Washington and Syria ~ 1956-1957

weather events took out internet giving me time to study some history, which is a good thing.  the present can always be understood better by studying the past …. found this jewel of excerpt from“Killing Hope” by William Blum

Purchasing a New Government

“Neutrality,” proclaimed John Foster Dulles in 1956, “has increasingly become an obsolete conception, and, except under very exceptional circumstances, it is an immoral and shortsighted conception.”1

The short-sightedness of the neutralist government lay perhaps in its inability to perceive that its neutralism would lead to John Foster Dulles attempting to overthrow it.

Syria was not behaving like Washington thought a Third World government should. For one thing, it was the only state in the area to refuse all US economic or military assistance.

Damascus did not much care for the strings which came attached— the acceptance of military aid usually meant the presence of American military advisers and technicians; furthermore, the US Mutual Security Act of 1955 specified that the recipient country agree to make a contribution to “the defensive strength of the free world”, and declared it US policy “to encourage the efforts of other free nations … to foster private initiative and competition [i.e., capitalism].”2

Another difficulty posed by Syria was that, although its governments of recent years had been more or less  conservative and had refrained from unpleasant leftist habits like nationalizing American-owned companies, US officials—suffering from what might be called  anti-communist paranoia or being victims of their own propaganda—consistently saw the most ominous handwritings on the walls. To appreciate this, one has to read some of the formerly-secret-now-declassified documents of the National Security Council (NSC), based in part on reports received from the American embassy in Damascus during 1955 and 1956 …

“If the popular leftward trend in Syria continues over any considerable period, there is a real danger that Syria will fall completely under left-wing control either by coup or usurpation of authority” … “the fundamental anti-US and anti-West orientation of the Syrians is  stimulated by  inevitable political histrionics about the Palestine problem” …

“Four successive short-lived governments in Syria have permitted continuous and increasing  Communist activities” … “the Communists support the leftist cliques [in] the army” … “apathy towards Communism on the part of politicians and army officers” is a threat to security … “the Arab Socialist Resurrectionist Party (ASRP)” and “the Communist Party of Syria are capable of bringing about further deterioration of Syrian internal security” … danger of ASRP “coup d’etat” and “increased Communist penetration of government and army” … “Of all the Arab states.

Syria is at the present time the most wholeheartedly devoted to a neutralist policy with strong anti-Western overtones” … “If the present trend continues there is a strong possibility that a Communist-dominated Syria will result, threatening the peace and stability of the area and endangering the achievement of out objectives in the Near East”  … we “should give priority consideration to developing courses of action in the Neat East designed to affect the situation in Syria and to recommending specific steps to combat communist subversion” …3

It would appear that the idea of military men who were leftist and/or apathetic to communists must truly have been an incongruous phenomenon to the American official mind. But nowhere in any of the documents is there mention of the  leftists/Communists/ASRP having in fact done anything illegal or wicked, although the language employed is similar to what we saw in the Guatemala chapter: These people don’t join anything, they “infiltrate”, they “penetrate”; they “control”, they’re “opportunistic”.

In actuality, the behavior described is like that of other political animals: trying to influence key sectors of the society and win allies. But to the men holding positions of responsibility in the National Security Council and the State Department, the evil intent and danger of such people was so self-evident as not to require articulation.

There is one exception, perhaps expressed to explain away an uncomfortable observation:

In fact, the Communist Party does not appear to have as its immediate objective seizure of power. Rather it seeks to destroy national unity, Co strengthen support for Soviet policies and opposition to Western policies and to exacerbate tensions in the Arab world. It has made significant progress coward these objectives.4

There is no indication of what the author had in mind by “national unity”.

A leftist-oriented or communist-dominated Syrian government, reasoned the US ambassador to Syria, James Moose, Jr., would clearly threaten American interests in neighboring Turkey, which, in turn, could outflank all the states of the NATO alliance, and so forth and so on.5 It was clear that since the Syrian government could not be relied upon to do anything about this major impending disaster, something would have to be done about the Syrian government.

To this we add the usual Middle-Eastern intrigue: in this case, Iraq plotting with the British to topple the governments in both Syria and Nasser’s Egypt; the British pressuring the Americans to join the conspiracy;6 and the CIA compromising—leave Nasser alone, at least for the time being, and we’ll do something about Syria.7

An implausible scenario, scandalous, but in the time-honored tradition of the Middle East. The British were old hands at it. Dulles and the Americans, still exulting in their king-making in Iran, were looking to further remake the oil region in their own image.

Wilbur Crane Eveland was a staff member of the National Security Council, the high-level inter-agency group in Washington which, in theory, monitors and controls CIA clandestine activities. Because of Eveland’s background and experience in the Middle East, the CIA had asked that he be lent to the Agency for a series of assignments there.

Archibald Roosevelt was, like his cousin Kermit Roosevelt, a highly-placed official of the CIA; both were grandsons of Teddy. Kermit had masterminded the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953. Archie had fond hopes of doing the same in Syria.

Michail Bey Ilyan had once served as Syria’s foreign minister. In 1956 he was the leader of the conservative Populist Party.

At a meeting of these three men in Damascus, Syria on 1 July 1956, as described by Eveland in his memoirs, Roosevelt asked Ilyan “what would be needed to give the Syrian conservatives enough control to purge the communists and their leftist sympathizers. Ilyan responded by ticking off names and places: the radio stations in Damascus and Aleppo; a few key senior officers; and enough money to buy newspapers now in Egyptian and Saudi hands.”

“Roosevelt probed further. Could these things, he asked Ilyan, be done with U.S. money and assets alone, with no other Western or Near Eastern country involved?”

“Without question, Ilyan replied, nodding gravely.”

On 26 July, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser announced that his government was taking over the operation of the Suez Canal. The reaction of the Britishand French was swift and inflamed. The United States was less openly hostile, though it was critical and Egyptian government funds in the US were frozen. This unexpected incident put a crimp in the CIA’s plans, for—as Ilyan explained to Eveland in despair— Nasser was now the hero of the Arab world, and collaboration with any Western power to overthrow an Arab government was politically indefensible.

Eventually the coup was scheduled for 25 October. The logistics, as outlined by Ilyan, called for senior colonels in the Syrian army to: take control of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and Hamah. The frontier posts with Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon would also be captured in order to seal Syria’s borders until the radio stations announced that a new government had taken over under Colonel Kabbani, who would place armored units at key positions  throughout Damascus. Once control had been established, Ilyan would inform the civilians he’d selected that they were to form a new government, but in order to avoid leaks none of them would be told until just a week before the coup.

For this operation, money would have to change hands. Ilyan asked for and received half a million Syrian pounds (approximately $167,000). The Syrian further stipulated that to guarantee their participation the Syrian plotters would require assurance from the highest level of the American government that the US would both back the coup and immediately grant recognition to the new government. This, Ilyan explained, could be communicated as follows: in April, President Eisenhower had said that the United States would oppose aggression in the Middle East, hut not without congressional approval. Could the president repeat this statement, in light of the Suez crisis, he asked, on a specified date when Ilyan’s colleagues would be told to expect it?

Eisenhower’s words would provide the guarantees they were seeking.

An affirmative reply to Ilyan’s plan arrived in Damascus from Washington the next day. A proper occasion for the requested statement would have to be found and Secretary Dulles would be the one to use it. The scheme was for Dulles to make public reference to Eisenhower’s statement between 16 and 18 October, thus giving Ilyan the week he needed to assemble his civilian team.

Before long, John Foster Dulles held a press conference. In light of recent Israeli attacks on Jordan, one of the  reporters present asked whether the United States might come to Jordan’s aid per “our declaration of April 9”.

Yes, replied the Secretary of State, repeating the reference to the April statement. The date was 16 October.

But following close on the heels of this was a message from Ilyan in Damascus to Eveland in Beirut postponing the date of the coup for five days to 30 October because Colonel Kabbani had told Ilyan that his people weren’t quite ready.

The postponement was crucial. Early in the morning of the 30th, a very distraught Michail Ilyan appeared at Eveland’s door. “Last night,” he cried, “the Israelis invaded Egypt and are right now heading for the Suez Canal! How could you have asked us to overthrow our government at the exact moment when Israel started a war with an Arab state?”8

The leftist-trend-in-Syria bell continued to ring in Washington. In January 1957, wrote President Eisenhower later, CIA Director Alien Dulles “submitted reports indicating that the new Syrian Cabinet was oriented to the left”.9

Two months later, Dulles prepared a “Situation Report on Syria” in which he wrote of an “increasing trend toward a decidedly leftist, pro-Soviet government”. Dulles was  concerned with “organized leftist officers belonging to the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party”.10 That same month, a State Department internal document stated:

The British are believed to favor active stimulation of a change in the present regime in Syria, in an effort to assure a pro-Western orientation on the part of future Syrian governments. … The United States shares the concern of the British Government over the situation in Syria.11

Then, in June, an internal Department of Defense  memorandum spoke of a possible “leftist coup”. This was to be carried out, according to the memo, against “the leftist Syrian Government”.12

Thus it was that in Beirut and Damascus, CIA officers were trying their hands again at stage-managing a Syrian coup. On this occasion, Kermit Roosevelt, rather than cousin Archibald, was pulling the strings.

He arranged for one Howard (“Rocky”!) Stone to be transferred to Damascus from the Sudan to be sure that the “engineering” was done by a “pro”. Stone was, at thirty-two, already a legend in the CIA’s clandestine service as the man who had helped Kim Roosevelt overthrow the Iranian government four years earlier, though what Stone’s precise contribution was has remained obscure.

The proposed beneficiary of this particular plot was to be Adib Shishakly, former right-wing dictator of Syria, living covertly in Lebanon. Shishakly’s former chief of security, Colonel Ibrahim Husseini, now Syrian military attache in Rome, was secretly slipped into Lebanon under cover of a CIA-fabricated passport. Husseini was then to be smuggled across the Syrian border in the trunk of a US diplomatic car in order to meet with key Syrian CIA agents and provide assurances that Shishakly would come back to rule once Syria’s government had been overthrown.

But the coup was exposed before it ever got off the ground.

Syrian army officers who had been assigned major roles in the operation walked into the office of Syria’s head of intelligence, Colonel Sarraj, turned in their bribe money and named the CIA officers who had paid them. Lieut. Col. Robert Molloy, the American army attache, Francis Jeton, a career CIA officer, officially Vice Consul at the US Embassy, and the legendary Howard Stone, with the title of Second Secretary for Political Affairs, were all declared personae -non gratae and expelled from the country in August.

Col. Molloy was determined to leave Syria in style. As his car approached the Lebanese border, he ran his Syrian motorcycle escort off the road and shouted to the fallen rider that “Colonel Sarraj and his commie friends” should be told that Molloy would “beat the shit out of them with one hand tied behind his back if they ever crossed his path again.”

The Syrian government announcement which accompanied the expulsion order stated that Stone had first made contact with the outlawed Social Nationalist Party and then with the army officers. When the officers reported the plot, they were told to continue their contacts with the Americans and later met Shishakly and Husseini at the homes of US Embassy staff members.

Husseini reportedly told the officers that the United States was prepared to give a new Syrian government between 300 and 400 million dollars in aid if the government would make peace with Israel.

An amusing aside to the affair occurred when the Syrian Defense Minister and the Syrian Ambassador to Italy disputed the claim that Husseini had anything to do with the plot. The Ambassador pointed out that Husseini had not been in Syria since 20 July and his passport showed no indication that he had been out of Italy since that time.

The State Department categorized the Syrian charge as “complete fabrications” and retaliated by expelling the Syrian ambassador and a Second Secretary and recalling the American ambassador from Syria. It marked the first time since 1915 that the United States had expelled a chief of mission of a foreign country.13

In the wake of the controversy, the New York Times reported that:

There are numerous theories about why the Syrians struck at the United States.

One is that they acted at the instigation of the Soviet Union. Another is that the Government manufactured an anti-U.S. spy story to distrait public attention from the significance of Syria’s negotiations with Moscow.14

In the same issue, a Times editorial speculated upon other plausible-sounding explanations.15

Neither in its news report nor in its editorial did the New York Times seem to consider even the possibility that the Syrian accusation might be true.

President Eisenhower, recalling the incident in his memoirs, offered no denial to the accusation. His sole comment on the expulsions was: “The entire action was shrouded in mystery but the suspicion was strong that the Communists had taken control of the government. Moreover, we had fresh reports that arms were being sent into Syria from the Soviet bloc.”16

Syria’s neutralism/” leftism” continued to obsess the United States. Five years later, when John F. Kennedy was in the White House, he met with British Prime Minister Macmillan and the two leaders agreed, according to a CIA report, on “Penetration and cultivation of disruptive elements in the Syrian armed forces, particularly in the Syrian army, so that Syria can be guided by the West.”17

Decades later, Washington was still worried, though Syria had still not “gone communist”.

***************
Killing Hope PDF Here … lots more info

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6 thoughts on “Washington and Syria ~ 1956-1957

  1. Pingback: Mwuahhahaahaa “State Department Intelligence and Research Predicted 1973 Arab-Israeli War” [sic] …. more like arranged it | Piazza della Carina

  2. Pingback: UPDATED w/answer ~ Before he was President, Eisenhower was a general in what war? | Piazza della Carina

    • most welcome, thanks go to William Blum, he is great author and person. Always helpful in historical matters of geopolitics, he has monthly report he does too. next time he posts will alert you 🙂

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