287. Briefing Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs2

[Here follow parts I and II.]

III. SYRIA AND LEBANON

Syria

Of all the Arab states, Syria is at the present time the most wholeheartedly devoted to a neutralist policy with strong anti-Western overtones. This appears to be due primarily to three factors: (1) the Syrians unlike the other Arabs feel themselves free of need to look to the West for any kind of support or help (they are economically self-sufficient); (2) bitterness over Palestine, and spite against the Western powers whom they regard as the creators and supporters of Israel; (3) the tendency in the Islamic world to seek a neutral position (with an anti-“imperialist” flavor) between West and East. These factors find expression in popular neutralism and anti-Westernism; and such acts as the election of a Communist deputy to Parliament more as an assertion of anti-Westernism with pro-Soviet overtones than as an expression of actual Communist sentiment. Despite the fact that most of the members of the present Government are conservatives, and privately moderately pro-Western [Page 514]in outlook, they show no signs of being willing to take a stand against popular negativism. Soviet influence in Syria has definitely increased over the past year and one-half, largely due to the Soviet tactic of backing Arab causes in the UN.

Governmental Instability—In February 1954 the military dictatorship of General Shishakli, which had lost the support of most civilian political groups and much of the officer corps, was overthrown by an army insurrection. A civilian government was formed, and in September 1954 parliamentary elections were held in which no party or group gained anything approaching a majority. Parliament is fragmented into 12 parties or groups with conflicting interests. In consequence the Government which was formed by the Populist and Nationalist parties under the premiership of the “independent”, and Christian, octogenarian Faris al Khuri (since neither party would concede the other the Premiership) is extremely weak. The Government is further weakened by the fact that it has little or no control over the Army, which is itself divided into numerous factions.

U.S. Economic Assistance—Syria is the only country in the Near East which has flatly refused to accept a U.S. technical assistance (Point 4) program. Further, an offer of economic aid (for road construction, swamp drainage and harbor development) made to Syria in September 1953,3 has to date not been accepted. Whether in the face of the anti-Western popular mood in Syria, the present Government will have the courage to associate with the American “imperialists” to the extent of accepting our offer of economic aid remains in doubt.

[Here follows the remainder of the briefing paper.]

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 58 D 722, Recent Developments & Planned U.S. Action in the Middle East, 1953–1955. The briefing paper was prepared for George V. Allen. Other topics covered in the paper include: Egypt and the Sudan; Israel and Jordan; Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; Arab-Israel Settlement; and Economic Affairs (Arab States and Israel).
  2. For information, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. IX, Part 1, p. 1332.