Revolution #265, April 8, 2012
The U.S. Agenda in Syria: Imperialism – Not Humanitarianism
The Syrian uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad is entering its second year, with signs that the U.S. and its allies are moving toward more direct and aggressive intervention.
The Syrian people’s revolt against Assad’s brutal, oppressive, pro-imperialist rule began a year ago last March, inspired by the popular uprisings sweeping the region. Since then it has gone through various twists and turns and involved a wide range of political forces, including both the Syrian masses as well as reactionary Islamists, pro-U.S. exiles, and former members of the regime. Assad has responded with extreme violence—firing directly on protesters, arresting and torturing suspected opponents, and indiscriminately shelling neighborhoods. An estimated 8,000 have been killed and many thousands more wounded or driven from their homes.
Assad’s assault—which has been extensively covered by the U.S. and European imperialist media—has rightly shocked the consciences of many around the world. After initially taking a low-key approach to the uprising, the U.S. rulers have seized on the situation and people’s righteous outrage at the carnage to assert their “duty” and “responsibility” to intervene to befriend and protect the Syrian people and force Assad to step down.
On February 3, President Obama condemned Assad for his “disdain for human life and dignity,” and proclaimed, “the suffering citizens of Syria must know: we are with you, and the Assad regime must come to an end.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced Assad as a “war criminal.” There have also been calls by prominent forces in the U.S. for military intervention, ostensibly to stop the slaughter and allow the Syrian people to determine their own destiny.
The U.S. Agenda: Imperialist Dominance —NOT Humanitarianism
However, look at what U.S. officials and strategists actually say about their motives for intervening in Syria and removing Assad, and it’s evident that moves by the rulers of the U.S. in relation to Syria have nothing whatsoever to do with stopping violence in the region or emancipating the Syrian people from tyranny and oppression.
Rather, the imperialists’ own words make clear that their maneuvers and machinations are aimed at seizing on the Syrian uprising to get rid of a troublesome regime, and strengthen Israel and overall U.S. imperialist control of the Middle East—and that any “humanitarian relief” they may (or may not) provide is window dressing to facilitate that goal. The U.S. moves in Syria need to be seen in the context of this battle for dominance in this region, which is most acutely focused now in the intensifying confrontation between the U.S. and Israel against Iran, and the growing possibility of a military attack by the U.S. and Israel on Iran. (It’s not possible in this article to get more into the U.S. and Israeli war moves against Iran. See coverage and analysis online at revcom.us, including “Threats, Aggression, War Preparations...and Lies—U.S. and Israel Accelerate Campaign Against Iran,” Revolution #262, March 11, 2012.)
Syria is the only Middle East regime allied with Iran (although Iran’s influence in Iraq is rising). Located between Iraq to the east and Lebanon and the Mediterranean to the west, Syria is a conduit for Iranian influence in Lebanon and Palestine, and imperialist strategists talk of the possibility of Iranian influence stretching through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean.
“Iran sees the Syrian government as the front line of defense against the United States and Israel,” Foreign Affairs reports. “So Tehran is sparing no expense to help its ally fend off popular protests.” (“How Iran Keeps Assad in Power in Syria” snapshot, Geneive Abdo, August 25, 2011)
For these same reasons, the U.S. and its allies see overthrowing Assad as both removing a troublesome ruler and a crucial means of isolating and weakening the Islamic Republic of Iran—either as part of collapsing the regime short of war or preparing for war. (And taking down the Assad regime would change the military balance in the region and limit Iran’s ability to retaliate against a U.S. and/or Israeli attack.)
The conflict with Iran is increasingly driving and shaping all U.S. policy in the region. This is one reason why, after refraining from demanding that Assad step down for the first five months of the uprising, the U.S. shifted its position and calls for more forceful intervention in Syria to weaken and surround Iran continue to grow.
Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, spelled out some of the imperialists’ logic: “Syria is the soft underbelly of Iran, Tehran’s most important ally, conduit for arms and cash to terrorists.... A unique confluence of American moral purpose and America’s strategic interest argue for intervention in Syria.... It’s time to start arming the Free Syrian Army.” (“Obama must do something tangible for Syria,” February 8, 2012)
Islamist forces like Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon—those Pletka labels “terrorists”—and most especially the Islamic Republic of Iran represent oppressive political forces who do not pose a fundamental challenge to global capitalism-imperialism. However, their aims and ambitions clash sharply with those of the U.S. and Israel in the region. These Islamist forces have grown in strength over the last several decades because of the 1979 Iranian revolution and subsequent Iranian support, but more fundamentally because of how the criminal U.S. and Israeli assaults on the region’s people have fueled anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism.
A former director of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad wrote in the New York Times that bringing down the Assad regime would result in a “strategic debacle for the Iranian government,” by cutting off its “access to its proxies (Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza) and visibly dent its domestic and international prestige, possibly forcing a hemorrhaging regime in Tehran to suspend its nuclear policies.” (“Iran’s Achilles’ Heel,” Efraim Halevy, February 7, 2012)
The resolution Senator John McCain introduced on March 28 argued for arming the Syrian rebels, because the “fall of the Bashar al-Assad regime would represent ‘the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years.’”
So it’s the intensifying clash of these two outmoded forces—imperialism on one side and Islamic fundamentalism on the other—and the U.S. need to solidify its control of the Middle East that is propelling this regional confrontation, U.S. actions in Syria, and the danger of a U.S.-Israeli war on Iran. British author and journalist Patrick Seale summed up the battle over Syria as “a struggle between the United States, on the one hand, and its allies, and its opponents like Russia and China ... for regional dominance, who is to be top dog.... [T]his as a concerted attack, assault, on not only Syria, but Iran, as well. You see, Iran, Syria and their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, that trio, a sort of Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis, has in recent years been the main obstacle to American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. And the attempt now is to bring that axis down.... So that’s what we’re witnessing. It’s a struggle for regional supremacy, regional dominance....” (“A Struggle for Regional Supremacy: Syria Conflict Escalates as World Powers Debate Assad’s Future,” Democracy Now!, February 7, 2012)
U.S. Strategy: Managed, Pro-U.S. Regime Change
The U.S. has moved cautiously in Syria for a number of reasons. First, it’s been unclear whether Assad could be forced to step down. Second, the U.S. does not want to ignite a full-scale civil war in Syria or the region. As the New York Times noted, Syria sits “at the center of ethnic, religious and regional rivalries that give it the potential to become a whirlpool that draws in powers, great and small, in the region and beyond.” (“Syrian Conflict Poses the Risk of Wider Strife,” Steven Erlanger, February 25, 2012) Finally, the U.S. worries that the Syrian military remains powerful and coherent, so any direct military intervention could prove costly and difficult.
Nonetheless, the U.S. has steadily escalated its pressure on the Assad regime on many different fronts. It has attempted to organize an international anti-Assad coalition.
A World To Win News Service reports, “[T]he U.S. is already backing various forms of intervention in Syria, including Turkey’s efforts to use Syrian military opposition elements to form an army under its control, and the money and arms allegedly pouring into the country from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are almost undoubtedly backing fellow Sunni Islamic fundamentalists, as they have everywhere else.” (“Syria, No to Assad, no to foreign intervention!,” Revolution #261, February 26, 2012)
The U.S. is attempting to coordinate and strengthen the reactionary forces attempting to lead the Syrian uprising, and recently the imperialist intelligence group STRATFOR reported that U.S. Special Forces had been operating inside Syria since December. (“Stratfor Emails: Covert Special Ops Inside Syria Since December,” John Glaser, antiwar.com, March 7, 2012)
The Obama administration has stepped up planning for possible “humanitarian relief, no-fly zone, maritime interdiction, humanitarian corridor, and limited aerial strikes” among other options. (General Martin Dempsey, quoted on Democracy Now!, March 8, 2012) In late March, the administration announced it would provide “non-lethal aid” to the opposition, a step which has often been a prelude to military support. And the U.S. is continuing to diplomatically isolate the Assad regime, including by pushing through a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire and halt to its military assaults on the opposition.
Nothing Good Can Come of U.S. Intervention in Syria—Or U.S. Control of the Middle East
The reactionary, imperialist agenda underlying U.S. rhetoric of “humanitarian intervention” in Syria must be vigorously exposed and opposed.
Leave aside for the moment what 60-plus years of U.S. control has brought the Middle East—a cavalcade of horrors from intervention and war, to ethnic cleansing, to torture and tyranny. Stop and think about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. All had repressive regimes, and the U.S. justified military action as a moral effort to help their peoples. But then U.S. wars made things exponentially worse by inflicting catastrophic levels of death and destruction and imposing new forms of oppression—including equally brutal, oppressive regimes. Why? Because what the U.S. brings to the world is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures that support capitalism-imperialism. Why would Syria—or a U.S. war on Iran—be any different?
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