Jordan's Pragmatism in Syria

How It Became a Reliable Partner to Washington

Syrians living in Jordan hold Syrian opposition flags as they shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a protest in front of Syrian Embassy in Amman, February 8, 2013.  Muhammad Hamed

With the moderate armed opposition close to collapse in Syria’s northwest, the Southern Front has emerged as a more alluring venue for advocates of regime change. The appeal is understandable. The Assad regime is practicing economy of force in Syria’s south, and unlike in the northwest, operations there do not need to contend with significant Russian activity or risk running afoul of Turkish interests. Best of all, anti-regime military operations can be supported from Jordanian bases. And Jordan is a resolute U.S. ally.

Whether such cooperation with the United States is in Jordan’s interest is open to question. Jordanians themselves are clearly wondering, and it behooves those who back intensified operations in southern Syria—the United States and, in particular, its Gulf allies—to ask it, too. Jordan’s record when torn between the demands of its patrons, its external security, and domestic politics has generally reflected flexibility and pragmatism. Dating back to its covert contacts with Israel in the 1940s, Jordan has remained pragmatic even as ideologies and revolutions have come and gone. Relatively poor and militarily weak, Jordan cannot afford to let ideology or dreams of regional supremacy drive its foreign policy. Survival is already an ambitious enough objective.

Jordan’s pragmatism is hard-won, shaped by a history of devil’s choices. In 1948, King Abdullah I recognized the impending failure of Arab efforts to expunge the fledgling Jewish state and decided he would do better by securing Jordan’s claims to Arab parts of mandatory Palestine through collusion with Israel. His grandson, King Hussein, continued secret contact with Israel and, supported by the United States, avoided engagement in the 1967 Six Day War until his hand was forced by the anti-monarchical ferment of Arab nationalism. The ensuing catastrophe, including the loss of the West Bank and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, underscored for Hussein the importance of avoiding foreign policy adventurism and of courting the patronage of great powers, especially the United

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