SYRIA: Waspish Waist of the Arab World

When President Nixon steps down from Air Force One in Damascus this weekend, he will be the first U.S. President ever to set foot in Syria. It is an ancient land with a strongly nationalistic people who in their lone-wolf attitudes are often as puzzling to other Arabs as they are to Westerners.

One of the world's oldest inhabited cities, Syria's capital, Damascus, has at one time or another been a seat of empire, a center of learning and a provincial backwater. Today it is a rapidly growing city of 836,000, devoted mostly...