To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
August 31, 2016
RE: the politics that led to the mass uprising against the Ba'ath dictatorship

The civil war in Syria
Part 1: the policies that let to it

by Frank Arango, Seattle Communist Study Group

"War is a continuation of policy by other means. All wars are inseparable from the political systems that engender them. The policy which a given state, a given class within that state, pursued for a long time before the war is inevitably continued by that same class during the war, the form of action alone being changed."

A mass uprising against a more than 40-year-old dictatorship that has developed into civil war. More than five years of it. Over 400,000 people killed and nearly half the population turned into refugees. Regional and world imperialist powers intervening to bail out the dictatorship. But also a fight in which great mass heroism is taking place each and every day.

Such is the struggle of the Syrian people to free themselves from tyranny.

Themselves oppressed, the working people of the world naturally sympathize with and support this great struggle. But a whole section of the left does demoralized propaganda opposing such a stand. According to them, the Syrian uprising is an U.S.-organized "regime change" operation. And that's interesting. After five years of war, these supposed anti-imperialists cannot explain why in two years of U.S.-imperialist bombings in Syria, the U.S. and allies have only targeted ISIS, and never the regime and its foreign props. They can't explain why the U.S. "boots on the ground" in Syria are not there to help the rebels overthrow the Assadist dictatorship, but only to assist various Kurdish groups and others in the fight against ISIS. They can't explain why the U.S. has made Syrians sign contracts saying they would NOT fight Assad, only ISIS, before training or arming them. And these fraudulent anti-imperialists cannot explain why the U.S. and Russia closely coordinate their imperialist air wars, with the U.S. bombing ISIS, and Russia focused on bombing hell out of the rebel-controlled areas the U.S. supposedly supports!

Today, the World "Socialist" Website, UNAC and others continue to absurdly call this a "US-initiated war for regime change." But it has never been that. That's why rather than use the Assad regime's August, 2013 murder of some 1400 people with nerve gas as an excuse to launch military strikes against the regime, Obama made a deal with Assad and Russia to remove sarin from Syria, while essentially giving Assad the green light to continue using every other barbarous means to suppress the uprising. But that time the leaders of WSWS, PSL, WWP, ANSWER and others had an answer: demonstrations of scores of peope in various cities, and maybe 200 in NYC, had stayed the hands of U.S. imperialism! That was lying by scoundrels who know that when U.S. imperialism really wanted a war for regime change, as it did in Iraq in 2003-04, it ignored the repeated protests of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in this country, and tens of millions globally.

99 years ago Lenin wrote something our sham socialists, sham anti-imperialists, Assad-prettifying pacifists and others would rather hide or not think about:

"War is a continuation of policy by other means. All wars are inseparable from the political systems that engender them. The policy which a given state, a given class within that state, pursued for a long time before the war is inevitably continued by that same class during the war, the form of action alone being changed."

But I think this is a correct approach to looking at a war, including the Syrian civil war.

So what was the policy of the Syrian capitalist rulers before the mass uprising?

Domestically: Neo-liberalism, which impoverished the masses and fattened the pocket-books of the rich with a vengeance. All-encompassing police-state tyranny enforced under a 48-year-old "emergency decree." Internationally: Establishment of closer ties with the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others.

And what was U.S. imperialism's policy?

Establishing closer ties with the Assad dictatorship.

Hafez al-Assad (the father) had shown his loyalty to U.S. imperialism by sending troops to fight on its side in the 1990-91 Gulf War. Bashar al-Assad continued on this path by opening his dungeons to be a favorite place the CIA delivered people for torture under Bush's "extraordinary rendition" program. That relationship did grow bumpy when Assad refused to close the Syrian border during the U.S. imperialist occupation of Iraq, and over the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon. But with the Iraq war winding down, the new Obama Administration was determined to again be good friends with the Syrian regime. Hence, John Kerry--as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Obama's personal representative--met six times with Assad and other top Ba'athist officials to pave the way for this.

What was Turkey's policy?

Improvement of relations with the Assad dictatorship. Indeed, after Erdoğan's 2003 election relations had already been vastly improved, e.g., there were reciprocal presidential visits, a free trade agreement, etc. Not only that, NATO-member Turkey had begun conducting joint military exercises with the Syrian regime.

What about the Saudi monarchy's policy?

Well, while the relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria had often been rough, in late 2010 Assad and King Abdullah met in Damascus where they exchanged senior "orders of merit" and vowed a new day had dawned in their relations.

So the pre-2011 policies of the U.S. and important allies were all toward rapprochement with the Ba'athist dictatorship, NOT war. But the Syrian people's mass uprising for democracy upset all those best-laid plans by the exploiters. They had to revise and amend them. And having isolated itself in the Arab world and beyond by supporting Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt until the end, the U.S. shifted tactics to giving lip-service to supporting the uprising, calling for reforms, and searching for forces it might co-opt,. But it never, ever wanted to see the Assad regime smashed in a democratic uprising of the people. Indeed, it took Clinton and Obama until Summer 2011 to start talking about Assad stepping aside, but that was only personally stepping aside, and with qualifications or caveats. Thus, as late as November Clinton was still saying "it's probably too late for [Assad] to change course, but there needs to be a change at the top of that government and there needs to be an effort to engage in genuine dialogue and start on the path of reform." Five years later U.S. policy remains preservation of the regime, albeit a reformed regime, with the debate being over whether or not Assad personally will be part of a transitional-government deal worked out by the imperialist powers abroad.

Meanwhile, the U.S. talk of supporting the rebels turned out to be talk and more talk. For months Clinton droned on that they had to "carefully vet" any group given weapons, and when the CIA operation was set up in Turkey (and later, Jordan), it was more about blockading weapons than anything else. Yes, the rebels got some meals dropped to them a few times, and some received light weapons (and sometimes 15 bullets per month). But the crucial thing the rebels needed was anti-aircraft weaponry, MANPADS, the older generation of which the CIA had freely given the mujahideen reactionaries in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But no matter how much the rebels pleaded or demanded, the U.S. imperialists refused to give them MANPADS, and blocked Saudi Arabia from giving them. Thus, various rebel groups ended up denouncing the United States for this. And it was no small matter. If the rebels had had MANPADS, Assad would probably have been history before ISIS even existed in Syria. Instead, years later we see the people and rebels of Aleppo desperately burning tires in order to create smoke as an air defense.

Of course the U.S. feared a rebel victory. Such a victory would mean the real anti-imperialist forces in Syria, the working and oppressed masses, would have better conditions under which to organize, and at some point go on to confront neo-liberal policies and the imperialist system itself. Along with that, a democratic victory could inspire similar uprisings against other pillars of imperialist domination of the oil-rich region. So instead, the U.S. cynically blockaded and bled the rebels while the rebels weakened Assad, thereby maneuvering to bring about a solution that left as much of the Assad regime intact as it could get away with. And today it strives to make a deal with Russia to impose an imperialist peace, a slave-owners peace and stability under a reformed regime. Again, the fact that the U.S. and Russia closely coordinate their air wars, with Russia fiercely bombing the rebel-controlled areas shows how much the U.S. imperialists really care about the uprising and Syrian people.

I think this critique is much more powerful in mobilizing mass opinion against "our own" ruling class than spreading myths about a supposed U.S. initiated war for regime change in Syria. The myth may sound nice and militant and most anti-imperialist, but it doesn't reflect reality. And because it doesn't reflect reality it's going to eventually break down and discredit the groups and individuals who spread it daily. What's more, to really contribute to building up the revolutionary movement in this country requires more than being able to present long lists of the criminal aggressions and regime-change operations launched by U.S. imperialism throughout its bloody history. One must also be able to lay bare how liberal imperialism--such as under Obama--works. If we don't do this we won't be able to effectively oppose "our" imperialist ruling class in conditions where it's not launching a regime-change war, as it did in Iraq. We'll be passive, or even trail the many leftists who support a dictator whose hands drip with the people's blood.

To be continued. <>

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Posted on September 1, 2016.