another 22 more parts. The goal is also not shared by Syria, Iran or Turkey,
neighboring states that would see it as an unwelcome precedent for their own
Iraq war presages end of superpower age
The political culture of another country is not subject to easy hegemonic
manipulation by even a superpower.
While unchallenged as the sole military superpower since the end of the Cold
War, the United States has actually been a miser in foreign economic aid that
is the stuff that wins the hearts and minds of people in poor countries.
Neo-liberal economic ideology promoted by the US since the end of the Cold War
prefers trade to aid in its globalization push to maximize return on
investments. This approach becomes counterproductive even for the US
economy as the United States slides into the role of the world's biggest debtor
nation. Under financial globalization, capital flows to higher-return
investments in emerging economies overseas that export, while debt flows to the
importing economies that over-consume, such as the US.
At the United Nations General Assembly in 1970, the rich nations of the world
agreed to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on official development
assistance (ODA). The US consistently has provided an average of only 0.22% of
GNI to ODA. Further, US aid is primarily designed to serve its own short-term
geopolitical and economic interests. As many analysts have pointed out, the US,
because of ideological blind spots against foreign aid, has not been applying
the enormous "soft power" at its disposal for its own benefit and the benefit
of the whole world. A superpower that fails to align its interests with those
of the rest of the world will not stay a superpower for long.
For the Arabs, aside from oil wealth, which at any rate has not been shared
equitably among the Arab people, the Arab oil states and rich nations in the
West have not offered much help to enable Arabs to follow a path of independent
economic self-development. Israel, which has the unique capacity to play the
crucial role of an engine of growth for the Middle East and the Arab world,
instead has become an on-the-ground front-line agent for Western
neo-imperialism. Until the US, Israel and Western Europe adopt new geopolitical
and global economic policies that give the Arabs a fair deal out of a history
of exploitation and a legacy of poverty, Arab-Israel conflict cannot transform
into win-win amity and anti-US Islamic terrorism will not subside.
The situation in Syria
As for secular Syria, the US had fantasized that Bashar al-Assad's ascension to
the presidency on July 7, 2000, would portend a shift from pan-Arab nationalism
toward pro-US realpolitik in the Middle East. To its disappointment, Assad has
adopted a policy more militantly pan-Arab nationalist than that of his late
father, Hafiz al-Assad (1930-2000), particularly in relation to the Palestinian
issue and the larger question of Arab-Israel conflict, now exacerbated by the
US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The Assad clan belongs to the minority Alawis, heirs to a distinctive religious
tradition that is at the root of their dilemma in modern Syria. When the Sunni
Ottoman Empire took control of Syria in 1516, more than 90,000 Alawis were
killed and the survivors were treated as outcasts by their Sunni brothers and
sisters. Under French anti-Ottoman encouragement, Zaki al-Arsuzi (1899-1968), a
young Alawi leader from Antioch in Iskandarun and influential theoretician of
pan-Arab nationalism, emerged with Michel Aflaq (1910-1989), an Eastern
Orthodox Christian, as co-founders of the secular Ba'ath Party to resist
Ottoman theocratic rule.
When the Ottoman Empire dissolved in 1922, France claimed Syria as war booty.
French imperialist divide-and-rule policy then encouraged Alawi separatism,
setting Alawis against the Sunni nationalists who agitated for Syrian
independence from France and Arab unity. From 1922 to 1936, the Alawis even had
a separate state of their own under French mandate. But while the Alawis held
power within their state, they remained socio-economically inferior to Sunnis
The Alawi sect shared with the Shi'ites reverence for Imam Ali, held in higher
esteem than any other successor to the Prophet Mohammed. Soon after the Alawis
gained state power in Syria in November 1970, Imam Mousa Sadr, a Shi'ite leader
in Beirut, ruled that Alawis were part of Shi'a Islam, notwithstanding Alawi
commitment to secular Ba'athism and pan-Arabism.
Alawi domination of Syrian politics has seeded deep resentment among Syria's
Sunni Muslims, who constitute up to 80% of the population, mostly in cities of
Syria's heartland. Notwithstanding having grown wealthy and powerful from a
privileged position under Sunni Ottoman rule in which nationalism was viewed as
a European disease, along with the concept of a secular state, Sunnis had
nevertheless formed the core of Syria's modern struggle for national
independence. The Sunnis, helped by Syrian Christian intellectuals influenced
by European liberalism, developed the theoretical foundation of Arab
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, Sunni Ba'athists resisted
French imperialism, and they stepped into positions of authority with the
departure of the French. Syria was a Sunni political patrimony, and to many
Sunnis, the ensuing rise of the Alawis to political power amounted to
illegitimate appropriation. Sunni Ba'athists, as Arabists, had put national
solidarity above religious allegiance and accepted the Alawis as fraternal
But spirituality runs deeper than politics in Arab culture; thus many Sunnis
still identify their secular nationalist aspirations with Islam, and view
Syrian independence as a path to self-rule for their own Sunni community. Alawi
ascendance left many Sunnis disillusioned, feeling betrayed by the secular
ideology of pan-Arabism for which they themselves had acted as ideological
The secular, socialist Ba'ath Party came to power in Syria on March 8, 1963,
with the help of Nasserite pan-Arabists. Since then, members of the Alawi clan
have been prominent in Syrian government and armed forces. In 1970, Hafez
al-Assad, then an air force colonel, took power and launched a "corrective
revolution" to purge the ultra-nationalists in the Syrian Ba'ath Party to curb
adventurism in Syrian foreign policy. Assad became president of Syria the
following year. The Ba'ath Party has since retained uninterrupted control of
Parliament and is constitutionally the "leading party" of the Syrian state.
Secularism is a key basis for Alawi rule over Sunni Syria.
The Sunni Ba'athists ruled Iraq briefly in 1963, and again from July 1968 until
the US invasion in March 2003. There were complex political and ideological
differences between fellow secular Ba'athist regimes in Alawi Syria and Sunni
Iraq, as well as personal rivalry between the leaders. Syria, led by Alawis,
despite its predominant Sunni population, supported Shi'ite Iran against Sunni
Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, for secular geopolitical reasons.
US occupation authorities banned the pan-Arab, socialist Iraqi Ba'ath Party in
June 2003 as part of their simplistic regime-change policy. US postwar plans
for Iraq were framed around the old 19th-century divide-and-rule strategy of
Franco-British imperialism. Traditional Islamic sectarianism and Kurd/Arab
ethnic hostility made such divide-and-rule strategy a natural platform on which
to partition the country into three autonomous sections of Sunni, Shi'ite and
Kurd under a US-controlled central government in charge of foreign policy, the
military and the oil sector. This strategy required the "de-Ba'athification" of
Iraqi politics the way "de-Nazification" had been necessary in postwar Germany,
because the Ba'athists were pan-Arab nationalists.
Managed civil strife in Iraq was meant by US occupation authorities to be a
desirable condition to implement the divide-and-rule strategy to justify
extended foreign occupation and perpetual foreign remote control, until it got
out of hand and spiraled down the bloody path of all-out civil war that may
further degenerate into regional conflicts.
Syria and pan-Arabism
Despite its centrist policies, Syria steadfastly aspires to be the leading
proponent of militant pan-Arab nationalism.
With only three years in office, Bashar al-Assad was abruptly confronted by the
challenge of the Iraq war in 2003. Syria under Bashar chose to lead the Arab
world in opposing the war not only with rhetoric, but by also allowing its
border with Iraq to be a back door for the flow of arms and Arab and other
Islamic volunteer fighters into Iraq. This caused Washington to adopt a
menacing stance toward Damascus.
While the Syrian position on the Iraq war raised tensions with the US, the
negligible effect it had on the United States' overwhelming war efforts kept
relations between the two countries from rupturing. The US State Department did
not want to close the diplomatic door on Syria entirely, knowing that Syrian
cooperation would be needed at some point in maintaining peace in Iraq, Lebanon
and the entire region, as well as in disentangling the intractable Arab-Israel
conflict and maintaining progress on the erratic peace process. The US also had
an interest in preventing the resurgence of radical Ba'athist populist politics
and extremist pan-Arabism in Syria.
Syrian pan-Arabist policy on the Iraq war and the subsequent quagmire facing US
occupation have elevated Assad's stature in public opinion both within Syrian
and throughout the Arab world while creating bitter personal and political
resentment toward him among leaders of the moderate Arab states such as the
Persian Gulf emirates, Egypt and Jordan.
Assad has positioned himself closer to Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah, another
young leader in the Arab world, than to other young new moderate leaders such
as King Abdallah II of Jordan, King Muhammad VI of Morocco or Sheikh Hamad ibn
Isa al-Khalifah of Bahrain. In the 1990-91 Gulf War, Syria under Bashar's late
father Hafiz al-Assad joined some of these other moderate Arab states in the
US-led multinational coalition against Iraq. In 1998, Syria began a gradual
rapprochement with Iraq and renewed economic ties.
Syria's pan-Arab role intensified as the Arab-Israel peace process collapsed
with the second Palestinian intifada against Israel in September 2000, followed
by the Hezbollah-Israeli clash of July-September 2006 during which Israel
employed a strategy of air strikes that killed more than 1,500 Lebanese
civilians, many of them women and children, severely damaged Lebanese
infrastructure and displaced more than 900,000 Lebanese from their homes, with
the objective of creating an immediate rift between the Lebanese population and
Hezbollah supporters by exacting a heavy price from the Lebanese elite,
particularly among the Christians. Instead, the ill-fated month-long campaign,
which originally was to be completed within two weeks, divided domestic
politics inside Israel and damaged international support for it.
The rise of Hezbollah
Hezbollah is a Lebanese militia that follows a distinct version of Shi'ite
ideology developed by the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979
Islamic Revolution in Iran. Hezbollah is dedicated to ending the Israeli
occupation of southern Lebanon through armed struggle. Hezbollah officially
makes a distinction between Zionist ideology and Judaism.
The nature of the long-standing relationship between secular Alawi Damascus and
the radical Shi'ite militia in Lebanon has been shifted by the Israel-Hezbollah
conflict, with long-established Syrian leverage diminished. For the three
decades when Syrian troops were deployed in Lebanon, Damascus kept firm control
over the flow of arms to the Hezbollah. Now Syria is no longer in control of
this vital leverage as Damascus finds it increasingly difficult to defy Arab
popular support for the heroic struggle by Hezbollah against mighty Israel.
A new strategic dynamic has been created by the erosion of the Israeli image of
invincibility through a visible failure of customary Israeli overwhelming
military superiority to prevail over Arab resistance. The basis of the new
equation is Hezbollah's