US, NATO out of Syria!

By Andrew Martin — “You’ll notice in the last couple of months, the [Syrian] opposition has been strengthened. Now we’re ready to accelerate that.” These were the words of “a senior Obama administration official” quoted in the New York Times on July 22. The official went on to say that the US hopes that support from the United States, Arab governments and Turkey will make the difference in the outcome of the Syrian conflict. To put that a little more bluntly, the imperialist military intervention to overthrow the Syrian government is already under way.

The same Times article (by Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper) reported a shift within the US government. While always preparing for any possible course of action, it had previously hoped to remove the Syrian regime primarily through diplomatic pressure. The refusal of Russia and China to allow a sufficiently strong UN Security Council resolution had persuaded Obama and his advisers to escalate the direct intervention of the US and its allies.

The New York Times on July 21 provided further information: “American diplomats are also meeting regularly with representatives of various Syrian opposition groups outside the country to help map out a possible post-Assad government. ‘Our focus with the opposition is on working with them so that they have a political transition in place to stand up a new Syria,’ Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, said last week.”

The stepped-up intervention is being carried out with the aid of traditional US agents and allies. “Administration officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel over how to manage a Syrian government collapse”, Schmitt and Cooper reported. “Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is headed to Israel in the next several days to meet with Israeli defense counterparts, following up on a visit last week by President Obama's national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon ...

“The administration has had regular talks with the Israelis about how Israel might move to destroy Syrian weapons facilities, administration officials said.”

Turkey and two reactionary Arab monarchies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are supplying most of the weapons to the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), allowing Washington to deny that it is doing so. However, US officials told Schmitt and Cooper that a “small number of CIA officers have been operating secretly in southern Turkey for several weeks, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive weapons”.

Right takes control

The increasing imperialist intervention and the dependence of much of the official opposition on foreign military and financial support have altered the character of the struggle going on in Syria, which began as a broad and largely nonviolent campaign for democratic reforms, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The government of President Bashir al-Assad responded with a brutal crackdown. Troops used live ammunition against protesters. When sections of the army deserted and took up arms against the government, it didn’t hesitate to use heavy weaponry, escalating the conflict. The FSA was formed by soldiers who refused to fire on unarmed civilians. Many soldiers were summarily executed for disobeying orders, but this only increased the number of defections. General Mustafa al-Sheikh, one of the most prominent of the defectors, told Reuters that up to 20,000 soldiers had deserted since the beginning of the conflict.

This situation aided the rise to leadership of militarist and right-wing forces within the opposition. Soon, the FSA was directly appealing to NATO and the US for arms, a no-fly zone and a naval blockade. The situation appears similar to what happened in Libya, where the dominant role of NATO in Gaddafi’s overthrow marginalised left or progressive forces involved in the initial uprising.

As Iraqi anti-imperialist and academic Sami Ramadani explained in an interview on the Information Clearing House website: “In the context of the current conflict, the poor, the unemployed and students who were supportive of the initial, largely spontaneous protest movement are now much more reticent, partly due to regime repression but primarily because of their opposition to the NATO-Saudi-Qatari meddling and the militarisation of the sections of the opposition, particularly the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army which are dominated by the [Muslim] Brotherhood.”

The SNC

The FSA, which carries out most of the armed opposition to Assad, is tied closely to the Syrian National Council, recognised by the European Union and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. While initially opposed to the militarisation of the struggle against Assad, the SNC subsequently declared support for the FSA and now collects money for it on its website.

The SNC is heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has previously thwarted attempts to forge political alliances with other opposition groups seeking an end to the violence. Many prominent members of the SNC are known to have strong links with Washington, which for all intents and purposes is its birthplace. A typical such member is Basma Kodmani, who attended the secretive Bilderberg meetings in both 2008 and mid-2012. The Bilderberg meeting is an exclusive conference of select billionaires, bankers and political elites interlinked with US and European imperialism that seeks consensus on carving up the wealth of the developing world.

Kodmani is a member of the executive bureau and head of foreign affairs for the SNC. Until 2005, she was director of governance and international cooperation working for the Ford Foundation in Cairo. In September of that year, after the US government froze relations with Syria, Kodmani was made executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI), a programme initiated by the powerful conservative US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The ARI is run by a group within the CFR whose executive board includes such stalwarts of imperialist officialdom as Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, both former national security advisers to US presidents, and Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

The above information about Kodmani is from a recent article by Charlie Skelton that appeared in the UK Guardian. Skelton’s article provides a good deal of interesting information about the imperialist ties of the SNC leadership, plus such interesting titbits as the fact that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, often cited in the capitalist media as a source of information on events in Syria, consists of a Syrian who runs a clothes shop in Coventry — that’s Coventry, England, not Coventry, Syria (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/12/syrian-opposition-doing-the-talking).

Skelton quotes a Washington Post report based on the Wikileaks disclosures: “Several US diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funnelled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.” The Post article noted that the so-called Democracy Council received $6.3m from the State Department to run a “Civil Society Strengthening Initiative” in Syria.

Fighting intensifies

The stepped-up imperialist interference has increased the intensity of fighting between government troops and the FSA. Tens of thousands of people have fled Syria in only a matter of days, entering Lebanon.

Nevertheless, the opposition’s biggest “success” was basically an individual action. A suicide bomb attack on July 18 killed Assad’s brother-in-law, the deputy defence minister Assef Shakat; defence minister Daoud Rajha; the head of the government’s crisis group, General Hassan Turkmani; and national security chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar. The FSA and an Islamic militant group both said they were behind the bombing. Ominously for the regime, thousands took to the streets to celebrate in Damascus, despite the government having the upper hand in the capital.

Government forces claimed to have wiped out the opposition in the Damascus suburb of Midan and launched an assault on the eastern suburb of Jubar. However, the retreating rebels captured several border posts into Lebanon and engaged in a fierce battle on the border of Turkey. Israel is adding to the bloodbath by blocking the Golan Heights and sending refugees back.

Although the government is reported to have recaptured the border crossings, this appears to have been done mainly through shelling and air strikes on impoverished villages occupied by the FSA, which cannot have won the government popular support.

Until now, the FSA has not had the firepower to match government forces, but has engaged in hit and run attacks using light arms. It has also used improvised explosive devices to great effect, attacking convoys of buses, trucks and tanks. There are also many reports that it has targeted civilian areas and committed human rights abuses.

Even Human Rights Watch, which normally minimises or ignores abuses by allies of the US, on March 20 criticised the opposition for incidents of kidnapping, torture and executions. Also, in an interview with Associated Press, one rebel commander confirmed that his group had been releasing prisoners in bomb-rigged cars, turning drivers into unwitting suicide bombers. Iraq’s deputy interior minister, Adnan al-Assadi, claimed that Iraqi border guards had witnessed the FSA take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel and cut off his arms and legs before then executing 22 Syrian soldiers.

Big stakes

The intervention by the US and its allies is aimed at tightening control of the Middle East and its oil. According to the Saudi Press Agency, Gulf Cooperation Council members are “prepared to participate in any joint effort to help Syrians protect themselves from the Assad government”, which really means a military occupation in which they provide some propaganda cover for the US and NATO. The Gulf Cooperation Council is a political and economic collaboration of dependent capitalist states that are all headed by despotic monarchs.

The increasing US military intervention does not bode well for the people of Syria, or the rest of the world. When the US targets strongholds of President Assad, it will not discriminate between soldiers and civilians. It will commit mass murder with weaponry, such as depleted uranium, that will have devastating consequences for many generations to come. The forces opposed to Assad have been reported to have engaged in sectarian violence. If Libya is any example — and it is — regime change in Syria is not very promising.

And, as is even being cautiously admitted in parts of the capitalist media, US imperialism’s target goes well beyond Syria. The Bush administration’s shift from its former support for Assad was primarily due to the Syrian government’s increasing friendship with Iran. The overthrow of Assad is very much part of a scenario that leads on to “regime change” by military means in Iran.

Learn from experience

How should the left relate to these developments? Vijay Prashad, a well-known commentator and journalist for Frontline, put it this way: “The left outside has to commit itself to fight against imperialism’s habits, as the United States and its North Atlantic allies try to re-erect their four pillars: oil, Israel, stable allies (i.e. the Gulf Arab monarchies) and the encirclement of Iran. We have to be vigilant on two fronts: (1) to not let our anti-imperialism lead to the defence of authoritarian regimes in the region and (2) to not let our enthusiasm for rebellion lead to cheering on the cruise missiles from US warships.”

Here we can learn from the errors made by some on the left in regard to Libya. Some justified the imperialist intervention as necessary in order to remove a dictator whose time had come. Those who did so usually added qualifications such as “No fly zone, but no troops on the ground” and reasoned that the Libyan people would be able to resist imperialism once Gaddafi was gone. The result was a bloodbath, with much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed and US and European imperialism now scrambling to grasp its resources.

“We’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime”, according to Andrew J. Tabler of the Zionist lobby Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as quoted by Schmitt and Cooper in the New York Times. “But like any controlled demolition, anything can go wrong.”

Among the things that could “go wrong”, for most of the human race if not from the standpoint of imperialism, is the expansion into a war that could spread across the Middle East, a multiplication of Iraq and Afghanistan. Think drone strikes aimed at teenagers, bombings of wedding parties and Abhu Graib, but written much larger. Where the US plays its hand, it is covered in the blood of innocent people.

Direct Action — August 2, 2012