Only Worse Suffering and Horrors Can Result from a U.S. Attack on Syria

August 27, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


As we go to press, there is growing danger of a direct U.S. military attack on Syria—which is being framed as a “surgical strike”—using planes and/or Cruise missiles. U.S. Secretary of “Defense” Hagel announced that “the U.S. military is 'ready to go'” if ordered to attack Syria.

These attacks must be opposed with determined political protest and clear-eyed understanding of how they would make the situation worse.

Atrocities and War Crimes


During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. dropped white phosphorus on the city of Fallujah. An American soldier who fought at Fallujah described the results: "Phosphorus burns bodies, melting the flesh right down to the bone. I saw the burned bodies of women and children." The U.S. also used napalm in Iraq—designed to stick to human skin and other surfaces and set fires that cannot be extinguished with water. Use of napalm and phosphorus is a war crime. Above, U.S. soldiers in Fallujah, 2004. Photo: AP

The threats come in the wake of reports of hundreds of civilian deaths, apparently from chemical weapons, in a rebel-held suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus on Wednesday, August 21. Whether the deaths were the result of chemical weapons and, if so, whether the attack was launched by the Syrian government or by rebel forces, has not been independently verified. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry initially demanded that the Syrian government allow UN investigators into the area, but then when the Syrian regime responded that it would give inspectors unlimited access, Reuters reported that: “[A] U.S. official said such an offer was ‘too late to be credible’ and Washington was all but certain that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had gassed its own people.”

But the driving force behind escalated U.S. threats against Syria has little to do with this incident. And it has absolutely nothing to do with humanitarian concerns. It is essential people understand what is behind U.S. moves and not be duped into passive complicity with a U.S. attack on Syria that would make the situation much worse for the people of Syria, and the world.

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The rulers of the U.S. view atrocities and war crimes—real, or invented—through a warped and twisted lens of “how does this work for us.” Shelling hospitals, like Israel did in the 2008-9 massacre in Gaza is ignored. Staged, fake human rights outrages, like false testimony in the U.S. Congress that Iraqi troops disconnected incubators killing babies in Kuwait are concocted and then invoked to justify all kinds of U.S. crimes. The incubator hoax was invoked to justify the first U.S. invasion of Iraq, “Operation Desert Storm,” that killed 100,000 Iraqis and created great suffering for millions, including babies who died as a result of cutbacks in medical care resulting from U.S. sanctions that followed that war.

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq—a war justified by U.S. lies about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." The U.S. continued a brutal occupation of the country for years. Above: An ambulance hit by a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2008. Photo: AP

So, nobody should take assertions by U.S. officials at face value. Further, the U.S. appears to be moving to attack even in advance of an ongoing UN investigation.

But this is not to say that the Syrian government could not actually have launched a chemical attack. Two years ago, in the context of uprisings throughout the Arab world, a range of forces in Syria took to the streets in protest against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The regime responded to the protests and uprisings with a mix of political overtures to opposition forces and violent repression.

The situation was seized on by the U.S. imperialists and their allies to move to replace Assad with a regime aligned and compliant with their interests in the region, and in particular in opposition to Iranian influence. The result has been a civil war that has devastated the country, with both sides—the Assad regime, and the motley collection of Jihadist and pro-Western forces on the other—offering nothing but oppression to the people of Syria.

According to human rights agencies, both sides in the conflict—including the forces the U.S. is seeking to cohere and shape into a new regime—have carried out kidnapping, torture, and summary assassinations of their opponents and civilians. Tens of thousands in Syria have died, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, with many living in desperate conditions in refugee camps or worse.

U.S. sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s were responsible for the deaths of half a million children. Madeleine Albright, a few months before becoming U.S. Secretary of State, said, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it." Above: Eight-month-old Farag Qusam, suffering from severe malnutrition, is tended by his mother at a hospital in Baghdad in 1996. Photo: AP

So it is quite possible the Assad regime did launch a toxic gas attack to press forward with military advances they have been making against the opposition. If indeed it turns out that the Assad regime did this, and if the scale of horror is close to what is being reported—and that is possible—this is indeed a horrific crime.

But even if that is the case, U.S. military attacks on Syria would themselves be compounding a crime with another crime. They would not be intended to end the terrible suffering in Syria, nor would they have that impact.

What Is Driving the U.S.?

The U.S. in Syria (and everywhere else) does not proceed from human rights. The rulers of the U.S. have never been, and are not now, motivated by a desire to act against atrocity, or to “prevent genocide.” At this moment they are giving at least passive approval to the torture and slaughter of opponents of the pro-U.S. regimes in Egypt and Bahrain.

As part of what it has called a global "war on terror," the U.S. operated a notorious torture chamber at Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. Military Police posed in and circulated photos of themselves torturing and humiliating naked Iraqi captives with suffocating hoods over their heads. In one infamous photo, a robed and hooded Iraqi is shown balanced on a small box, with wires attached to his fingers. He was forced to stand for hours, and was told that if he fell over from exhaustion, the wires would electrocute him. Above: Using dogs to terrorize prisoners. Photo: AP

Nor is the U.S. moving into what all understand to be a risk-fraught situation (for them) because “our presidents like nothing more than to flip a few cruise missiles at other countries, combined with a few bombing sorties for good measure, because it’s a hell of a lot easier than actual statecraft.” Or because “if we pull the trigger on Syria, someone will get paid handsomely.” (See “War on Syria: Twenty Pounds of Stupid in a Ten-Pound Bag” by William Rivers Pitt, Truthout August 27, 2013.) As if the never-ending wars, oppression, suffering, and death the U.S.  has brought to every corner of the planet—on the basis of which it has “risen” to be the world’s sole superpower—were caused by politicians who were too lazy to engage in “statecraft,” or politicians corrupted by the arms industry. Such “analysis” leaves people utterly in the dark as to what is behind the U.S. moves to attack Syria, and unable to see or act in the interests of the people of the world.

The Middle East is a pivotal region for the whole world—economically and geopolitically—and the U.S. has dominated it since WW2. Everything it has done and continues to do is based on maintaining and deepening that domination. Right now the region is in tremendous upheaval—the old arrangements that “held things together” (for the imperialists and local butchers) have come under increasing strain and in some cases begun to disintegrate, and there is a massive scramble by all kinds of forces. These include rivals like the Russians, who back Assad; “friendly” imperialists like the French, who back the rebels; all kinds of local butchers; etc. And, painfully, there is no coherent progressive force acting within this mix.

This is a bloodletting which at this point is driven by a reactionary scramble for influence. In this, it seems increasingly apparent that the U.S. calculation is that they MUST project force in this situation lest they lose credibility. At the same time, there are indications that the U.S., or some within the ruling class, is arguing that, as one ruling class analyst, Edward N. Luttwak put it, “In Syria, America loses if either side wins.” Luttwak wrote:

“Indeed, it would be disastrous if President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were to emerge victorious after fully suppressing the rebellion and restoring its control over the entire country. Iranian money, weapons and operatives and Hezbollah troops have become key factors in the fighting, and Mr. Assad’s triumph would dramatically affirm the power and prestige of Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanon-based proxy—posing a direct threat both to the Sunni Arab states and to Israel.

“But a rebel victory would also be extremely dangerous for the United States and for many of its allies in Europe and the Middle East. That’s because extremist groups, some identified with Al Qaeda, have become the most effective fighting force in Syria. If those rebel groups manage to win, they would almost certainly try to form a government hostile to the United States. Moreover, Israel could not expect tranquility on its northern border if the jihadis were to triumph in Syria.” (New York Times August 23, 2013).

In this situation, the U.S. may be pulling a page from the bloody playbook it used in the Iran-Iraq War. In that war, the U.S. aimed for both sides to devastate each other, and the result was a million deaths.

Only Worse Suffering and Horrors Can Result from a U.S. Attack on Syria

Many people will see this as a situation in which “something must be done.” Even people who have some sense that the U.S. is driven by anything but humanitarian motives will argue that at least U.S. intervention will stop the horror right now.

But reality doesn’t work that way. It matters—in fact it is decisive—to understand the nature of a U.S. attack on Syria, and what would be driving it. It would be an attack driven by the needs of a global capitalist-imperialist superpower intent on maintaining its domination of the planet. How is any move on that basis going to contribute anything positive to a humanitarian nightmare in Syria?

A U.S. attack on Syria will push things in a worse direction. It will bring death and suffering in its own right. And it will further polarize the terms of things whereby the reactionary Assad regime can pose as standing up to imperialism, where Iran and the forces it influences may well respond, and where a whole range of reactionary forces, including Israel, might step up their involvement in the war in Syria, or launch other attacks elsewhere in the region. Any U.S. attack on Syria is bound to intensify the whole terrible spiral in the country and the region.

And the situation will be all the worse to the extent people buy into the logic of who cares what’s behind it, any intervention can’t be a bad thing right now. Here a painful but critical lesson can be drawn from recent events in Egypt: many people supported the army’s move against the Muslim Brotherhood due to the Brotherhood’s repression, without analyzing WHY the army was moving. Then, when the consequences of that support became clear, including the political freedom that this gave the army to carry out slaughters and try to nail down an even tighter version of Mubarak-ism, oppositional forces and the people in general found themselves either unable to act effectively or so far gone ideologically that they were now in the army’s pocket ideologically as well as politically.

The only way for something positive to emerge in Syria is for people to oppose both sides in this conflict—actively. And for people in the U.S., which has brought such great misery to the planet, the challenge is to oppose “our own” empire.

The U.S. has brought nothing but exploitation, environmental ruin, impoverishment, and oppression to the whole Middle East. Any military assault by the US on Syria, no matter the pretext, must be OPPOSED with determined political protest in the US. And to the extent that happens, it can contribute to creating a pathway breaking out of the whole terrible set of “choices” confronting the people of Syria and beyond and to bringing forward a whole other way—a real revolutionary alternative.


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