Editorial comment from the Socialist Party (England & Wales)
Via social media, smart phones and traditional news channels a flood of bloody images, footage and reports of the unbearable suffering inflicted on the Syrian masses has been broadcast around the world.
Initially in 2011, following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, there was a popular uprising against Assad’s police state. But, as has been explained in the Socialist, interventions and enormous financial and military backing came from the semi-feudal monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and imperialist forces in the hope of derailing that movement.
The uprising against Assad’s dictatorship has been skewed now into a sectarian conflict and has, moreover, unleashed a dangerous battle between the Sunnis and the Shias on a regional scale. The death toll of Syria’s now years-long conflict is estimated to be over 100,000. Two million people have fled the country and around five million are internally displaced. This is horror piled upon horror.
For the overwhelming majority of people the news that chemical weapons have been used in Ghouta, a district of Damascus, appears to represent the opening of a new circle of hell for the suffering masses. The reports that the dead are numbered in their hundreds and the injured in their thousands are as heart-breaking as they are horrifying.
Given what has taken place, combined with the threat of regional instability looming, a desire for a solution to this horror is a human response. But to hope that the US and UK governments and their allies in France, Germany and Turkey could bring any solution, given history, both recent and long-term, is horribly mistaken.
Over the last months US President Obama has warned that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a ‘red line’ to trigger an international response no fewer than five times. Already there are three US warships in the Mediterranean with another on its way. Pilots in Cyprus have reported seeing warplanes on British airfields there.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has been preparing the ground here in Britain, indicating that the absence of a UN mandate will be no obstacle: “it’s possible to take action based on great humanitarian distress.” He’s suggested that action, most likely intense aerial bombardment, could take place within weeks, if not days. The UN security committee is split with Russia and China opposing intervention in the interests of their own capitalist classes.
Hague is also reported to have been liaising with the dictatorial and repressive Qatari and Saudi regimes who would welcome a defeat of Assad as a blow against Iran and Hezbollah. Iran has warned that western military intervention will destabilise the region.
Patrick Cockburn, Middle East commentator, has pointed out the difficulties of ascertaining who bears responsibility for the recent chemical attack. The UN inspectors were granted access and a ceasefire agreed but the inspectors came under fire and were ordered out within hours. However, that in itself does not yet prove who was responsible and the inspectors are only due to decide if there was a chemical attack.
Before UN inspectors have publicly reported, US Secretary of State, John Kerry said that the US would respond to the “undeniable” use of chemical weapons in Syria and that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had committed a “moral obscenity” against his own people.
‘Moral obscenity’ might also be a good word to describe the destruction of Iraq, including the alleged use of white phosphorous and depleted uranium tipped missiles, the open air prison that denies the Palestinians their democratic and national rights, silence in the face of genocidal slaughter in Sri Lanka, not to mention imperialist powers’ record of employing chemical and nuclear weapons.
There is major domestic public opposition to US and UK involvement despite the desire for an end to the slaughter. Memories of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq and the ‘dodgy dossier’ claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction are evoked by the current rush to attack. That is compounded by the failure of the British government to publish the results of the Chilcot inquiry.
Obama’s election programme included pledges to bring an end to US involvement in Iraq and the years of Bush’s warmongering. Instead he has been a war president with the murderous drones multiplying in Afghanistan and Pakistan, albeit largely replacing troops on the ground, and the maintenance of Guantanamo Bay. 60% of the US population oppose US military involvement in Syria.
But both the US and UK governments have an interest in appearing as heroes to the Syrian masses and as defenders of democracy, mired as they are in a profound crisis of capitalism, with no solution, and with anger against them mounting.
In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq the Lib Dems polished their thin anti-war credentials by opposing action without a UN mandate. The Socialist Party pointed out that the UN could not be relied on as an arbitrator in the interests of the Iraqi people, comprised and dominated as it is by representatives of the major imperialist and warmongering governments of the world. However, former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown now argues that, in the case of Syria, unilateral action is preferable to inaction.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander has demanded parliament be recalled. Cameron looks likely to do this, as he faces opposition from a small number of his own backbenchers, such are the complications and risks for the future of the entire region.
Labour has not indicated how it would vote. A genuine working people’s party would massively oppose any form of military action in Syria. But Labour has a lustrous record as vicious warmongers in government, sending troops to Iraq for a war for oil in the interest of big business and for strategic aims.
In opposition Labour boasts an almost spotless record of kowtowing to the rotten Con-Dem austerity policies. Yet again the need to build a new political force to represent the anti-war, anti-austerity majority is glaring.
There can be no hope that any action on the part of this government or its international counterparts can bring relief to the populations of Syria or the Middle East. In fact it is guaranteed that increased bombing will bring increased suffering to the masses. And this is why it must be opposed.
‘Regime change’ is not a cited aim, because Assad’s is a relatively strong regime, because of the fierce opposition of Russia, and because the question of who would replace it is so problematic. Given the significant funding and growth of Al-Qa’ida in Syria there are also serious dangers of a ‘blowback’ of increased terrorism, in the region and inside Britain and its allies in this adventure.
There is no real capitalist solution to this conflict, threatening as it does in the unstable arena of the region, to unravel into wider ethnic conflict which could last for years. What is clear from Iraq, from Libya, and from all imperialist military interventions, is that the interests of the working class and poor in the region are not a driving force.
There is no shortcut to the building of, and encouraging the establishment of, independent working class forces that can unite the poor and oppressed and suffering in their common interests against both the forces of imperialism and their semi-feudal and capitalist allies in the region.
-No to imperialist intervention! The withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria and the region
-Against all oppression, the people must democratically decide their own fate
-For the building of united, non-sectarian defence committees to defend workers, the poor and others against sectarian attacks from all sides
-Prepare a movement to fight for a government of representatives of workers and the poor
-For a revolutionary constituent assembly in Syria
-The implementation of the national and democratic rights of the masses, with the recognition of the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination including, if they so wish, the right to their own state
-Independent trade unions and the building of mass workers’ parties with a programme of land to the masses and the factories to the workers, implemented through a programme for a socialist democratic planned economy
-A democratic socialist confederation of the Middle East and North Africa