Before the war, Syria denied having extensive trade relations with Iraq, even though they were worth $2bn a year and factories had set up special production lines to cope with the extra demand.
It also denied receiving oil from Iraq worth $500m a year – or rather, said the pipeline was only being tested. Once the war came and the pipeline was cut off, Syria’s oil exports suddenly dropped by 100,000-150,000 barrels a day.
For Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian novelist and political commentator, the problem lies with members of the regime who see no need to explain their actions.
“These are people who are not used to being accountable,” he said. “They don’t know how to deal with this crisis.”
Until now, the Syrian government has usually protected itself on international issues by never straying too far from popular views in the Arab street.
This week, at an emergency meeting in Beirut, the central council of the General Federation of Arab Students “expressed its support for President Bashar al-Assad’s national stance towards Arab causes”, according to a report by the official Syrian news agency. Gratifying as that may be, it is not much help fending off pressure from the US.
Mr Abdulhamid says he, too, is worried about the US trying to reshape the world in its own image, but argues that American designs should be resisted by the world community and the European Union, not Syria alone.
“This is not the time when you want to build yourself into a national hero,” he said. “You have to look at your size on the map, remember who you are and play the role that fits your size. That is the new reality.”