Workers Vanguard No. 1029
6 September 2013
Obama Presses for Missile Strikes
No to Imperialist Attack Against Syria!
SEPTEMBER 2—After having signaled that a military assault on Syria was imminent, Barack Obama backtracked two days ago and asked Congress to grant him authorization after it gets back in session on September 9. But the Commander-in-Chief is no less determined to order missile attacks. Obama claims that bombing Syria would be retribution for a poison gas attack on August 21 allegedly carried out by the Syrian bourgeois regime of Bashar al-Assad against his own people. In fact, the projected missile strikes are an ominous assertion of the imperialists’ power to brutalize any country whose leaders do not toe the line laid down by Washington. Factoring heavily in the calculations of the White House is Assad’s ally Iran, with Secretary of State John Kerry arguing that Tehran would “feel emboldened, in the absence of action [against Syria], to obtain nuclear weapons.”
Obama announced the pause in his march to attack after encountering unexpectedly strong opposition in foreign capitals. In Britain, the Conservative Party’s David Cameron became the first prime minister in memory to have lost a vote on military action—by some accounts since 1782, when parliament voted to stop fighting against the American colonies’ War of Independence. The opposition Labour Party, which under Prime Minister Tony Blair led Britain into wars against Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq, put forward an amendment supporting an attack against Syria under certain conditions (like at least waiting for the UN inspectors’ report). The Labour Party amendment failed by an even greater margin than the government motion.
Among the major European powers, that left only France, the former colonial overseer of Syria, as a likely participant in the U.S.-led assault. Backing the Syrian regime is capitalist Russia, which has provided Assad with sophisticated missile defense technology and vowed to veto any military action proposed under the aegis of the United Nations. In a boost to the U.S., yesterday Saudi Arabia, one of the major backers of the jihadist component of the Syrian opposition, and the United Arab Emirates announced their support for the plan to attack Syria.
Before Obama launched U.S. warplanes to bomb Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011, he ostentatiously affirmed the power of the imperial presidency by refusing to seek a vote of approval by Congress. Now, with precious few coalition partners internationally and little popular support in the U.S. for military intervention in Syria, Obama has turned to Congress to share responsibility and provide him some political cover, although the administration has made it clear that it will not be bound by the vote.
The bulk of working people in the U.S., war-weary and squeezed by the years-long economic downturn, do not back an attack on Syria. A sizable section of the capitalist ruling class has its own qualms about getting bogged down in another Near East quagmire. After devastating Iraq, once a cultural center of the region, and butchering its peoples, the U.S. bourgeoisie ended up with a black eye diplomatically and a Shi’ite government in Baghdad that is a close ally of Iran.
The shadow of the war in Iraq, sold on phony reports of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” has stoked widespread skepticism about the intelligence claims that the gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus was carried out by the Assad regime. Even U.S. intelligence officials acknowledge that their case is no “slam dunk.” Certainly, the imperialists are masters at fabricating provocations when they find it expedient. Recall the 1964 “Gulf of Tonkin incident,” a phony attack on a U.S. warship by North Vietnamese forces cooked up by the Lyndon Johnson administration to provide the pretext for a massive escalation of American forces in Vietnam.
In any case, what motivates the U.S. rulers is not protecting civilians from massacres. They hardly batted an eye last month when the military regime in Egypt that took power in a July coup slaughtered hundreds of protesters. On the home front, the American bourgeoisie has no shortage of blood on its hands, from the gunning down of striking rail workers in 1877 to the 1985 bombing of the largely black MOVE commune.
We do not know who is responsible for the August 21 gas attack. But as Marxists, our stance is not guided by which of the two reactionary forces in the devastating Syrian civil war was behind it. What must be understood is that it is U.S. imperialism that is the greatest danger to the working people and downtrodden of the planet. It is the duty of the proletariat, especially U.S. workers in the belly of the imperialist beast, to stand for the defense of Syria against the impending military attack by the rapacious imperialists. Our call for defense of Syria, a semicolonial country, in the military sense does not imply the least political support to that country’s reactionary Alawite-dominated regime. This is in sharp contrast to reformist organizations, such as the Greek Communist Party (KKE), that combine opposition to U.S. military intervention with political support to Assad. Nor do we support the rebels—who are largely Sunni-fundamentalist—as does much of the left in the imperialist centers.
An imperialist missile attack against Syrian military sites would necessarily strengthen the insurgents and further inflame communal tensions. The Syrian civil war is increasingly escalating into a Near East-wide Sunni versus Shi’ite communal war extending from Syria to Lebanon and Iraq. In Iraq, Sunni forces linked to Al Qaeda have stepped up bombings in Shi’ite neighborhoods, threatening a return to the orgy of sectarian bloodshed that engulfed the country in 2006-07. Lebanon is also suffering its worst sectarian violence in years, including car bombings in Beirut suburbs controlled by the Shi’ite Hezbollah, which has troops in Syria fighting on behalf of Assad. Meanwhile, since mid July rebel forces have been carrying out “ethnic cleansing” of Kurds in northeast Syria.
The spreading communal violence is being seized upon as a pretext for further U.S. military buildup in this oil-rich region. In June, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed that top U.S. commanders were seeking permission from Iraq and Lebanon to deploy troops in those countries. This would be in addition to the U.S. Patriot missile batteries and fighter planes stationed in Jordan and Turkey, the two British military bases in Cyprus and the massive U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf. The workers movement must demand imperialist military withdrawal from the Near East.
Imperialist “Democracy” and Chemical Warfare
Obama claims to be defending an “international norm” prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. The norm is that the imperialists are fully prepared to use any means, including poison gas and other “weapons of mass destruction,” in pursuit of their interests. When imperialist forces intervened in Russia in 1919 in a failed attempt to crush the Russian Revolution, British warplanes bombarded Red Army troops with a chemical nerve agent. That same year, when Kurds in Mesopotamia rose in revolt against British occupation, Winston Churchill declared: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes.”
The Washington politicians lamenting civilian casualties in Syria represent the only ruling class to have used atomic bombs in warfare, incinerating some 200,000 Japanese civilians in August 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the Vietnam War, U.S. forces employed massive quantities of Agent Orange defoliant and CS gas—the latter was used against insurgents holed up in tunnels—as well as burning alive untold numbers of Vietnamese villagers in napalm strikes. In Iraq, the U.S. used shells made of depleted uranium that produced radioactive dust. Scientists investigating widespread birth defects in Falluja describe it as now having “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied” and point to the depleted uranium as the likely culprit.
In 1975, the U.S. finally got around to signing the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning the use of chemical weapons, but Washington unilaterally retains the right to unleash them if an adversary uses them first. After a highly publicized promise to dispose of its gigantic stores of sarin and other chemical weapons, as of last year the U.S. still had some 2,700 tons in its stockpile.
During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. government was complicit as Saddam Hussein carried out horrific chemical weapons attacks. Determined to prevent an Iranian victory, Ronald Reagan’s administration provided Iraqi forces with satellite photographs of Iranian troop deployments as well as critical hands-on assistance in planning for battles and airstrikes. The U.S. did so with full knowledge that Iraqi commanders had been using chemical weapons against Iranian troops since 1983. Washington “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas,” one U.S. veteran of the operation told the New York Times (18 August 2002). “It was just another way of killing people.”
The sordid history of U.S. involvement in the atrocities carried out by the Hussein regime was highlighted by a number of recently declassified CIA documents published by Foreign Policy (26 August). A March 1984 CIA report noted that Iraq was using nerve gas and called it “a very good offensive as well as defensive weapon” that “could have a significant impact on Iran’s human wave tactics, forcing Iran to give up that strategy.” U.S. support to Iraqi forces continued right through the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, in which the Iraqi regime slaughtered 5,000 of its own citizens. That attack was later hypocritically decried by the George W. Bush administration as evidence of Saddam Hussein’s brutality as the U.S. was gearing up for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
As in the case of Saddam Hussein, Assad’s past services to the imperialists were quickly forgotten once Washington decided that he no longer served their purposes. In the early years of the “war on terror,” Syria was a prime destination in the “extraordinary rendition” program in which the U.S. sent terrorism suspects to other countries to be tortured. That didn’t prevent the Obama administration, once civil war broke out in Syria, from providing financial support and small arms to some insurgents while ratcheting up economic sanctions that, along with those imposed by the European Union, have crippled the Syrian economy.
Even more punishing sanctions have been imposed on Iran, which Washington and Tel Aviv perceive as attempting to challenge the Israeli monopoly of nuclear arms in the region. Although the Iranian government denies that it is developing nuclear weapons, Iran clearly needs nukes as a deterrent to the imperialists. We demand: Down with the sanctions against Iran and Syria!
For Class Struggle Against the Capitalist Rulers!
The basis for the communal conflagration that is erupting in the Near East was laid under colonial rule as the European powers set various nationalities and ethnic groups against each other. Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are not nations but rather patchworks of different peoples and ethnicities that were carved out of the collapsing Ottoman Empire by Britain and France following the First World War. In Syria, the imperialists promoted the Alawites to lord it over the predominantly Sunni population (see “Syrian Civil War: Legacy of Imperialist Divide-and-Rule,” WV No. 1009, 28 September 2012).
The international proletariat and semicolonial peoples are paying the price for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92. That historic defeat resulted in a catastrophic devastation of living conditions and culture in the former Soviet Union. It has also emboldened U.S. imperialism, which proclaimed itself the “world’s only superpower” while aggressively asserting its dominance over the globe. Today, the same reformist “socialists” who cheered the demise of the Soviet Union line up behind the imperialist-backed rebel forces in Syria, enthusing over a mythical Syrian revolution. A case in point is the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which touts the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of local protest groups, as the “wellspring of the revolutionary movement” in Syria (socialistworker.org, 28 August).
In fact, the LCC openly calls for U.S. military intervention in its country. In a September 1 statement posted on its Facebook page, the LCC criticizes Obama for planning a “limited strike to merely warn Assad” instead of seeking to “paralyze” the Syrian military. The LCC demands that Obama’s military assault be “accompanied by close coordination with, and sufficient support to the Syrian opposition, both political and armed.”
The threatened attack against Syria represents the true face of imperialism, the profit-driven capitalist system in its epoch of decay. Military depredations are part of the “normal” workings of imperialism, in which the advanced industrial powers compete globally for control of markets, raw materials and access to cheap labor. This is reflected domestically in grinding poverty, racial oppression and intensified exploitation of labor by capital. The only way to put an end to this system is through international socialist revolution and the creation of a worldwide planned economy. We fight to build revolutionary workers parties as part of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International to lead the proletariat in the struggle for power.