To the surprise of many, the president of the USA, Donald Trump, finally made good on his promise to pull US troops out of Syria, announcing their withdrawal over the weekend of 12-13 October.
In the days that followed the unexpected US retreat from Syria, President Trump was maligned by many, from both the ‘right’ and the ‘left’, for ‘abandoning America’s allies’, ‘betraying the Kurds’, and ‘giving the green light’ to a Turkish invasion.
The reaction to the good news
It used to be a general axiom of antiwar politics that if the imperialists pulled troops out of a country that was a good thing, but it seems that those days are no more. Rather than objectively analysing events, most self-identifying ‘left’ commentators have unquestioningly jumped on board the hysterical bourgeois bandwagon.
Even a pretence of analysis of the system of imperialism has been entirely abandoned by these charlatans in favour of the ridicule of individuals – be it Blair, Bush or Trump. And the target of their derision is entirely directed by prevailing bourgeois (or petty-bourgeois) opinion.
Whilst we can agree that all such stooges are contemptible, focusing upon the personality disorders of individuals is no substitute for objectively analysing events so as to be better equipped for the fight against imperialism.
What really lies behind ruling-class anger against President Trump? It is not his warmongering, but his often-stated wish to remove US forces from foreign soil, his preference for negotiated settlements over endless wars, and his temerity in winning a presidential election against Wall Street’s diktat.
As if the corporate media’s flood of crocodile tears over the fate of ‘the Kurds’ (ie, Washington’s proxy army in northeast Syria) was not sickening enough, on Saturday 19 October, the allegedly ‘communist’ Morning Star newspaper went so far as to label President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey “the world’s biggest terrorist”.
Instead of challenging the hypocrisy of imperialist outrage against both Trump and Erdogan, or explaining its real motivations, this facile and ridiculous claim simply dressed the corporate outrage up in ‘left’ colours – a trick we have come to expect from Trotskyites, but surely a new low for the editors of Britain’s self-appointed ‘paper of the left’.
Such a headline teaches nobody anything about politics, imperialism or war. At best, it is pure tokenism, aimed at satisfying the small audience for whom the world revolves around the Kurdish national question. At worst, it is a reinforcement of the imperialist propaganda which holds that for Syrian territory to be retaken by Syrian forces (the swift and inevitable outcome of the Turkish incursion) is the worst of tragedies.
Of course, Erdogan’s regime is a terroristic one, both towards its internal opponents (be they Kurdish nationalists, secular democrats or communists) and towards Syria. But his part has been a purely junior role in the massive terroristic assault against Syria that has been masterminded in Washington, London and Paris.
To ignore the biggest criminals and suddenly to find out how terribly Erdogan has been behaving just at the moment when he is diverging from his Nato masters’ plans is hypocritical in the extreme – as is the implicit endorsement of the idea that northeast Syria (and its oilfields) ‘belongs to’ ‘the Kurds’.
We note that the author of the piece, Steve Sweeny, regularly plasters the most ludicrous headlines across Morning Star front pages, and justifies them by explaining in the first line of the accompanying article that the headline in question is merely a demand put forward by the protest or rally he is reporting from.
What is clear is that Comrade Sweeny wants to make these demands those of the Morning Star – a paper that never fails to find new excuses to support the imperialist Labour party, despite the fact that its leaders, in power and out of power, have perpetrated and condoned more terroristic butchery than President Erdogan could dream of.
French president Emmanuel Macron was equally put out by the US withdrawal and abandonment of US/French/British imperialism’s Kurdish-led proxies. Macron complained that he knew nothing of the decision until he saw the news on Twitter:
“I thought we were in Nato. I thought that the United States and Turkey were in Nato, and then I discovered by tweet that the US had decided to withdraw its troops and pave the way [for Turkey’s offensive] in the area,” he said. “Like everyone else, I realised that another Nato power had decided to attack partners of the coalition fighting Islamic State.
“I consider what’s happened in the last few days [in northern Syria] to be a serious mistake by the west and Nato in the region,” he told reporters after a European Council summit in Brussels.
“It weakens our credibility in finding partners on the ground who will be by our side and who think they will be protected in the long term. So that raises questions about how Nato functions.”
Macron decried Nato’s inability to react to what he called Turkey’s “crazy” offensive into northern Syria and said it was time Europe stopped acting like a junior ally when it came to the Middle East (‘Macron takes swipe at halting Nato reaction to Turkey’s Syria incursion’, Reuters, 18 October 2019).
Guy Verhofstadt (right-wing Belgian MEP and EU-imperialist extremist) spelt it out clearly when he said: “Since Trump became President, the US is not a reliable ally anymore. High time for a European Army to take matters in our own hands” (@guyverhofstadt, Twitter, 17 October 2019).
Within hours of the US withdrawal, Russian television cameras were filming abandoned US barracks and the Kurdish SDF (so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’) had asked the Syrian government to return the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to the area.
A surprise move?
In early 2019, Proletarian noted that the writing was on the wall for the Kurdish militias in Syria as James Mattis resigned (the former US defence secretary) and Trump announced his intention to follow through with the promises he made to his electorate. As the communists wrote then:
“Mattis’s resignation letter amounts to one long cry of pain at the confusion and damage being done to monopoly capitalism’s warmongering neoliberal agenda by Trump’s crass America First economic nationalism.”
Trump gives his view
In an attempt to deal with the press onslaught following his announcement of the evacuation, Trump explained his reasoning:
“‘I don’t want to stay there for the next 40 years … It’s not going to do anything … I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our soldiers home, and bring them home as rapidly as possible.’
“Part of keeping that promise, Trump said, is not thrusting US forces into even more conflicts that have no end in sight.
“‘We interject ourselves into wars, and we interject ourselves into tribal wars and revolutions and all of these things that are very – they’re not the kind of thing that you settle the way we’d like to see it settled. It just doesn’t – it just doesn’t work that way … And it’s time to come back home.’
“Pressed on the notion that Syrian Kurds have already lost thousands as a result of being mired in a civil war and a five-year fight against Isis, only to find themselves at the mercy of Turkey’s President Erdogan, Trump responded: ‘That’s true. And we’ve lost a lot of fighters, too.’
“‘I have to sign letters often to parents of young soldiers that were killed,’ he said. ‘And it’s the hardest thing I have to do in this job. I hate it. I hate it. Afghanistan. I signed one the other day – Iraq, Syria. They get blown up by mines. They get taken out by a sniper.
“‘And I have to write letters to people. And we make each letter different. Each person is different. And we make them personal. But no matter what you do, it’s devastating. The parents will never be the same. The families will never be the same’” (JD Simkins, ‘Trump on pulling US troops out of Syria: "We’re not a police force"’, Military Times, 8 October 2019).
But it seems that these ‘principles’ melt like ice in the sun when there are profits to be made, for it has now been announced that there is to be no troop withdrawal from the oil-producing areas of Syria:
“Having provoked bipartisan and international condemnation for abruptly announcing a withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, effectively greenlighting the subsequent Turkish incursion into largely Kurdish-held territory, Donald Trump quickly did an about face.
“Some troops, he announced last week, would be returning to the country. But not to support those Kurdish allies, so vital in the US-led coalition’s battle against Isis, but to ‘secure the oil,’ he repeated on Monday.
“More specifically, he has said he wants US companies to enter into the oil region in Syria to tap the war-torn country’s natural resources” (Negar Mortazavi, ‘Trump wants US companies to tap Syria’s oil, despite experts warning that could be a war crime’, The Independent, 30 October 2019).
Trump obviously does not have the same concern for the families of those hundred or so US troops who will remain, tucked away in one corner of Syria, brazenly guarding a handful of oil wells the US occupies and intends to continue to drain for as long as it feels it can get away with it. Whilst the US has no permanent friends, its interest in oil remains dear to its heart.
Anger in US ruling circles
Whilst the sentimental tune Trump has played for families of American servicemen will play well with his adoring public (and elections are due in 2020), such statements are problematic for US imperialism.
These are statements that undermine the accepted premise that, since the fall of the USSR, the USA is the world’s policeman, and they acknowledge the vulnerability of the US military, which spends millions of dollars working to paint exactly the opposite picture. More astute politicians work hard to cultivate and protect the illusion of the invincibility of the American war machine – Trump is undermining it at every step.
Astounded by the decisiveness of the withdrawal from Syria, every man and his dog became an overnight champion of ‘the Kurds’ (although the YPG/YPJ ultra-nationalist militias in the area do not by any means speak for the mass of Kurdish people in Syria) and worried for US imperialism’s other allies and how they might perceive such a public back-stabbing.
Sections of what passes for the ‘left’ also decided to join in with all this worry for the US’s partners in the occupation of Syria, though we cannot remember them being as concerned over the myriad of former friends of the US who eventually came into conflict with the imperialists, such as President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
Tensions boiled over when Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stormed out of the White House after a fiery exchange with President Trump during a briefing on the situation in Syria. Trump tweeted a photo of the meeting along with the caption: “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!”
Trump said the US should not be intervening in Turkey’s military operation in Syria because it is “not our border”, and called the Kurds “no angels”.
“They have a problem at a border,” he told reporters at the White House. “It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it" (‘Turkey’s Erdogan “threw Trump’s Syria letter in bin”’, BBC News, 17 October 2019).
The president’s move to follow through on his promise to pull the US out of Syria led 129 members of his own Republican party to join Democrats in the House of Representatives in formally denouncing the withdrawal. Their joint resolution, which also called on President Erdogan to cease military operations against Kurdish-led forces immediately, was passed by 354-60 on Wednesday 16 October.
Pelosi, like many Democrats and Republicans, is fuming that Trump is sticking by his commitment to end the US’s involvement in Syria. By the manner of his going, moreover, Trump has made clear to all that US imperialism cares not a jot about its ‘allies’.
It is also becoming clearer by the day that the US is incapable of sealing a victory or of keeping up the expensive façade of being a ‘player’ in the Syrian conflict. Trump, in fact, has jumped before he could be pushed.
What should be clear to all progressive forces is that the United States has never had anybody’s interests at heart but its own, whether it has been led by a Clinton or an Obama, a Bush or a Trump. What is most positive about the presidency of President Trump (apart from the not insignificant fact that he is the first US president not to start a major war) is the fact that he is exposing so clearly and publicly positions long held by US imperialism, and acted on by all previous presidents.
This message is starting to get through to even the most stubborn cesspits of reaction. It will not have been lost on the various oil wells that pass for nations in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia and other US stooges in the region and further afield are sure to have noted the fate of this particular ‘coalition partner’.
Furthermore, the move has shown that Kurdish nationalists have no chance of establishing a state carved out from Syria with the assistance of imperialism, no matter how many of their brave children they are prepared to martyr.
Russia and the EU – winners and losers
There has been much speculation about the extent of agreement, made behind closed doors, between the US, Turkey, Syria and Russia. What is certain is that recent events will do no harm to Donald Trump’s chances of re-election.
More importantly, Syria has moved one step closer to rapprochement with the Kurdish militias along its Turkish border, and hence, has made a significant move towards restoring full sovereignty and security to the entire country.
Of particular pleasure for progressives, anti-imperialists and peace lovers will be the increased influence of Russia in the Middle East arising from these developments, and building on the diplomatic successes of the government of President Vladimir Putin over the last years.
Indeed, CNN speculated somewhat bitterly that President Putin “must be tired of winning”:
“Russia’s president has swept into the vacuum left by the US in northeast Syria. In just days, he has presided over a deal between US-allied Kurds and his own ally Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, dispatched military police to the oil-rich region, and softened up Turkey’s president over the phone – all while completing a victory lap through the palaces of the Gulf” (Stephen Collinson and Caitlin Hu, ‘Putin must be “tired of winning” – meanwhile in America’, 17 October 2019).
Evgeny Buzhinsky, vice-president of the Russian International Affairs Council (and formerly Lieutenant-General in the Russian military, graduate from the MV Frunze military academy and member of the general staff of the Red Army, 1976-92) gave a strong rebuttal to Nick Robinson on the Today programme on 16 October over Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Robinson repeatedly accused Russia of interfering in Syria, even though, as Lt Gen Buzhinsky pointed out, Russia was in Syria at the invitation of the government, causing Robinson to say that if a country had troops on the ground it looked very much like interference.
The general replied: “We have two legitimate bases in Syria, we don’t have ‘troops’. We have a small contingent, some naval forces, and military police on the official invitation of the Syrian government – what I do not understand is what the UK is doing in Syria, with no resolution of the Security Council, without any invitation from the Syrian government … this is interference!”
In an article for the Russian International Affairs Council, Gen Buzhinsky neatly summarised the growing diplomatic strength of Russia in the Middle East:
“Our diplomacy is very effective, especially in the Middle East. There is not a single country in the region with which Russia has tensions or bad relations or no ties at all.
“During Soviet times, we had no relations with the Saudis and had very complicated ties with the Gulf monarchies. We were on very good terms with the countries we supported – Libya, Egypt, Syria and Sudan. They all collapsed in the 1990s. Now everyone is looking for our mediation, Egypt, for one.
“Egypt has a good historical memory and remembers our support in the 1970s and our attitude to the overthrow of Mubarak. The US, for whom Mubarak faithfully served for 30 years and who was the main supporter of its policy in the Middle East, immediately betrayed him and denounced him as all but a criminal and a bloody dictator, applauding the Muslim Brotherhood that came to power.
“Russia occupied a very balanced position in this respect and welcomed the return of the secular authorities, although they were dressed in military uniforms.
“In general, attempts to impose western-style democracy on countries that are founded on tribal principles are not feasible. Russia is not involved in this and this is why it has good relations with Saudi Arabia, despite shouts from Washington.
“Military-technical cooperation is making headway and it has always been and will be the foundation of relations in the Middle East” (‘Middle East: everyone for himself’, 27 February 2019).
Putin’s visit to UAE and Saudi Arabia
In the wake of the US withdrawal from Syria, and as alluded to by CNN, President Putin paid visits to several Middle-Eastern countries, notably US allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Boris Dolgov, senior research fellow at the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies’ Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, like Gen Buzhinsky, has speculated on the increasing role of Russian diplomacy in those countries that remain under the control of the USA.
Whilst those lairs of thieves and medieval backwardness will not easily break from US imperialism, and indeed we hope that they are overthrown by their oppressed peoples, it should be welcomed that Russia might be able to exploit contradictions between the stooges and their master, and begin to play a role in undermining the worst of their influence in the region.
It is in that context that communists must view the development of Russia’s foreign relations, as commented upon by Mr Dolgov:
“As a result of the visit of Russian president Vladimir Putin to Saudi Arabia, Russian-Saudi cooperation can gain a new impetus, especially in the economic sphere: namely, in hydrocarbon projects, innovation-related areas, and the development of the latest technologies. It also it strengthens the role of Russia in Opec+.
“In the political sphere, a rapprochement of the positions of the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia on the Syrian conflict is possible, as well as the Yemen conflict, to a certain extent. However, we should keep in mind that in these conflicts, a stable anti-Iranian position prevails among the Saudis.
“Moscow could contribute to a possible mitigation of the confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran, for example, by providing a Russian channel for possible contacts to be maintained between the Saudis and Iranians. In any case, this is a complex, multifaceted and longstanding conflict.
“The Russian leadership should also take into account that the United States is a strategic ally of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi business elite and the military are closely linked with the United States, which largely ensures that the current ruling Saudi dynasty remains in power. This factor plays an important role in Saudi foreign policy and may contain the development of Russian-Saudi cooperation.
“However, Russian weapons have every chance to enter the Saudi market, especially since the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia already have experience engaging in military-technical cooperation. However, the Saudi army mainly relies on American and western European weapons.
“In any event, the Saudis can also purchase Russian weapons for political reasons, and expect Russia to take into account Saudi political interests in the region in exchange for these purchases.
“The visit of the president of the Russian Federation to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which heads the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), provides a significant impetus for the development of cooperation between Russia and the GCC countries.
“Such a development in the economic, political and cultural spheres is certainly in the interests of both parties, and will also play a positive role in finding ways to resolve conflicts that take place in the region.
“Russia’s collective security concept for the Gulf offers real ways to restore and maintain stability in the region. Nevertheless, the countries of the region have their own interests, which often lead to confrontations.
“To overcome them, political contacts and compromises are needed, which can be facilitated via the visit of the Russian president and the Russian security concept, if implemented” (‘Vladimir Putin in Saudi Arabia and the UAE: economic cooperation and political contacts’, Valdai Discussion Club, 17 October 2019).
The imperialist camp is weakening; workers and oppressed peoples must learn how to exploit its divisions
Russia’s diplomatic successes are now clearly visible from its handling of relations with President Erdogan in the last few years. Turkey, as a result of US belligerence and arrogance (as opposed to Russian patience and dignity), has for the moment effectively transferred from the camp of the USA into the camp of Russia. Granted, Erdogan is as changeable as the wind, but even if this situation lasts a mere matter of months, it may be enough to secure the complete victory in Syria of President Bashar al-Assad and to alter the future prospects for all oppressed peoples in the Middle East.
As we write this article, Turkey is being bombarded with threats by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others about the likelihood of US military action against it, or, at best, of its assured ‘economic destruction’ at the hands of the USA.
The exacerbation of the differences between Turkey and the United States is to be welcomed, as are the fissures emerging amongst the Nato countries – these are contradictions in the imperialist camp that are steadily weakening its ability to wage further aggressive wars.
A weakened Nato bloc can only be good news for the oppressed peoples, but it is incumbent upon the socialist and revolutionary forces to learn how to skilfully exploit these contradictions in order to deepen them while developing our own strength.
What better horizon can today be seen than the one that has been won by the Syrian army and people in fierce struggle, with the assistance of Russian air power and diplomacy?
A united Syria with Kurdish forces absorbed into the Syrian Arab Army, committed to the defence of the Syrian homeland, is a real immediate possibility – and an outcome that is far superior to the pipedream of socialism in one village, propped up by imperialism and at the expense of the lives of too many brave and idealistic young men and women.
Patient, peaceful negotiations with the legitimate Syrian government will prove to be far more beneficial to the Kurdish people of northeast Syria than alliances with US imperialism, as will recognition of the fact that the region is and has long been an ethnically mixed one.
Many different peoples today are experiencing and learning from the duplicity and savagery of US imperialism; the job of communists is to expose this process and not to cover it up.