U.S. bombs won’t save Syria

September 4, 2013

A U.S. military attack on Syria will set back the revolution, argues Yusef Khalil.

A CHEMICAL weapons attack in the suburbs of the capital city of Damascus marked the latest horrific massacre of civilians during the Syrian people's two-and-a-half-year popular revolt against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The attack claimed the lives of close to 1,500 people, including hundreds of children. As SocialistWorker.org reported, "Their lungs filled with fluid, suffocating them. Hundreds more suffered severe and crippling injuries. Anyone with a sense of justice will be incensed by such a calculated effort to terrorize a vulnerable civilian population."

This human tragedy was quickly used by the West to generate support for military intervention.

After foregoing an effort to get authorization for a military strike from the United Nations Security Council due to anticipated vetoes from Russia and China, U.S. officials announced they were ready to assume unilateral responsibility for enforcing international "norms" against the use of chemical weapons. Of course, the U.S. and its allies have repeatedly violated these very same "norms" in Iraq and Palestine.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on Syria
Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on Syria (State Department)

But Washington appeared to run into trouble almost immediately, especially after British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a parliamentary vote to authorize UK involvement. This left Obama in the awkward position of having to act alone in a military strike on Syria--without the U.S.'s closest ally, Britain.

Obama added to the uncertainty by saying that he is ready to act immediately, but will seek congressional approval before doing so. Speculation abounds as to what his plan is. Does he have the votes in Congress to get authorization for a military strike? If not, is this a graceful exit from responding, or will he go ahead with an attack despite Congress? Does he plan on a limited "punitive" strike, or is he preparing for a wider confrontation (which congressional authorization could open the door for)?

The fact is that there are five U.S. Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea with about 200 Cruise missiles targeted at Syria. Whatever the U.S. decides to do, the threat of another American war is very real.

A LIMITED strike would, by Washington's own admission, not alter much in terms of the balance of forces between Assad and the opposition.

What it would do is give the Assad regime the opportunity to bolster its "nationalist" and "anti-imperialist" credentials by having stood up to the U.S.--something it has already started trumpeting--rally its troops for even more atrocities against Syrians, and boost the morale of supporters, as evidenced by the shameful display of Assad pictures and pro-military chants at some antiwar rallies outside Syria.

That's not to say that a stronger response by the U.S. is a better option. To have a real impact on the regime's military operations would require a massive bombing campaign, with heavy civilian casualties, even if the U.S.'s "precision" bombs hit their targets.

Assad's forces are already preparing for the U.S. strikes and have reportedly moved their military assets into civilian areas, while detaining revolutionaries in strategic buildings and military bases likely to be targets of Washington's bombs.

Many Syrians, embittered by the regime's savagery and desperate for an end to the deadly stalemate of the civil war, would welcome a U.S. attack.

But military action by the U.S. would only serve to advance its own interests. The idea that the interests of Syrian revolutionaries and the U.S. coincide in toppling the Assad dictatorship ignores the fact that Washington was courting Bashar al-Assad before and after the Syrian Revolution started in 2011--specifically, in the person of then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair and current Secretary of State John Kerry.

If the U.S. wanted to intervene in any meaningful way in the Syrian civil war, it had many opportunities during the two and a half years as the death toll climbed beyond 100,000. But Washington feared a popular revolution that it had no control over--and that would likely encourage domestic rebellions that could threaten other regional allies, such as Jordan and the reactionary Gulf monarchies.

So in effect, Obama's strategy was to allow both sides to battle to a draw, by allowing the Gulf states to selectively arm sectarian militias--meanwhile starving the grassroots popular armed brigades--and block any heavy weapons that would shift the battle against Assad or would potentially be used against Israel.

Direct intervention now will be designed to pressure all parties to come to the negotiating table under American auspices in order to guarantee an outcome beneficial to the U.S., at the expense of the Syrian Revolution. As I've written previously, Washington hopes to apply enough pressure to make superficial changes at the top of the regime while keeping the bulk of the state apparatus intact. What was previously accomplished by encouraging or restricting the flow of weaponry is now being threatened by means of Cruise missiles.

WASHINGTON HAS been perfectly happy to see the Syrian regime, Iran and Hezbollah fight against Gulf-funded reactionary militants, with the hope that this would divert the uprising into a proxy sectarian war.

But despite the actions of Assad, his militias, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, the U.S., the Gulf monarchies and myriad other regional and international powers, Syrian revolutionaries have stood fast against both the dictatorship and the counterrevolutionary sectarian militias that are more concerned with establishing their own repressive agendas than with achieving the goals of the revolution for freedom, dignity and social justice.

Facing the unrestrained brutality of a regime that does not hesitate to use tanks, missiles, cluster bombs, jet fighters and chemical weapons against its own population, many Syrians are welcoming any respite from the hell they have been living through, even if it comes from Washington.

But they also distrust the U.S. at the same time. After all, Syrians have hosted Palestinian and Iraqi refugees for decades and know very well the consequences of America's militaristic foreign policy. To accuse ordinary Syrians of ignorance of "geopolitics" or subservience to imperialism is a gross misunderstanding of their history at best--and a willful lie to cover a tyrant's crimes at worst.

That some Syrians may now be looking to Obama as a possible savior says less about them and more about the depravity of Assad and his murderous forces, which have done everything in their power to break this resilient population. It is not the Syrian people who have invited foreign intervention--it is a reckless dictatorship that has thrown the door wide open. (This is a common affliction among strongmen: miscalculating the bounds within which the regional and international balance of forces allows them to kill with impunity.)

But this doesn't justify the gamble by some forces within the Syrian opposition that they can come to power on the heels of an American military strike. Such a strike, at whatever scale it takes place, would be aimed at reasserting Washington's role in the region and restoring its credibility on the back of the Syrian Revolution's martyrs, wounded and displaced. As a statement by the revolutionary left in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Morocco and Egypt put it:

Unfortunately, many in the Syrian opposition are gambling on this strike and the U.S. position in general. They believe this would create an opportunity for them to seize power, skipping over the movement and of the masses and their independent action. It should not be a surprise, then, that the representatives of this opposition and the FSA had no reservations on providing information to the U.S. about proposed targets for the strike...

The imminent Western imperialist assault is not intended to support the Syrian revolution in any way. It will aim to push Damascus to the bargaining table and allow Bashar al-Assad to retreat from the foreground, but keeping the regime in place, while greatly improving conditions to strengthen the position of U.S. imperialism in the future Syria against Russian imperialism.

The more those participating in the continuing popular mobilization--who are more aware, principled and dedicated to the future of Syria and its people--realize these facts and their consequences and results, and act accordingly, the more this will contribute to aiding the Syrian people to successfully pick a true revolutionary leadership. In the process of a committed struggle based on the current and future interests of their people, this would produce a radical program consistent with those interests, which could be promoted and put into practice on the road to victory.

THE HEALTHY skepticism about the goals of Western rulers and their imperial interests has sparked global protests against this new chapter of U.S.-led bombing. The protests have attracted many people genuinely against war.

But shamefully, some of these protests have been used--and in some cases called--by Assad supporters and apologists. Holding up pictures of Bashar al-Assad and chanting for his murderous military is no way to build a principled antiwar movement.

The Assad regime is neither progressive nor deserving of our political support. Anti-imperialism is not an excuse to give political cover to a regime that has for decades repressed independent political parties, unions, workers' organizations, and even discussion groups and public gatherings.

Nor should we deny the Syrian people's agency to liberate themselves by ignoring their grassroots attempts to organize coordinating committees, popular councils, armed resistance and revolutionary organizations, literally while under fire. Those of us in the antiwar movement need to be clear that international solidarity with the Syrian people means supporting their right to struggle by any means necessary against a dictatorship that spouts an empty "anti-West," "anti-imperialist" rhetoric.

Dictatorships and imperialism use one another as alibis to justify the violence they inflict. In fact, the choice between the two has historically guaranteed that we will suffer from both. The antiwar movement cannot oppose American bombs while cheering Assad's bloody crackdown.

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