By Michael Karadjis
July 9, 2013 – Recent weeks saw seemingly contradictory developments regarding imperialist plans for Syria. First, on June 14, the US government announced it had finally agreed to provide some small arms directly to “vetted” sections of the Syrian armed opposition, following alleged US “confirmation” that Syria’s Assad regime had used chemical weapons. Then on June 18, the G8 meeting between the US, Russia and six other major imperialist powers issued a joint declaration calling for all parties to the Syrian conflict to attend the Geneva peace summit, declaring the need for a political solution.
In reality, the combination of these two developments was almost identical to what likewise occurred in the same week in early May: lots of hard talk about the possible provision of arms to the rebels due to the possible use of chemicals by the Syrian regime of Bashir Assad, and the initial US-Russian meeting to discuss Geneva and lots of talk about how both sides agree only a political solution is possible.
It may take some time to be able to properly assess the full implications of these moves. At the outset, however, two points can be stressed.
The first is that while the direct provision of an as yet unspecified amount of US arms to the Syrian rebels allows increased US leverage with both the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime, no serious commentators are suggesting this will make a great deal of difference on the ground. The US is only pledging to provide light weapons and ammunition, which are already being supplied by countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While this may add to the volume of such weapons, or even allow the Gulf states to provide certain kinds of US weapons that until now they were not allowed to, the US explicitly rules out providing the main form of weaponry the rebels call for, namely, portable anti-aircraft weapons for self-defence against Assad’s massive and massively used air power.
The second is that the initial declaration of the G8, announcing that the participants are "committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria" and calling for peace talks to begin “as soon as possible”, made no mention of the Assad regime at all (some of the opposition were demanding agreement that Assad step down as a pre-condition), called for "a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent”, calls for Syria's public services to be "preserved or restored”, stressing, very importantly, that "this includes the military forces and security services”, expressed their deep concern with “the growing threat from terrorism and extremism in Syria” and called on both the regime and opposition forces to “destroy and expel from Syria all organisations and individuals affiliated to al Qaida and any other non state actors linked to terrorism”.
This explicit naming of Al-Qaida (meaning the Al-Nusra front, which fights the Assad regime but is not part of any of the opposition coalitions and often clashes with them as well), with no explicit mention of Hezbollah, and the call for both regime and opposition to take the war to Al-Nusra, combined with the stress on preservation of the core of the regime, including its military, really gives an idea of what this “transitional authority” will be about, and the fundamental strategy of imperialism in Syria.
UK prime minister David Cameron was not kidding when he explained several weeks ago that the US, Russia and UK “share the same aim: to find a solution to the conflict that ends the killing and prevents violent extremism taking hold, with a transitional government with full executive powers, established with the consent of both sides, that preserves the integrity of the Syrian state and its institutions (http://www.itv.com/news/update/2013-05-17/cameron-and-putin-hold-syria-talks).
At this stage, the opposition Syrian National Coalition has rejected the G8’s cynical call for it to fight Al-Nusra, declaring “the Assad regime is the only source of terrorism in Syria.”
This so-called "Yemeni solution”, involving some largely cosmetic changes of the top guard, while preserving the state apparatus and the core of the regime, but adding enough vetted members of the opposition to allow stabilisation, has been the imperialist project from the time it became clear that Assad would be unable to simply crush the revolt, and that his brutality would only lead to permanent instability and the continued strengthening of reactionary anti-imperialist sections of the radical Islamist forces, such as the Al-Nusra front, which is strongly connected to Al-Qaida.
It is important to understand this at the outset: that the “Libyan model”, whereby full-scale imperialist intervention tries to militarily bring the Syrian opposition to power in Damascus, has never even come close to being the preferred imperialist strategy in the US, UK, France or elsewhere; actually it has never been an option.
Understanding this allows us to understand that the combination of “tough talk” and ending arms embargoes with peace talks are two sides of the same coin: The US knows very well that increasing the number of small arms won't even significantly affect the battlefield, but allows a form of pressure on the Assad regime in the context of Assad's recent victories via use of massive anti-personnel weapons and Hezbollah invaders. If unchallenged, this could lead to Assad refusing to attend Geneva or putting up too many conditions, while also driving the poorly armed Syrian rebels further into the arms of the relatively well-armed Al-Nusra.
By the same token, the long delay after the last round to tough talk some 6-7 weeks earlier (when the media were full of “the US is about to”, or “may think about”, allowing arms to be provided to “vetted” Syrian rebel groups), and the fact that hardly any arms reached the rebels in that period, and that every time Obama opened his mouth since it has seemed less likely than ever, was also timed to help Assad go on the offensive to mop up a little before the proposed international conference, allowing pressure on the rebels to agree to participate at Geneva without their precondition of Assad agreeing to step down. The blatantly obvious withholding of arms from rebels in southern Syria (see below) and then in the crucial battle of Qusayr makes this rather clear, as does the fact that the US has now finally moved on the question of arms as Assad and Hezbollah get carried away and head north to Aleppo...