US President Donald Trump’s decision to launch missile attacks against the Shayrat air base, in Syria, ratcheted up the long running conflict in Syria and dangerously fuelled tensions between the US and Russia and Iran, and also with North Korea and China. It will also significantly increase rivalries between Sunni and Shia-based regimes in the Middle East.
Trump claimed that the tomahawk missiles attack was ordered “on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched”, referring to Khan Sheikhun, where over 70 people died earlier this week.
The appalling death of scores of civilians, including children, quite rightly led to revulsion and condemnation from working class people around the world. However the US, supported by other Western powers, cynically seized upon the terrible incident to try to strengthen their position in the Syrian conflict. The Western powers, which want to see the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, were quick to rush to blame the Syrian regime for the deaths. The unstable Trump administration is also using the missile attack as a way to try to boost its domestic support and to divert attention from the failure to meet Trump’s election promises and provide any solutions to the lives of Americans.
In the absence of an investigation into the reasons for the chemical deaths and without seeking a UN mandate, or even a mandate from the US Congress, Trump ordered the missile attacks against Syria. The US attacks were welcomed by the Australian, Turkish and Israeli governments as well as European powers including the UK, Germany and France. The opposition Islamist Ahrar al-Sham militia in Syria welcomed US “surgical strikes.”
Assad will use the US attacks to try to bolster his anti-imperialist credentials at home. But socialists give no support, whatsoever, to the Assad regime, which has shown no concern for the lives of innocent civilians during Syrian’s long and bloody civil war. Assad is a brutal dictator prepared to use ruthless means to stay in power. However, as of yet, there is no hard evidence to say that the Assad regime was responsible for the death of civilians from chemicals. Given that Assad, with crucial help from Putin, is winning the war, it appears counterproductive from his point of view to launch an indiscriminate chemical attack, fully aware that it would a pretext for a possible US-led military attack.
Moscow insisted that the Syrian air force hit a depot of chemical weapons produced by rebels fighting government forces. Günther Meyer, director of the Research Center for the Arab World at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, goes further: “Only armed opposition groups could profit from an attack with chemical weapons. With their backs against the wall, they have next to no chance of opposing the regime militarily. As President Trump’s recent statements show, such actions make it possible for anti-Assad groups to receive further support.” (Quoted by the German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (6/4/17)).
At this stage, the only certainty about this week’s terrible scenes in Khan Sheikhun is that it killed scores of civilians, on top of the hundreds of thousands of other war-related deaths. This is fundamentally a result of the counter revolution that unfolded in Syria following a genuine mass revolt against the rule of Assad in 2011, inspired by revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt. But in the absence of strong united working class organisations and a socialist leadership, sectarian and Islamic forces were able to step into the vacuum, aided by reactionary Gulf States and Turkey and by western powers, leading to the degeneration of the mass revolt into a vicious multi-faceted civil war.
It is unclear whether the US air strikes are a show of strength and limited action or if they presage a broader military intervention in Syria. The Shayrat airbase is an important staging post for Syrian and Russian military operations against the largely Islamic armed opposition and the US attacks will be blow.
Russia condemned the US air strikes as an “act of aggression” and a “violation of international law” and suspended its channel for communicating military action in Syria with Washington, used to prevent accidental conflict.
These developments leave open the possibility of direct clashes between US-led and Russia military forces in Syria, with far-reaching consequences in the region and internationally.
Iran, which has militias fighting alongside Assad’s troops, also strongly condemned US actions. Adding to the dangerous complications on the ground, Iranian forces are also in Iraq, nominally fighting alongside the US-backed Baghdad regime’s troops against ISIS.
Trump appeared to order the air attacks while in talks with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on his visit to the US, which will only serve increase tensions with the Beijing regime. Earlier this week, Trump indicated he was prepared to take “unilateral” military action against North Korea and has also made threatening remarks over Chinese military “island-building” in the South China Sea. According to the Financial Times (London, 07/04/17), “Liu Binjie, who sits on the standing committee that oversees China’s parliament, warned against unilateral action on North Korea. ‘The entire state is militarised,’ he said. ‘If you threaten them with force, it may backfire on you.'”
As the CWI warned, the advent of Trump’s administration marks a shift to more dangerous and unpredictable world relations. In this situation, the working class and youth of the Middle East, the US and all over the world need a mass anti-war movement and the development of powerful working class parties, with bold socialist policies, to counter the war, terror and poverty of capitalism and imperialism.
-Stop Trump’s attacks on Syria – Oppose all outside powers’ interference in the region
-End war and terror in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East
-No to racism and scapegoating of immigrants and refugees
-For workers’ unity and socialism
By Niall Mulholland