A dilemma for imperialism in Syria

US and European imperialism remain intent on removing the Ba’athist state in Syria. The military build-up on Syria’s borders increases with the deployment of US, German, and Dutch Patriot missiles. However, the imperialists face a problem: they have not been able to construct, and they cannot foresee, a reliable replacement for the Syrian government. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which the imperialists and their Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) allies have funded, has turned into packs of looting gangs and the main fighting force for the opposition has become the fundamentalist militia, the Jahbat Al Nusra (JN), which is both unreliable and unpopular with the population in the areas it has occupied. Atrocities committed by the opposition forces are turning the people against them.

NATO’s objective is to install a pliant government in Syria which will co-operate with US and European military and economic domination of the Middle East. Regime change in Syria is also part of a wider strategy – encircling and isolating Iran. NATO has installed six batteries of Patriot missiles and hundreds of troops close to the Turkish border. This alliance, driven by US, British, and French imperialism, is determined to destroy the Syrian state. NATO special forces have been operating covertly inside Syria for many months. Wider intervention has been threatened on the pretexts of massacres and chemical weapons. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worried on 5 December that a ‘desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons’. French President Francois Hollande called this ‘a legitimate reason for direct intervention’. However, significant obstacles still stand in the way of NATO’s strategy.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, cobbled together by the US, Britain, France and GCC, has failed to make any progress for its masters, despite recognition from 149 countries as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people’. British imperialism continues to push for a credible opposition government, with a two-day opposition conference held at Wilton Park in West Sussex in January. British Foreign Secretary Hague is arguing for the European Union embargo on openly arming the FSA to be lifted. The disintegration of the FSA into bands of armed looters has been widely reported. A report submitted to the US State Department by ‘sources working with the FSA’ claims it has ‘transformed into disorganised rebel groups, infiltrated by large numbers of criminals’. North of Aleppo, Syria is described as a ‘failed state’ where ‘rebel violations are becoming a normal daily phenomenon, especially against civilians’. In this context the growing influence and strength of jihadist groups outside the FSA is feared by those attempting to manage orderly regime change.

The JN is the best armed and organised opposition militia; it calls for strict sharia law in a future Syrian Emirate. It was designated a terrorist group and front for Al Qaeda by the US on 11 December 2012. It continues to lead attacks on military bases, creating a flow of arms and recruits. Its involvement in car-bombings, sectarian executions and targeting journalists, however, has caused western media alarm. NATO has always been happy to work alongside jihadist militants where their interests coincide. Many of JN’s arms can be traced back to the imperialists and the GCC, but they cannot rely on such groups. Attempts have been made to use this as a new justification for intervention – what if these radicals were to get hold of Syria’s chemical weapons? Would Israel be their first target? The US, Britain, and Israel, are mobilising special forces to ‘secure chemical weapons sites’. According to the Pentagon, this requires 75,000 troops. If concern about the group’s ideology serves their purposes, NATO will not hesitate to use chauvinism and fear to legitimise an attack.

Russia is mounting strong opposition to the NATO-GCC project against Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Syria’s chemical weapons are being guarded in coordination with the Russian Embassy in Damascus and pose no threat. Russian military advisers are manning Syria’s complex missile defences – which would be the first target of NATO air-strikes (The Guardian, 23 December 2012). The Russian navy has massed in the Eastern Mediterranean for exercises described by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as ‘the biggest in the history of our country’. Russia can be expected to continue to block United Nations Security Council resolutions proposing NATO military action, as it defends its own strategic interests in the region.

While the British state deploys military trainers, special forces and its diplomatic corps to conspire against the Syrian state, the British left remains immobilised. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) continues to ignore the crucial role of Britain or any foreign power in Syria’s war. In Socialist Worker Siân Ruddick states, ‘The blame for this tragedy is laid firmly at the feet of Assad and his murderous regime’ (12 January 2013). This stance is common amongst left groups who side with imperialism’s agenda in the Middle East. We must remember that the death toll – 60,000 by January 2013, according to the UN – includes at least 12,000 members of the Syrian military. The Middle East is being engulfed with interminable fighting, and rivalries that could escalate the war. This calls for an anti-imperialist response. The ruling class and the state that are attacking Syrian sovereignty are attacking our living standards and our homes in Britain – we must oppose them abroad if we are to defend ourselves at home.

Toby Harbertson & Trevor Rayne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013


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