For a year, the Syrian government of President Bashir Assad has led a bloody crackdown on protests calling for democracy and freedom. Assad and his father Hefaz al-Assad have headed a repressive regime for four decades.The death toll continues to rise as troops loyal to Bashir use heavy weaponry against the opposition. Control of cities sways back and forth between the rebels and Assad’s troops. The army has used tanks and artillery against opposition forces, and more than 7500 people have died in the conflict, according to the United Nations.
The US and its allies are attempting to take advantage of the situation in order to tighten control of the Middle East. According to the Saudi Press Agency, Gulf Co-operation 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 backed by the US and NATO. It would not be a humanitarian intervention. The Gulf Co-operation Council is a political and economic collaboration of free-market capitalist states that are all headed by despotic monarchs. None of these governments are democratic.
Meanwhile the European Union has said it is preparing “further targeted restrictive measures” against Syria. The EU has also recognised the Syrian National Council, the main opposition alliance, as “a legitimate representative of Syrians”.
Should socialists express solidarity with the “uprising”? I think we have to recognise that it has been subverted from its original aims and ideals. What started as a democratic uprising is now being manipulated as an imperialist intervention. Its democratic content is being poisoned, and the character of the struggle is now one of civil war, with backers of both sides having no intention of implementing any democratic or progressive reforms. As hated as the Assad regime may be, it is not clear that the armed insurgency is popularly supported.
The threats of US military intervention do not bode well for the people of Syria. 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 targeting Christians. If Libya’s new government is any example to go by, then regime change in Syria does not look very promising.
How should the left relate to these developments? Should we take a position at all? 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. These two sirens should worry us as we make our hesitant way alongside the rebirth of a new left in the Arab world.”
Clearly, the bombardment of Homs was unconscionable. We must do everything in our power to prevent this atrocity being used as a justification for imperialist intervention. 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. The dominant role of NATO in Gaddafi’s overthrow marginalised any left or progressive forces involved in the initial uprising.
To end the developing humanitarian crisis in Syria, what is needed is a cease-fire and then a negotiated settlement. That would create more favourable conditions for the civilian population to involve itself in determining the country’s future and for different political perspectives, including left ones, to gain a hearing. The continued military conflict will only create greater opportunities for imperialism, no matter which side prevails.
Direct Action – March 20, 2012