Franz-Stefan Gady: T. E. Lawrence's Prescient Warning about Syria

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Franz-Stefan Gady is a foreign-policy analyst at the EastWest Institute.

“They were discontented always with what government they had; such being their intellectual pride; but few of them honestly, thought out a working alternative, and fewer still agreed upon one.” Thus noted T. E. Lawrence in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which recounts his exploits as part of the Arab uprising against the Turks during the First World War. “They” are the Syrians, and Lawrence provides a vivid description of the land and its people, which he and a Hashemite-led Arab army were about to wrestle from Ottoman control.
Today, the discontent described by Lawrence remains, this time among the rebel groups opposed to the ruling Assad regime. For example, the Free Syrian Army recently condemned a meeting held in Cairo between the Syrian National Council and representatives from France, Tunisia and Turkey; they claimed the delegates were “rejecting the idea of a foreign military intervention to save the people . . . and ignoring the question of buffer zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters." With growing international pressure for military intervention in Syria, T. E. Lawrence’s analysis of a fractured nation—although written by an outsider and almost a hundred years old—may caution us to think carefully when arguing for Western involvement in the region.
Prior to the establishment of the modern state of Syria under a French protectorate following the First World War, the term Syria denoted the entire Levant, including Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon. However, Lawrence in his work especially singled out the Syrian cities of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo when describing the political issues of Syria. He also focused on the Yarmuk Valley, running along today’s Syrian-Jordan border; Hauran, a volcanic plateau and people in today’s Southwestern Syria; and Daraa, also located in Southwestern Syria, which he saw as “the critical centre of Syria in all ages.”..

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