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Middle East


Much of what has been written about early post-World War II relations between the United States and Syria has been influenced by the writings of Miles Copeland, the CIA station chief in Damascus at the time of Husni Zaim's coup in March 1949. In books published 20 years apart, Copeland tells two different stories about the degree of U.S. involvement (or lack thereof) in that coup. In The Game of Nations: The Amorality of Power Politics (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969), Copeland has the U.S. representatives suggesting a coup, advising Zaim on how carry it out, and guiding him through the preparations for it. (p. 42) In contrast, Copeland's The Game Player: Confessions of the CIA's Original Political Operative (London: Aurum, 1989) has the coup Zaim's alone in conception and action, with Copeland only giving advice on planning and a promise of U.S. recognition. (pp. 93-94)

Blackwell, Stephen. "Britain, the United States and the Syrian Crisis, 1957." Diplomacy and Statecraft 11, no. 3 (2000): 139-158.

Gorst, Anthony, and W. Scott Lucas. "The Other Collusion: Operation Straggle and Anglo-American Intervention in Syria, 1955-1956." Intelligence and National Security 4, no. 3 (Jul. 1989): 576-595.

The thesis here is that Britain and the United States coordinated their policies with regard to Syria in this time frame, and that collaboration was broken by the Suez crisis, not by competition between the two countries.

Jones, Matthew. "The 'Preferred Plan': The Anglo-American Working Group Report on Covert Action in Syria, 1957." Intelligence and National Security 19, no. 3 (Autumn 2004): 401-415.

The Working Group, whose report was issued in September 1957, involved "staff from the British Embassy" and "senior US officials from the State Department and CIA." Kermit Roosevelt was the CIA's "chief representative." The "Preferred Plan" involved "promotion of unrest within Syria, followed by border incidents between Syria and Iraq or Jordan to serve as pretext for Iraqi/Jordanian military action...; which in turn would serve as a trigger for a tribal uprising wirthin Syria."

Little, Douglas. "Cold War and Covert Action: The United States and Syria 1945-1958." Middle East Journal 44, no. 1 (Winter 1990): 51-75.

In line with the claims of Miles Copeland, this article concludes that Zaim's 30 March 1949 coup in Syria was the work of the CIA. Little speculates that the final approval for the coup was given during the visit to Damascus in March of Assistant Secretary of State George McGhee.

Rathmell, "Copeland and Za'im," I&NS 11.1/fn. 26, notes that Little's comments "are purely speculative and, on current evidence, cannot be supported." Certainly, there is nothing in McGhee's own account of his visit that would link him to the coup. See George McGhee, Envoy to the Middle East (New York: Harper & Row, 1983).

Rathmell, Andrew.

1. "Copeland and Za'im: Re-evaluating the Evidence." Intelligence and National Security 11, no. 1 (Jan. 1996): 89-105.

This is a succinct presentation of Rathmell's arguments in Secret War in the Middle East (see below) with regard to the coup carried out by Syrian Chief of Staff Col. Husni Zaim on 30 March 1949. The author looks at Miles Copeland's claims that he (and ostensibly the CIA) was behind Zaim's coup. Rathmell concludes that "the evidence now available does not in fact support Copeland's claims"; indeed, "the CIA had at best a peripheral role in Za'im's coup."

2. Secret War in the Middle East: The Covert Struggle for Syria, 1949-1961. New York and London: Tauris, 1995.

According to Legvold, FA 75.2 (Mar.-Apr. 1996), Secret War in the Middle East "examines the evidence supporting and refuting covert activity in Syria.... [A] picture that is a bit different from the conventional wisdom emerges. For example, the author does not believe that the Husni Zaim coup of 1949 was primarily the work of the CIA...; he does, however, provide considerable detail on the plotting against Syria by Turkey, Iraq, and the United States in 1957."

Although he sees Rathmell's work as "a significant advance on 'Western' scholarship" on the subject, Lucas. I&NS 12.2, also believes that the author "too easily minimizes the external dimension" of Western intervention from the CIA and MI6.

Seale, Patrick. The Struggle for Syria. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Seale does not focus on the role on intelligence, but his narrative on post-World War II Syria cuts across a number of intelligence-related disputes. This could be read with good effect prior to or along with the more intelligence-oriented works.

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