Come election day in the UK, apologists for capitalism are keen to lament the “apathy” which keeps so many would-be electors at home, eager to read a penny lecture on democracy and civic responsibility to anyone so thoroughly sick of all the lies peddled by all the capitalist parties without exception that they understandably give up on the whole exercise. Yet when there is the possibility that a mass popular vote could actually threaten the interests of imperialism for once – for example, in Thailand, where the Red Shirts win every election hands down, only to see the elected government illegally snatched away again – the capitalist enthusiasm for democracy mysteriously wanes.
So it was with June’s presidential election in Syria. The West tried to intimidate Damascus into postponing the election, on the grounds that the level of violence and chaos was such as to render a fair election impossible. The circular logic of this cynical argument cannot be faulted: “our proxy forces are sowing so much terror that you cannot organise a proper election”. Then, when the Syrian people flocked to the polling stations regardless, ignoring the terror-threats and demonstrating their allegiance to the Syrian constitution, Western “democracy” did all within its power to stifle the democratic voice of thousands of Syrians exiled by the conflict.
Given that the corrupt feudal sheikhdoms of Saudi Arabia and Qatar don’t let their own citizens vote, it is at least consistent that they also denied the vote to the Syrian diaspora. But what of Syrians who found themselves in the “democracies” of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Egypt and Turkey? They too could not be trusted to vote the “right” way it seems. The same governments which happily endorse the US-appointed expat “Syrian National Coalition”, elected by nobody, freeze up at the suggestion that ordinary expat Syrians should have the chance to express an opinion on who should be the president.
When one country which hosts a great many Syrians, Lebanon, cooperated with the Syrian embassy, allowing polling to take place within its borders, the result was spectacular. Before the proxy war began there were already many Syrians working in Lebanon, and since the war their numbers have been augmented by over a million refugees. One report recorded three-kilometre-long traffic jams on the route to the Syrian embassy in Beirut as people queued up to vote, with drivers deciding to get out and walk for the remaining stretch. In fact, so many showed up to vote that voting had to be extended by an extra day.
When polling day arrived in Syria, the airport in Damascus was overflowing with citizens who had come back just for one day in order to cast their vote. A member of an international observer team noted that, despite all the threats, normal procedures were followed and observers were in place to check all was done in accordance with the rules, with no intimidation or breach of privacy. Whilst imperialism scoffed at this “farce”, Syrians en masse went ahead and voted for Syria’s future. Significant as was the 88.7% share of the vote secured by President Assad in competition with his two rivals, more significant still was the simple fact that the Syrian people defied terror at home and pressure abroad to turn out in such numbers and with such enthusiasm.
Rats on the run
This election comes at a moment when the government is increasingly on the front foot in the war, with the terrorists in retreat and hemmed in by the Syrian Arab Army. Their desperate last-ditch stand in a number of towns, effectively holding the civilian population hostage in the effort to save their own skins, is now being weakened by the readiness of Damascus to come to agreements to avoid unnecessary further bloodshed, something which is now more easily accomplished from a position of strength. The relief of Homs, a city which had been transformed into a rebel base from early on in the conflict, has established a pattern which could repeat elsewhere. The agreement there, brokered by Russia and Iran in liaison with the UN, purged the city of foreign-backed militants and left it under the full control of government forces. The provincial governor, Talal al-Barazi, explained that “ What has been achieved was a result of efforts that lasted for months starting through evacuating hundreds of civilians from the Old City and settling the cases of nearly 820 gunmen who have given up and handed over their weapons to authorities.”
With these considerations in mind, and riding high after the successful election, President Assad chose that moment to make another bold move to diffuse tensions, announcing a wide-ranging general amnesty for crimes committed during the crisis. The justice minister explained that the decree is aimed at boosting national unity, and was happening “against the backdrop of the victories by the Syrian army”.
Sergei Stepashin, erstwhile Russian PM and now engaged in charitable work, recently visited Syria on a humanitarian mission and met with President Assad. His organisation has delivered at least eight shipments of medicine, medical equipment, food and clothing over the last year, all donated by Russians, work that will become easier to carry out as order is gradually restored. Stepashin told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass:
” When I asked about the military issues, this is what Assad said: ‘This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time – fighting terrorists,” adding that in most regions of Syria the government had “managed to set up an active cooperation and dialogue with the constructive opposition.”
Imperialism plays with diplomacy, prolongs the suffering
Imperialism has two basic responses to these (for it, unwelcome) developments. On the one hand Washington has just wheeled out its National Security Advisor Susan Rice to tell CNN that “the United States has ramped up its support for the moderate vetted opposition, providing lethal and nonlethal support where we can to support both the civilian opposition and the military opposition” , thereby at a stroke making a liar out of every previous official spokesman on this issue and confirming that imperialism will continue to drag out the suffering of the Syrian people as long as possible, even in the full knowledge that this proxy war cannot be won. The notion that lethal aid can be directed exclusively at some “moderate vetted opposition” is a sick joke, given that one of the groups on the “angels” list is the Islamic Front, author of a series of atrocities including one in Aleppo in which dozens of civilians were slaughtered.
On the other hand, imperialism continues to play a pretend game of diplomacy, consisting of (a) twisting Ban ki-Moon’s arm to keep postponing Geneva 3 talks, and (b) drip-feeding time-wasting resolutions attacking Syria. These resolutions, destined as they are never to get past the Security Council, simply give the impression of diplomatic activity whilst serving to keep the Security Council divided, strewing obstacles in the way of more constructive diplomatic efforts. The latest example was a resolution put up by France, demanding that the Syrian government should be hauled before the International Criminal Court to answer for its supposed crimes. Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin noted that the US had never signed up for the ICC and claimed exemption from its jurisdiction, yet was ever eager to put others in the dock. He pointed out that the last time the UN pulled this stunt was against the government of Colonel Gaddafi, with what consequences are well known. Yet the ICC does not lay a finger on the US or Britain for their actions in Iraq.
Churkin denounced the use of wrecking resolutions like this to divide the Security Council when unity was needed to bring a solution to the crisis, pointing out that “this damage to P5 unity is inflicted at a critical point in the efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis. An involuntary hiatus created by the resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi should be used for an in-depth, fair and collective analysis of the situation. Useful food for thought in this regard is contained in the ‘political testament’ left by Lakhdar Brahimi to the Security Council on May 13. This is exactly what the draft Security Council resolution tabled by Russia aims at – to foster the process of “local truces” . The draft is not to the liking of our western colleagues… One cannot but recall a Russian saying: A bad peace is better than a good quarrel.”
End the suffering, fight imperialism
The suffering imposed by this “good quarrel” is immense. It has been estimated that of the 160,000 deaths caused by this proxy war, a half were from the Syrian army itself, the next highest were civilians, and the smallest (35,000) were of the terrorists themselves. And of that 35,000, one in three were foreign fighters.
Right now, as the remaining terror gangs tear at each other like rats caught in a trap, it seems that the jihadis look set fair to push up their own death toll even without the good offices of the Syrian army. According to the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which can hardly be suspected of talking up setbacks for the counter-revolution, at least 45 militants have been killed on 9 June in the town of Khosham, in Deir al-Zor Province. These unfortunates lost their lives, not at the hands of patriotic forces, but in clashes between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Nusra Front. Other clashes have been reported between ISIL and the joke Free Syrian Army (FSA).
As we go to press, the same ISIL have seized Mosul in the north of Iraq and are planning to march on Baghdad and the White House is once again muttering about sending in the marines. Iraq, once a modern secular country with a standard of living envied throughout the middle east, now reduced to a sectarian hell-hole by invasion, occupation and the deliberate cultivation of Shi’a/Sunni enmities, stands as a monument to the nihilistic destructiveness at the heart of “democratic” imperialism. Where it cannot subdue and control the countries it invades, it will settle for spreading chaos and destruction until such time as resistance forces rally once again, as inevitably they must.
The Syrian people remain in the front line of the anti-imperialist struggle, and they are acquitting themselves with great courage. May their victory come soon.
Victory to the Syrian people and army!
Victory to President Assad!