883.00 TA/5–2851: Despatch

The Chargé in Syria ( Clark ) to the Department of State 1

confidential
No. 533

The Legation has not abandoned effort nor hope that a Point IV agreement may be signed with Syria. We hope that this despatch may soon be supplemented by the news that the general agreement has been signed. If the Syrians do sign the agreement, the present despatch will serve as an indication of problems which will continue to exist. If they do not sign the agreement, it will be an explanation for their failure to do so.

1. The failure of the Syrians to conclude a Point IV agreement is naturally owed to a complex of reasons, but the pervasive one is the Syrian suspicion of the United States because of its attitudes toward Israel. Every argument, every explanation is perverted by this suspicion: “Point IV is for Israel.” “Point IV is a sop thrown to the Arab countries while the U.S. goes about its purpose of strengthening Israel.” “Point IV is an effort to turn the Arab countries over to [Page 1077] American firms and technicians so that they may pass information to the Jews.” The Government officers concerned do not really believe these sayings entirely, but, exasperatingly enough, neither do they entirely reject them. The sophisticated Government servant assures you that the populace cherishes these beliefs and it is the populace whom he must face after signing such an agreement. Or, he may assure you that he is a rational man and believes in Point IV for the good it would do Syria in spite of the U.S. support of Israel, but this problem cannot be settled rationally in such times. Or, he may say, “You Americans are like the British who also sought to impose their will on the Arab world by making the countries dependent on their type of machines, their processes, their type of institution.” Or he may say it is quite rational to refuse Point IV and suffer the consequences if thereby his purpose of enmity against Israel and its friends is served—and here he quotes the Old Testament story, well known in the Moslem world, of Samson who is willing to pull the temple down on his own head if he may thereby kill some Philistines.

2. Interwoven with this sentiment is the extreme economic nationalism made plausible for the time being by extraordinary agricultural prosperity. The Legation will be reporting more precisely some measures of the greater cotton boom in prospect for 1951. If cotton prices do not fall drastically and if the cotton crop is a good one, Syria may well earn LS 200 million more than last year on the cotton crop alone. Much of this will be in foreign exchange, since cotton is principally exported, and though the earnings accrue largely to the private sector, the Government may be able to share in the prosperity through an export tax. In relation to the usual level of economic activity, 1950 should be called nothing less than a boom and 1951 promises to be an expanded boom. This prosperity is Syrian managed, Syrian generated, Syrian achieved, without “Marshall Plan,2 Point IV or any other foreign help.” In volume, the prospective addition to national income is larger than the amount available under Point IV or even under the proposed Grant Aid Program. Under the impetus of nationalism and prosperity, the usually worthy spirit of national self-help has become a spirit of extreme economic isolationism, at least with regard to international economic aid programs. Technical assistance pokes its nose into problems of land ownership, financial institutions, customary ways of doing things. Established interest, economic and political, prefer an autonomous prosperity to the receipt of aid which requires changes in basic institutions.

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3. The rapid turnover of Governments3 has been another impediment to the conclusion of a Point IV agreement. A general agreement was about to be signed when the Qudsi Government fell. With the present Government, the work of explanation and persuasion had to begin anew, not with the director-generals but with the Ministers who must make and take responsibility for the decisions.

4. The multiplicity of institutions proferring technical assistance has been another deterrent to the signing of a Point IV agreement. Syria is not a populous country. As an independent nation it is only a few years old. The civil service is small. Into this setting have come Point IV, UNRWA, WHO, FAO, British Middle East Office, the French, IBRD, the Near East Foundation, and others with offers of technical assistance/economic aid. Those who proffer aid outnumber those who have to make the decisions to receive it and the Syrians come to believe that technical assistance is easily to be had in a beneficiaries’ market. As a consequence, they have little of the sense of urgency of those who offer aid.

5. The list of these causes began with the zeal against Israel which infects all thinking on Point IV. The list ends with a dead weight of inertia which hangs on the consideration of Point TV. The Syrians find it easier and more congenial to complain of the Ex-Im Bank loan to Israel than to prepare an application for a bank loan. In a day of presenting again the desire of the United States Government that Syria sign the general Point IV agreement, Legation officers have been told by responsible Syrian Government officials that the U.S. has refused to give Point IV aid to Syria!4

For the Chargé d’Affaires a.i.:
Paul Geren

Second Secretary of Legation
  1. Copies of the despatch were sent to the Office of the Treasury Representative at Cairo, to the Legation at Beirut, and to Ambassador John Blandford, the United States Representative to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWAP), at Beirut.
  2. The European Recovery Program, introduced by Secretary of State Marshall in his commencement address at Harvard University on June 5, 1947. The text of his remarks and documentation on the early development of this program are printed in Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. iii, pp. 197 ff.
  3. On March 10 it was announced that Prime Minister Qudsi and his Cabinet had resigned after several meetings with the President and Army leaders. After an unsuccessful effort by Khalid al-Azm to form a new government, Qudsi announced on March 23 that he had done so, only to resign a second time on March 24. On March 27, Azm announced formation of a new Cabinet, and on April 7 he weathered a Cabinet crisis with a 52–0 vote of confidence in Parliament with 42 abstentions.
  4. For further discussion of the reasons for the delay in negotiation of a Point Four agreement with Syria, see the memorandum of conversation between McGhee and Jacob Blaustein of June 11, 1951, p. 707.