Foreign Policy

Copeland on Saving Syria

Miles Copeland and Aaron Stipkovich on Syria

Video: Do we have the right bad guys?

Miles, a former long-time resident in Syria, discusses his perspective and recommendations for the peaceful salvation of the people in Syria. Highlights of his discussion include:

  • While listening to Senator John McCain, it struck me that the biggest problem with American foreign policy is that we, as a people, have become used to the world of sound bytes... and quick-snap decisions based on a word or label that gets landed on somebody. If somebody is called a dictator, they're automatically bad.

  • In the world of politics in America, you dont want to be called a liberal, because then somehow you're bad.

  • [The bigest problem we face in Syria] is that we're a little confused about the terms... [Bashar al-] Assad, because he's not elected, and therefore a dictator, he must be the bad guy. These people that are fighting him, even though we're not quite sure who they are, or what they represent, we're somehow thinking they're the good guys. Therefore, we should somehow be helping them.

  • When we, in America, sit back and want everything to be black and white... good guy, bad guy... the problem with that part of the world is it's all pretty much gray. There aren't any good guys, and you could say they're all, pretty much, bad guys in a sense.

  • A great example of things is when my father was in Egypt, when [Gamal Abdel] Nasser was president and Zakaria Mohieddin was Vice President... my father, in one of these philosophical conversations with Vice President Mohieddin, said 'in America our position is that we don't discriminate between race, creed or color...' And the Vice President looked at him with an interested look and said 'Well, how DO you discriminate!?' The idea that you dont discriminate against somebody of the other anything, was like... 'Are you crazy?! Of course you discriminate! That's what you do!'

  • In Syria right now, if the revolutionary's win, they're all going to fight eachother because each one of them represents a different group. If the Shia become more dominant then you'll have [people love it and people hate it.] If the Sunni become dominant, then you'll have [another buch of people love it and another bunch hate it.] Christians are all freaked out. They're big supporters of Assad because he was fine for the Christians... being a minority himself, the last thing he wanted to do was rock the boat with other minorities.

  • He really didn't want to be President... He's a little bit of a puppet.

  • If he was put into a position where we said 'Look, we're going to give you an exit. It's face saving and you can become a great Arab leader... the father of your country leading Syria into a democratic system... to become part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem. You're not going to get killed, [and you leave Syrian rule in five years.]' It works for the United States more than anything because one, you stop this thing, and two, it helps us to actually, constructively do business with the Chinese and the Russians on the world stage, politically.

About Miles Copeland

When Miles Axe Copeland III was born on May 2, 1944, there was a very bright star in the sky, though no one is quite certain which star it was. There were also V-1 and V-2 rockets dropping in the near vicinity, as it was the height of the World War II blitz of London. Miles' father, Miles Axe Copeland, Jr., was stationed in England in the American army doing counter-intelligence for the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services), where he met and married Miles' future mother, Lorraine Adie, who was in British Intelligence S.O.E (Special Operations Executive). Miles' passport shows his birth date as April 2 because father Miles made a mistake on the original application. Throughout life, Miles has had surprise birthday parties thrown on April 2 and people wish him happy birthday one month early. Rarely has anyone, except close family, wished him happy birthday on May 2. (The psychological damage done to him due to this fluke is unknown).

After the war, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where father Miles and a small nucleus of intelligence officers were given the task of organizing a central intelligence gathering organization combining the best of the various forces intelligence corps including the O.S.S. This resulted in the foundation of the CIA In 1948, he was sent to Damascus, Syria as the CIA operative with the title "Culture Attache." While in Damascus, he was directly involved in the overthrow of the Syrian government, the first overthrow of a foreign government by an U.S. government operative using covert means. While in Damascus, young Miles became fluent in Arabic, which has come in handy recently with his launch into World Music, particularly music emanating from the Middle East. Apparently losing some of this aptitude over the years, Miles' current Arabic fluency is convincing only to those who don't speak a word of Arabic. He is, however, quite proficient in French.

The family then alternated between Middle East posts and Washington D.C. In 1953, father Miles Jr. was loaned by the CIA to Gamal Abdul Nasser (President of Egypt) to organize the Egyptian secret intelligence, The Mukabarat. He soon became Nasser's closest western advisor. It was here that Lorraine Copeland took up archeology and Miles III took up an interest in collecting anything ancient, from mummy parts to coins. It was also here that young Miles became friends with Col. Hasan Tuhami, Nasser's machine gun toting bodyguard who lived next door. In later years, this friendship became extremely useful as Mr. Tuhami became Vice Prime Minister of Egypt and came to the rescue of The Police, whose equipment was stuck in Egyptian customs, jeopardizing a concert at the Cairo University that night. Father Miles' exploits are recounted in three books: Game of Nations, The Real Spy World and his autobiography, The Game Player.

From 1957-68 the Copeland family was stationed in Beirut, Lebanon during the hey-day of that city. Miles attended high school at the American Community School where he was president of his senior class. Along with his archeologist mother, he further developed his fascination for ancient civilizations, especially their art and architecture. This interest took him to travel widely throughout Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. During the summer breaks, he taught judo, having previously earned a first-degree black belt. He was the first person ever to put on a judo exhibition for Lebanese television, his first television appearance. He was also presented with a license to teach Judo to the Lebanese Army. He accepts no responsibility for the ineffectiveness of that army in subsequent years... [Continue on Miles here]

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Updated Jan 2, 2019 12:28 PM EST | More details


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