In the time when there appeared to be an imminent American attack on Syria based on the alleged use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus, a new argument began. The U.S. has claimed it has “irrefutable” evidence that the forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad had carried out the attack, while Russia has claimed it has evidence it was actually perpetrated by the “rebels”, specifically the Islamist faction of the “Free Syrian Army” or FSA. This debate has settled after an agreement was brokered between the two imperial powers which brings Syria into the international Chemical Weapons Convention agreement. This will undoubtedly lead to the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. This stockpile is arguably the largest in world outside the U.S. and Russia who have both claimed to have been in the process of destroying their own weapons warehouses, but in a sad irony, have “yet to complete the process”.
However, what has come from this potential attack by the U.S. is a debate within the anti-war community. The focus of this debate surrounds where to stand on the issue of Assad and his regime. There are pro and anti-Assad groups who both claim that their own positions are the key to the future of the anti-war movement. The following is a brief outline.
On September 10, 2013 Socialist Worker.org posted an article titled “Standing against Both war and Dictatorship” which basically sums up the Anti-Assad aspect of the anti-war movement. In short the position stems from the assumption that the Arab Spring is a popular movement of disaffected workers against regimes which have repressed freedoms and stifled political activity for decades. Therefore we get:
1) The Syrian opposition is seen as having two facets, the Islamists and the genuine revolutionaries embodied in the Local Coordinating Committees.
“But if the U.S. has been successful in its perennial strategy of finding regime opponents willing to play ball with Washington’s plans–in this case, former members of the Assad regime itself, among other dubious characters–that obviously doesn’t discredit everyone fighting for change. In particular, the Local Coordination Committees and other revolutionary currents have a proven record of challenging the regime while remaining independent of imperialist maneuvers.”
2) The Assad regime (which stretches back to Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad) has had a long history of rights abuses, the suspension of the constitution by the enactment of emergency laws to repress those who oppose the regime.
During the civil war,
“There is no iron-clad evidence that the regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb on August 21, but its brutality is well established by its use of heavy weaponry against a civilian population in recent years–and its history of using a “state of emergency” declared in 1963 to clamp down on even the tamest reform efforts.”
3) Syria is decidedly not “anti-imperialist:
Within the context of Arab authoritarianism, Syria has a unique trajectory. It doesn’t follow the diktats of the West in the same way Mubarak’s Egypt or Abdullah’s Jordan do, but it has never been truly oppositional to the U.S. world order, as it sometimes likes to portray itself. It has been more independent than the U.S. would like and, in an era of total subservience by Syria’s Arab brethren, this has seemed radical.
But the main goal for this independence was regime preservation. Its 1976 involvement in the Lebanese war alongside right-wing Christian militias to crush the Palestinian Liberation Organization attests to the Syrian regime’s conservative nature. In 1991, Hafiz al-Assad chose to participate in the Gulf War against Iraq while his son’s regime participated in extraordinary rendition, torturing Syrian citizens to gather crucial information that could help the U.S. in its “global war on terror.”
Anti-imperialism is not an excuse to give political cover to a regime that has for decades repressed independent political parties, unions, workers’ organizations, and even discussion groups and public gatherings…
Dictatorships and imperialism use one another as alibis to justify the violence they inflict. In fact, the choice between the two has historically guaranteed that we will suffer from both. The antiwar movement cannot oppose American bombs while cheering Assad’s bloody crackdown.
I myself have argued this position in person and on the internet, specifically (and perhaps shamefully) on Facebook.
In response the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) wrote a reply titled “The ISO and the war on Syria: Silly and shameful.” and I also found an article which makes a few more Pro-Assad points titled Decriminalising Bashar – towards a more effective anti-war movement. While the Decriminalizing Bashar article attacks a few specific critics, the FRSO article specifically attacks the ISO as an organization with some fairly useless positions, not in need of recitation here.
Both articles do, however, lay out the basic positions of those in support of Assad in the anti-war movement. One of the most important presuppositions of this argument stems from the Moaist position that the most important facets of modern international politics is Imperialism versus Anti-Imperialism. Based on this, we are given the following arguments:
1) The Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad is anti-imperialist.
(From the FRSO) “The government of Syria has done more to oppose imperialism than ISO will ever do. They help the Palestinians in a big way. Same goes for the patriotic and national democratic forces of Lebanon. Syria, Iran and the movements for national liberation in Lebanon and Palestine are central to the camp of resistance to imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East.”
(From Decriminializing) “Frankly, this leader of independent, anti-imperialist Syria is subjected to far more severe abuse from the mainstream left than are the leaders of Britain, France and the US. In the imperialist heartlands of North America and Western Europe, the defence of Syria has been left to a small minority, although thankfully the (far more important) left movements in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and elsewhere have a much richer understanding of anti-imperialist solidarity.”
2) There is no such thing as a genuine Arab Spring in Syria and that the “rebels” are just US stooges or Jihadists.
“As for the ‘rebels,’ history’s verdict is in. One can debate the nature of the demonstrations against the Syrian government several years ago and what led up to them, but today, right now, the opposition is bought, paid for, and acting on behalf of the U.S. and the most reactionary of Arab regimes.”
“A successful ‘Arab Spring’ revolution – armed, trained and funded by the west and its regional proxies in Saudi, Turkey, Qatar and Jordan – would have installed a compliant government and would have constituted an essential milestone in the imperialist-zionist regional strategy: the breakup of the resistance axis and the overthrow of all states unwilling to go along with imperialist diktat. This strategy – seemingly so difficult for western liberals and leftists to comprehend – is perfectly well understood by the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah: “What is happening in Syria is a confrontation between the resistance axis and the U.S./Israeli axis. They seek aggression against the resistance axis through Syria in order to destroy Syria’s capabilities and people, marginalize its role, weaken the resistance and relieve Israel.”
3) Bashar Al-Assad and the Syrian government is very popular and a socialist (or progressive) state.
“As with so many things, we have to start with a total rejection of the mainstream media narrative. The country they paint as a brutally repressive police state, a prison of nations, a Cold War relic, is (or was, until the war started tearing it apart) a dignified, safe, secular, modern and moderately prosperous state, closely aligned with the socialist and non-aligned world (e.g. Venezuela, Cuba, DPR Korea), and one of the leading forces within the resistance axis – a bloc that the imperialists are absolutely desperate to break up.”
“The Syrian government maintains a commitment to a strong welfare state, for example ensuring universal access to healthcare (in which area its performance has been impressive) and providing free education at all levels. It has a long-established policy of secularism and multiculturalism, protecting and celebrating its religious and ethnic diversity and refusing to tolerate sectarian hatred.
Syria has done a great deal – perhaps more than any other country – to oppose Israel and support the Palestinians. It has long been the chief financial and practical supporter of the various Palestinian resistance organizations, as well as of Hezbollah. It has intervened militarily to prevent Israel’s expansion into Lebanon. It has provided a home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, who are treated far better than they are elsewhere in the Arab world.”
So what are to we make of all of this? Certainly there is a legitimate side to take. I will say right away that I am not anti-war in the sense that I am a pacifist. I do think there is a time to fight, and that there are good reasons to do so. I think the fight against Bashar Al-Assad is a good one. That said, I doubt very seriously the intention of the United States, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and any other imperial powers that have used their influence or military might to shape the battle being waged in Syria today. Instead, I believe that a third way must be made, one that supports intervention not of the US military or the West, but of Pro-revolutionaries like myself and the countless others around the globe. Something like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade should be reestablished to fight for Syria’s revolution, one that has suffered from the abuses of Fascist regime and bloodthirsty Islamist fanatics.
My argument is as follows:
1) Bashar Al-Assad is the head of Fascist regime, which has violated the terms of its constitution and betrayed the organizing principles of the Ruling Ba’athist party.
Any claims that there is actually a coalition leading Syria are ridiculous, and it clearly shows the ignorance of those who don’t understand how Ba’athist party rule works. One need only to look at Iraq for the examples of this. The Assad regime has had terrible history of rights abuses, although I admit, for some, the regime has been quite helpful. These groups, however, have been patronized by the regime for their position in society, or their unflinching loyalty, not out of benevolence or the social consciousness of the regime, quite the opposite in fact. The tactics being used in the civil war by the regime (whether or not that includes chemical weapons use) have be abhorrent and to support this kind of action is to green light mass destruction and death on the same working class those on the left claim to support.
2) The resistance to Assad (the so-called and poorly named “rebels”) are made of of those who were not patronized by the regime.
Islamist and Jihadists (Shi’ite groups helped by Iran and Hezbollah and Sunni’s helped by Arab States), pro-westerners who were not supported by the regime, and those opposed to Fascism and Western neo-liberalism that the regime had adopted and moved towards, respectively. With the same fervor that I oppose Assad, so too do I resist the influence of Jihadists and the puppets of imperialism. The LCC’s have claimed the position of non-violence, which is a useless place to stand when all those next to you are displaced or dead. It is these groups which represent the real resistance to imperial, Fascist or Islamist influence in Syria, but they need their own fighting brigades.
3) The united front policy in Syria is flawed on both sides.
For those opposed to Assad this policy has helped the Islamist faction of the Front to gain influence and fighting control because of the support they receive from abroad. It has made for the awkward situation of the US arming the very people who are mortality opposed to their world hegemony: Islamic Fundamentalists. For those support Assad it has forced even the smartest among them to say stupid things in support of someone who deserves no support. Assad is not against neo-liberalism or imperialism. Calling Assad a socialist or progressive is just as disingenuous and ridiculous as Francios Hollande being called a socialist – all irony intended.
4) An intervention is needed.
The kind of intervention needed is of a different kind. Let me be clear, I do not support a foreign army intervention in Syria. Many of those fighting both for and against Assad are not Syrians. They have come all corners of the world to fight for the world they wish to seek. Those desiring to see a new Caliphate and an Islamic world have come to wage a Jihad against who they see as a Stooge of the secular west. Those hoping to see a liberal-capitalist democracy have come to topple the dictator who is the figurehead of a system which has allowed the country to be exploited while keeping much of the gains in the hands of the cohort most valued by ruling elite. Those hoping to continue using the Assad Regime to control Syria for their own means (Russia and Iran) have been tapped to aid in the fight against what the Regime and it’s supporters call “the (not-so-ironic-western-inspired euphemism) terrorists.”
That is where we need to come in. We, those who oppose Imperial intervention (Western or Eastern), Jihadism (Islamic Fundamentalism) and Ba’athist Fascism, must realize that it is we who are needed to fight. We need to stand up from our armchair calls for supporting the Syrian revolution and actually do something about it. Words of support mean little when the shells hit Homs or the bombers fly over Allepo. Now is not, to borrow from the disappointing John Kerry, the time for armchair isolationism. Instead, we should answer the call to protect the revolution that we believe exists and is very close to being snuffed out by the forces opposed to civilization, who have committed crimes of repression, or wish to open the doors to oppression. We need, with every means possible to support our comrades in Syria with everything that we can.