Workers Vanguard No. 1009

28 September 2012


Imperialists’ Hands Off Syria!

For the past year and a half, the Syrian population has been crushed between two reactionary forces that have ravaged the country in a devastating civil war. Faced with an insurgency dominated by forces centrally from the majority Sunni Muslim population and backed by sundry imperialist and regional powers, the murderous Ba’ath Party regime of Bashar al-Assad has sought to stamp out the rebellion through the massive use of firepower, including against residential areas. Insurgents have likewise carried out gruesome massacres of civilians. Key Syrian opposition leaders have appealed for imperialist military intervention, echoing the Libyan “rebels” who became willing tools for the NATO bombing campaign last year. While the imperialists are currently focusing on providing material and logistical support to the anti-Assad forces, the Obama White House has declared that military options are not “off the table.”

Revolutionary Marxists support neither side in this civil war, in which a victory of one combatant or the other would do nothing to further the cause of the working class and the oppressed. However, workers internationally do have a side in opposing military intervention by the imperialists. In the event of imperialist attack, we would stand for the defense of Syria while maintaining proletarian political opposition to Assad’s bloodsoaked rule.

The civil war grew out of a series of demonstrations in the provincial city of Dara’a in Syria’s southern Sunni region in March 2011 as “Arab Spring” protests were sweeping North Africa and the Near East. The demonstrations spread beyond Dara’a, and the Assad regime murderously unleashed troops and tanks on civilians. Increasing numbers of soldiers defected, forming the core of an array of anti-government militias. Key commanders of this so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) were for years part of the Assad regime’s repressive machinery.

Presenting itself as the main political leadership of the opposition is the Syrian National Council (SNC), a coalition of exiles and opposition groups. A number of the principal spokesmen for this lash-up have longstanding ties to U.S. State Department and national security officials, as detailed by the London Guardian (12 July) article, “The Syrian Opposition: Who’s Doing the Talking?”

The SNC today is dominated by the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the largest number of seats in the Council as well as the committee that distributes money and other aid to anti-Assad forces in Syria. Furthermore, Sunni jihadist groups from other Muslim countries have increasingly joined the armed rebellion. These developments have complicated matters for the U.S. rulers, who are conscious that those who just killed their ambassador to Libya were fundamentalists financed and armed by Washington last year to help overthrow Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Syria is a patchwork of ethnic, national and sectarian groupings, where the regime dominated by the Alawite minority holds sway over the Sunni majority, Kurds, Christians, Druze and others, posing the danger of the conflict degenerating into communal warfare. This situation is the legacy of the divide-and-rule policies of the colonial powers, which carved up the Near East following World War I (see article on page 4).

Although the Obama administration is wary of directly intervening militarily into the conflict, it has allocated some $25 million to the Syrian “rebels” in accordance with a secret order signed by the president earlier this year. All the while, Washington has maintained the pretense of not supplying “lethal weapons.” U.S. intelligence agents, working with their counterparts from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are “drawing on their experience in Libya” to help direct support to the anti-Assad forces (Wall Street Journal, 13 June). They work out of a secret “nerve center” set up in Adana, a Turkish city near the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, the U.S. air base. According to the New York Times (21 June), arms are funneled into Syria “by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.”

The imperialists have imposed on Syria a broad range of economic sanctions, with the Obama administration ratcheting up U.S. measures last month. Syria has been particularly hard hit by an oil embargo imposed a year ago by the European Union (EU). Until then, oil exports, almost all of which went to EU member states, were the mainstay of the Syrian economy, which has severely contracted under the embargo. The main casualties have been rural and urban laborers, especially the poor and most vulnerable, who face rampant inflation, massive layoffs and shortages of gasoline and other refined oil products as well as staple foods. Attempts to implement United Nations Security Council sanctions have been thwarted by opposition from Russia, which is also supplying the Assad regime with intelligence and arms, and China.

Behind Washington’s drive to effect “regime change” in Damascus is the determination of America’s imperialist rulers to perpetuate and extend their world dominance. Syria has historically occupied a pivotal position in the oil-rich Near East. The country exerts key influence in Lebanon, particularly through its support to the Shi’ite fundamentalist Hezbollah, and serves as the most significant Arab ally of Iran. Tehran’s influence in the region was given a major boost by the U.S. invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003 and the installation of a predominantly Shi’ite regime in Baghdad. For years, the U.S. rulers have been hostile toward Iran, as have been the Sunni monarchs in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, who have been major suppliers of arms to anti-Assad forces, especially to the Sunni jihadists. What the U.S. ended up getting through its murderous occupation of Iraq was an Iran-friendly regime.

French imperialism, now under Socialist Party president François Hollande, has been beating the drums for an “international coalition” to impose a “no-fly zone” over part of Syria. However, the White House has resisted any such move, even as the chorus of influential figures in Washington calling for U.S. military intervention now extends beyond right-wing Republicans like John McCain to include the likes of William Perry and Madeleine Albright. The latter two served, respectively, as secretary of defense and secretary of state under Democratic president Bill Clinton in the mid-late 1990s as the U.S. rained bombs on Iraq and the former Yugoslavia.

Just as the New York Times retailed Washington’s lies about Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, so today the bourgeois press prints any fabrication put out by the Syrian opposition. Thus, the press worldwide reported that the Syrian military had perpetrated the August 25 massacre of at least 245 men, women and children in Daraya, near Damascus. Yet an on-site investigation by veteran journalist Robert Fisk pointed to the killing of civilians by insurgents (Independent, 29 August). A local resident told Fisk: “One of the dead was a postman—they included him because he was a government worker.”

It was a U.S.-financed group of Iraqi exiles, Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, that generated the bogus reports of Hussein’s WMDs. This summer, it was the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition that put out patently spurious reports claiming that Assad was moving chemical weapons out of storage facilities and preparing to use them. When Obama last month warned of “enormous consequences,” the Syrian government countered that it would only use chemical weapons “in case of external aggression.”

Uniquely among the principal minorities in Syria, the Kurds as a people constitute a nation that extends into Turkey, Iran and Iraq. But their struggle against national oppression has been betrayed time and again by competing nationalist leaders who act as lackeys of the imperialists or of one local bourgeois regime or another. To achieve Kurdish self-determination requires the proletarian revolutionary overthrow of the four capitalist states and the formation of a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan.

During the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt last year, we pointed to the working class, whose strikes played a major role in bringing down both despotic regimes, as the potential gravedigger of the bourgeois order. We underlined the urgent need for the proletariat to act as the leader of all the oppressed masses. However, while the proletariat continues to wage economic struggles, politically it is subordinated to Islamist and other bourgeois forces.

For the proletariat to emerge as a contender for power, it is necessary to undertake the forging of vanguard workers parties that oppose the imperialists and all domestic bourgeois forces—from the military bonapartists and liberal political figures to reactionary political Islam. There will be no end to ethnic and national oppression, no emancipation of women, no end to the exploitation of working people short of a thoroughgoing proletarian revolution that opens the road to the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East, as part of the struggle for world proletarian revolution.