Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Assad's Government Is Vile But Not Stupid

Is the Assad regime capable of launching a chemical attack on its own people? Absolutely! Is it likely to have launched such an attack last week? Probably not.

The Russian government has its own axe to grind in Syria, and the Middle East in general, but Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, is almost certainly correct in saying that the Syrian regime had very little to gain from launching a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, whilst their jihadist opponents had everything to gain from such an atrocity. Moreover, it cannot be a coincidence that such attacks seem to be a common occurrence whenever UN Inspectors are in town, or when some other high profile international initiative is under way. Why on Earth would Assad's regime launch such an attack, at a time when the general consensus is that its forces, bolstered by the resources of Hezbollah in street fighting, have gained the upper hand in recent weeks? The Syrian regime has masses of conventional weapons at its disposal, including overwhelming air power. So why use chemical weapons that could blow back into other parts of Damascus. Why use chemical weapons when it has been made clear that this would be a “red line” beyond which the US and other imperialist forces would intervene militarily?

One explanation, of course, could be that the US and its allies have not intervened on previous occasions, and with the military in Egypt once again asserting its control and cracking heads, with the US sitting with its hands folded, continuing to provide $1.3 billion of military aid to that same military that has just carried out a military coup, you might be able to get away with it. Possible, but unlikely. Assad's regime knows that the Egyptian military have been a long time ally of the US. The US hedged its bets with Morsi, but it must feel more confident with the military, even if it would prefer in the longer term some real bourgeois social democracy in Egypt. But, in any case, why take that risk when you don't need to?

In fact, events in Syria are following a well worn path. As Lenin pointed out long ago, when Imperialism goes to war either against another Imperialism or against some non-imperialist power, it never does so openly under its own banner. How could it? If an imperialist power declared, we are going to war with A, in order that our own capitalists have a freer reign to make profits, to control markets, or control trade routes etc. it would never win the support of its people to fight such a war. It must always fight under some assumed banner of fighting oppression of some sort or other. The fact that its task in making that argument is easier in some cases than others does not change the underlying reality.

There is considerable evidence, for example, that the US was increasingly blockading Japan in the years ahead of Pearl Harbour, in order to force Japan into a military response, that would provide the US with a pretext for war.

In 1956, Britain and France clearly thought they had the backing of the US, or at least that it would be neutral, when they invaded Egypt to take control over the Suez Canal. After all they had just supported the US in invading Korea. Instead, the US came out to proclaim itself the champion of the oppressed in the Middle East against British and French colonialism. In the process, it undermined European influence in the area, creating the conditions for the US to become the dominant super-power in the middle east, building its relations with the Arab ruling classes, obtaining military bases in the Gulf, and access to cheap oil.

In its back yard, the US needed less sophistication in simply sending in the CIA dirty tricks teams to undermine any nationalist regime that dared challenge its interests. But, during that period, it made it clear that it would intervene wherever necessary to obtain those results. In the 1970's, the US announced openly that if the Italian Communist Party – which was in fact very little different to the Labour Party – won the elections then the CIA would destabilise the Government! Today, with the NSA having such massive control over information flows around the globe, as Snowden has demonstrated, its ability to do so is now far greater than existed 40 years ago.

In 1991, the US told its client regime in Iraq, that if they attacked Kuwait, in order to resolve a dispute over access to oil deposits, the US would not intervene. This is well documented. When Saddam acted on that advice, it provided the pretext for the US and its allies to launch the first Gulf War. Again the characteristics of that have been repeated elsewhere.

For years, the Serbian and Albanian Kosovans had lived in relative peace. That peace was disturbed by the activities of the Kosovan Liberation Army, a gang of essentially criminal thugs, with fascist tendencies that were supported by the CIA. They began a campaign of sectarian attacks on Kosovan Serb villages, that was clearly designed to provoke a response. When it did, and Milosevic's tanks rolled into Kosovo that was the pretext the US and its allies required to launch their war against Serbia.

The pretext for the second Gulf War was even more ridiculous. Even their own intelligence services were telling the US and its allies that the information was not reliable. But, those who brought this information forward were quickly dumped on. The most farcical episode was Colin Powell's presentation of the supposed evidence that relied upon a series of cartoon depictions. With all of the billions of dollars of surveillance equipment in space and on the ground, they could not even provide actual photographs! Perhaps, they didn't know how to use Photoshop.

Yet, the need to launch a war immediately was announced. Of course, none of that is to suggest that Japanese Imperialism in 1942, or Britain and France on the one hand, or Nasser on the other, in 1956, or Saddam in 1991 and 2003, or Milosevic in in 1998, were worthy of the support of socialists. They most certainly were not, any more than was Gaddafi, or is Assad. But, just because we have no reason to support any of these or other vile regimes, does not mean that we support or are indifferent to the actions of those that attack them. We do not proceed on the basis that “my enemy's enemy is my friend”.

That was Trotsky's message from the Balkan Wars at the beginning of the last century. Our first priority remains to oppose the ambitions of Imperialism under whatever banner it launches its wars. The tasks of history remain tasks that we the working class have to fulfil, and we cannot and should not either sub-contract or allow those tasks to be assumed by Imperialism.

“on the contrary, only a struggle against the usurpation of history's tasks by the present masters of the situation will educate the Balkan peoples to play the role of superseding not only Turkish despotism but also those who, for their own reactionary purposes, are, by their own barbarous methods, now destroying that despotism...” (Trotsky On The Balkan Wars p 293-4)

And he warns of those who talk about liberation under such conditions as those we see in Syria today.

“Our agitation, on the contrary, against the way that history's problems are at present being solved, goes hand in hand with the work of the Balkan Social Democrats. And when we denounce the bloody deeds of the Balkan 'liberation' from above we carry forward the struggle not only against liberal deception of the Russian masses but also against enslavement of the Balkan masses.” (p 293-4)

“This means that European democracy has to combat every attempt to subject the fate of the Balkans to the ambitions of the Great Powers...

Democracy has no right, political or moral, to entrust the organisation of the Balkan peoples to forces that are outside its control – for it is not known when and where these forces wills top, and democracy, having once granted them the mandate of its political confidence, will be unable to check them.” (p 148-52)..

“'Free'! And to whom, pray, are the Macedonians topay the costs of their 'liberation'? And exactly how much do these costs amount to? How easily people operate with words, and now with living concepts, when they are not involved themselves! You, Ivan Kirillovich, say that peace is not an end in itself and so on, but you are letting your vision of reality be obscured. 'Free'! Have you any idea what the areas that were recently the theatre of war have been turned into? All through those places a terrible tornado has raged, which has torn up, broken, mangled, reduced to ashes everything that man's labour had created, has maim and crushed man himself, and mortally laid low the young generation, down to the baby at the breast and even further to the foetus in the mother's womb. The Turks burned and massacre as they fled. The local Christians, where they had the advantage, burned and slaughtered as the allied armies drew near. The soldiers finished off the wounded, and ate up or carried off everything they could lay their hands on. The partisans, following at their heels, plundered, violated, burned. And, finally, along with the armies, epidemics of typhus and cholera advanced across the 'liberated' land.” (p 330)

A look at Iraq, Kosovo, and Libya illustrate the power of Trotsky's analysis still for today, and his demand that Marxists oppose vigorously such imperialist intervention. The legacy of imperialist intervention in all those instances has been total devastation, and the creation of even more division and chaos and inhumanity. As Trotsky sets out in those writings on the Balkans, only the working class can fulfil these tasks of history. We should begin the job of making ourselves capable of doing so.

1 comment:

Simon said...

Even if we had the best of all possible conditions internationally and the labour movement were strong enough to intervene itself, I don't see what it could do. There is no conflict between the Syrian workers and the regime, there is a sectarian conflict.

Usually the left misses the mark by arguing for or against intervention, effectively dividing themselves into pacifist and imperialist camps, rather than debating who this intervention needs to come from. On this occasion, however, I simply don't see any opening in which the global labour movement could intervene directly and constructively. We would seem to be limited to opposing the imperialism of our own capitalists, stopping arms shipments, etc.