Syria, the United States, and the War on Terror in the Middle East
by Robert G. Rabil
February 2006, 320pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-99015-2
$55, £41, 48€, A75
eBook Available: 978-0-313-07189-8
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Illuminates the complicated relationship between Syria and the United States in the context of Arab nationalism and Middle Eastern security issues.

Ever since Syria won its independence from France in 1946, it has been a crucial player in Middle Eastern politics. Over the years, relations between the United States and Syria have fluctuated as Washington has tried to balance its commitment to Israel’s security with its support for Arab regimes in order to protect vital and strategic interests in the Arab world. The Arab-Israeli conflict is, however. no longer the only focal point of the relationship. Now, terrorism has entered the fray. On the State Department’s terrorism list since 1979, Syria became even more persona non grata as far as Washington was concerned when Damascus vocally opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The American war in Iraq, occupation, and promotion of democracy throughout the Middle East pose a strong challenge to the Syrian regime. The new Syrian leadership, in power only since 2000, faces immense challenges—protecting Syria’s regional status and surviving internal and external threats. Against this background, Syria and the United States have set themselves on a collision course over terrorism, arms proliferation, Lebanon, the Middle East peace process, and Iraq. Syria is, nevertheless, extremely important to the United States, because it can be a force for either stability or instability in an extremely volatile region.

Recent events have put the spotlight on Syria’s policies and actions. After the assassination of a Lebanese politician, protests in Lebanon led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops. While the withdrawal averted an immediate threat of bloodshed, the Bush administration accused Syria of being a source of instability in the Middle East, with Secretary of State Rice charging that Syria was still active in Lebanon and was supporting foreign terrorists fueling the insurgency in Iraq. The U.S.-Syrian relationship is of critical importance to the United States’ efforts to promote democracy throughout the Middle East. At the same time, the United States has been pressuring Syria to clamp down on terrorism within its own borders. Rabil provides a history of the modern U.S.-Syrian relationship, putting the latest events in the context of this contemporary history, and placing the relationship in the context of Middle Eastern politics.


"Although Rabil completed this book in March 2005, he was prescient in analyzing the politics of Syria, Lebanon, and Hezbollah. Rabil suggested conditions could lead to war, which did occur in July-August 2006. He cites reasons for the US government's growing frustration with Syria's support for resistance forces in Iraq, Hamas, and Islamic jihad. Rabil contends the Asad regime's policy of liberalizing the economy is accompanied by even more authoritarian measures to contain dissent. One such policy is to encourage Pan-Arabism as well as Islamist ideologies. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Refik Hariri in 2005, which resulted in a popular revolt compelling the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, encouraged the author to think that Lebanon might yet be able to foster a viable Lebanese state. But the war between Hezbollah and Israel jeopardized this possibility. Indeed, the war may well result in another prediction of the author's coming true: Syria is set to clash with the United States over the future of the Middle East....Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through practitioners."—Choice, January 1, 2007

"Rabil has written a dispassionate and scrupulously researched account of the Middle Eastern dynamics that stand at the centre of today's most urgent challenges. Unlike other books that have been written about Syria and US foreign policy, this work stands out in its in-depth treatment of ideological and socio-political realities in the region."—Orient, January 1, 2006

"[M]uch more than an overview of United States-Syrian relations. It sketches the most important developments in the Levant and its surroundings from the mid-20th century to today. Thus it also deals with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, while keeping a clear and systematic focus on how their complex interconnections link to Syria's foreign policy....Against the background of the Israel-Hizbollah war of July 2006, Rabil's book is ideally placed to aid understanding of the latest dynamics....[a] dispassionate and scrupulously researched account of middle-eastern political dynamics. Those who have made or might consider a trip to Syria and the region could benefit from reading it."—Open Democracy, April 1, 2007

"Robert Rabil's latest book is much more than an overview of US-Syrian relations. It sketches the most important developments in the Levant and its surroundings from the middle of the 20th century up to today. Thus the book also deals with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Nevertheless, Rabil keeps a clear, systematic focus on the complex linkages between regional developments and Syria's foreign policy....Rabil has written a dispassionate and scrupulously researched account of the Middle Eastern dynamics that lie at the center of today's most urgent challenges. Unlike other books that have been written about Syria and US foreign policy, this work stands out in its in-depth treatment of ideological and socio-political conditions in the region. To his credit, Rabil does not view the Levant simply through the lens of US policy; consequently, the title of the book is narrower than the author's actual perspective."—The Middle East Journal, August 1, 2006

"Robert Rabil analyzes the key fault lines of the Syrian-U.S. relationship with the eye of an experienced and keen observer and the mind of a strong academic. In conceptualizing the relationship he covers all of the major points in the developing relationship; Israel, Lebanon, Hizbollah, September 11, and Iraq. This is an important study for policy makers, scholars, and intelligent readers who recognize this as a critical juncture in the Syrian-U.S. relationship and its impact on the larger Middle East."—Lenore G. Martin, Professor of Political Science, Emmanuel College and Co-Chair, Middle East Seminar, Harvard University

"Rabil provides a dispassionate and fair analysis of the most contentious issues: Syria's role in Lebanon, Syria's relation with international terrorism, Syria's actions about the peace process."—Patrick Clawson, Deputy Director for Research, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

"A comprehensive, analytical and balanced study of the changes in American-Syrian relations since 9/11 and the repercussions for Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and terrorism."—Moshe Ma'oz, Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern Studies and Senior Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem

"Robert Rabil's book thoroughly examines current U.S.-Syrian relations, nay tensions. His focus, the interplay of reform and nationalism, is a well-researched reminder to scholars and politicians alike of how even the best, not to mention the impromptu, of international strategies can be counterproductive when detached from the nuances of native realities. Rabil's examination is grounded in unique familiarity with the region as well as in political theory."—Faleh A. Jabarm, Director of the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, Research Fellow at Exeter University, and Birkbeck College, University of London

"This is essential reading. Robert Rabil clearly and eloquently explains the relationships between Syria, the United States, and the war on terror. His wise and courageous voice must be heard by those shaping policy, and by those of us living with the consequences of this troubled history."—Robert J. Allison, Chair, History Department, Suffolk University, author, The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World

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