Britain, Syria and the United States

20 posts / 0 new
Last post
Britain, Syria and the United States
Printer-friendly version

Just a few shots, not entirely in the dark, to begin to look at the tendencies at work expressed in last Thursday's vote by the parliamentary tea-drinking-surrender-monkeys against a missile attack on Syria.

What it doesn't mean: it doesn't mean that Britain will be any less involved in this imperialist war than it already is. Britain has intelligence and special forces "boots on the ground" (or around it) providing military assistance, facilitating the movement of arms to the "rebels", providing logistics and intelligence and, on a wider scale, giving financial, military and diplomatic support to the anti-Assad forces. Edward Snowden's revelations included the fact that Britain taps straight into fibre-optic cables in the Med (probably around Cyprus), collates, filters and classifies communication across the Middle East and provides this to the Americans. All this will continue unabated and will be used to support any US missile strike.

But there is meaning to this vote even if it's complex. Like Bush with Blair over Iraq, Britain was told that the US would make a strike with or without it (like Libya, the US is "leading from behind" here as its "pivot" to the Pacific is its priority). The Commons vote was something of a surprise to everyone but it does represent tendencies - in no specific order - of the historical weakening of US imperialism (quite ominous for the US), centrifugal tendencies in international relations and the specific role and history of British imperialism.

World Revolution 359, has an article on British foreign policy under Cameron and it generally states the complexity of British/US relations against previous tendencies in WR to see them sometimes in black, sometimes white, but because of the particular sitation and history of British imperialism they are much more complex than Britain for or against the US. The article is also quite prescient about Cameron's position: "The British ruling class is still struggling to come to terms with these facts [the situation of Britain as a secondary power, the niche it can carve out for itself, the difficulties of the world, etc. B.], even if Cameron has so far appeared more realistic than Blair. But then Blair also seemed quite realistic until 9.11". It's not that the Tories always support the US or that Labour are against; elements within each party have different expressions of inter-imperialist relations at different times. There are plenty of historical examples of this.

Cameron and his clique were unduly negligent about the anti-war feeling and the abiding distrust of politicians that existed in this country. Only the Murdoch media out of all of them supported going along with the American missile strike and even a loaded poll in The Sun saw a 2 to 1 majority against. Their complacency and subsequent disorientation was underlined by post-vote TV interviews of Tory government ministers, including the defence minister, who independently and repeatedly referred to Assad as "Saddam Hussein"!

The Labour Party's amended motion was also defeated in the vote and there's no doubt that originally Miliband and the LP were going along with the missile strike but wanted some confetti words about the UN around it. At some stage during these proceedings it must have dawned on those who matter in the LP that here was a chance to give some substance to the pathetic Miliband and exorcise the ghost of the hated Tony Blair and his Iraqi legacy. The Labour Party, previously struggling against a fairly strong Cameron regime, has been strengthened by this - as has been British "democracy". Appearing to stand up to the US bully does the Labour Party no harm in relation to its election prospects, prospects that were previously looking somewhat grim. Miliband could have been on his way out this autumn and events have worked out somewhat fortuiously for him.

Short of war, Britain has been completely fucked over by US imperialism over many decades. All the stories and bitter memories have been revived in the British media over the last few days: the four rusting hulks exchanged for important British territories during WW II; the squeezing dry of Britain to pay back the US; Suez; the invasion of US marines of the Commonwealth country of Granada, and so on. There is a deep residual hatred within the British bourgeoisie of the American state. Elements of that were present in this vote. But Pefidious Albion is nothing if not  pragmatic and will continue working with the US even if under more strained circumstances. The overall decision has already been made but certain tendencies to a more independent course for British imperialism exists too.

Another tendency expressed here is the difficulty that all the democratic political parties have in that they have to support unpopular decisions either regarding the economy or war. And regarding alliances, it makes the developing Anglo-French military alliance a bit more complex as the new-found oldest ally of the US (wine-imbibing creeping frogs).

The SWP/leftist supported "Stop the War Coalition" has called the vote "a victory" and, expressing its pacificst credentials with "a corner turned in the road to peace". The Socialist Party has called for a 24 national strike called by the TUC to "finish off the coalition" and given critical support to Miliband. The SWP, which appears to have stopped talking about the "revolution" in Syria has supported "Stop the War and the labour left and pronounced a "victory" for protests. The SPGB, in a bit on libcom, seems to suggest some weight to the parliamentary vote.


I generally agree with

I generally agree with Baboon's post, especially the emphasis on the complexity of the relationship between Britain and the US bourgeoisies. All the points that Baboon makes about the hostility towards the US within the GB bourgeois are correct: part of the bourgeoisie will never forgive the US for replacing it as the worlds superpower.

However I think there is  a need to take into account the nature of the situation in Syria itself. The bourgeoisie is aware that the situation in Syria is extremely dangerous. The regime is being actively supported by Russia, Iran and Hizbollah. According to an in-depth analysis by the International Crisis Group (, the Syrian military has become integrated into the Iran and Hizbollah military structure. Russia also has been increasingly supporting the regime. On the other, hand the opposing fractions to the regime are a chaotic mixture of different groups, who are being supported by rival regional powers as well as by international powers. The depth of the danger of the situation is made clear by the ICG report which quotes Israeli security officials saying that there nightmare scenario is the collapse of the regime and its replacement by choas: who then to they attack to try and defend their interests. Thus Assad is a bastard but at least his regime is something that can be dealt with.Thus the Israeli attacks earlier in the year were very limited and immediately followed by diplomatic actions to reassure the Assad regime that the Israeli state did not want to depose him. This fear is not lost on the US or British bourgeoisie's, who are also aware of the danger represented by the fall of Assad, and constrained by not wanting to replace the regime with chaos.

The fact that the situation in Syria is imposing certain constraints on the international powers, demonstrates the depth of tensions contained within the situation. 

This is underlined in ICG report which shows that Syria itself is a patch work of different regions where different fractions are dominant. Within these regions there is a constant shifting of power.

The unwillingness of important parts of the British bourgeois to get involved in this situation directly thus should not surprise us. Nor should the Iraq factor be underestimated and the generalized distrust of the socalled justifications for military action. Iraq burnt the fingers of the bourgeoisie.

Why the defeat in the vote? As Baboon says Camaron and co underestimate the opposition to such action within the ruling class, as well as the population, which is correct. However, there was also the tactical mistake of Camaron saying that the government was not going to wait for the UN inspectors report, which made it appear that the government was just going to drive through military action. Once he said this all of those who had doubts were forced to make a response. It also brutally reminded the bourgeoisie of Blair's actions in 2003.

Why has Obhma gone for a vote? This is an interesting question, but it can only be seen as a sign of weakness. However, it appears that there was growing opposition in the US bourgeoisie about such an attack and its consequences. Given Kelly's hardline bad-ass attitude towards Syria this vote looks like a backing down.

Overall the situation around Syria is highlighting the growing difficulty of the US, and other powers to impose their wills. This is a deeply serious development in the world situation.


If the US and co don't want to topple the Assad regime...why are they trying to...topple the Assad regime?


radicalchains wrote:

If the US and co don't want to topple the Assad regime...why are they trying to...topple the Assad regime?

Are they? Many analysts are prediciting a mere "symbolic strike," with no real intent to cripple Assad's military capacity. The US is in some ways compelled to act due to a need to be seen to do something to stop the massacres, but the suggestion is that it would prefer both sides to keep fighting one another for now. The tactical issue with the use of chemical weapons is that it might threaten to upset the stalemate. All of this reflects the damned if you do, damned if you don't position of U.S. imperialism. An outright victory for Assad is a win for Iranian interests and Russian/Chinese imperialism. If the regime falls, nobody has any idea what will happen in Syria. Either way it is an expression of decomposition.

missile strike

Given that there were already a couple of threads on the war in Syria I started this one on the particularities of the Commons vote against British intervention. But the posts above raise important questions about war in this period and what I've termed before as "the decompostion of imperialism" and the flight into irrationality.

There are plenty of "think-tanks" that can give accounts of the real dangers involved in the war in the Middle East - they are mostly set up by the states that are actively contributing to the spread of chaos. What they can't do is solve the contradictions of the bourgeoisie in relation to imperialist war.

In Afghanistan it looks like the US is ready to settle for a deal with the Taleban that it could have had six years ago. Why did it continue with the war which any think-tank would have told them was intractable and unwinnable. Why did it, through the CIA, MI6 and the Pakistani ISI, conjure up the forces of Islamic fundamentalism which comes back to bite it again and again? It's not just Bush and Blair; why did Clinton bomb a medical factory in Sudan (or was it Yemen, I forget) that only increases anti-US feeling and acts as a recruiting agent for fundamentalism and revenge (the same for drone attacks in Yemen). The bourgeoisie might have got its fingers burnt in Iraq by removing Saddam - and any think-tank would have told them that this would happen - and then do exactly the same in Libya with Gaddafi? This time generating chaos and instability, throughout as well as giving al-Qaida affiliated groups a massive boost, all the way across the Maghreb, into the Middle East and down into Africa.

Obama, if one can believe that this will be the outcome, wants a short, sharp shock to the Assad regime, thus leaving it in place. Why set up, fund and arm the rebels then when any think-tank would tell them that a number of these armements would find their way to jihadi groups and contribute to further instability in the region. Why transport Libyan jihadists to Turkey and into Syria? Israel has worked hand in hand with Assad and sees him as a stabilising force but it wants an attack on his regime which will only bolster the enemies of Israel. Similar for Turkey. And there must be think-tanks in France that are aware of the dangers of French involvement in the Syrian "coalition of the willing" but the French bourgeoisie are gung-ho to intervene.

Fundamentally, as jk says, it is decompositon and the flight into irrationality and chaos from a class that has no answers but war and the weakening of a US imperialism that more and more acts like a wounded beast. Even a short, sharp shock to Assad, finely calculated, holds consequences that can rapidly spin out of control. I know I've put forward the idea before that the US position is to support a "stalemate" fight between the opposition and the regime but this in itself is unsustainable.

One should keep in mind the

One should keep in mind the effects of Obama's "redline" on chemical weapons. I don't know if they thought that the Assad regime would never be foolish enough to use them, but now that they have, the U.S. kind of has to do something or it would be a major sign of weakness. Of course, the fact that they can't get the British to go along and Obama now has to consult Congress for approval (just days after the reaction to Kerry's beligerent speech revealed the administration does not have nearly the support it thought it had) is already a major sign of weakness. Of course, this didn't stop the US media from falling all over itself saluting Obama's deference to the constitution and democracy (something he didn't bother to do in Libya, which is now mostly forgotten).

Students of the Westminister system enlighten me: was Cameron bound to seek a vote in the Commons or could he have authorized action on his own? Does the Commons vote reflect real differences in the UK bourgeoisie or was this more of a slick maneouver to slow down the US plans?

In short jk


'was Cameron bound to seek a vote in the Commons (yes) or could he have authorized action on his own? (no)

'Does the Commons vote reflect real differences in the UK bourgeoisie.'

Perhaps 'real' differences with a dose of political manouevering: but 'impotent' differences  IMO affirming Baboon's excellent delineation of the International 'rock and a hard place' decomposition context of the Imperialists' ability to control or 'solve' anything 


or was this more of a slick maneouver to slow down the US .

Pass ..ask GCHQ or NSA


From International Business News

David Cameron has not actually declared  "don't hold your breath", but his latest words to those senior Tories and others calling for a second Commons vote on military action against Syria amount to the same thing. It isn't about to happen.

Not for the first time, it is London Mayor Boris Johnson who has challenged the prime minister's stance, saying there could be a second vote if more evidence of chemical attacks was revealed.  Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown have also urged Cameron to use the pause created by President Obama's referral of action to Congress to "think again" about British involvement.

But today's words, which followed similar sentiments by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor George Osborne at the weekend, seem to be painting Cameron into a corner of his own making.  It would be seen as yet another major U-Turn if, in 10 days' time or so, he said it was right to have another go at getting his way in parliament.

The line from Downing Street is pretty straightforward. "There is no change to the government's position. The government made its case (for military intervention) and parliament expressed its view. The House did not support that. Parliament has spoken and that is why the Government has absolutely no plans to go back to Parliament. "

Some will see the words as not the same as saying "never, under any circumstances", but the political embarrassment, not to say ridicule, Cameron would face if he flipped in the next few weeks would be severe.


There is, however,  another far more straightforward answer, that, even now, the prime minister is not confident he would be able to win a second vote. Former minister John Redwood made that plain, stating there were enough MPs in all three parties who believed "killing more people in Syria would not change anything" and would again vote against action. They are not likely to be persuaded by more evidence laying the blame for chemical attacks at Assad's door.

Despite all that, there are still many in Westminster who find it difficult to believe the UK has ruled itself out of participation in military action for ever. As Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt declared when put on the spot: "you can never say never to anything." 



Perhaps they want to weaken

Perhaps they want to weaken the state and cause some chaos in lieu of a more substantial intervention later on down the road. The more fucked up Syria becomes the greater the reason for US boots on the ground. Weakening Syria surely weakens Iran's military capabilities too? In the greater scheme of things, gaining control or weakening Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria (North Korea sooner or later) etc is all part of a (old) long term aim to wrestle power away from Russia. Isn't that why they backed all the independence movements of the 'stan's?  


On second thoughts, perhaps the 'rebels' were backed precisely to tie up Assad's forces ergo bringing some of Iran's forces into the open for 'legitimate' strikes inside Syria? I'm sure some of the Kingdoms would like to weaken Iran afterall.


Furthermore, a general point. Why is Iran generally seen as really powerful? It is wracked by sanctions, has an impoverished working class and as far as I know isn't upto much militarily in the greater scheme of things. The ruling class seems also very divided due to historical factors and economic developments. 

not just to counter Russia

The Syrian war backed by the west is more than just a move to counter Russia but a further descent into an irrational abyss which is also widening geographically.

There's a piece in the Independent today called "We all thought Libya had moved on - it has but into lawlessness and ruin" which gives yet another "explanation" of how this great triumph of America, France and Britain has spread chaos and instability far and wide while doing less than nothing for the people of Libya. And this despite the same countries having "their fingers burnt" in Iraq with similar results. The bourgeoisie are doomed to generate the spread of militarism and barbarism whatever "rational" arguments emerge from within its ranks. It's not directly war and bombardments but the movements of refugees and their prison camps that are also expressions of this same militarisation.

Also, I think that Libya is another example where Britain has thrown its weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood - just as it did in Egypt - and this strategy has become spectacularly unstuck. Given that the US administration was drawn into supporting the Brotherhood in Egypt, then this could be one of the reasons for the underlying Anglo-US tensions rising at the moment.

On the libcom website (where there's quite a good discussion around Syria) there's another thread dealing with putting "trigger warnings" at the front the articles so people are warned if they could be offended. I think that this is a concession to the censorship of political correctness as anything of any substance is bound to affect someone. But watching the British, and then the US politicians discussing the issue of Syria yesterday, the TV news should give a trigger warning about the hypocrisy spewing out the mouths of these second-rate actors and lawyers.

I guess it is ideology which

I guess it is ideology which keeps me from accepting a descent into unorganised chaos. I keep thinking and I suspect others do too that there must be genuine and rationale reasons for the kinds of things mentioned in this thread to be happening. It's unsettling and quite difficult to accept that under capitalism we are basically facing a downward spiral into barbarism and madness and there's little to nothing capable of halting it at this moment in time.

I am the only person who has put a 'trigger warning' in a title of a thread on this form. The one about the incident in Woolwich. Funnily enough I learned of 'trigger warnings' via the Libcom forum. I just thought it was generally accpeted that if something was potentially upsetting you gave a warning now on-line. I don't think it stifled any debate. I just thought the video and the story were quite gruesome and not everyone would appreciate the thread without knowing that it was such before hand.

What do you think?

Rationality and Ideology

radicalchains wrote:

I am the only person who has put a 'trigger warning' in a title of a thread on this form. The one about the incident in Woolwich. Funnily enough I learned of 'trigger warnings' via the Libcom forum. I just thought it was generally accpeted that if something was potentially upsetting you gave a warning now on-line. I don't think it stifled any debate. I just thought the video and the story were quite gruesome and not everyone would appreciate the thread without knowing that it was such before hand.

What do you think?

A bit off topic, but I was a little weirded out by the photo the French section used for their article on the Boston Bombings. It was a little too gorey for me.

On the issue of rationality: I think that what counts as rational often depends on the context. Why did Assad use chemical weapons when it pretty much guarantees some kind of military intervention from the West? On the surface it seems pretty irrational. However, from his point of view he is in a life and death struggle (see Gadaffi) and by using chemical weapons, he pretty much makes the war a struggle of no return for all those still on his side. They will have a hard time defecting now given their association with the use of chemical weapons. It could have been a way of shoring up his support inside the country.

But I too often have a hard time appreciating the irrationality of it all. For me, its hard to see the US actually wanting to overthrow Assad as it would likely lead to greater instability in the regions and turn Syria into a den for jihadists. But, as Baboon points out, the situation has gotten so out of hand that the US might do it anyway despite the consequences.

no exit strategy

I think ernie is correct in describing the complexity and within it the bourgeoisie's 'preference' - as it were - for an 'identifiable bastard' cf: #2

'The depth of the danger of the situation is made clear by the ICG report which quotes Israeli security officials saying that their nightmare scenario is the collapse of the regime and its replacement by chaos: who then to they attack to try and defend their interests. Thus Assad is a bastard but at least his regime is something that can be dealt with.'

They are, however, only 'deferring' chaos in this way, because as baboon writes:

'The bourgeoisie are doomed to generate the spread of militarism and barbarism whatever "rational" arguments emerge from within its ranks. It's not directly war and bombardments but the movements of refugees and their prison camps that are also expressions of this same militarisation.' ( my emphasis AS )

In the last two years 2 million refugees have fled to the aptly described 'prison camps' in Jordan (Lebanon also ?).I heard on the World Service an 'inmate' of Refugee City begging the B.B.C reporter to take him back to Syria because being shot was a better option than one sand-covered boiled egg a day in a 'prison tent'. The first million took 18 months to arrive: the second million have fled in just the last 6 months. 5 million more have fled their homes and lives within the country. The humanitarian agencies involved - however hard-pressed/manipulated etc. don't hesitate to confirm that this is blatantly untenable (never mind intolerable)

Procrastination, off-loading 'the problem' onto neighbouring states, the in-denial self delusion that this is actually an alternative is - just that - an illusion. A blunt analogy for me is that, like a convicted murderer on Death Row, any strategy that 'extends doom' is grabbed at, however short term or ad hoc. (the difference being that unlike many on Death Row the bourgeoisie are actually guilty).


PS your question not ignored Rad Chains see below. 







It haunts and daunts me too. Speaking entirely subjectively, I find it painfully frustrating: the lies about the lies about the obscenities of The Oppressors become ever more blatant and bare-faced: no intention to generalise from mere personal daily life, but I hear clear disbelief in those lies from others as well in all sorts of places from all sorts of people and not just a superficial 'cynicism': a postman -say- who recounts in detail the chain of corruption that lead to some huge luxury apartment construction (cheapest :2 million) : one taxi driver actually said : 'it's ALL smoke and mirrors, ALL of it , I'm surprised there hasn't been a revolution' ... (for the self-employed fragments - I hold my hand up - it is 'someone else's responsibility' ?!... which it sort of is .... and yet ... 

Re : Trigger Warnings : haven't 'met one' but I still have the choice of access surely ?: don't have to produce three utility bills and my passport (like you do to get a parcel addressed to you): hardly censorship as such.

John Lennon said in 1968 (the 'Hippy-Trap side of that year) but nonetheless: '..this system just seems to be run by maniacs for maniacal purposes'

Not the most thorough and precise political critique but only the bourgeoisie ever claimed Capitalism was 'rational'.

(Sorry ,bit sloppy not trying to make some huge point :@~


reinforcement of tensions

On the basis of the repression of the original protest against the Assad regime, part of a wider scale of social protest in the region which the democracies had no interest in defendiing, there's been a ratcheting up of imperialist involvement and tensions in this war. It's also a further expression of the pressure and encirclement of Iran. As said above all these actions of the "rebel" supporters only cement intransigence and a certain solidity in the regime as well as reinforcing the strength of the jihadi elements. These are factors of further instability and chaos.

A small but significant example of the reinforcement of tensions, the spread of militarism, is the proposal by Turkish government to split the mixed town of Antakya into religious divides, even building a wall. It was here that there were protests from the whole population against the spread of militarism by the Turkish state and the presence of jihadis. The movement of refugees is something else; within Syria, across the Syrian border there are refugees that were refugees from war elsewhere. The threat of US strikes can only make this worse and there were already thousands of Kurds fleeing the war in the north and into Iraq in the last couple of weeks.




I want to talk about Roy Rogers' horse - or, alternatively, a dumb, but amusiing character in the TV series "Only Fools and Horses". I think that censorship is too strong but I think that the idea promotes a sort of self-censorship that goes beyond not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings. I pose this against the real obscenities that are going on in front of our eyes.

Haunting and daunting

Sorry, but a bit more:

Part of the pattern of the development of imperialist war recently has been first of all the think-tanks of the bourgeoisie lay out the problems coming from the impending warfare: "going into Afhanistan/Iraq/Libya/Syria would be a mistake because...." Then the ex-top brass, retired generals and the like, pronounce their heavy doubts, along with retired or retiring senior secret service officials; the media airs the "arguments"; the left play its part with "legality", "UN", etc., as well as organising protests. Then the Pope and other prominent druids warn about the suffering of the masses. And the wars go ahead with the consequences worse than foreseen.

I agree with some of the sentiments above about the difficulty in seeing the irrationality of it all, how daunting it all  is and the  frightening nature of what radical chains calls "the downward spiral". But this is the nature of the beast and it's a wounded beast in the main. In not many years there's a whole region of overt militarism and chaos now opening up from north Africa through the Middle East and well into Asia and imperialism gives the bourgeoisie no alternative but to make it worse. Imperialism is a vital question for the working class and its revolutionary perspective. Again the question of the historic course is applicable here because there is absolutely no feeling in the working class for war, it has not been crushed by nationalism and the development of its struggles hold the key.

Proletarian Dy
China, Russia and USA

Perhaps there's no need for another thread. But the reaction and declarations of China and Russia on the USA attacking Syria is also worthy for discussion. Russia and China based on some news are mobilizing their warships towards Syria. Russia even threatened to bomb Saudi Arabia. I'm not sure if these news are reliable.

You have to wonder if workers

You have to wonder if workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might actually be happy at the prospect! 


Though there are many unknowns in this situation about a possible sudden conflagration, probably most in relation to Israel, I can't see Russia getting directly involved. The Russian bourgeoisie are probably quite happy about the British vote against the US and what looks like Obama's growing difficulties in getting his "coalition of the willing". Opinion polls taken by the Russian state show an overwhelming reaction against any military action involving Russia (not that this is the key).

Probably Not

radicalchains wrote:

You have to wonder if workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might actually be happy at the prospect! 

Probably not, as most of the bombs would most likely fall on their heads.

I was being a bit tongue in

I was being a bit tongue in cheek because it's such an absurd state and the number of migrant workers probably wouldn't have any nationalist feelings towards the House of Saud. I don't know if it's an urban myth but I once heard they don't let fighter pilots train with armed jets because of fear they might strike on the them! - the wealth disparity being so huge between the royals and the masses. I would hope only military targets would be hit in the event of a Russian attack but I'm sure that's just wishful thinking, as you say the working class would probably suffer the most.