Events in February were dominated by an intensified war drive against Syria, held back only by Russia and China’s refusal this time to allow the United Nations to be misused to sanction yet another war of conquest against a third world country and the firm stance of Syria’s leadership, armed forces and the great mass of its people to defend their independence and sovereignty at any cost.
On 24 February, a gathering of a grotesquely misnamed body calling itself the “Friends of Syria” took place in Tunis, birthplace of the “Arab Spring”, to coordinate the attempts to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The key participants were the United States, the main European imperialist powers grouped in the EU and the reactionary Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with Turkey, which is the main base of the terrorist Free Syrian Army.
Coinciding with this, President Obama came out with his most explicit war threat against Syria to date, stating that the US and its allies would use “every tool available” to topple its government.
The major imperialist powers were deeply stung by the joint veto cast by Russia and China on 4 February of a UN Security Council resolution designed to create the conditions for a similar onslaught as that which laid waste to Libya last year. Moscow and Beijing followed with further negative votes on a 16 February resolution in the UN General Assembly, which nevertheless passed overwhelmingly. (The General Assembly resolution lacks legal force but can nevertheless be used to push the case for armed intervention.) And both countries refused to attend the farcical gathering in Tunis.
Torrents of invective were unleashed from Washington, London and Paris against the Russian and Chinese stance and more was on offer in Tunis. With her lapdog, more commonly known as UK Foreign Secretary William Hague sitting obediently at her side, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a bravura performance of the kind of semi-hysterical harridan she has come to play so well, ranting to camera:
“It is quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto while people are being murdered – women, children, brave young men – houses are being destroyed. It is just despicable and I ask you whose side are they on? They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people.”
But beneath this faux hysteria, so cynical and so contemptible coming from the mouth of such a leading representative of the very power that has laid waste to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya in the last decade alone, whose drones regularly slaughter civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, and who personally revelled in the sadistic torture, rape and murder of Colonel Gaddafi, declaring “we came, we saw, he died”, lies a deadly serious search for a way to unleash a war that would be even bloodier and more devastating than last year’s carnage in Libya.
At the Tunis meeting, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia declared that he thought arming the Syrian opposition would be an “excellent idea”. This formulation and others was actually carefully devised to ease into the public domain and supposedly somehow legitimise an already existing fact on the ground – the massive support that has long since been pouring in to the terrorist groups inside the country from the enemies of Syria.
This was made abundantly clear by Clinton in London, the day before the Tunis conference, when she stated that Assad would face “increasingly capable opposition forces…They will from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures.”
Meanwhile, Turkey, France and Qatar are taking the lead in calling for the creation of so-called “humanitarian corridors”, that is conquering parts of Syria which can then be used to funnel arms to the terrorists.
Similar intent lies behind the proposal to create a joint UN/Arab League ‘peacekeeping’ force, in reality an army of occupation. US drones are now flying over Syrian territory and there are even reports that the British military are already active inside the country.
On 1 January the Daily Star reported that: “Britain is gearing up for fighting in Syria that could be bigger and bloodier than the battle against Gaddafi.” It quoted a security official as revealing that “MI6 and the CIA are in Syria to infiltrate…We have SAS and SBS [Special Boat Squadron] not far away… Syria supports Hezbollah. That threatens Israel and the whole of the Middle East.”
The Russian media has also reported the presence of British and Qatari special forces in the city of Homs, scene of some of the most intense fighting to date and where Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, who had entered Syria illegally, was killed, along with a French colleague, in still unexplained circumstances.
Further detailed plans for the war in Syria are being openly aired in the imperialist press.
In a Financial Times comment, former CIA official Emile Nakhleh wrote: “The assistance should begin with establishing a haven for the opposition and the military personnel who defect from the regime, as in northern Iraq in 1991. Food, water, clothes, medical supplies and technical equipment should be dropped into the safety zone. Ankara [the Turkish government] would have to play a critical role in planning, and ultimately in maintaining and supplying the zone, as it would almost certainly have to be contiguous to Turkey. If Syrian forces violate the sanctuary, the West should arm the opposition and work with military defectors to organise more effective resistance.”
A former leading official in Obama’s State Department, the appropriately named Anne-Marie Slaughter, called in the New York Times for the supply of “anti-tank, counter-sniper, and portable anti-aircraft weapons” to the US-backed forces. She further called for the establishment of “no-kill zones” in which US-backed Syrian forces could find sanctuary, near the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Once Syrian government forces in these grossly misnamed “no-kill zones” were “killed, captured or allowed to defect without reprisal, attention would turn to defending and expanding the no-kill zones”.
Clearly such plans do not describe a “humanitarian”, “no-kill” operation, but rather a US-led war of extermination against any Syrian forces that refuse to submit to the colonial resubjugation of their country.
In Ms Slaughter’s words:
“Foreign military intervention in Syria offers the best hope for curtailing a long, bloody and destabilising civil war…
“Establishing these [‘no-kill’] zones would require nations like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to arm the opposition soldiers with anti-tank, counter-sniper and portable antiaircraft weapons. Special forces from countries like Qatar, Turkey and possibly Britain and France could offer tactical and strategic advice to the Free Syrian Army forces. Sending them in is logistically and politically feasible; some may be there already.
“Crucially, these special forces would control the flow of intelligence regarding the government’s troop movements and lines of communication to allow opposition troops to cordon off population centres and rid them of snipers. Once Syrian government forces were killed, captured or allowed to defect without reprisal, attention would turn to defending and expanding the no-kill zones.
“This next step would require intelligence focused on tank and aircraft movements, the placement of artillery batteries and communications lines among Syrian government forces…. Turkey and the Arab League should also help opposition forces inside Syria more actively through the use of remotely piloted helicopters, either for delivery of cargo and weapons – as America has used them in Afghanistan – or to attack Syrian air defences and mortars in order to protect the no-kill zones.”
The leading organs of British finance capital have also explicitly advocated war on Syria in their editorial columns.
In its editorial of 13 February, the Financial Times argued for arming the Free Syrian Army [FSA] and attempting to split the army on religious sectarian lines (namely against Syria’s Alawite minority). This, it claimed, would probably need to be followed by foreign invasion to establish supposed “safe havens” and by “aerial bombardment”.
On 11 February, the Economist argued in a leader: “Turkey, with the blessing of NATO and the Arab League, should create and defend a safe haven in north-western Syria. The FSA can train fighters there, and a credible opposition can take shape. Turkey seems willing to do this, providing it gets Western support. The haven would be similar to that created for the Kurds in northern Iraq.”
Russia and China have hit back at the imperialist attack on their principled stand on Syria. In an article carried by the Xinhua news agency on 20 February, and entitled, ‘Saying no to gunboat diplomacy’, Li Qingsi, a professor at Beiing’s Renmin University, wrote:
“After Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria on 4 February, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution…on 16 February. Though non-binding, the newly passed resolution will put more pressure on the Syrian government and might prove to be the beginning of future outside intervention…
“The West wants to topple the Syrian government and replace it with a pro-Western one. Syria is considered a problem in the West’s Middle East strategy because of its close relations with Iran and Lebanon, which are hostile to the United States.”
Accusing the Arab League of being “willing to charge into the West’s Middle East strategy”, Professor Li added: “After solving the Syrian issue in a non-peaceful way, the West’s next target, no doubt, will be Iran…
“The West’s furious response to the vetoes by China and Russia shows the vetoes have exposed the West’s true purpose of trying to dominate the Middle East and monopolise UN affairs, which they had sought to veil behind their lofty claims of protecting human rights in Syria.
“The world has witnessed too many invasions of sovereign states and the killing of innocent civilians in the name of humanitarian intervention. The military interventions since the end of the Cold War show that the West, while holding high the banner of human rights protection, is in reality seeking its own global or regional strategic interests…
“Experience shows that, since the Cold War, Western countries, no matter how great their quarrels are, will join hands when in conflict with non-Western countries. Even in this era of globalisation, there is still a clear dividing line between the West and the non-Western world…
“After the Cold War, the US managed to ‘have a firm hold over the UN to oppress the international community’ while small and medium-sized countries dared not voice their discontent.
“The US’ hysterical reaction to China’s veto shows it has not adapted to China’s change. At a time when gunboat policy has been revived in a new guise, a modest, self-disciplined diplomatic approach seems ill-timed.
“If China and the US can peacefully coexist, it will be an unprecedented, pioneering undertaking. But the history of China-US contacts indicates such cooperation cannot be attained through compromise or requests, nor should we expect any cooperation for win-win by our own wishful thinking. Struggle without breaking relations should not be the bottom line of the Chinese attitude to the US. Only when we are ready to pay the price for splitting will we manage to win the struggle without splitting.
“No matter how difficult the external situation is, China won’t stop developing… Having been invaded by Western powers, China understands the suffering that results. So a rising China will not repeat the errors of others, because the Chinese people believe that what you do not want done to yourself, you do not impose on others.”
Campaigning for a return to the Russian presidency, outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would not allow a replay of the events in Libya: “Learning from that bitter experience, we are against any UN Security Council resolutions that could be interpreted as a signal for military interference in domestic processes in Syria.”
We appear therefore to be at a significant turning point in world politics. In seeking to overthrow the patriotic and progressive regime in Damascus, imperialism also seeks to deliver a knock out blow to Hezbollah, thereby strengthening Israel. Above all, in seeking to destroy its most significant regional military ally, the attack on Syria is a vital stepping stone to yet another war of aggression, this time against Iran, beyond which lies the global conflagration that confrontation with China and Russia would entail.
In a very real sense, Syria today stands in the same place, as did the Spanish Republic in 1936. British workers and progressive people need to stand in their place, demanding: Hands off Syria! Victory to Assad! And above all, using our collective power to stay the hand of our ‘own’ ruling class.