Sunday, September 7, 2008

The First Middle Eastern Coup: The U.S. Starts It All in Syria

I'm right in the middle of looking for a topic write about for my "American and the Middle East" research paper. And I came across something... interesting.

Apparently, in the 1940s, the United States wanted to undertake a project called the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (TAPLINE). The enterprise, which would transport oil from Saudi Arabia to Europe and the eastern United States via Lebanon, was created to save millions of dollars in terms of oil transport costs. The pipeline’s route went through Jordan, over the Golan Heights in Syria, and ended at Sidon in Lebanon, rather than snaking along the original, significantly longer, transport route through the Persian Gulf and Suez Canal. It was the greatest industrial project of its time.

The terms of TAPLINE, however, weren't in the interests of the Syrian government. There was a democracy in Syria at the time, and the Syrian leaders collectively refused to support TAPLINE. Around that time, a magical coincidence occurred. A military coup by Husni al-Zaim overthrew the resisting Syrian government, replacing it with one much more compliant with American interests in the Middle East. The first act this new government took was to approve the pipeline, and construction went ahead through Syria.

Recent studies on America and the Middle East have shed light on the events that led to the al-Zaim coup. It now appears that the CIA was involved in this first coup in Syrian and Middle Eastern history. CIA agents Miles Copeland and Stephen Meade, acting military attachés in Damascus, helped al-Zaim orchestrate the event and sparked the necessary fires in domestic Syrian politics that allowed the coup to take place.

It was the beginning of Syrian-U.S. relations that would later turn very sour.

I can't wait to find out more about this early stepping stone in Syrian-American relations. With Damascus gaining ground on the international stage, studying Syria is becoming crucial to understanding just how the Middle East ticks, and how America has historically tried to deal with the region.

I'll post up any interesting updates as I make my way through this research paper over these next few weeks.


TEK2022 said...

Even Syria?
Then I guess its safe to say that the only Arab governments that are not American puppets are the ones which fell.

Nicholas Karavatos said...

"CIA agents ... helped al-Zaim orchestrate the event and sparked the necessary fires in domestic Syrian politics that allowed the coup to take place."

I'm not denying this - why would I? - but why was it so easy? Why were events and people's hearts and minds so easily manipulated?

These events do not occur in a vacuum.

(The insatiable love of conspiracy relieves people from responsibility, doesn't?)

How true do you think this statement is: "April 11, 1949: The defeat of Arab forces by Israelis has shaken confidence in Syria's parliamentary democracy. A Syrian general, Husni al-Zaim seizes power in a bloodless coup and temporarily imprisons Syria's president, Shukri al-Kuwatli."

Should we feel oh so sorry for People who gave up their democracy without a fight? Maybe the People had no faith in it? Is there evidence to the contrary?

Poor me, big bad USA tricked us poor Arabs again! Is that it? If the Syrians loved their hard won parliment, why did they roll over and play dead? "Give me liberty or give me death," a real patriot would have said, right? "We must hang together or we will hang separately," a real patriot would have said, right?

It has been suggested that the Syrian Social Nationalist Party was a co-conspirator in the coup. Do you have info on that?

Unlike Syria in Lebanon, there wasn't an unending stream of assassinations and car bombs. The population simply went along with General al-Ziam. Why would they? Cosmic American mind control? [Cue creepy music.]

The people of Syria gave it all up without a fight.

Or did they?

Can't wait to hear more.

TEK2022 said...

*applauds to Nicholas*
i agree 100%

Nicholas Karavatos said...

Azza Bint Sultan (American University of Sharjah) wrote
at 10:30pm: "It is indeed very shocking! it's really very interesting to see how The modern Syrian state has transformed from being a U.S. Allie to what it is nowadays!"

I wouldn't say Syria was a US ally before the coup, nor after.

General al-Zaim was later overthrown by other Syrian military figures and executed (not by Americans but by his fellow Syrians).

I wonder if two US agents and a checkbook can be held so responsible for the downfall of a government. We're talking about an extremely weak governemnt: a parliament that Syrians did not fight to preserve.

I also think if we are "shocked" then we are very naive about how any structure of power is organized and maintained, here in the Middle East or elsewhere.

The binary logic of good & evil is irrelevent. This is the logic of pure power, which is the chess game the big boys play.

The Bolsheviks siezed total power in the pluralistic Russian Revolution.

In Iran, the pluralistic revolution was not "Islamic" until total power was siezed by the mullahs.

If the people themselves will not demand moral and ethical accountability from the power elite, on what basis do the people bitch, moan, whimper, cry, and blame?

Abdülmecid II said...

Hmm... the source you're using may be a bit wobbly - see this review:

Nour Merza said...

Prof. Karavatos - you just love being provocative, don't you? =)

I'm not completely rejecting your points (like you're not completely rejecting mine), but I don't think we can compare U.S. power to Syrian power at the time of the coup. Syria was a fledging country, having just come out of the colonial system. The U.S. was much better established, and had greater experience with all aspects of the political and military world on an international level. It was in no way an equal fight.

"Give me liberty or give me death" is a little too rosy a picture of politics and nationalism, don't you think? Plenty of countries with immensely popular leaders and nationalistic populations have resisted foreign intervention in their internal affairs. But against global giants like the U.S., they fought for liberty and got death. Syria and al-Zaim aside, look at Iran's Mosaddeq and Chile's Allende.

History is telling us something here.

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