Just how quickly a modern capitalist state can descend into a devastating imperialist hell-hole is demonstrated by the war in Syria. We horror we view the growing death and mutilation of men, women, children, endless atrocities and the destruction of whole areas on televised reports; these are followed by the thoughts of 'experts', the think-tanks that inform the governments, then the nauseating speeches and policy decisions of politicians; and not only is there no end to all this carnage and the hypocrisy surrounding it, but it threatens to get worse. The social revolt in Syria of March 2011 is buried under the debris and devastation of this country and the present bloody stalemate of the military forces involved, as well as their different imperialist backers, threatens not just more of the same but increases the dangers of this war spreading - an extension of war and instability that is already underway.
One of the factors explaining this stalemate is, against all the propaganda to the contrary, the cohesiveness of the Syrian military, fear-driven support from large elements of the population for the Assad regime, and the military support to the latter from Russia and Iran. On the other side, the Free Syrian Army and the jihadists have been strengthened by the military support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, Britain, the USA, Jordan and Turkey. Britain and France have been particularly active in stepping up economic, military and diplomatic support recently, with both looking to alter the terms of the UN arms embargo, and Foreign Secretary Hague saying at the beginning of March that Britain was considering arming the rebels in order to 'save lives'. In a sign of its growing weight Germany has, for the moment, firmly blocked any attempt to ease any restrictions of arms to the rebels wanted by France and the UK. In fact Britain, along with France, the USA, Turkey, via Jordan, as well as the arms deliveries by Qatari and Saudi forces, are already providing lethal assistance to opposition forces along with direct military training. Britain has also shown a propensity to support the Muslim Brotherhood in various Arab countries in the past and throughout the "Arab Spring" and we should assume that the same is happening here as they are a significant element in the Syrian opposition forces.
On April 10, a BBC report stated that the Syrian al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) has been confirmed from Iraq to be part of al-Qaida in Iraq. Somewhat embarrassingly for the freedom-loving west this has been a fact on the ground for the last six months or more; but backing elements of Islamic fundamentalism has a long tradition from British imperialism, imperialism in general in fact. There's no doubt that al-Nusra is a well-armed and cohesive fighting force. It has had major successes around Aleppo and is reportedly instrumental in the constant fighting in and around Damascus where it's used car bombs and rockets against civilian targets. It looks like that it's also used chemical weapons with devices improvised from chlorine used for water disinfection. Not that there's any moral high ground in this war which, from the most rabid fundamentalist to the most well-spoken democratic politician, shows their dedication to defending their own sordid and bloody imperialist interests. The external opposition forces, the "government-in-waiting", conjured up by the US, France and Britain, and largely based in Turkey, has undergone change to yet another "legitimate representative of the Syrian people". First it was old, long-term Syrian exiles from the US with links to the CIA and various US state organisations, then the President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the preacher Moaz al-Khatib, who lectured the US on the merits of martyrdom (he's gone) and now Ghassan Hillo, another long-term US exile. Hague met Hillo and this new "interim government" on April 10 at the Foreign Office, where he once again talked about what help Britain could give them in order to "save lives" (gov.uk, April 10). Increasing killing to "save lives" is part of the normal doublespeak of politicians.
The regime itself has been strengthened by the interests of Russian imperialism which has provided it with diplomatic and military support as well as the diplomatic and economic support that it gets from China. In some sense this echoes the old Cold War proxy wars but it's much more unstable and chaotic than that, given that we are living in a period of decomposing entities, the weakening of the US and tendencies to everyman for himself. An example of this is the pro-opposition "allies" of Turkey and Saudi Arabia having diverging and opposing interests in the war and their own role as aspiring regional powers. The Syrian ally Iran has recently (Press TV, 16.4.13) reaffirmed its long-term support for Syria and calls for the deepening of "cooperation between the two countries to boost the resistance front against the Zionist regime of Israel". And here Iran is asserting itself, via its Sh'ite identity with Iraq, Hezbollah and the Syrian Baathist Party, against Turkey, Saudi Arabia and, most importantly, the leading military power in the region, Israel.
Threat of escalation
The potential for escalation is clear. In early April Syrian jets fired rockets 3 miles into Lebanese territory, the first direct attack since the war began. This has further destabilised the fragile state of Lebanon as Sunni-Shia tensions are on the rise and there's a wider destabilisation in relation to Israel. Israeli territory has been fired on from the increasingly "hot" area of the Golan Heights, and Israel as returned fire into Syria. Israel was also involved in the bombing of a suspected Hezbollah-bound arms convoy near Damascus on January 30. The Israeli resort of Eilat was also hit by rockets from jihadists active in the similarly unstable region of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula this week where, worryingly for the Israelis, their "Iron Dome" missile protection system failed to respond. And the background to all this is the continuing Iranian-Israeli tensions which this week were expressed in threats of the latter to invade the former with Israeli Chief of Staff, Lt. General Gartz saying "we have our plans and forecasts... if the time comes we will decide" (on military action) (AFP, 16.4.13). Israel is concerned about weapons going into and coming out of Syria, about threats against it from all sides; and a further concern must be, if it needed any, the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood from elements such as Britain.
The US is "leading from behind" in this war and just to make its position clear NATO's top commander, US Admiral James Stavridis, on a visit to Turkey this month, described Turkey as "Nato's border with Syria" (Reuters, 17.4.13). On the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported that 200 US military officials would be going to Jordan, where the British army has a presence, and adds that plans have been made for the extension of this force. In the meantime Assad's artillery and jet bombers are pounding civilian areas, often populated by refugees who are fleeing previous attacks (when the war started there were already two million Palestinian and Iraqi refugees living in Syria). Similarly, when they are not carrying out direct massacres of civilians as al-Nusra have done, the rebels have ensconced themselves in civilian areas from which they launch attacks, inviting retribution from the regime's forces. And for these civilians there is no end to their misery, hunger and terror which, if anything, threatens to spread beyond the borders of Syria with the complicity of the local, regional and global imperialist powers, all of which contains no perspective whatsoever for the working class.
Baboon. 19.4.13 (this article was contributed by a sympathiser of the ICC)
It deserves more than a footnote but we must mention the situation of "liberated" Iraq, which remains an imperialist battleground particularly between the USA and Iran: according to Islamic Relief, facts which have been generally verified, one quarter of Iraqis are living in poverty. The unemployment rate is over 50% and one million children under 5 are suffering from malnutrition; there are at least 2.6 million displaced persons in the country and most of the country is dependent on UN aid. Poverty, disease, rising prices and lack of health facilities, electricity and clean water are rife. Amidst all this misery flourishes the most blatant corruption with billions of dollars disappearing into bank accounts with little or no work being done for it. And the bombs and terror, from the local Sunni and Shia gangs and their political masters, continue to kill on an almost daily basis. Iraq continues to show all the weaknesses and divisions imposed by various factions of the regime's own making which themselves have emanated from the "regime changers". Rather than the reconstructed Iraq that was promised us the country is being pulled apart, threatening further instability through the region.
The US and it British and French allies here are holding the card of "chemical weapons" in order to intervene. It was one that they used during the first Gulf War in the early 90's where a single chlorine drum used in water treatment was designated as evidence of large-scale "weapons of mass destruction".