relationship with Wilson, particularly with respect to his stance on the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Relations cooled between the two nations during the presidencies of both Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, neither of whom saw any value in being involved in Middle East affairs. However, with the discovery of large oil reserves in the Middle East, as well as Syria's siding with the Allies and declaring war on Nazi Germany, interest in the American-Syrian relationship was greatly revived. As quickly as the relationship warmed though, it also cooled: in the aftermath of World War II, the United States was linked to involvement in a series of coups and counter-coups that destabilized Syria from 1949 until the Syrian-Egyptian union of 1958.
Furthermore, Washington's initially benevolent attitude towards the right to self-determination gradually evolved into one of manipulation, espionage and covert activity during the Cold War when the US considered Syria as a Soviet proxy in the Middle East. The forty years between 1919 and 1959 saw the creation and unravelling of America's relationship with Syria. In this book, Moubayed brilliantly explores the events of these years and, using original research and previously unpublished material, sheds light on an often overlooked subject. Syria and the USA is an essential read for scholars of the Middle East, US diplomatic history and twentieth-century international relations.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
'Syria and the USA is a well-told and entertaining overview of US-Syria relations from World War I to the formation of the United Arab Republic. Sami Moubayed provides the reader with insight into how Syrians view events that are crucial to their political development. He explains how general Syrian attitudes toward the US government changed from admiration to anger over the first half of the twentieth century and explores how US support for Israeli displacement of Arabs in Palestine and military coups in Syria undermined initial attitudes toward Washington. The author's interest in the history of women and cinema in Syria gives this diplomatic history cultural depth and a welcome new dimension.' Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma 'Sami Moubayed is one of Syria's leading scholars and commentators, and he is uniquely qualified to provide important insights into the history of the Middle East in the twentieth century. Anyone wanting to understand how what was an amicable and respectful US-Syrian relationship early in the twentieth century deteriorated by the 1950s into a confrontational one would do well to read Moubayed's book. He weaves together a scholarly yet entertaining tapestry of information that presents the all-too-often ignored Syrian perspective of its relationship with the United States. The US-Syrian relationship today is still fraught with mistrust and misunderstanding. Moubayed shows in his book that this is not a new phenomenon - it has a rich and interesting history.' David W Lesch, Professor of Middle East History, Trinity University 'The history of relations between Syria and the United States up until the 1960s is little known and understood. Sami Moubayed, one of Syria's leading young historians, now offers us a remarkably comprehensive study that illustrates how a positive start in diplomatic relations in the early part of the twentieth century eventually began to unwind in unfortunate ways by mid-century. Using a variety of sources including the US State Department archives and the private paper collections of Syrian political leaders, Moubayed sheds new light on the political intrigue and shenanigans that were so characteristic of the Cold War era. Scholars and foreign policy experts will appreciate the author's efforts at reconstructing the history of an important chapter in America's relationship with the Middle East region.' Philip S Khoury, Ford International Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology