My nomination for the most prophetic statement of 1949 goes to Deane Hinton, the CIA agent that was part of the CIA "Political Action Committee" carrying out a coup in Syria that was suppose to replace the government elected in 1947 with one that would recognize the new state of Israel. The US and US corporations tried hard to influence Syrian elections. Still the "wrong" people got elected, hence the need to implement what would soon become their favorite fall-back strategy, the military coup.
Hinton was kicked out of the group after he told a planning meeting in Damascus:
"I want to go on record as saying that this is the stupidest, most irresponsible action a diplomatic mission like ours could get itself involved in, and that we've started a series of these things that will never end."
They may end one day, but today the Syrian people are still suffering mightily from the reverberations of that insult to Syrian democracy carried out by the United States 63 years ago.
The CIA "made friends" with the head of the Syrian army, Husni al-Za'im. In 1968 a CIA agent, Miles Copeland who was involved wrote all about it in "The Game of Nations." The "Game" referred to a game-playing exercise the CIA did in the 1950s for planning interventions. [The Hollywood movie "Scorpio," starring Burt Lancaster is roughly about this stuff.] Copeland was part of the "Political Action Team" set up to carry out regime change in Syria:
"The political action team suggested to Za'im the idea of a coup d'etat, advised him how to go about it, guided him through the intricate preparations in laying the groundwork for it...Za'im was 'the American boy'."
The 1949 Syrian regime change was the first of many US inspired military coups in the Middle East in the wake of WWII. It was considered a great success; the US was "opening the door to Peace and Progress."
Za'im promised to recognize the new state of Israel but he turned out to be a violent tyrant and only lasted five months before he was overthrown in another violent coup. Just as Hinton had predicted, the US had "opened the door to the Dark Ages" in Syria.
Syria continued to be plagued by military coups throughout the 1950's until a parliamentary system was restore in 1954. By that time, the Syrian people were tired of US meddling and the new government turned to the Soviet Union for support.
In 1957, another CIA plot to change the Syrian government was uncovered and three CIA agents were expelled from the country. This military coup was code-named Operation Wappen, and the CIA man in change was Howard "Rocky" Stone.
That coup failed. Then in 1958, Syria and Egypt merged to form the United Arab Republic, led by President Nasser. By 1961 the UAR was falling apart.
In opposition to Nasser's version of pan-Arabism, the Baath party had been growing in both Iraq and Syria. In 1963 the Baath Party came to power in Iraq in a coup that was largely organized and funded by the CIA. A young party member, age 25, named Saddam Hussein was a CIA "asset" at the time, the CIA gave him a list of 600 communists and democrats to eliminate.
Hafez al-Assad was one of five Syrian army officers that formed a secret committee plotting to bring the Baathist to power in Syria. A month after the Baath came to power in Iraq, the coup in Syria succeeded without the direct aid of the CIA. The Baathist in Iraq and Syria portrayed themselves as socialist and pan-Arabists but Nasser called them fascist.
BBC "That Was The Week That Was" comedy sketch done 2 days after the 1963 coup
While Syria was still a colony, the French practiced a program of divide and rule which deliberately exaggerated the sectarian divisions in the country. These coup leaders followed this practice in establishing their rule. Of the five, three, including Assad were Alawite and the other two were Ismailis, two Shia sects, in this majority Sunni country. Hafez al-Assad quickly captured the leadership by ruthlessly removing, often killing, established Sunni functionaries and replacing them with Syrians from his sect that were loyal to him. By 1969, Assad had eliminated the last of his original co-conspirators.
Adam Curtis, BBC wrote:
Assad believed that this ruthless exercise of power was necessary because of the deep sectarian divisions. It was a strange echo of the American diplomat in 1949 who believed that a military coup was needed to "quarantine" the Syrian people...
Many people think that the United States has no colonial or imperialist responsibility for the current state of affairs in Syria but the history tells another tale.
True enough, the Assad regime is much more of a Russia client, and was a Soviet client before that, and so on the other side of the cold war, in the "anti-imperialist" camp. While it is true that Syria fell out of the US "sphere of influence" after it escaped from the badly bungled repeated coups of the '50s, the practice of rule by sectarian divisions and the sword remained.
While it can not be said that the US had a direct role in putting the regime in power, unlike in Iraq, Iran and so many Latin American countries, it must at least be admitted that US interference in Syrian internal affairs and US attempts to put a strongman in power, prepared a fertile field for this 40 year dictatorship to take root.
While Assad or Son may have never been 'the American boy', they did not represent a type of 3rd world "leadership" the US has traditionally opposed, i.e. brutal military dictatorships in civilian clothes.
The Assad regime has proven to be one that could be bargained with; one that had a price.
Hafez Assad gave up the Golan Heights himself when he was only Defense Minister at the beginning of the 1967 war with Israel and it has been occupied by Israel for as long as the Assads have remained in power.
After the 1973 war, Nixon visited Assad in Damascus and ties got strengthen when many expected Syria to be slapped with sanction.
For a long time they "took" Lebanon off everybody's hands by occupying it between 1976 and 2005. Many observers saw the lack of US as a "green light" to the occupation. As the Middle East Forum Lebanon Study Group put it in their 2000 report:
"[The US] seemed tacitly to acquiesce to continued Syrian ascendancy in Lebanon."
In 1989 the US brokered the Tai'f Agreement between France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria that called for "prompting international support for Syrian―guardianship over Lebanon."
The Assad regime may not have been the CIA's first choice for running Syria, they would rather bring Syria into their fold, but at least he was one of them, corrupt, expensive tastes, fondness for torture and endless detention. He could be guaranteed to not fight too hard for the Golan Heights and to ride herd on the Palestinians, and the Syrians too, for that matter.
In 1991 Hafez al-Assad made common cause with George Bush in attacking Saddam Hussein. Syria supported US imperialism in Operation Desert Storm to the tune of 14,500 soldiers and support personnel.
The two sons had a falling out over Iraq War 2, and George Bush Jr. put Bashar al-Assad on his no-fly list, but this represented an abnormally for US-Syrian relations, there has been no consistent effort to support regime change in Syria.
In 2001 Syria started cooperating with US intelligence in the "War on Terror." That's when the infamous special rendition programs first got going. By 2005, the CIA's special rendition relations with the Assad regime were such a well established fact that this notice was published in the Guardian:
The US embassy in London was forced to issue a correction yesterday to an interview given by the ambassador, Robert Tuttle, in which he claimed America would not fly suspected terrorists to Syria,
President-elect Barack Obama moved to reverse Bush's isolationist policies towards Syria within days
of winning the election in November 2008, and I have already documented the development of this relationship in great detail in Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad
Most activist see US imperialism as having "clean hands" with regards to the conflict in Syria, as compared to say Bahrain or Egypt or Palestine, because the US had nothing to do with creating the current situation.
And while it is true that it is not American made cluster bombs that are raining down on the Syrian people, US imperialism historically has had a whole lot to do with the mess they find themselves in.
Click here for a list of my other Daily Kos dairies on Syria