DAMASCUS // Syria always feared that the White House of George W Bush and Dick Cheney would invade Damascus once it had dispatched with Baghdad in 2003 and, in his newly released memoirs, the former British prime minister Tony Blair confirmed those fears were well founded. Describing the former US vice president as an advocate of "hard, hard power", Mr Blair said Damascus was next on Mr Cheney's hit list.
"He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it - Hizbollah, Hamas, etc," Mr Blair wrote in his autobiography, A Journey. "In other words, he thought the whole world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency." Syria's correct assumption that powerful US forces wanted to attack it had profound implications, domestically and in Iraq. Although no friend of Saddam Hussein, Damascus had every reason to want the American occupation to fail and, therefore, no incentive to stop Islamist militants crossing the border to fight US troops.
For years, US military officials complained that insurgents entering from Syria were among their most deadly opponents, playing a key role in undermining US attempts to build a Washington friendly Iraq. Faced with this very real US threat, the Syrian authorities also moved to quash growing domestic dissent, arresting and jailing dozens of pro-democracy activists. That crackdown continues to this day.