Imperialism pays the price of its failed aggression against Syria
The consequences of the collapse of imperialism’s proxy war of subversion against Syria continue to pile up at a speed that is spreading alarm and confusion in the west. Hard on the heels of the failed coup in Turkey, and declarations by that country’s government that it intends to ‘normalise’ relations with Syria and Russia, comes the news of Tehran’s invitation to Russia to launch airstrikes against Islamic State from Iranian soil and of China’s plans to step up its own humanitarian and military relations with Syria. Confronted with abject failure in both war and diplomacy, imperialism continues to play from the same losing hand.
Imperialism places obstacles on the road to peace
The steadfast resistance of the Syrian president, government and people, backed up by Syria’s friends, notably Russia, is the rock on which the imperialist proxy war effort has foundered, and the basis upon which all genuine hopes for a peaceful resolution of the crisis now rest. Syria and Russia have throughout taken the lead in every serious effort to forge local ceasefires and facilitate aid for civilians trapped in the crossfire.
Imperialism however is interested in such humanitarian initiatives only if they can be used to give the stalled mercenaries a breathing space to regroup their forces and unleash fresh horrors on the population. Where this doesn’t work out, imperialism just moves the goal posts. Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov noted recently that “after each successful round of closed negotiations and after reaching certain agreements, Washington begins putting forward additional requirements that violate the entire balance and prevent progress immediately afterward… [whilst Damascus] has embarked on the separation of terrorists from the moderate opposition and the civilians, our colleagues in Washington were not ready to do for political reasons, and did not intend to do throughout the past months in defiance of the signals and the promises they gave us [back in February]” (‘Washington’s conundrum in Syria: Russia, Iran and China team up’, Sputnik, 20 August 2016).
Clearly imperialism prefers to prolong the existing patchwork confusion of ‘moderate’ and ‘terrorist’ gangs, hoping thereby to manipulate the situation to its advantage.
The results of this deceitful US policy were on sickening display in the first two weeks of August, when 7,000 jihadists appeared to the south-east of Aleppo, armed with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery, and proceeded to shell residential areas of Aleppo’s south western neighbourhood of Hamdania. The incursion had no chance of changing the course of the war; within days nearly a thousand jihadis were killed and over two thousand injured, and both Syrian and Russian air power were quickly brought to bear to contain the threat and extinguish the supply routes. But this utterly pointless prolongation of a war which imperialism and its lackeys cannot hope to win, a prolongation made possible alone by the duplicity of US policy, once more turned the spotlight on the cynicism of imperialism and its inability to offer any constructive way forward, in the Middle East or anywhere else.
There can be no doubt that it was Washington’s policy of playing at peace whilst stoking the war that opened the door for the latest jihadi adventure. As the Russian foreign minister spelt out, Moscow had in good faith cooperated with Washington in the enforcement of 48 and 72 hour truces, but the reality was that “The main results of those pauses was an insignificant relief in the humanitarian situation, while terrorists added 7,000 people to their ranks, not to mention huge amounts of arms and munitions they received” (ibid). Meanwhile Russian aid efforts continue to be harassed and sabotaged by jihadi gangs. On August 1 a Russian transport helicopter was shot down on the way home from delivering aid to Aleppo, taking the lives of three crew and two officers.
However, Russia refuses to be fazed by this double-dealing. Commenting again on Washington’s failure to separate the opposition in Syria from terrorists, foreign minister Segei Lavrov noted that “Regrettably, our partners in fact acknowledged that they cannot do this. But we are not making a tragedy out of this. The directions of our work now allow switching to a coordinated and a more efficient cooperation in the fight against terrorists” (ibid).
Ankara changes its tune
With Russia now so clearly taking the leading role in starting to clear up the mess created by imperialist meddling in the Middle East, assuming the diplomatic as well as the military initiative, old alliances and old certainties are undergoing an agonising reappraisal.
The realisation by Turkey that Washington is nursing the possibility of exploiting Kurdish national aspirations to achieve thereby a de facto balkanisation of Syria, regardless of how this plays in Ankara, is at least for the moment turning Erdogan against his imperialist masters. Accusing the US of engineering the coup which he foiled, Erdogan demanded the extradition of ‘mastermind’ Fethullah Gulen from his self-imposed exile in the US, describing any state that persisted in harbouring him as an ‘enemy’. (As yet Washington has failed to comply.)
Now, building on earlier hints that relations with Syria might be ‘normalised’, the prime minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim told parliament on 16 August that Turkey and Iran have agreed a preliminary agreement on basic principles for a solution to the Syrian conflict, a solution which would hang on “two basic conditions: first to preserve the territorial unity of Syria and second, establishing a system of government in which all ethnicities and religions are represented” (Gareth Porter, ‘Turkey and Iran reach agreement on conditions for Syria peace’, Information Clearing House, 19 August 2016). In point of fact the existing system of government already fulfils both criteria admirably, dedicated as it is to the defence of the unitary and secular nature of the state.
Yildrim made it clear what set of circumstances suddenly engendered Ankara’s new solicitude for Syrian unity (a solicitude notably absent a few months back when Turkey was demanding the carving out of ‘security zones’), saying “Someone would come and say, I will give the west of Syria to one and the south to another and the north to the Kurds. This is not possible.” Yildirim’s announcement was corroborated the same day by Iran’s deputy foreign minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, who offered the hope that ” This agreement on the general lines will contribute to creating an environment suitable to solving the Syrian crisis” (ibid). Of particular interest is Russia’s reported role in bringing Turkey and Iran together in a meeting of minds that just a few months ago would have seemed impossible. It was Mikhail Bogdanov of Russia’s foreign ministry who acted as go-between between the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministries, reportedly smoothing the way for the Iranian foreign minister’s flight to Ankara and meeting with Erdogan.
If this rapprochement between Iran and Turkey, facilitated by Russia, is worrying for Anglo-American imperialism, no less so is the news that Iran has invited Russian planes to launch airstrikes against the jihadis from Iranian soil, passing over Iraq. Already in the first two weeks of August long range Tu-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 Strike fighters have taken off from western Iran to carry out missions in Syria, hitting targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al-Zour. Sergei Lavrov countered US complaints by pointing out that “These military aircraft are used by air forces after Iran’s authorization for taking part in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria after a legitimate request from its government” (Finian Cunningham, ‘Russia’s Middle East breakthrough… No wonder Washington’s grouchy’, Information Clearing House, 19 August 2016). This invitation from Tehran gives a considerable tactical advantage to Russian air power. By launching airstrikes from western Iran instead of southern Russia, the flight time is cut radically, saving on fuel and increasing the potential number of sorties. This military cooperation against terrorism was further evidenced by the recent delivery of Russian S-300 long range surface-to-air missile systems to Iran, in line with an $800 million contract agreed on in 2007 (see Ulson Gunnar, ‘Syria: China and Iran join Russia in larger role’, New Eastern Outlook, 18 August 2016).
China strengthens military ties with Syria
Were this growing challenge to US imperialism’s self-proclaimed right to dominate the world not enough of a nightmare for London and Washington, the People’s Republic of China chose this moment quietly to announce its intention to strengthen military cooperation with Syria. Xinhua News reported on a meeting in Damascus between Guan Youfei (from China’s Central Military Commission) and Fahad Jassim al Freij (the Syrian defence minister). Suggesting that China had consistently played a positive role in pushing for a political resolution in Syria, Guan stressed the traditionally friendly relationship between People’s Liberation Army and the Syrian Arab Army and said the PLA was willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with its counterpart in Syria. Both sides discussed personnel training and reached a consensus on the PLA providing humanitarian aid. The chairman of the Russian State Duma defence committee, Admiral Vladimir Komoedov, was quick to pick up on this announcement, interpreting it as leading towards the formation of a military and political coalition of non-NATO countries. He told journalists that “The Chinese military in Syria is the first step towards putting together a serious military-political coalition dominated by countries that are not aligned with the aggressive NATO bloc. The time has come to form such a coalition” (Sergey Bobylev, ‘Russian MP says China’s upgrading ties with Syria can form non-NATO anti-terror coalition’, TASS, 19 August 2016).
In short, the humiliating collapse of imperialism’s five year proxy subversion war against the independent, secular and anti-imperialist Arab state of Syria has been a global disaster for Anglo-American imperialism and is a shot in the arm for anti-imperialists everywhere. Instead of delivering the regime change sought by Washington and London, this failed war marks another giddy lurch towards the disintegration of their hegemonic dreams.
Victory to the Syrian President, government, army and people!
Since the above was written, Turkish tanks have rolled into Syria with the avowed goal of pushing back both Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG. The fact that this incursion was supported by US airpower, a slap in the face for those in the YPG foolish enough to put their trust in imperialist promises of jam tomorrow, cautions us not to underestimate Washington’s endless cynicism in trying to play all sides simultaneously. Yet however US imperialism twists and turns, there is no escaping the crushing humiliation attending upon the failure of its proxy war, with the consequences for US hegemony sketched out in the piece.