What is so Important about Syria?

By agitating for war in Syria, the Trump administration is meddling in affairs far older than it can imagine.

What is so Important about Syria?

Western foreign policy has some bad habits that recur over the centuries no matter how much our societies evolve. A few places around the world seem fated to be the bane of Western generals and diplomats over and over again despite the glaringly obvious mistakes of past misadventures. Afghanistan is the standard example of a graveyard of empires, having been contested by Alexander the Great, the British empire, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The War on Terror did allow for a heightened level of realism in the modern BBC retelling Sherlock, since Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson could be a veteran of an Afghan war just like the original character in Conan Doyle’s stories from 120 years earlier. Not unlike the Sherlock television series, American politicians and generals seem to think it is acceptable to just repeat the wars of the past with modernized equipment and a few extra plot twists thrown in along the way.

Besides drifting into the same wars again and again, Western foreign policy mistakenly assumes that Europe is still the unassailable center of the world and all other nations are merely pawns to be used to gain advantage over rival White countries. America tried this strategy in the 1980’s by supporting Afghans fighting the Soviets, with spectacularly catastrophic results. Alas, the British, French, and Italians have all allied with Muslim powers before the Americans ever did, and in the 18th and 19th centuries Western powers regularly conspired to prevent Russia from pushing the Turks out of Europe. Yet after all the historical examples, combined with the modern threat of Islam in the West that makes news almost daily, America is poised to repeat the same errors in Syria. The Levant has had a mesmerizing attraction for Westerners since ancient times, and the Syrians have the misfortune of holding the territory at the focal point of of the Near East.

America blundering around one of the oldest and most celebrated battlegrounds of the Mediterranean world is bad. The United States government, intelligence agencies, and State Department have shown peculiar skill in picking the wrong side in Middle East conflicts, and supporting the worst elements in every rebel group. Backing Muslim radicals in an unfortunate attempt to yet again outmaneuver Russia, a fellow European power, is even worse. (Actually, calling the U.S. government European is an exercise in nostalgia. American foreign policy makes much more sense when one looks at the U.S. as a rising Afro-Semitic power.) Even if we had a clear mission and the will to carry it out, the Middle East has always been incomprehensible to our secular ‘experts’ who only consider materialistic concerns and neglect spiritual ones.

Hilaire Belloc’s 1936 book, The Battleground: Syria and Palestine, The Seedplot of Religion, surveyed the history of the Near East with particular emphasis on the world changing nature of the Semitic religions birthed in the Syrian desert. At a time when most of the world was concerned about Hitler and Stalin, Belloc was one of the few who saw the potential for a future Islamic revival, and he predicted the enduring importance of Syria based on the spiritual weakness of Europe compared to Islam and the injection of Jewish settlers into the Muslim world.

“Syria, which is the connecting link, the hinge and the pivot of the whole Mohammedan world, is, upon the map, and superficially, divided between an English and a French mandate; but the two Powers intrigue one against the other and are equally detested by their Mohammedan subjects, who are only kept down precariously by force. There has been bloodshed under the French mandate more than once and it will be renewed; while under the English mandate the forcing of an alien Jewish colony upon Palestine has raised the animosity of the native Arab population to white heat.”     The Great Heresies

Belloc was not entirely pessimistic about Syria; in fact he viewed the Levant as a catalyst that brought changes, both good and evil, to every civilization that it touched.

“[T]his new march of the foreigner into the unknown Syrian land disturbed and developed that foreigner within his own boundaries- and Egypt was not only greatly enriched by its Syrian experience but filled with new ideas. The same thing happened a thousand years later, when our own high civilization of Greece and Rome came down from the north into Syria. The Macedonian Phalanx was followed by the Roman Legion, and from this invasion of Syria by our own people the transformation of all our world was drawn. Through the Macedonian Phalanx and the Roman Legion there came upon the West, upon Europe, the influence which… poured forth, the Gospel. The same thing happened a thousand years later… Europe returned once more in arms upon the Syrian hills- from Flanders under Godfrey, from Italy and Normandy under Tancred and Robert, his peers, from Toulouse under Raymond. As we know, there followed upon that crusading march the sudden flowering of the Middle Ages in Britain, France, Spain, Italy and the Rhine valley- Ogive, the Universities, the Dominican philosophy, the Chivalric song. Will our modern return to Syria begin, in the midst of our apparent decline, some great renewal? It may be doubted.”        The Battleground Ch IV

Neither the American empire nor the Trump presidency are in secure enough positions to expect that the uncertainties of war will strengthen or revitalize them. Belloc’s warning is more timely than all the current commentary attempting to manufacture a war with Syria. An infant nation like the United States may foolishly think it can impose its will on a place that was already ancient two thousand years before the Declaration of Independence was written, but we are the ones who will be changed by this war. In earlier ages European contact with the Levant brought elements of Christian culture into the West. In this suicidal era we are more likely to import a few million Muslim so-called refugees. If we do go over there again, beware what we bring back with us.

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