Monday, February 7, 2011

Review of Syrian Foreign Policy and the United States: From Bush to Obama

       Recently I have read the book: Syrian Foreign Policy and the United States: From Bush to Obama.  The book was written in 2009 and in my opinion gives a very good overview of Syrian / U.S relations.  One question that may be asked is why is this subject relevant?  Syria seems to be fairly low key in the news as of late so why worry how relations between the two nations are?  The answer to that question is very simple, when two nations stop caring about what the other thinks; that is when relations become strained and then nation’s that were once assumed friends then become a factor and usually in an unfavorable manner.  The United States also is dependent on Syria; Syria can be used as a mediator between the United States and nations like Iran, or groups like Hezbollah.  When there is someone mediating peace between two nations or groups that don’t think highly of one another, having that mediator helps get better results.  Another reason this book is relevant would be that the United States doesn’t have too many allies in the Middle East and Syria would be a good ally to have if the United States wishes to be viewed as a source of good once again in the Middle East.  The Iraq War did a lot of damage to the U.S brand and it is going to take a lot of hard work to restore that brand to its former glory.  With all that being said I think it is time to focus more on the paper.


When reading a paper like this there are several issues to keep in mind in regards to Syrian / U.S relations as well for that matter anything in regards to the Middle East; some of the issues I have found with similar writings are listed as followed:


·         Some readings have obvious bias.  A lot of papers are Pro Arab, Pro Western, Pro Israeli, etc.  In most instances there are several sides to every story and many writers get truths (opinions) and facts (data or statements that cannot be debated) confused.

·         Some readings focus too narrowly on a particular subject, or too broadly.

·         Syria, like the rest of the Middle East is changing and changing fast.  If a particular writing is more than a couple years old it is sometimes out of date.


To explain the validity of this book I think you have to address the paper on each of these questions.  Does this book have a bias or an ax to grind; in my humble opinion I would say no.  At no point did any of the four authors make statement s that could be interpreted as malice or biased.  Some may say that they viewed U.S foreign policy towards the Middle East with cynicism and disgust but I would disagree with this argument.


One of the big chasms that have been created between the Arab world and the United States came over the Iraq War.  In the book references to the Iraq War would be viewed by some American’s as biased but I don’t believe so.  The statement “The war in Iraq was imperialistic and shameful of the United State government;” that statement is biased and also not in the book.  An example of an unbiased statement from the book on the Iraq War would be “from o political and strategic perspective, Syria was almost certain that the war against Iraq was fought by the US on behalf of Israel (32).”  That statement would infuriate many on the right in this country who held true to a pro-Israeli view.  The reason why I say that statement is not biased is because the author was not describing his or her thoughts, merely the thoughts expressed by many in Syria.  Relaying the view of someone doesn’t mean that the writer adheres to it as well.  If I make a statement saying “Hitler was anti-Semitic,” few would argue with that and labeling me as anti-Semitic for saying that would be wrong as well.


Another issue I personally have with books, articles, blogs, and the like about foreign policy is that they focus too narrowly and lose sight of the big picture or are so broad that it is impossible to keep focused.  With this book it found perfect harmony of each the extremes and never lost sight of the main objective, to educate the reader about Syrian / U.S relations.  Some of the major issues between the United States and Syria are followed:


·         Lebanon, what their government should be and the related factors that go with the topic such as Hezbollah

·         Israel and possession of the Golan Heights

·         The Iraq War and Western intervention

·         Syrian / Iranian relations; the U.S government and the Iranian government have been playing chess with each other since the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and Syria seems to be caught in the middle at times

·         U.S / Israeli relations; Syria feels that the United States holds the rest of the Middle East to a different set of standards than it does Israel


It is very hard to cover all these issues and the sub-issues that arise from these but the book does a good job of going over them in detail to explain the relevance, but not too much so the reader doesn’t get lost in the vast amount of information.  This book is a good foundation for one studying U.S / Syrian relations to start from; from this book one can get into more in depth reading and the reader will then be able to make a relationship between all the various issues. 


Relevance has always been an issue of mine.  An example of this would be Egypt.  If one was to read a book from a year ago about U.S / Egyptian policy, they might as well throw the book out now with the revolution that is currently occurring there.  In the blink of an eye books on diplomacy can become outdated or obsolete.  This book was wrote in 2009 so it is only a little over a year old and the political climate hasn’t changed too much for this book to be considered a waste of time to read.  Although Lebanon has been changing rapidly recently, the book still does a good job of informing the reader without being too outdated. 


The four authors of “Syrian Foreign Policy and the United States: From Bush to Obama” are Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Marwan J. Kabalan, Bassma Kodami, and David W. Lesch.  I believe that you can tell a lot about an author by what he does.  I am more inclined to believe proffesors, historians, and the like as opposed to a political talking head.  All four of these authors in my opinion are well educated about the subject matter and I feel from their writings they have no ax to grind, their goal is to inform the reader. 


Raymond A. Hinnebusch is a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern politics and director of the Syrian Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland.  Marwan J. Kabalan is lecturer at the faculty of Political Sciences at Damascus University.  He is considered an expert on foreign policy and a regular contributor to several Arab and English newspapers.  Bassma Kodami is the Executive Director of the Arab Reform Initiative, an organization working on bringing democratic reform to the Arab world.  David W. Lesch is a professor of Middle East History and chair of the Department of history at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.(55 / 56)  With this being said, I feel that all people involved are educated enough on Syria to make a fair assessment of Syrian / U.S relations.


In closing, I felt more informed about Syrian / U.S relations after reading the book.  This book has given me a good foundation on which to build off of.  If I read a book now on Lebanon I understand how and why Syria and the United States are related to the issue, as well as Hezbollah, the Golan Heights, or even how to bring peace between the United States and Iran.  I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about the Middle East, and the Levant area Raymond A. Hinnebusch in particular.


Works Cited
Hinnebusch, Raymond A., Marwan J. Kabalan, Bassma Kodami, and David W. Lesch. Syrian Foreign Policy    and the United States: From Bush to Obama. St Andrews: Centre for Syrian Studies, 2009. Print.

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