For Syria, the 1967 defeat had a litany of causes. These included the regime’s underestimation of its enemies’ capacity, a false expectation of its ostensible patron, the Russians, and an oblivious geopolitical approach that facilitated Syria’s isolation, even from the very Arab countries that it would fight alongside. The regime also misunderstood, intentionally or not, what a socialist revolution is in practice. This resulted in a half-baked doctrinaire approach to exacting social justice, one that could not bring about a collective social solidarity.
For the most part, and not withstanding some structural advancements, the approach of the ruling masters of Syria in the early to mid-1960s served neither ideology nor people. The “Corrective Movement” that Hafiz al-Asad led in 1970 was born from an odd combination of a ubiquitous post-defeat malaise generally and a personal resolve. It did not deliver as promised. While Asad and some of his comrades may have learned from the mistakes of the 1960s, they implemented many of their correctives for the wrong reasons. They sought to build a Syria that is less fractious and more independent. However, the tools they employed included “unbounded pragmatism,” to use a euphemism, and staffing the party with careerists, doomed their efforts to eventual failure. Aside from significant accomplishments at various social levels, especially in the countryside early on, the cost of this failure is on full display in the Syrian calamity of today.
The incompetence in 1967 and the narrow-minded over-compensation after 1970 left behind the potential of collective thinking, the people themselves, and the very idea of enduring social justice. The adversaries, not just of Syria and Syrians, but of basic humanitarian principles, social justice, and self-determination survived and flourished. Israel, the United States, and their local conservative and liberal Arab allies won. Everyone else, particularly those in the Arab world, lost.
Eventually, little was accomplished for the Syrian people by the half-baked principles and geopolitical ignorance in the 1960s, and by the narrowly-defined geopolitical acumen henceforth. If the political will to fight was lacking among Arab leaders in 1948, it was their political maturity that was lacking in 1967 and beyond. Besides temporary and uneven empowerment, the Arab people would continue to be left behind. In sum, 1967 was profound, not so much because of the defeat as much as what it indicated: a profound need for a political-economic restructuring, away from both “market” and narrow socialist dirigisme, a need to prioritize and empower people by putting ideology in their service, not the opposite. Both ideology and people were compromised, as the uprisings finally arrived to start reminding us.
None of this is to dismiss the pernicious attempts and effects of past and present colonialism, Zionist ethnic cleansing, and imperialism. Yet that external realm, however implicated, is somewhat out of, or is less amenable to, our control. The tragedy is that even the realms that are within the reach of local elites were gaping wounds of failure that left Arabs bereft of true development and social justice. To use a Trumpian turn of phrase, “the imperialists,” the Zionists, and local beneficiaries/accomplices could not have asked for a better “deal.”