French jets struck a suspected Islamic State target in Iraq for the first time on Friday in what’s likely to be the first French salvo of an expanded campaign to come. Western intervention in Syria is rekindling memories of American and French occupation and engineering of Syrian territory and society.
The air campaign against Daesh has until now been carried out exclusively by the U.S. in Iraqi space, but support for the expansion into Syria and the additional 500 million to aid and arm vetted rebels who, to quote California Senator Boxer “see it our way”, are beckoning the French back into the region under pressure from the White House, which seeks a new multilateral initiative to influence the conflict. Hollande has said French military action would be limited to Iraq and no ground troops would be sent. Proxy forces and pressing Turkey to act as hegemon over Arab lands are considered the more realistic options for western policymakers. These policy’s bring with them memories of their own.
Three traumatic experiences in modern Syrian history are being re-experienced today: Ottoman-Turkish imperialism, the French presence after Ottoman collapse, and the praetorian era, of the 1950s-1960’s particularly. They’re all related with one another because they all include outside forces intervening to shape the limits of Syrian society and independence.
The changes that have been occurring in the Arab world are a reaction to historical precedents, set both by internal actors and external others. To fully understand current phenomena and turmoil, we have to go back and understand what happened before.
Each of the 3 experiences deserve there own retelling, so that will be my next set of posts. In the meantime we can only watch as Syria relives its excruciating past.