The war drums in Washington are beating their macabre tune loud, announcing an imminent US attack on Syria. In the UK, the faithful squire, prime minister David Cameron, is willingly echoing the call. The British Parliament is expected to back the military option in an emergency meeting convened for 29th August. Direct imperialist intervention marks a fundamental change in the situation in Syria after the spiralling sectarian civil war had wiped away the revolutionary potential of the anti-regime protests, which were sparked in January 2011 by the events of the Arab Spring.
Caught in the mechanism of a bloody civil war, the revolution has been mercilessly pushed back. The sectarian spiral strengthened the grip of the Assad regime over the Alawite and Christian minorities, and the urban population threatened by the rising tide of Islamic Sunni fundamentalist reaction within the opposition. Reaction took over on both sides.
Once the opposition switched from a mass movement of the youth against the oppressive regime to a military struggle, the masses were relegated to the background; the ability of the revolutionary youth to appeal to the mass of the population and to break the barrier of sectarian divide along class lines was neutralized. Thus, the question of who had access to weapons, supplies, etc., became increasingly decisive within the opposition camp, marking the rise of black reaction in the form of Sunni Jihadist armies mainly around Jabhat Al-Nusra. These armies, joined by foreign mercenaries and fuelled by generous donations and arms from Qatar and other Gulf patrons, were catapulted to the front of the battle. Any residual revolutionary element has since then been completely marginalized or crushed.
As we were warning in June, US imperialism eventually resolved to step up direct intervention by supplying arms and by training the Free Syrian Army in a desperate attempt to change the relations of forces within the opposition and prevent the Jihadists from consolidating their leading position.
This attempt was too little too late. Obama failed miserably to win the backing of Congress, while the military situation swiftly changed in favour of the Assad regime which is clearly winning the war, thus forcing US imperialism to rush into a more direct intervention in order to slow down and eventually prevent the consolidation of the Syrian regime's military advance.
The key to understanding the present situation lies precisely in the dramatic turn taken by events on the Syrian battleground.
Is the Assad regime using chemical weapons?
On 21st August, news broke out of an attack, done with sarin gas or some other chemical agent, which killed hundreds of civilians in an opposition-controlled area of Damascus. Almost immediately (and in some cases even before the alleged attack took place), videos, showing scores of corpses and hospitals full of suffering civilians, especially children, were published on the internet claiming that the attack was carried out by government forces.
The justification for the announced US attack is based on alleged “evidence” assembled in yet another “dossier” botched up by US intelligence which is claiming the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population by the Assad regime.
Over the weekend, US president Barack Obama called his national security team together and ordered it to prepare a declassified report for public release before any military strike commences. On 26th August, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the evidence “is screaming at us” that chemical weapons were used in Syria, and that Syria's use of chemical weapons “should shock the conscience of the world.”
As stated many times over the last months by US government sources, and reiterated by a deputy national security advisor to Obama on June 14, “the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses red lines that have existed in the international community for decades” — thus providing a providential excuse to back up plans for an attack on Syria.
We don't know whether there is any grain of truth in this “dossier”. Chemical weapons are most likely in the hands of both the Syrian army and the armed opposition gangs. If chemical weapons were used at all in this particular attack, it could have been the result of a tragic mistake on the part of the Syrian army, as some commentators have suggested, or a desperate move gone out of control on the part of one of the factions of the armed opposition in order to provoke US intervention — or it could be simply plainly false.
But certainly there is no interest in establishing the truth, not by the US government — desperate for an excuse to intervene — nor by the demoralized forces of the armed opposition, who see US intervention as the only way to resurrect their chances to turn the war around.
To whomever nurtures hopes that the United Nations could play a role in preventing an escalation of the conflict (as unfortunately seems to be the case for most of the leaders of the international left and trade union movement), suffice it to repeat what we stated in June: “The UN is an irrelevance. Diplomacy has been brushed aside by events on the field of battle. War will now decide everything.”
On the other side, we cannot emphasize enough that the Assad regime does not need to use chemical weapons to crush their opponents — and in fact, it would be complete madness for them to do so conceding the US a very much sought after excuse to directly intervene in the conflict.
The balance of forces in this war has turned quite dramatically during the last few months and the Syrian army has proven to be quite capable of overpowering the armed capabilities of the opposition.
Aeschilus’ old maxim is, “In war, truth is the first casualty,” but even according to the low standards of war propaganda, this appears to be a complete farce.
This situation cannot but remind us of the “dossier” upon which George Bush and Tony Blair solemnly swore — and solemnly lied — that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was in possession of “weapons of mass destruction”, thus justifying the US-led aggression in Iraq in 2003.
What are the real aims of US imperialism?
The point is not just whether chemical weapons have been used or not, and by whom. After more than 100,000 deaths in this bloody civil war in Syria over the last two years, the US government is now becoming suddenly extremely concerned by the killing of women and children and innocent civilians. How many have been killed before by weapons supplied by the imperialist powers to one or the other side of this bloody proxy war — Russia and Iran in support of the Assad regime, and the unholy alliance of US, Britain, France, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia on the other side?
The sheer number of victims speaks for itself. Does it matter that children are executed in the streets or in front of their parents by reactionary thugs for defying the rules of so-called Islamic laws, or killed in one of the many bombardments of whole neighbourhoods carried out by the rebels (or by the Syrian army) with “conventional” weapons? Does it matter that entire families are rounded up, locked up in a building, and blown up with dynamite as happened in Khalidiya just because they happen to be of Christian or Alawite descent? Clearly all this is not enough to “cross the red line” of imperialist hypocrisy.
And will the US “intelligent” cruise missiles discriminate between military personnel and civilians once they wipe away parts of Syrian cities in a ball of fire? Who will bear the consequences of the destruction of infrastructure, communication, energy and water supplies, and the long term devastating consequences of a “surgical” use of US “conventional” weapons of mass destruction (like the depleted uranium shells of the bombs thrown down upon the former Yugoslavia)? It will be the same children and civilians these stinking hypocrites are claiming to defend.
How will these children and civilians be helped by a barrage of cruise missiles hitting their country? But above all, what are the real aims of imperialist intervention?
The declared aim to strike against the Syrian regime's military assets as a “warning not to use chemical weapons” is risible. So is the pretence to destroy the deposits of chemical weapons, as if the Syrian army were patiently waiting for the US military strategists to take their time over the past months without having put in place elementary countermeasures to protect their stocks of weapons and defend their military operational capability from air strikes.
Maybe a glimpse of the real aim of the threatened military attack could be given by the following comment published on Sunday by the New York Times:
“But the Obama administration should resist the temptation to intervene more forcefully in Syria’s civil war. A victory by either side would be equally undesirable for the United States.
“At this point, a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests.” (New York Times, 25 Aug. 2013)
The most plausible aim of US intervention seems to us to be that of seriously affecting the Syrian Army's ability of taking advantage of the momentum gained in their offensive against the opposition armies. The US military strategists are aiming at buying them some time so that they can re-organize and re-establish a situation of stalemate, where war continues without any of the opponents being able to win it. This scenario would open up the opportunity for the imperialists to manoeuvre and reach an agreement behind the backs of the suffering masses through diplomacy and a so-called “peace conference”. So goodbye to the cries of defending unarmed children and civilians from the threat of the monstrous Assad regime!
It is a dangerous — even desperate — move on the part of US imperialism, which may be ineffective at best and drag them into a much deeper direct involvement in the conflict — much feared by US military strategists. The Syrian war has already the characteristics of a proxy war between important imperialist powers in the region.
According to some sources, the Russian military has already delivered advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries for Assad, operated by Russian technicians. What the consequences will be of a US air strike killing Russian soldiers is open for speculation. The US attack may be launched from four missile destroyers that the US Navy has deployed in the area in recent days. But the options for the US to strike Syria include air force bases in several Mediterranean countries, Turkey amongst them.
Partly in response to this, Russia has, for the first time in decades, announced the establishment of a permanent presence in the Mediterranean and has moved several large landing ships, supply ships and destroyers to the area.
Throughout the international media we are witnessing the beginning of a propaganda campaign aimed at preparing “public opinion” for a direct military intervention on the part of US imperialism and its minor partners.
It is an elementary duty for revolutionaries internationally to unmask the real interests of imperialism and oppose this intervention, which has nothing to do with humanitarian considerations. The Syrian masses are just pawns in a larger cynical chess game of the imperialist powers.
Imperialism has nothing to offer to the Syrian people and the masses in the Middle East. Over the last three years millions took to the streets demanding decent living conditions, work, bread, dignity, an end to corruption, and an end to brutal repressive regimes. The revolutionary forces have succeeded in overthrowing some of these hated regimes, but have failed so far in overthrowing the system which created them and the ruling classes which were benefiting from them. In some cases, as in Libya and Syria, this failure has been paid for with civil war and bloody reaction, and we have seen that even the most basic aspirations of the masses can never be met within the system of capitalism.
Our appeal to the Syrian youth and working class, regardless of religious and ethnic divisions, is not to trust the imperialists, and to neither trust Assad or the reactionary opposition. Prepare and join your brothers and sisters and the masses of the Middle East in the common struggle against capitalism and imperialist oppression. More revolutionary upsurges are being prepared throughout the whole region and it is here where the path lies for the liberation of the masses in the Arab world.
This article first appeared on In Defence of Marxism (marxist.com).